Whistler & Squamish

While Merideth and I felt we could spend the rest of our trip traveling around Vancouver Island, it was time for us to move over to the mainland. There were more breweries to visit and more of the British Columbia beer scene to explore.

Ferry dwarfed by the mountains

We left the aptly named Departure Bay early Monday morning destined for the Lower Mainland. It was a beautiful, sunny day. With the gorgeous weather, Merideth and I enjoyed crossing of the Straight of Georgia from the upper deck. With the backdrop of the massive mainland coastal mountains, the scenery was spectacular. I almost wished we could do it all over again, but we disembarked at Horseshoe Bay and journeyed north.

View all the ferry crossing images…

The rings in Whistler Village…

Our first destination of the day was Whistler, the famous ski resort known most recently for hosting events during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Even in summer, the semi-posh Whistler Village teamed with tourists and outdoor-types strolling its quaint pedestrian zone. Not being skiers, Merideth and I took it all in with a bit of curiosity.

Merideth enjoying a pre-hike beer at the Brew House in Whistler

Normally, we would set out for a hike first, but Merideth was hungry. Instead, we wound our way to the far end of Whistler Village destined for High Mountain Brewing. Under a brilliant sun and snow-capped peaks, we settled into one of the outdoor high bar tables.

Starting with the light-bodied Lifty Lager and ending with the seasonal Imperial Stout, Merideth and I sampled the brews in the six beer flight. All the beers were very drinkable, with the Alta Lake Amber Ale and 5 Rings IPA being the favorites for Merideth and I respectively.

Alta Lake

The network of hiking/biking trails around Whistler was quite impressive. Wanting to set out from the Village, we settled on a 7-8km loop around Alta Lake. Our hike was more of a long walk on paved paths around the lake, but Merideth and I enjoyed the exercise and being out in the sun.

Post hike, we had another quick beer at the Brewhouse before heading back down the mountain to Squamish.

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Howe Sound Inn & Brewing Co.

Squamish billed itself as the “outdoor recreational capital of Canada.” Merideth and I were oblivious of this claim to fame as we exited off Hwy 99 at Cleveland Avenue, the town’s main drag. Squamish was our destination because of Howe Sound Inn & Brewing Company. The seventh brewery of the trip was also our hotel for the night.

The dozen beer sampler at Howe Sound

Checking into the hotel, we quickly dropped off our bags and headed back downstairs to the pub.

There is no better reward for staying at a brewery hotel than a dozen brew-flight. Merideth immediately fell in love with 4 Way Fruit Ale, a Wheat Beer made with mango, passion fruit, raspberry and pomegranate. Light-bodied and full of fruit flavor, 4 Way tasted exactly like a breakfast juice.

A finished dozen beer sampler…

Merideth’s other favorite and go to beer during our stay at Howe Sound was Rail Ale Nut Brown. A silver medal winner at the 2012 North American Beer Awards, the brew had the nice nutty flavor that she enjoys. My stars were Devil’s Elbow IPA and Baldwin Cooper Best Bitter, a bronze medal winner at the 2012 North American Beer Awards.

Merideth and I were both fond of Megadestroyer, an Imperial Licorice Stout. Maybe an ‘acquired taste’ brew, this 10% ABV full-bodied Stout had, as the name would suggest, a wonderful licorice flavor.

The Chief

Sitting in the pub, we couldn’t help notice the huge granite monolith that looms over Squamish. Known at the Stawamus Chief, the huge rock face towers 2,300 ft. over the town. Merideth and I joked that we would climb the face before we left.

Later, we learned from our friendly waitress that there was a hiking trail to the top that offered amazing views of Howe Sound and the surrounding mountains. Inspired, we vowed to get to the top of the Chief the next day.

Trail maintenance? Today?

The following morning we awoke psyched up to conquer the Chief. Doing some trail research online before we left, I saw a notice on the BC Parks website that the trail to the top of the Chief was closed for maintenance that very day (and only that day). Not really believing our unlucky fortune, we drove to the trail head to confirm that it was true.

Extremely disappointed, Merideth and I settled on another 7-8km hike at Alice Lake Park that wound around four different lakes. A bit more remote than our Whistler hike, the ‘Danger bear in the area’ warning added a bit of excitement. But, we still weren’t climbing the Chief.

Back at Howe Sound and again under the gaze of the Chief, Merideth and I lamented our missed hiking opportunity over a few pints. In the end, we re-framed our day. We didn’t conquer the Chief, but that just means we need to return to Squamish.

View all the Squamish images…

Beyond Victoria

Sunday’s adventure took us further north on Vancouver Island; the first time we’d explored beyond Victoria. And what an adventure it was!

