Bones Brewing: where craft beer and local art meet in the Fernwood Village

›› Holly Grewall

Bones Brewing, created by Mike Roberts and his team, is the ­newest craft brewing company in town. So new in fact that their very first beer has just been canned. Mike, who recently returned to Victoria after ­spending a ­number of years in Thailand, is eager to bring his craft beer back to this side of the Pacific, and he’s found a unique way to connect his beer with his ­community using local art from right here in our ­neighbourhood.

Despite being somewhat new to the ­Victoria brewing scene, Mike has a long history with craft brewing, dating back to his first home brews while attending ­university in the early ‘90s. A number of years later, Mike found himself ­living in Thailand, where he opened an ice cream shop. ­Initially, the shop gave him an opportunity to experiment with brewing on the side, but about six months after opening, his beer had become the most significant portion of the shop’s sales. In response, the ice cream shop was ­transformed into a craft brewery where Mike was able to create hundreds of ­different beers by ­experimenting with new brews nearly every week.

This year, as COVID-19 restrictions became more stringent worldwide, the Government of Thailand made some ­significant moves to stop the spread. These included the temporary closure of bars nationwide as well as a temporary ban on alcohol sales. This made running a beer-based business much more challenging, so Mike and his family made the decision to move back to Victoria in May. However, it wasn’t long before he was back to brewing. After teaming up with a friend here in Victoria, together they founded Bones ­Brewery and began crafting their first beers. For now, Bones Brewing is ­contract brewing, or using the spare capacity of another local brewery, but Mike tells me that they plan to move toward their own brewery and production soon.

When first starting the project Mike began designing the labels, but as he ­re-acquainted himself with the Fernwood neighbourhood, he found new inspiration in his surroundings, specifically the ­charming telephone pole art scattered throughout the village. Struck by the impermanence of the artwork, Mike saw an excellent opportunity to collaborate with local artists and incorporate part of the Fernwood Village into his product.

“The pole art could make great ­labelling,” Mike told me, “which would also preserve the artwork”.

Mike envisioned replicating the artwork from the Fernwood telephone poles on tall cans of his craft beer. He has ­connected with three of the artists to learn the history of their work and ensure he has consent to use their artwork in this way. Mike sees ­unlimited potential for labelling ­collaboration with local ­artists, and as they expand in the future, he sees this as an opportunity to share some Fernwood flavour (in more ways than one) with the mainland and beyond.

“New businesses should be involved locally,” Mike said as we chatted about his inspiration in this project. In ­keeping with this mindset, Bones Brewing also intends to contribute some proceeds back into the Fernwood Village to support local ­initiatives.

Bones Brewing has their first three beers in the works right now. The first one to be canned and available to the public will be their Bones IPA—a West Coast IPA, fruity and light bodied with passionfruit notes. They’re also working on Mosaic IPA, which will be a single hopped IPA using Mosaic hops and Bite Me Sour, a raspberry kettle sour featuring fresh raspberries and lactobacillus to give it a bit of tartness. Mike tells me we can expect to see a craft pilsner or pale ale among his many other creations in the future.

The first batch of Bones IPA was canned at the end of September and will soon be available around Victoria. Look for it on tap at the Fernwood Inn, ­Garrick’s Head Pub, Refuge Tap Room, or for ­purchase at a number of local liquor stores ­including Vessel Liquor. Follow Bones Brewing on ­Instagram @BonesBrews & on Facebook @­BonesBrewing.