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Craft Beer Road Trip

Craft beer and camping are two of my favourite things about living in British Columbia. Last year for my 30th birthday I wanted to combine the two in an epic brewery road trip. Living in the small town of Summerland, BC, I lack the access to craft beer that some of those fortunate souls in urban areas have. The original plan was to go around the province visiting the newest and greatest craft breweries. A quick search on Google Maps helped me realize that this would be impossible in the week that I had available. Not to be deterred, a new plan was made: head out to Tofino, down to Victoria, hop over to Salt Spring, cruise around Vancouver and finish up close to home in Penticton. Over the course of 9 days and 1,550 KM I visited 19 breweries and drank over 100 unique beers.

I set out in my trusty CR-V, along with my boyfriend/drinking buddy, Scott, and our fur-child, Bohdi. We made it to the Ferry terminal in record time – it’s amazing how fast you can drive when you’re thirsty! Arriving in time for a quick couple beers at the docks (Four Winds IPA), we headed across to Nanaimo, and wound up setting up the tent on the side of a logging road in Coombs. The next morning I awoke to discover a deer carcass beside the tent. When camping in cougar country it’s probably a good idea to scan the surrounding area with a flashlight before settling in for the night!

Tofino Chesterman Beach-chelseaWe left for Tofino early enough to avoid the RV traffic and I had a great time driving while the boys slept. We stayed at Surf Junction, right between Tofino and Ucluelet. The tent sites are big and spacious, rental fees for surf equipment are affordable and there’s a hot tub and sauna on site, which is amazing after surfing all day in the cold ocean. I will stay there again for sure!

Great vibes at Tofino Brewing. Big bay doors open up the tasting room with a small display brewery on one side and the lounge on the other. The music was blasting and the place was packed. When I found a seat at the bar, there was even a copy of the Growler magazine left on my seat, which was very helpful in navigating breweries for the rest of our trip. We tried everything on tap and really liked the Spruce Tree Ale, made with locally picked spruce tips and piney hops to round out the forest flavour. The Kelp Stout is another stand-out, made with local seaweed, and is noticeable in the mouthfeel. I have yet to try a beer from this brewery that I don’t like.

After a few days of surfing we headed down island to Victoria. It would have been great to check out some of the new breweries along the way, but we had a date with a brewer and did not want to be late! We stayed at Goldstream campground, which is beautiful. Spectacular giant trees covered in moss, filtered golden sunlight, and chirping birds set a peaceful scene. Even better, it was only 20 minutes to downtown.

A friend who heard about my trip connected me with her half-brother, Clay, who operates Moon Under Water Brewery and Pub. He spent over an hour showing us the brewery and offered us tasters right out of the tank. Clay trained in the European style of brewing which comes through in his excellent execution of styles like Pilsners and Hefeweizens. This can also be attributed to the high-tech, German-made equipment. Originally destined for a craft-brewery in Korea which went under, the equipment sat in storage for a while before being imported to the Island for an English-style brewery which also went out of business. It sat in containers for another few years until Moon came along and snapped it up. If you’re in the pub you can see the copper-clad mash tuns and fermenters around the corner – not only are they well made, they also look damn good! The space has to be used efficiently as some beers like the Berliner Weisse ferment up to a year “low and slow” to maximize flavour. They also do a barrel aging program tucked up under the rafters. I really appreciated Clay taking the time to give an in-depth tour, it was one of my favourite experiences of the whole trip!

The next day we headed into the city to do some sightseeing before checking out more breweries in the afternoon. Hoyne was first on our list for the day and while they don’t have an actual tasting room license you can “sample” their beer by donation to a local charity. I’ve had Hoyne bottles before but was surprised how good everything tasted fresh out of the tap. This trip really helped me realize how having beer direct from the source is the best, by the time bottles make it out to my small-town liquor store they have been sitting for several weeks – or even months if business is slow- and can lose a lot of their flavour. The top three were the Summer Haze Honey Hefe, Down Easy Pale Ale, and Hoyner Pilsner. We bought a bottle of each to take away with us and headed across the yard to Driftwood.

