A Brief History of Northern BC Brewing
FROM THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL ISSUE OF WHAT’S BREWING MAGAZINE
It took most of the 30 years since What’s Brewing was first billed as “The Magazine of the Campaign For Real Ale British Columbia” for craft brewing to take off in Prince George and Northern BC as a whole.
Thirty years ago, Pacific Western Brewing (PWB) had been a fixture for some time in Prince George. It is BC’s longest-running independent brewery, established in 1957 as Caribou Brewing. The best PWB beer in my opinion is their Pacific Schwarzbock.
Buffalo Brewing Co. was the first Northern BC brewery to join the craft beer revolution, opening in Prince George in 1997 (see news clippings). It brewed and sold its products for consumption on-site. According to reports, management sold beers off-site towards the end. Beer fans in Prince George report the beer was good to pretty good. Fun fact: its location was thought to be haunted. It shut its doors in 2001.
The next Northern brewery to join the revolution, Plan B Brewery, was in the most unlikely of places: Smithers, BC. It lasted from 2008 to 2013 and was named best nanobrewery by Northwest Brewing News in 2013.
While a brewery closed in one mountain community, one opened in another the same year. That brewery was Three Ranges Brewing Co. in Valemount. In my opinion, it brews some of the best craft beer in BC. Their delicious Tail Slap IPA won Gold in the North American IPA category at the 2018 BC Beer Awards. The folks that run this craft brewery are amazing, the tasting room feels like home and the packaging is eye-catching and beautiful. On the opposite side of the province in the same year, Wheelhouse Brewing Co. opened its doors in the fishing village of Prince Rupert. One of my favorites is their Gillnetter Golden Ale.
2014 saw the opening of the Barkerville Brewing Co. in Quesnel, BC. Inspired by the original Barkerville Brewing Co. in the namesake historic town, this brewery consistently brews solid craft beer such as their award-winning 52 Foot Stout. It would have presented huge logistical challenges if it had been re-established at the actual Barkerville Historic Town, or nearby Wells, BC. In the coastal mountain community of Terrace, BC, Sherwood Mountain Brewhouse Ltd. also opened its doors that year. With a variety of delicious beers, I would say that my favorite of theirs is the Lava Bed Red.
2016 saw the opening and closing of Broke ‘N Rode Brewing Co. in 100 Mile House. According to some, the beer wasn’t up to par, but you have to give them credit for giving it a go. Jackson’s Social Club & Brewhouse opened in 2017, offering more improved beers. However, there are reports that this craft brewery is up for sale, so its future is uncertain.
Twenty years after the first northern BC microbrewery opened, the revolution returned to Prince George with the opening of CrossRoads Brewing & Distillery in 2017. With wood-fired pizza and delicious beers such as Cloud 9 Witbier, this place has become a social hub. Great accomplishments include hosting the annual CrossRoads Street Festival, and building a curling rink on its beautiful patio for winter customers to enjoy.
One year later, the equally amazing Trench Brewing & Distilling became the second modern brewery to open in PG. This one, I think, would fit in perfectly in Yeast Van or on Brewers Row. With the recent addition of a great barbecue food menu, delicious beer, amazing owners, cool events (including Trenchtoberfest) and overall atmosphere, this is most certainly a place to be. Their Arctic Pilsner is one of my favorites.
2017 saw the opening of another brewery in an unlikely place: Fort St. John. Typically hailed as Budweiser country, it seemed like folks were ready for the craft beer revolution with the opening of Beard’s Brewing Co. followed by Mighty Peace Brewing Co. one year later. Their Peace Gold Ale is solid.
Finally, nearly five years after Plan B closed shop, Smithers welcomed both Bulkley Valley Brewery and Smithers Brewing Co. with open arms in 2018. Smithers Brewing is quite innovative in their beer selection. They‘ve teamed up with world-renowned First Nations artist Roy Henry Vickers for their Skeena seasonal series of beers, to celebrate the river and raise awareness about the risks it faces. Old Man Winter Wee Heavy, which is a part of this series, is delicious. The Bulkley Valley’s Suskwa Saison, packaged in a crowler, is quite tasty too.
The future looks so bright in Northern BC. Ursa Minor Brewing, located just south of Burns Lake, is about ready to rock. Fox Mountain Brewing Co. will open in Williams Lake, filling the gap between Quesnel and 100 Mile House. Here’s a big cheers to the amazing history of Northern BC craft breweries, and to a bright future ahead!
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