Drinking Along the Ale Trail in British Columbia
The craft brewery business in British Columbia is booming. In 2016, there were 102 craft breweries in Canada’s most western province and nearly a third of them were less than a year old. It’s not that surprising of a trend when you consider that just a hop and a skip south of the border, in Oregon, they’ve seen similar growth. In 2016, 40 percent of Oregon’s beer market was made up of craft sales.
The beauty of these breweries is they’re fun and hip, and they’ve pushed aside the stale old guard. With so many new ones in B.C., there are now “ale trails” where you can explore them all. We visited a number of the small communities on Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast to not only cover some beautiful terrain but to taste some flavorful suds. If you’re looking to do the Ale Trails, here are some of the better breweries to hit along with itineraries of where to eat and where to stay.
Riot Brewing is one of the newest breweries on the scene, and they’ve got a fantastic story. It was a long seven years of trials and tribulations before the owners found someone who believed in them enough to bankroll the brewery. But they finally got their break, and they’ve hit the ground running. Not only do they make some good, clean beers, their packaging is really cool. Make sure you ask to hear the story about the “Junk Punch.”
What’s the farm-to-table equivalent for a beer? Whatever the name, the concept is clear at Persephone Brewing. They took over a farm to turn it into a brewery, and now they’re growing their own hops right on site to use for their own beer. They also grow produce, apples, and veggies using organic practices, and then either use the products themselves for the beer or sell them at local markets. Their brewery has earned plenty of acclaim for their beers and recently won a Land Award.
If you’re stopping in for a drink, make sure you pair it with the on-site Farm to Feast food truck. It goes well with their handcrafted pizzas.
Mount Arrowsmith Brewing Company
A couple of brothers and a brewmaster have teamed up at Mount Arrowsmith. The result is a small brewery with a foursome of very fresh beers. There’s the Salish Sea pale ale, Arrowsmith Blonde ale, the Jagged Face IPA and the Comfortably Chum hefeweizen. The brewery is located in Parksville, which is a short drive from Nanaimo, and is a short walk from the waterfront.
Longwood Brewery has become one of the best beer brands in Nanaimo. The brewery is the place to go to get your fix if you want to go direct to the source. Alternately, you can get a bite to eat at the Longwood Brew Pub & Restaurant, try the beer and pair it with food. They work closely with local farmers to get access to quality barley and hops.
They have a large array to choose from but their seasonal beers are especially recommended. The Beetnik (a stout with beetroot undertones) and The One That Got Away (a red wheat ale) are both worth a taste.
Wolf Brewing Company
A British import making some excellent craft beers is what you’ll find at Wolf Brewing Company. Kevin Ward has worked in food and beer for a long time — he even worked with Gordon Ramsay at one point. He’s brought his talents to Wolf Brewing Company, where he makes some authentic beers. They try to support local when possible, either by using local ingredients or by hiring local artists to create the labels for their beer bottles — but quality is of the utmost importance here. That’s why they also import many top-notch ingredients, such as noble hops from Germany.
Cumberland Brewing Company
Cumberland is a delightful little town and the brewery is well worth a stop. The beers speak for themselves — the stouts are delicious — but the signature item might be their “pay it forward” board. If you want to buy a beer for a friend or for a stranger, you can do so and they’ll put that person’s name on the board. The next time that person comes in, they’ll receive the lovely surprise of free beer!
Originally, the brewery wasn’t quite sure what the reaction would be when they started the endeavor, but it’s now become a signature element of the brewery. And there’s been no shortage of people in a giving mood paying it forward.
Gladstone Brewing Company
The décor at Gladstone Brewery really makes it stand out from the crowd. Earlier in the 1900s, the building was a mechanic’s shop. Nowadays, Gladstone Brewery pays homage to that history by preserving the memories. They use dashboard gauges on their cans to denote how empty or full the beer is of IBU’s, tasting samplers are served on license plates, and you buy beer at the ‘filling station.’
It’s a very lively place to go for a pop and is often the hub of activity, buzzing with social gatherings in the evenings.