I was so excited to go to Driftwood; they were on my “must-see” list for this trip. You can imagine my disappointment when I walked up and discovered the tasting room was closed. Here’s a tip: if you’re planning a beer trip over a holiday weekend check to see which breweries are closed and plan accordingly to avoid crushing heartbreak. A worker from the brewery on his lunch break noticed my distress and suggested we come back tomorrow – which wasn’t possible as we were heading to Salt Spring first thing in the morning. He told me to wait a moment, went into the brewery and came back with three ice cold bottles of Fat Tug fresh off the bottling line. I never got this fellow’s name, but God bless you, Sir!

canoe- chelsea
Canoe Tasting Flight

Hungry, we headed over to Canoe brewpub and got a seat on the patio right off the water. If you’re in Victoria on a sunny day, don’t miss the opportunity to do this: It was wonderful. Sampling their lineup of beers we noticed a distinct similarity to Hoyne, which I found out later is because Sean Hoyne was the original brewer at Canoe, and then moved on to start his own brewery 12 years later

Phillips Brewery is an iconic destination and, as the first brewery I ever visited, it has a strong role in my development as a craft beer fanatic. I never get tired of hearing the story of how Matt Phillips started the brewery by maxing out as many credit cards as he could, then living and working in his brewhouse. The DIY spirit of this amazingly successful brewery has probably inspired at least half of the breweries that have popped up in BC since then. They run an organized tour 5 days a week for a small fee, which includes samples and a keepsake tasting glass. It was interesting to hear how they are launching an on-site malting facility with plans to use locally grown and malted grain in all their beers. Also exciting was the Fermentorium Gin and Tonic line, as the next best thing to a cold beer in the summer is a G&T!

We quickly headed up to Category 12 Brewery just before closing time. I hadn’t tasted any of their beer before, and was excited to try something completely new. Again we were lucky as Karen, who owns the place, along with her husband Mike, was behind the tasting counter and gave us an in-depth introduction to their brews. Apparently they have been blazingly popular since they opened. After trying their beers (which since have won several awards) it was easy to see why. Karen informed us she was more into the Belgian beers while Mike is partial to hops; their brews were a balance of these two styles. All were delicious, but Insubordinate ISA stood out in particular.

After all this drinking we were very hungry, so we stopped by Canada’s oldest brewpub, Spinnakers, on the way home. It was tough deciding on what to include in our tasting flights as there is a dizzying array of options, both beer and cider, to chose from. We had a great seat by the window and looked out at the bay as we enjoyed our dinner. I couldn’t resist picking up a few specialty chocolates on the way out which we enjoyed around the campfire later that night. The spicy bacon truffle was amazing!

We were up brutally early to catch the Salt Spring Island ferry, but it was a sunny day so that made up for it. Scott had never been there before, so we wanted to have a full day there before taking the evening ferry over to Vancouver. It must have been brew day at Salt Spring Island Ales as the forest was filled with the delicious smell of malt. The beers were delicate, and took on an air of English subtlety rather than West Coast edge. The Dry Porter, Golden Ale and Heather Ale were our top three, and we bought a few bottles of each to bring home. Afterwards we drove up Mount Maxwell and enjoyed a growler of Golden Ale while admiring the view. If you have a day to spare consider doing this route with about an 8 hour layover in Salt Spring. Even the ride back to the mainland feels like a cruise; the Gulf Islands are gorgeous and we spotted lots of marine life from the ferry deck!

On arrival in Vancouver we had just enough time to check out Dogwood Brewing, an organic brewery that created a buzz with their Kickstarter campaign. Claire and Brendan, the owners, were behind the counter so it was nice to hear directly from them about their style. As a home brewer it was inspiring to see a female brewmaster, and hear about the European inspiration she had for her recipes. The malt-forward beers seemed to have a feminine touch to them, and I especially enjoyed the Unite Red Ale collaboration beer brewed on International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day.

We stopped by 33 Acres and were impressed by the modern style of the tasting room. The place was packed and, while the beer was good, nothing really stood out so we moved on fairly quickly. Next up was Brassneck. I loved the rough wooden interior, and all of the beers really pushed the limits of their stylistic category. We tried all 11 beers on tap, each one tasting better than the next. Changeling is a rotating sour and this week they had one made with Viognier grape must. Coming from a grape-growing family I was really intrigued by this as it blurred the lines between beer and wine. Brassneck is a top destination now almost every time I’m in Vancouver as it’s always exciting to see what new creations they have come up with!

Yeast Van was our destination for the next day, and the first stop was Storm, the oldest independent brewery in Vancouver. I loved the mad-scientist vibe, and we were impressed to learn that all of the strange and wondrous flavours are completely natural and made in-house. As well, James, the brewmaster and owner, has fabricated much of the brewing equipment from scrap. The place is part brewery, part industrial art project. The growler-station beers change on a daily basis; our top 3 on this visit were the Gin and Tonic, Vanilla Whiskey and Basil IPA. .

