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Behind Bars: Award-winning Moon Under Water lights up Rock Bay

The vibrant venue blending pub, brewery and distillery, is a dream come true for co-owner Clay Potter
Clay Potter, co-owner of Moon Under Water.

When Clay Potter co-purchased Moon Under Water pub in 2012 to serve the heart of Victoria's Rock Bay, he and the other owners had plans to make it their own. But, they kept the name the same because of what it symbolized.

"It comes from the old George Orwell essay about his perfect pub. And it’s our ideal pub," he said.

The venue was originally owned by an older English couple who had bought a beautiful German brewhouse and set it up as an English-style pub, said Potter.

When they decided to sell, Potter, his mum, Anne Farmer, and her partner, Steve Ash, jumped at the chance to realize a family dream and buy Moon Under Water. 
“I was originally a microbiologist before falling in love with brewing,” said Potter, 39. Potter did a master's in brewing and distilling science at Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh, following which he worked for a big corporation in North America. "[I] hated it. It was always my plan to start a craft brewery," he said.

His mum – a bookkeeper– and stepdad – a metal fabricator – always planned to have a bar in retirement so Potter said they blended their dreams and became co-owners when the opportunity to buy Moon Under Water arose.

Potter quickly became enthralled with the business.

“The first thing I did was redo the brewhouse. It’s about 30 years old and was custom-built for a brewhouse in Korea and would have been a million-dollar system when first built, but it had been hacked apart. It allows you to make really cool beers using really interesting techniques. 

“My German brewmaster friend quit his job on the same day and came over and helped me set it up. We rebuilt and relaunched everything."

Six years later they expanded the business next door to include the roadside venue as a cocktail bar and distillery lounge. 

“I did some distilling in Scotland, so whiskey distillation was always my long-term goal," Potter said. “I also travelled in Germany and fell in love with the German-style beers. I thought that was missing here. So several of our beers have a German influence.” 

In the 12 years they’ve been open, Moon Under Water has been a multiple award winner. Their Potts Pilsner was the most-awarded beer at the Canadian Brewing Awards. Moon Under Water has won nine out of 11 years they've entered. They also just won gold at the Artisan Distillers Canada Awards in the single malt section.

Moon Under Water is the first brewery in Canada to produce Dog Beer. The alcohol-free canine drink is made from recycling barley & water that would typically be wasted and infused with the recommended daily dose of glucosamine and salmon oil for dogs. Courtesy Moon Under Water Facebook

Despite the awards, the space remains unpretentious and welcoming. 

“We’ve slowly evolved into a local hang-out. And it’s mostly for the working-class people who work around here; people at the gravel pit, demo places and all the electricians and plumbers."

Having food on the menu helped distinguish them from other breweries in Rock Bay that didn't have that feature.

“Food-wise we just redid the menu with more pastas and risottos. For dinner, we get more of an older crowd. So we also offer classic pub fare. Our wings night is our busiest night (Wednesdays). The appies, nachos and fish & chips are probably the most popular dishes. The BBQ chicken & Brie burger is also one of my favourites.” 

When it comes to signature drinks, Potter said the Potts Pilsner and Creepy Uncle Dunkel Dark Munich Lager rival the raspberry sour as the biggest-selling beers in the bar. And they now have enough whiskies to do whiskey flights, another draw for customers.

“We also try to be a lot more affordable than the other bars downtown," he said. 

When asked what have been some highlights for the pub, Potter mentioned being a hub for beer community collaboration, along with getting locally sourced grain. 

“The thing I’m most proud of is last year switching to 100 per cent locally sourced five grain from Field Five Farm in Saanichton. Owners, the Michell family, have built a big malting plant and are teaching all the farmers how to grow really good quality brewers barley. Having the farmers growing locally is priceless.” 

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Lara Ryde, head server at Moon Under Water. John Atkinson