okanagan crafts brew  

March 3, 2020

A horse-drawn beer wagon destined for the local bar or saloon was a common sight in turn-of-the-century North American cities, and Vernon was no exception. In 1895, these wagons trundled off with barrels of lager from Vernon’s first—and only—brewery, the Vernon Spring Brewery (not to be confused with the Okanagan Spring Brewery).

Four years before the above photo was taken, in the winter of 1891, any exciting announcement reached Vernon’s citizens: Mr. Robert Ochsner was erecting a brewery on Okanagan Avenue. The Vernon Spring Brewery opened a year later, in 1892, becoming the first lager beer brewery in active operation in the province. Oshner used water from the Vernon Creek to run his operation, which suggests that the brewery would have been south of what is now the Tiki Villiage Motor Inn on 25th Avenue. 



Vernon Spring Brewery, photo date unknown


While today craft and micro-breweries are often considered a trendy location to socialize with friends, the Vernon Spring Brewery was built right in the height of the temperance movement, and not everyone was pleased by its presence in Vernon. In a tongue-in-cheek excerpt in the Vernon News of March 1892, it was even noted that one Vernon horse (yes, you read that right) had joined the movement against alcohol and refused to stay anywhere near the brewery. In fact, he was so offended by the institution that he marched himself straight back to town after being parked nearby it, much to the dismay of two gentlemen who came back from fishing to find their ride home had left without them.

Ochsner was undeterred by this opposition, and spent many days driving around town distributing samples of his first batch of lager. Allegedly, the universal verdict of all who tasted this “sparkling nectar” was that they would never drink anything else again. However, well-known photographer and author C.W. Holliday had a different memory of Ochsner’s first brew. Whether it was because Ochsner was an amateur beer maker or because the brew was affect by the climate, anytime a bottle of the first batch was opened, it would violently erupt in a cascade of foam until only about an inch of flat beer was left. Holliday notes that people would often order a bottle just for the fun of it, and seeing the bar and bartender submerged in a sea of beery foam was well-worth the asking price.

Robert Oschner left the brewery in 1896, and it remained idle for a year before John Haverty, formerly of Winnipeg, took over its management.

Unfourtunately, records at the Vernon Museum are limited as to what happened to the Vernon Spring Brewery, but our city’s experience with brewing continues under the successful—and refreshing—Okanagan Spring Brewery.

Gwyn Evans