A few blocks away was Doan’s Craft Brewing, which had just opened a few weeks prior. The best art of the trip was the tasting room mural by Ola Volo. Her artwork also adorns their bomber bottles. Their beer is inspired by German tradition, and is more malt-focused than hoppy. We liked everything on tap, but enjoyed the Rye IPA the best. I was sad to hear we were a little too early to try out a German IPA made with Hallertau hops, and will be checking back with them again to see what’s new.

mural at doans- chelsea
Mural at Doan’s

Close by is Powell Street, a small brewery that has quite a few quality beers on their line up. The tasting room is welcoming with interesting art and a viewing window looking into the brewery. The staff were quite knowledgeable and friendly, and we took our time going through the lineup of beers on tap. Top for us were the Grisette, a tart and refreshing low-ABV saison, and the Ode to Citra which is an IPA lovestory. This place may be small, but they are brewing some solid hits and it is absolutely worth checking them out in person.

We headed over to Coal Harbour on invitation from Ian, a brewer we had met at a beer festival a few weeks earlier. This is a production-only brewery, so it was cool to get behind the scenes and check the place out. Probably best known for their 311 Helles lager, they have also been doing some one-off bomber bottles – which we discovered are hand labelled and capped with the same equipment I use at home! We tried some of the lager fresh off the line, and checked out the rotating staff-brews in the keezer. It seems like a really fun place to work, they even have a basketball hoop in the yard!

I had scheduled a tour at Parallel 49 later that afternoon with lead brewer, Danny, who I had met at the BC Craft Beer Awards the year before. Here’s a tip – if you have a big tour planned, try not to drink too much at other breweries first! We had a very in-depth 3 hour tour, but I have to be honest, I was a little inebriated and some of it went over my head! Danny is full of knowledge and loves to share it with fellow beer-lovers. What stuck most from the tour is Parallel 49’s commitment to quality; every aspect of the brewing process reflects this value. We tried several brews straight from the tanks, and I was most interested to hear about the ‘continuous brew’ method for their sour beer. A tank is inoculated with lactobacillus, half gets drained and mixed with wort to make a sour batch, then the tank is refilled with fresh wort to be reinoculated. Hops are naturally anti-microbial but apparently the lactobacillus strain they are using has some resistance in order to be best utilized in the brewing process. If you had a sour beer from Parallel 49 in the past year, it was likely a direct descendant of the sour that I got to try from the tank in May.

The next day we hit the road to head back to the Okanagan and check out a few of the local breweries, joined by some friends. Martin from Bad Tattoo gave us a great behind-the-scenes tour of their large facility in Penticton. He honed his love of beer at Kettle Valley Station Pub, the local craft beer hub, and the food at Bad Tattoo reflects his first career as a chef. We had a lovely lunch of various wood-fired pizzas then headed into the brewery to taste some brews direct from the tanks. They are quite popular after being open for just a short time, and it’s easy to see why. Martin really knows his stuff, so if you have the opportunity chat him up about what’s currently brewing.

The final destination of our trip was Cannery Brewing’s new facility. At the time of the tour it was just completing construction, and it was interesting getting a sneak peek at the new digs. They had outgrown the space at the historic Cannery building, and took the opportunity to have a new location custom built on Ellis Street in Penticton. Tin Whistle has now moved into their old space, making use of the existing set up. Patt and Ron have been running Cannery Brewing for over 15 years now, and before then ran The Country Squire in Naramata for over 20 years, which had a huge following locally. Patt gave us a great tour of the spacious new facility and explained the brewing process in plain language, which was appreciated by my non-beer geek friends! I have since frequented the new location many times since it opened, and love the creativity that having a larger brewery has allowed them to explore. As well they have also started hosting musical and other community events in the tasting room, so if you’re in the area stop by and see what’s happening that week!

Since I did this tour, several new breweries have opened in BC, and I am already planning future trips to explore as many of them as possible. I got to see so many different styles of creating beer, everything from the mad-science of Storm brewing, to the high-tech labs of Parallel 49. What struck me most was the willingness of staff at almost every facility to take time out of their busy day and speak to us about their love of craft beer. So if you need a getaway this year, grab your growlers, pack your tent and get out there to explore!


Chelsea​ McDowell

Chelsea​ McDowell, experienced beer
event judge and homebrewer, is the communications manager for CAMRA South Okanagan. Among other publications, she writes for BC Ale Trail and What's Brewing. More of her writing can be found at Brewtiful BC

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