By Gail Johnson
House of Funk Brewing is funky indeed: the small-batch Vancouver’s North Shore brewery specializes in beer that has been fermented, exposed to wild yeast, or spent time in wood.
Located at 350 East Esplanade in Lower Lonsdale’s burgeoning Shipyards Brewery District—with a view of Vancouver Harbour—the brewery is a family affair. Darren and Jody Hollett, a husband-and-wife team with a newborn and a toddler, run it with his brother, mom, dad, uncle, and a few dear friends.
What exactly do you mean by “funky” beer?
The name House of Funk comes from the style of beer we’re after, using a lot of wild yeasts, a lot of bacteria and bugs. They make beer taste funky, so it has a barnyard funk and rustic character to it. We have a lot of concentration on wood: conditioning and fermenting correctly in oak barrels, plus we have five 1,000-litre oak vessels called foeders. Every single beer, whether it’s a pilsner or a smoothie sour, has to either have souring bacteria in it—we use a wild yeast strain—or it needs to spend some time in wood.
Wood is a really good medium for bugs and bacteria, because it’s a porous material. When you put a beer into wood and you add your house culture of yeasts and bacteria, they make their way into wood, and as you brew more and more often into that wood vessel, it will develop a character of its own. Each one of our foeders has a distinct taste. We have a house character as a whole, and there’s also individual characters in every single barrel and every single foeder. That allows you to blend whatever beer you want to make, just like with wine.
Why did you want to pursue this style?
It’s what we like to drink. There are some other breweries doing it, but we’re concentrating solely on it. It’s a niche, and in this area especially, as more breweries go in around us, having that niche is important.
It sounds complicated.
The biggest challenge is patience. Some of the beers we brew can take up to three or four years. Finding a space for those barrels is a challenge too. We have to wait at least three to four months if not a few years for beer to be ready. So it’s a balancing act of having some beer that’s a quick turnaround, still fitting within the ethos, and also having beer that will sit for a long time.
You currently have close to a dozen different types on the menu. Can you highlight a few standouts?
Our Chaka Kahn IPA: we’re really proud of that. Head brewer Sean Kellock and brewer Casey Foster dialled that beer in, where it starts off as a hazy IPA that we then blend golden sour that’s been sitting in foeder for about four months to add an acidity to it. It’s originally a style that would have no bitterness at all but a lot of hop character; the tartness we add to it accentuates the fruit-forward hops we’re using.
Ara is a wine-beer hybrid coming out around the end of January. We’re going to be doing more and more of these. A few other breweries that we look up to are doing them as well. It starts off as a golden base, then we ferment it in wine barrels with the wild yeasts from the grape skins. It pulls character from the skin of the wine grapes and then also it’s fermenting with the wild yeast that’s native to winery. It sits in barrels for a long time and gets that vanilla and oak character that you find in wine. It’s a really nice, delicate, beautiful beer.
Our most popular beer is Funk Juice. We always have it on tap and we rotate through different types of fruit. It’s a smoothie sour, so we use a lot of oats, wheat, and lactose milk sugar. It’s got a lot of body to it and a bit of sweetness; it’s really quite sour. The first one we did was mango guava. We’ve done boysenberries, and the most recent one was black raspberries and blueberries. Every single iteration will be different combinations of fruit.
House of Funk is also a coffee roasting company, with a full espresso bar, pour overs, and cold brew. Where does coffee fit in to the picture?
It’s satisfying both of our vices. We love good beers and we also love good coffee. The coffee scene now is where beer was maybe five or 10 years ago. We’re experiencing the third wave of coffee. It’s a far lighter roast, a far more flavourful brew, and it’s with attention to high-quality beans.
We’re getting beans from all over the world. Our head coffee roaster, Ann Hnatyshyn, has been in the industry for about 10 years. The Ethiopian she’s been roasting recently has notes of blueberry skins. It’s opened my eyes. Doing cupping with her has introduced me to flavours I didn’t think I could taste, that I almost thought were being made up. Roasting light, you’re capable of achieving those flavours. A light roast is bright, you can have light notes of fruit and a lot of acidity as well.
What else is in the works?
We’re adding food. We’re building out our kitchen and will be open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to start by the end of January. Jordan Lillies is our head chef. It will be shared plates, tapas. We’ll have oysters, charcuterie, a really nice clam dish, and fermented honey with ricotta on toast… The intent is that the food will be raised up in terms of quality and offerings to match the beer and coffee. We’ll be using a lot of ingredients that we’re using n the beer and coffee side to complement it. The intent of doing share plates is to encourage conversation, to have people stay longer and share a few different items on the menu, to talk about them and talk about the beer and the coffee.
Why is that important to you?
Having people chatting and feeling comfortable and warm in our environment – that’s reason we’re all in this. Whether it’s food or coffee or beer, encouraging social interaction is why I enjoy this. In the world today where we’re used to Amazon and getting things online and reducing human interaction, we still have these vestiges of social interaction. At breweries, you get the opportunity to sit next to a stranger; oftentimes you’re at a long table or at the bar talking to someone you maybe wouldn’t have talked to previously.
We’re also going to be putting more energy into events and live music. We have live music on Sundays already. As the name suggests, we’re leaning toward funk music — anything live, bluesy, jazzier, or funk. We’re excited.
House of Funk is at 350 Esplanade E, North Vancouver. It is about a 10 minute walk from the SeaBus terminal; just across the water from the Expo and Canada SkyTrain lines.
Header image by Upper Left Photography