Duncan, BC

We picked up a rental car at the Victoria Airport and followed the instructions of Canuck Karen, our endearing nickname for our GPS, towards Nanaimo. We dodged packs of bicycles participating in the Tour de Victoria as Karen led us through scenic back roads and graveled private roads. Chris had assumed that our route would be down and around the Saanich Inlet, staying firmly on dry land throughout the journey. However, Karen led us to the ferry crossing where we waited 30 minutes for the ferry and took 25 minutes to cross. Once back on land, it took us under a half-hour to reach the town of Duncan. This quaint town is the home to 80 totem poles created by First Nations artists, as well as Craig St. Brew Pub, our first brewery of the day.

Craig St. felt simultaneously spacious and cozy. The dining room, complete with a fireplace, on the left was separated from the antique bar by a large entry way with a high ceiling. There was also an upstairs deck, but we chose to sit at the bar.

The toolbox

The young staff was friendly and attentive as they brought us our “toolbox” sampler set. The wooden box held five beers (Lager, Hefeweizen, Irish Ale, Pale Ale, and a Porter) plus pretzels, which I thought was a nice touch. The seasonal Hefeweizen was a tad too lemony tasting for me, but the Shawnigan Irish Ale, Arbutus Ale, and Mt. Prevost Porter were all solid and paired well with my Asian Cole Slaw with Prawns and Chris’ Chicken Sandwich.

A nice day for a stroll in Nanaimo

While at Craig St., we made a few adjustments to our schedule and headed straight for Nanaimo. With just one more brewery to visit before we checked into our B&B, we had plenty of time to look around this harbor city. The weather was warm and intermittently sunny, so we opted to walk along the waterfront starting at Maffeo Sutton Park, a busy, family-oriented place that serves as Nanaimo’s signature park.

Easy to spot…

By late afternoon we stopped at our second and last brewery of the day, Longwood Brew Pub. Situated in an upscale strip mall, the large silo makes it easy to locate. We walked in on the second floor, which is the restaurant. Downstairs, the pub is equally elegant with its dark wood features and black-clad waitstaff. As usual, we chose to join a handful of others sitting at the bar. As we soon discovered, Longwood is very much a locals place. During the 90 minutes or so that we stayed, there was a steady stream of locals stopping by for a beer. I think we were the only ones the bartender didn’t address by name and a confirmation of the usual drink order.

A friendly lot, we thoroughly enjoyed chatting with our bartender and barmates about everything from the virtues of being bi-lingual and hiking opportunities on Vancouver’s west coast to the beauty of golf at Pebble Beach.

The flight at Longwood

Longwood had several beers to sample, all solid and many brewed with British influence. The Hefeweizen, Irish Ale, and ESB were tasty brews, but my favorite was the Dunkleweizen and unsurprisingly, Chris favored the IPA. Before we left, we purchased a bottle of their Framboise (a refreshing dry brew with just the right amount of raspberry flavor), which we later drank on the deck of our B&B.

Enjoying the view at MGM Seashore Bed & Breakfast

Speaking of which, I would be incredibly remiss if I didn’t mention our lodgings for the night–MGM Seashore Bed & Breakfast. With absolutely stunning views, it was quite affordable and our hosts, Marilyn and Glenn McKnight, were very gracious. They even grow hops used by the Longwood Brew Pub.

With their help, we ended a somewhat stressful day that didn’t go to plan by sharing great local craft beer and wonderful conversation all while overlooking the most spectacular view possible.

View all the images from our day…

Wandering Around Victoria

With its concentration of breweries and easy walk-ability, Victoria screamed out for an Urban Beer Hike. I even had one envisioned in my head, a circular route that hit all the new breweries plus some old favorites in the British Columbia capital. But, prior to our trip, I was too immersed in working on promoting Merideth’s book to get one properly organized and planned. Our one full day in Victoria morphed into more of an Urban Beer Wander.

Blue skies over Victoria…

In contrast to the previous day, the weather on Saturday in Victoria was a bit more encouraging for a walk. Clouds were breaking up mid morning as Merideth and I left Spinnakers, our brewery-hotel, for the short walk to the Inner Harbor. By the time we reached the center of town, both Merideth and I had our fleeces off.

After doing a Clark Griswold on the downtown tourist sights, Merideth and I headed up Government Street to the industrial part of town. The blocks around Government and Bay Streets have become Victoria’s ‘brewery gulch’, the location for most of the new breweries in town.

Been there, done that

Our first beer stop was Vancouver Island Brewing. To illustrate my distracted state prior to our trip, I had the island’s oldest craft brewery on our target list despite having already visited the brewery on our last visit to Victoria in 2001. Even though we’d already been there, nothing looked familiar to me or Merideth. I certainly hope a remodel was the explanation.

