The history of our farm brewery
Crannóg Ales opened in January, 2000. It was the product of many hard hours of research and the inventiveness and dedication of our two founders: Brian MacIsaac and Rebecca Kneen. It sits in the middle of Left Fields organic farm, in the sunny Shuswap region in the southern interior of BC. That's the heart of unceded Secwepemc territory - we are very grateful to be here in Secwepemculew.
Our guiding principles are quality beer, environmental stewardship, social responsibility and (wait, is quality beer a principle?) integrity. We brew only organic ales, focusing on local and seasonal specialty ingredients, most of which come from our own farm.
We grow our own hops, spearheading the hops revival in BC with our first planting in 2001 and the production of our hops growing Manual in 2004. All the brewery by-products (not waste!) are re-used on the farm or recycled when we have to. Our spent grain feeds our own livestock and our compost, our greywater is used for irrigation, and the pigs drink any random beer leftovers. The farm and brewery are intertwined, creating a whole sustainable system. In addition, we are committed to remaining small, so that we don't outgrow our footprint on the farm.
The name of the brewery, our artwork, and in fact, our ethos all come from the Irish tradition. It's a tradition of storytelling, complex visions and abundant artwork, close communities and self-reliance. It's a tradition of care for the land and protection from invaders, and a tradition of enjoying friends over a lovely pint.
What makes us who we are?
Culture + Identity + Values
What motivates us? Personally, I live by what I refer to as a cultural agenda. This means I make choices according to my identity. My people are primarily Gaels: Irish, some Scot and other cultures to make the gene pool strong and diverse. The Gaelic culture is paramount to my identity. To this end, I try to get back to Ireland every couple of years. I almost decided to move there permanently! I've gained a working knowledge of the Irish language, have taught conversational Irish in Canada, and have been working in Celtic art for most of my life. I've worked on political and cultural groups and in the Irish community for most of my adult life, both here in Canada and in the north of Ireland. The brewery benefits from this as the styles of ales that Gaels enjoy are what I like to brew.
The grúdlann (brewery) is old world (no push button computer driven factory) and the building and surrounding structures are adorned with my original Celtic art. When you come to visit us, hopefully you'll be inspired.
Slán gó foille,
Brian MacIsaac, Brewer
One of our other major motivations is political: we believe that we are to be stewards of the land, and that we are responsible for the just operation of society - of course, alongside everyone else. Our stewardship agenda is why we are certified organic and certified Salmon-safe. It is also visible in the entire pattern of the interdependence of farm and brewery. We aim for zero-waste in our system, so that all by-products from the brewery are beneficial to the farm.
Our social justice agenda appears in our overall structure: while we are a corporation, our primary goal is not to continually grow and maximise profits, but to find and maintain a stable financial base and to live within our means. We have a growth cap policy, which means that we will not "grow" the brewery beyond the footprint that the farm (or our egos) can sustain. We support First Nations' land and cultural sovereignty, as is our responsibility. Our sponsorships are directed to social justice causes, the arts and organic agriculture.
What is a Crannóg?
A crannóg is a dwelling built in a lake or bog, either on stilts or on a man-made island. Crannógs are found all over Scotland and Ireland — the links below include some excavations and rebuilt crannógs in Scotland. People chose to build this way for a number of reasons, safety and wise use of arable land being presumably tops on the list. Island crannógs were often reached by causeways hidden just below the surface of the water, providing a safe but secret access. Such dwellings could house both a family and their livestock.
We at Crannóg Ales tend to emphasize the latter reason for building crannógs: the wise use of arable land. Much of the land in Scotland and Ireland is either extremely thin and rocky, or boggy neither of which are great for growing food or grazing much livestock. It is only sensible, therefore, to build your home on land that cannot be used to grow your food, saving arable land for its best purpose. This is a lesson which contemporary Western societies — especially here in Canada — would do well to learn. If we continue to pave our best arable land, we will be unable to grow food. We cannot eat concrete, nor can we live off food from poorer countries. If we are going to have a sustainable future, we must protect our food lands, and the skills of our farmers.
The term Crannóg refers to small artificial islands which can be found in the majority of Scotland's lochs and inland waters. From the surface, most crannógs look like uninteresting mounds of stone, from which timbers sometimes protrude. These small islands were constructed and occasionally lived on by people, as recently as the 17 th century. At the moment archaeologists believe that there are fundamentally two types of crannógs. One has a solid base and is literally an island, the other is a type of raised structure, such as a stilt house or large dock. This later type stood above the water and was substantially taller.
A quote from Mark Holley's crannog research.
Crannógs are lake or lakeside settlements which were inhabited from the Mesolithic to the Early Medieval period. The name is derived from the Irish word crann, meaning a tree. Originally the term may have been applied to the timber palisades which surrounded such sites, the timber buildings within them, or the timber foundations on which they were erected. The same name is used in Scotland, where similar sites occur.
From the Stonepages, a website dedicated to research on megaliths all over Ireland, Scotland and Europe, including a great page on the Craggaunowen site (pictured at left), at which a crannóg has been built.
Also check out the Scottish Crannóg Centre website, home of a hand-built crannóg at Oakbank, in Loch Tay, Scotland. There are wonderful pictures of building the crannóg, plus very informative background material on the history, locations and building methods of crannógs in general. We highly recommend visiting the Centre, it's a great place. And there are two excellent distilleries not far away!