Michael and Karen Kuzyk, owners of Category 12 Brewing, with a flight of beer in their Keating Cross Road tasting room. Don Denton photograph for Pearl Magazine

Category 12 Brewing Pushes the Boundaries of Beer Making

British Columbia brewery provides a variety of craft beer styles

  • Sep. 4, 2018 11:30 a.m.

Running out of beer might not seem like a great start for a budding craft brewery, but for Category 12 Brewing’s husband and wife team, Michael and Karen Kuzyk, it marked a sign of greater things to come and reassurance that pursuing a career change in Saanichton may not have been such a crazy idea after all.

Following years of planning, five days is all it took for patrons to drain the tanks at the company’s funky new taproom on Keating Cross Road back in December of 2014.

“We ran out of beer, so we had to close up shop for a few weeks,” says Karen.

The delay evidently didn’t leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth as the brewery now employs 11 full-time staff, carries some 24 year-round and seasonal brews that can be found in shops across Victoria and beyond, and has imminent plans for a tasting room expansion and lounge.

Now fully immersed in their craft brewing experiment, the couple says it’s hard to believe there was ever any doubt about the road they’ve chosen to travel together. Little more than five years ago, Michael was working at a scientific software company just down the road from the brewery. The job was the culmination of doctoral studies in microbiology and biochemistry at the University of Victoria, followed by a promising early research career. With two pre-teen children, Michael and Karen appeared to be living the dream, yet financial uncertainty and questions about their future had them searching for plan B.

Category 12 Brewing owner and brewer Michael Kuzyk looks over his brewing tanks. Don Denton photograph.

“I didn’t want to ever say, ‘I wish we had tried’ for the illusion of security and having a semi-regular paycheque,” says Karen. “You’ve got one life, so what are you going to do?”

Fortunately, Michael wasn’t only studying cellular structures and microscopic organisms during his university days; the Parkland Secondary grad had also cultivated a knack for home-brewing beer.

“I had friends who were always saying, ‘you should start a brewery,’ but it was kind of a joke,” he says. “Then it just dawned on me following a round of layoffs at my office.”

When some of those friends who’d suggested Michael consider brewing full time offered to invest, the prospect of launching the business suddenly became a real possibility.

Like many young home-brewers, a taste for good beer and a tight budget encouraged him to expand his hobby. Unlike many basement brewers, however, Michael’s natural aptitude for experimentation, meticulous record keeping and the scientific method sent his beers in all manner of new directions.

A look through Category 12’s eclectic selection is an exploration that pushes the boundaries of beer making.

“We discovered that the anal retentiveness that helped him obtain his Ph.D is really applicable to different parts of the brewing business,” Karen says.

Karen, who confesses to being a “wine snob” in a previous life, says she developed a taste for ale when she learned about the variety of beers available, a discovery assisted by her husband’s pastime. She says the specific beer that got her hooked was a full-bodied Belgian-style brew with a whopping alcohol content of just under 10 per cent.

The sum of Michael’s brewing and scientific background, mixed with Karen’s aptitude for design and marketing has created a unique gem in a province that offers some pretty stiff competition: a boutique brewery wedged into an industrial park that’s churning out some impressive award-winning selections.

List of the days beer offerings on tap in Category 12 Brewing taproom. Don Denton photograph

“We’ve been described as Mad Men meets Breaking Bad,” Karen says. “The industry has been and is increasingly so busy that having a genuine ‘differentiater’ and having branding that represents something true to yourself is really important. That was a pathway that we embarked on very early on,” she says.

Part of that difference is evident by a glance at the brewery’s intricately detailed labels, which were mostly inspired by real life events. Many offer insight about the pair’s personalities and experience. Take the label of Hiatus, for example. A man and woman are on the deck of a ship sailing through a West Coast inlet. The woman leans on the railing, taking in the view as her partner sits on a nearby bench, focussed intently and writing in a journal. It only takes a few minutes with Michael and Karen to figure out who the couple in that label might be.

Disruption, an award-winning Black IPA, reveals an underground laboratory beneath the couple’s Peninsula home. Inside, a figure is busily concocting the next great beer. Parked outside is the couple’s faithful Volkswagen Westfalia.

Personal touches such as these are a good match to Category 12 Brewing’s astounding range of flavour profiles. Unlike many craft breweries, Michael and Karen’s tasting room limits their hoppy selections to about half of their taps. The rest are nods to experimentation and variety.

“There’s a common perception that all craft beer is really hoppy, but it’s not. We want to show that there really are a lot of styles out there,” she says. “One of our goals is to promote anything that broadens our customers’ understanding of what beer is. We want everyone to know what’s out there and we see our taproom as a way to bring them into the fold, expand their horizons and show them what beer can be.”

Patrons take in the viewing of the brewing tanks from a seat inside the Category 12 Brewing tasting room. Don Denton photograph

In addition to Michael’s sense of curiosity and experimentation, the secret of Category 12’s diverse and ever-evolving menu of brews stems from his infatuation with yeasts and bacteria. Whereas many breweries focus on different hop varieties for flavour, Michael teases out an additional layer of variables by turning to an amazing variety of yeasts, which he grows onsite in his brewing lab.

“Many places use one or two yeast strains and that’s good enough for most breweries, but I actually find how wild yeast and bacteria fit into the historical production of food very fascinating so we’re always experimenting,” he says.

And that’s good news for craft beer lovers on the Saanich Peninsula, because it means Category 12 Brewing isn’t likely to run out of beer again any time soon.

-Story by Sean McIntyre Photographs by Don Denton

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

Just Posted

COMMUTER ALERT: Serious pedestrian crash closes Pacific Highway

Traffic along 176th Street, 4th to 8th Avenue, is blocked while Mounties continue to investigate.

B.C. Sports Hall of Fame to give Giants owner Ron Toigo W.A.C. Bennett Award

Head of Langley-based team has been involved with junior hockey since the 1990s

VIDEO: Young Langley boy uses his grief to help other kids suffering loss

Thursday Langley Hospice hosts its Paint the Town Blue campaign to spotlight child bereavement.

No charges against cop accused of stuffing money into sock during search

BC Prosecution Service says not enough evidence against Abbotsford officer

‘Scrap-metal sweetie’ makes Langley centrefold

Most pictures in Langley’s 2019 firefighters’ calendar feature members with their own pets.

People flocking to Vancouver Island city to see hundreds of sea lions

Each year the combination of Steller and California sea lions take over Cowichan Bay

Protesters confront Environment Minister in B.C.

Protesters wanting more for killer whales confront Catherine McKenna

Humans reshaping evolutionary history of species around the globe: paper

University of British Columbia researcher had the paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society

Toronto ‘carding’ activist Desmond Cole stopped by police in Vancouver

Cole says his experience reveals what daily life is like for black and Indigenous residents

Tubing, skating, light display part of new winter festival in Vancouver

Set to open Nov. 23, the six-week festival will take over Vancouver’s Concord Pacific Centre

Commercial trucks banned from left lane of Coquihalla

B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation has introduced a new program that hopes to prevent accidents and closures on the Coquihalla Highway.

B.C. on track to record same number of overdose deaths as last year

128 people died of overdoses in September, bringing the total to more than 1,100 so far in 2018

B.C. firefighters rescue horse stuck in mud

‘It happens more often than you’d think,’ says deputy chief

Regulatory confusion over ‘toxic’ stink near Abbotsford school

Officials sniffing out which regulators responsible for enforcing compliance at neighbouring property

Most Read