In the end, a few beer samples can’t hurt, even if the brewery was already on The List. Hermann’s Dark and the seasonal Hefeweizen Beachcomber Summer Ale were pleasant starts to the beer portion of the day.

The one brewpub in the industrial part of town

We continued walking up Government and hung a left on Bay to reach our second destination, Moon Under Water, a brewery that did count on The List. The name comes from a George Orwell essay of the same title where he describes Moon Under Water, his fictitious ideal pub.

The sample flight at Moon Under Water

Not quite sure of how many more stops there would be on the day, Merideth and I only split the six beer sampler. In a rare moment, we agreed on the our favorites of the lot, Moonlight Blonde, Lunar Pale Ale and the seasonal Stout. The overall star for me was the 4.2% ABV Blonde ale. Made with a bit of wheat and hopped with Saaz, the brew had a really nice bite to accompany its light body.

Certainly is…

From Moon Under Water, it was only a short walk around the corner to Hoyne Brewing on Bridge St. To illustrate that this neighborhood is brewery gulch, Driftwood Brewing was located next door. But unfortunately, it is not currently open to the public.

Located in a blue-roofed industrial building on the corner, Hoyne has been only open since December. For being such a newcomer, they have already developed quite a following as evidenced by the steady stream of customers coming it to fill growlers.

Sampling at Hoyne Brewing

We sampled five beers, all quite nice especially given the youth of the brewery. Starting on the lighter end with Summer Haze Honey Hefe and Hoyner Pilsner, we moved on to Merideth’s favorite, Dark Matter. Technically classified a Brown Ale, Dark Matter had a wonderful nutty and roast character. Moving on to my end of the spectrum, we finished with Down Easy Pale Ale and Devil’s Dream IPA. Both were excellent, though I preferred the Pale Ale.

Phillips Brewing

Returning back the way we came, Merideth and I headed back down Government Street to our third and last new brewery of the day, Phillips Brewing. Just like Hoyne, but even more so, Phillips enjoyed a very steady stream of growler-fill customers. We grabbed a corner of the tasting bar, trying to stay out of the way, while we worked our way through the Phillips lineup.

Merideth enjoying herself at Phillips Brewing

We sampled numerous brews beginning with the light-bodied Phoenix Gold. An early highlight was Service 1904 Scotch Ale, a 5% ABV stone-fired beer with a flavorful caramel malt profile. Hop Circle IPA not only was a great hop-pun, but a well-crafted hopbomb. Longboat Chocolate Porter was a favorite of both Merideth and I. It’s deep chocolate flavor cried out for a big bowl of vanilla ice cream.

Sample flight at Canoe Club

Once back in the center part of Victoria, we headed to Canoe Brewpub. Though we had been there before, Merideth and I had visions of playing scrabble in the sunshine overlooking the water on the brewpub’s patio. Grabbing the only available outside table, Merideth and I dove into the six beer sample tray.

Then the weather turned for the worse. The wind picked up, dark clouds rolled in and the sunshine was gone. The wind was so strong it even picked up an open umbrella from the table next to us and hurled it over the glass wall onto a walkway. By the time we decided to pack it in, the rain had started to fall.

Driftwood’s Fat Tug IPA at Garrick’s Head Pub

Trying to wait out the rain, Merideth and I next went to Garrick’s Head Pub in Bastion Square. A Victoria fixture since 1867, Garrick’s Head came recommended by several people for being a good place to find local craft beer. I took the opportunity to try Driftwood Brewing Fat Tug IPA. At 7% ABV and 80 IBU, it was very West Coast style and one of my favorite beers I drank in Victoria. It definitely made we wish they had a tasting room to try the rest of their offerings.

A bit breezy…

As Merideth and I enjoyed our beers at Garrick’s Head, we examined every entering customer to see how wet their jackets were. With a 20-minute walk back to Spinnakers still ahead, we were hoping to minimize how wet we got. Finishing our pints, we decided the rain had sufficiently let up. It was a pleasant, if breezy, walk back to Spinnakers.

Our reward for a good day of beer travel

After two visits to the British Columbia capital, Spinnakers, for us, remains the cream of the crop of the Victoria beer scene.The beer was world-class and the farm to table food quite delicious.

Though I was wanting the long-gone cask Cascadia Ale that I had enjoyed the previous day, Spinnakers India Session Ale was the perfect choice after a day of drinking beer. We finished our Urban Beer Wander with a nice dinner, our evening culminating with a Chocolate Truffle and Beer Pairing. It’s one of the perks of staying in their hotel.

Our day in Victoria wasn’t that organized, but despite that, we discovered again that it’s a great beer town. Next visit, I will be better prepared with a properly planned Urban Beer Hike.

View all of the Victoria images…