I was driving north on the Island Highway, towards Nanaimo, after work, when I got a text message from Longwood Brewery brewmaster Harley Smith that he was only going to be in cell range for 45 more minutes.
As logging trucks rolled by, I pulled off to the side of the highway and dialed. He was on his way to Horne Lake. Tomorrow, February 23rd, he was celebrating his 50th birthday.
"Early congratulations," I said. I’m coming up on an anniversary birthday myself, so I asked: "What does one reflect on, one day before turning 50?"
He laughed. “So far, I’m just reflecting on last weekend,” he said, referencing a celebration at the new Nanaimo Bar with friends. Based on the spirits—ethereal and ethanol—that tend to accompany visits to said venue, I can see how a weekend away might be prescribed for recovery from a throbbing noggin.
For the birthday weekend, it’s just Harley, Tracy, and Milo the dog. If you’ve been to the Longwood Brewery more than once, you’ve probably met all three.
I enjoy chatting with Harley whenever I get the chance, whether at a beer festival or the Longwood tasting room long after closing hours. He’s got the some of the brusqueness you’d hope he’d have from being in the beer business for nearly 30 years, but a reasoned view of the Big Picture for exactly the same reason. His first job in beer was at the Amsterdam Brewing Company in Toronto when he was 22; the late 1980s was a time when craft beer was new in Ontario, and partying with the early MuchMusic VJs was a weekly possibility.
While the Longwood Brewpub (aka ‘Headquarters’) offers primarily traditional beer styles, the brewery—7kms away—has slowly become home to some experimentation under Harley’s direction. Throat Punch 4-Pepper Ale. All Day Nitro Coffee Stout. Wild Child Spontaneously Fermented Ale. And a recent beauty: Elijah Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout. (Ask him about Elijah if you want to see a grown man beam.)
Before I let him go, I had two more questions: What beer does one choose to drink on their fiftieth birthday? “Longwood,” in a tone that initially inferred stupid question but curtailed with a wink. “Definitely the Imperial Pilsner.”
What beer does one choose to drink on their fiftieth birthday?
'Longwood,' ... 'Definitely the Imperial Pilsner.'
And, did you envision, nearly 28 years ago, a career in brewing?
“Not at all,” Harley said. “Working at a brewery was meant to be a filler job while I studied to be a photographer.” Pause. “Actually, I was moving some furniture the other day and found my school photography case.”
...did you envision, nearly 28 years ago, a career in brewing?
'Working at a brewery was meant to be a filler job while I studied to be a photographer.'
What kind of camera? “Pentax K-1000. It was the required camera for those classes.” We shared a laugh as I countered with my first camera, a Pentax Spotmatic F. I felt a bit disappointed when Harley admitted he doesn’t do any photography now, but there was no disappointment in his voice.
Maybe, on the cusp of 50, reflecting isn’t as exciting as the awareness that you are still moving forward: from the darkroom to the brewery, from Ontario to BC, from brewing classics to inventing classics, from the homestead to Horne Lake, from headaches to headspace.
We ended the conversation there, as Harley was soon to be out of range.
Enjoy your pilsner, Mr. Smith. It's well earned.
We'd like to take a minute to acknowledge Longwood for many of the photos in this post. With their permission, photos were pulled from their Instagram feed. We'd also like to acknowledge them for making great beer and being awesome people.