Back in 2016, the Beer Seekers posted a story about our springtime brewery tour of Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast. That story’s title, “12 Breweries Make One Week“, encapsulated the number of establishments available on a loop starting in the Gulf Islands and Cowichan Valley, moving north to the Comox Valley, then over to Powell River and back down the coast. The BC Ale Trail was just being formed at that point, and there were no breweries in the mid-Island area outside of Nanaimo and Tofino.
Four years later, the Beer Seekers embarked on what we thought would be a triumphant return tour of Vancouver Island in order to visit the many new breweries that were popping up in the mid-Island area. Scheduled for Spring Break 2020, the trip fatefully commenced during the exact week of March when COVID restrictions began to shut down the entire province, and we regretfully beat a premature retreat. During the three years that followed, the Beer Seekers brooded fiercely about this, and planned on making amends with a bigger and more awesome Island excursion.
Finally this past month, the return campaign was launched. It would result in the Beer Seekers visiting 34 breweries, 3 cideries, two distilleries and a meadery on an expanded version of the aforementioned 2016 loop. During this trek we met some great people and unearthed some new favourite spots. Here’s a story about one of the most pleasantly surprising stops we experienced, almost literally in the middle of nowhere.
On a Monday in August 2023 we dropped in for lunch at Rusted Rake Brewing, tucked away on a farm off Highway 19 in the Nanoose Bay area north of Nanaimo. Despite it being a weekday, the large tasting room was absolutely packed and humming. Servers flew around serving patrons indoors as well as outside at picnic tables by the barley field. We selected our meals from the gastropub-style menu and ordered a flight.
Because we knew the brewers, we had confidence that the beers would be on point. Suffice to say that our faith was more than rewarded. Especially amazing on that day was a seasonal strawberry/rhubarb kettle sour that we wish we could have had a pitcher of. Also outstanding were the hazy pale and a coffee stout (see below). Sadly we had to curtail the drinking and move on, but we knew we’d be back the next morning in order to meet up with our friends for a brewhouse tour.
Back In The Saddle
Locally-raised brewer Dave Woodward has a long and decorated history in BC craft brewing. Once part of the Mark James Group brewpub empire, Dave later made his name at Tofino Brewing where he created some of the beers that the Island outpost is famed for. Then, after spending time at Langford’s now-defunct Axe & Barrel brewery (now home to Millstream Beverage Co.), he returned to his mid-Island roots and led Parksville’s Mount Arrowsmith Brewing Company to win Brewery of the Year at the 2017 BC Beer Awards. Now, Dave has returned even closer to his former home as part of the Rusted Rake family, and he seems really happy. In our opinion, it shows in the beer.
Dave is joined in the brewhouse on a part-time basis by another of our former Mainland friends who has escaped to these Island pastures. Warren Boyer is an experienced, award-winning home and commercial brewer who also happens to be a long-time member of the What’s Brewing Tasting Panel and contributor of WB’s Homebrew Happenin’s column. It was great to catch up with Warren and Dave at work, and appreciate the skill involved in getting such good beers out of a modestly-sized brewhouse.
Family Farm Fun
Rusted Rake was originally conceived as a farm-based restaurant by founders Will and Jodie Gemmell. However, due to their property’s Agricultural Land Reserve status, the province required the operation to make use of the land in a very specific manner. That’s when the fields were converted to barley and Rusted Rake Brewing was born.
More hands would be needed in order to expand the fledgling restaurant into a “farm-to-tap” brewery, so Jodie turned to her sister Jennifer Nichols, whose husband Craig would also get involved. We spoke to Partner/Manager Craig Nichols about this.
“Jennifer and I are in the process of relocating here,” Nichols shares. “Our longer term plan was to retire here. My wife’s family are just eight minutes away, so we always knew where we were going to end up. We thought maybe 10 years from now, but that’s out!”
Craig is currently balancing between the Island brewery and finishing up his commitments on the mainland. About his work history, Craig explains, “I worked at Capilano Suspension Bridge for 14 years, as well as Canada Place and the PNE. I helped start Flyover Canada, and now I work for Tourism Abbotsford, where I’ve been for nine years. So, I bring the tourism industry background, connections and marketing.” (Author’s note: given the resumé, that seems like an understatement.)
“We all have our roles,” Craig reflects. “My wife Jennifer is in education full-time. However, she does the retail for Rusted Rake, so she’ll take care of retail ordering.”
“Jodie, my sister-in-law, is the front of house manager,” Nichols continues. “She’s run restaurants before, served lots, and she knows that part of the business. Will, my brother-in-law, is the facilities guy. He built this brewery; he just knows how to build things.”
Will and Jodie were married at the outdoor event venue on the property, where a number of weddings are now held each year. “We’ve got four weddings this summer”, Nichols mentions. “We’re being very purposeful, just to ease into it.”
The same philosophy applies to the tasting room, which is currently closed on Tuesdays, giving the team a day to reset, focus on producing beers and the like. “We’ll get to seven days at some point,” Craig opines. “Let’s just make sure we get through this summer and don’t don’t cause too many headaches for ourselves. We’re in this for the long haul.”
No doubt Craig is correct, considering the seemingly-inevitable attraction which has called friends and family to live and work in this rural mecca. A little off the beaten path, but we’re glad we finally made it.
Rusted Rake Brewing
3106 Northwest Bay Rd.
Nanoose Bay, BC
Open Wednesdays – Mondays 11:30am – 9pm
Beers We Loved
On the day we visited, we enjoyed the brews shown at right.
Here in particular are the ones we can vouch for:
- Two Louies Coffee Stout
- Ziggy Digs It Hazy Pale
- Major Bell’s Pale Ale
- Rusty Angler IPA
- Strawberry/Rhubarb Berry Sour (seasonal)