They have a lot of unique flavors running through the taps like a Blackberry Sour, a wet-hopped Pale Ale and a Belgian Quad. They even have kombucha available in case you’re the designated driver.
The tiny town of Gibsons has a picturesque setting on the Sunshine Coast. After a walk along the water, pop up to Gibsons Tapworks for a brew. This microbrewery has a lively atmosphere with themed nights like Name That Tune on Wednesdays and trivia on Mondays. It’s usually a lively spot for conversation any day of the week.
White Sails Brewing
While Sails almost feels like it should be located on a college campus. The food offerings support that feeling, as you’ll snack on soft pretzels and pepperoni sticks while sipping different ales. The atmosphere is young and hip, and it can get boisterous, as they offer board games for you to bring back to your table.
Where To Eat Along The Way
Located in Courtenay, the White Whale is not only a gastropub that’s great for a bite — it’s also a must-stop for beer lovers. That’s because you can get so many in one place. They have 16 rotating taps of local B.C. craft beer along with experts to guide you through those tough decisions. You’ll be pairing it with a menu that’s fully made in-house — including the bread. While the beer is local, the menu feels like a little tour around the world with hiyashi chūka, tuna niçoise, and shrimp tostadas.
The Boardwalk Restaurant
Lund is another charming little spot on the Sunshine Coast. If you’re making your way around Vancouver Island or heading for the ferry in Powell River, The Boardwalk Restaurant is a good place to eat.
There's a focus on fresh, local and gluten-free on the menu. And being right on the water — it’s located in Lund Harbor — the seafood is definitely the star. The gluten-free crowd will love the fact that they can find things like calamari and fish and chips — options that they normally can’t participate in.
Coastal Cookery is located in Powell River — a town of just 13,000 people — but the quality of the food could go head-to-head with Vancouver’s trendiest spots. That’s because it’s run by successful restaurateur, chef Michael Salome and front-of-house expert Sarah Salome, who gained experience working for some of the best sports in Vancouver (Cactus Restaurants).
There are a lot of fun things on this menu from the liquids to the solids. From the cocktail menu, try the ones with kombucha for a rare flair. From the menu, the creole-spiced homemade popcorn is a fun starter, the classically braised beef short rib will leave you satisfied, and the bourbon pecan galette is a very happy ending.
Gibsons Public Market
Gibsons Public Market is the new heart of the community in Gibsons. Upstairs you’ll find a hub bringing together people for weddings and galas, art exhibits, and educational seminars. Downstairs there are a variety of merchants from a Belgian chocolatier to local butchers and artisan cheeses. The cheese vendor in particular is a great story: It’s owned by a successful woman who wanted to have local access to great cheese, so she invested.
Come hungry, because there is lots of tasting to be done.
Where To Stay
Coast Bastion Hotel
Most trips on the Ale Trail will start in Nanaimo. If you plan to stay in town before getting going on the journey, the Coast Bastion Hotel offers clean, comfortable accommodations. You can’t beat the location, as it’s steps away from the waterfront and many rooms have a view directly out onto the Strait of Georgia.
Old House Hotel and Spa
The Old House Hotel and Spa is an all-suite accommodation in Courtenay for those who love to relax. After a number of beer stops, this space will allow you to recover. They have an in-house spa if you’re looking for services and an outdoor heated pool with a hot tub if you’re just looking to soak.
The Old Courthouse Inn
The Old Courthouse Inn in Powell River is a place to stay with a story. It’s a Tudor-style building that used to be a courthouse, but is now run as accommodation by J.P. Brosseau and his partner Kelly Belanger. The rooms are old-school — in a cottagey, pleasant way. Brosseau manages the hotel while Belanger runs the on-site restaurant, which is a breakfast spot that focuses on organic, local foods and zero-waste practices.
Bonniebrook is a four-story, seven-bedroom lodge that is located on the Ocean Beach Esplanade in Gibsons. That means you’ll have a completely unobstructed view of the water or walk out right to it. The rooms are all suites, so they are very spacious. The property is a quiet setting that feels like the ideal spot for couples who want some serenity while not being too far away from entertainment and activities.