Adventures on the Coastal Ale Trail!

I was lucky enough to be able to visit the Sunshine Coast and Tofino in May for a week-long road trip with my boyfriend, Scott. Of course I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit a few breweries along the way. This followed the route of the Coastal Ale Trail, part of the larger BC Ale Trail tourism initiative to establish craft-beer specific tourism. This project will be officially launching during Craft Beer Month in October, but check out the newest issue of What’s Brewing Magazine for a sneak peek at some of the routes.

Persephone Brewing Company – Gibsons, BC


The circular route we followed included several ferries. The problem with ferries is if you don’t have a reservation, you might not make it on the boat. We were “coned” – which if you aren’t familiar with the term involves a BC Ferries Worker stopping you from proceeding in your line-up onto the boat by placing a large orange traffic cone in front of your vehicle. Horseshoe Bay isn’t a bad place to spend a few hours, but unfortunately I had booked a tour at Persephone and they were too busy to reschedule to later in the day. I was crushed, but decided to look at it as an opportunity to plan another trip to Gibsons later this summer.


We still stopped off at the Brewery, in order to quench our thirst and to pick up some beers for the trip. The place was packed, there were people everywhere – inside, outside, everywhere you looked. A live band was playing inside, and some really tantalizing smells were wafting from the food truck outside.


We got a couple of flights and tried the Golden Goddess Ale, Hop Yard Red Ale, Best Bitter, Dry Irish Stout, Double IPA, and a collaboration ale with Deep Cove whose name I can’t recall but it had coffee in it. I liked the Red ale best, while Scott was a fan of the stout. We hung out for a bit savoring our drinks and people watching. Bohdi got to join us on the patio and as usual he got lots of attention from everyone around.  They had a crew there filming for the just-launched investment opportunity, so it was cool seeing that go on as well.  


We filled up some growlers, grabbed some cans (to take hiking later in the trip) and a few bottles to bring back home. Here’s hoping to get back there again and actually do a tour with the crew there – the Beer Farm has some really great ideas about sustainable agriculture and community involvement so it would be really neat to be get some more details on how they are operating.


Always good advice.

Townsite Brewing – Powell River, BC


I was able to arrange a tour with Andrea, the (read card operations manager) and I was really looking forward to visiting as we have a hard time finding their beer in the Okanagan. If you are wondering why the name Townsite it’s because the brewery is located in the historic section of Powell River, known as Townsite.


The brewery itself is located in a beautiful heritage building, and I learned that the tanks and fermentors had to be built specifically to fit into the low-ceilings of the brewing space. Andrea told us that all of their equipment was as manual as possible, as it is easier to fix than automatic parts. However, manual equipment is also quite labour intensive, and all of the staff work quite hard to keep things running smoothly and keep the beer flowing.


Cedric, the head brewer, was spotted hard at work taking samples from the fermentors to check specific gravity. Andrea told us that he and his wife, Chloe, met in Montreal, and both are highly educated in the brewing sciences. Cedric originally started his career in Belgium, which explains that countries influence on many of their beers. They came to Powell River with the specific goal of opening a brewery, which was a bit unusual due to the geographic isolation and the relative lack of craft beer options in the town at that time. The local population has really embraced Townsite, and it is available on tap in many locations in the town. They also do good business out of their tasting room, with several beers available for growler-fills only, such as the Suncoast Ale.



The brewery was under construction while we were there, they are renovating the upstairs portion of the building to create a new tasting area up there, as well as improvements to the current grain and barrel storage rooms. The barrel room was really interesting for me to see, for a limited production brewery they had an impressive barrel collection, one piqued my interest being labelled as a Brett from December 2014. They get many of their barrels from Vancouver Island wineries, one beer is aging in a blackberry wine barrel, which sounds amazing!


We followed Andrea down to the tasting room where we tried a dizzying array of samples. I was really impressed at the number of variations of styles that they were producing, with year-round, seasonals and single-batch beers being produced. I have to admit, tasting all of this wonderful beer at 11:00 in the morning… I may have lost track of all of the ones we tried. I can say that every single one of them was amazing, and many were totally unique. As best as I can remember we tried the Suncoast Pale Ale, Pow-Town Porter, Tin Hat IPA, Zunga Blonde Ale, Zwarte Wheat – a dark witbier, 7800 Saison, Charleston Belgian Triple, Perfect Storm Oatmeal Stout, Shiny Penny Belgian IPA, Cardena Belgian Quad and probably a few more. I also really enjoyed the names of the beers – many are named for local landmarks such as Tin Hat Mountian, or local colloquialisms such as Zunga – the name for a rope swing that you use to launch yourself into a body of water.


Again we filled up growlers for our trip, and filled a box with beer to take home. You’ll probably notice several Townsite beers on the blog over the next few weeks as I work my way through my collection! (talk about the beer that is even better when cellared)

Gladstone Brewing Co. – Courtenay, BC


I had heard that there were several good breweries in the Courtenay and Cumberland area – Gladstone, Forbidden, and Cumberland. Sadly, Gladstone was the only one open on a Monday, so I wasn’t able to go to the other two, which was really disappointing for me. Oh well, looks like I’ll have to try again next year!


Gladstone was on the corner of a funky complex that also housed a pizzeria and a coffee shop. The vibe there was sort of garage/DIY/Rockabilly blend. I tried the Sterling Belgian Single, Pilsner, Royston IPA and the Porter.I enjoyed all of them, but found the Royston IPA really stood out with lots of citrus and tropical flavours.The tasting lounge was cozy, but had an impressive set of long tables made with the trunk of an entire tree. They also had a spacious patio outside, and with the pizzeria next door you could probably spend quite a bit of time there.


Tofino Brewing Co. – Tofino, BC


We staying in Tofino for 6 nights, and kept coming back to the brewery to refill our growlers. I love their beer, and love visiting the brewery. It might not look like much from the parking lot, but it’s open and spacious, due to the high ceilings and big bay doors, and has a welcoming atmosphere. On one side is the tasting lounge and on the other is the brewery. While we were there we were able to watch various aspects of the brewing process unfold while we sipped on the final product! It was always packed full of people, no matter what day or time we were there, it seemed like a great local hangout!


While we were there we had fills of the Kelp Stout, Hoppin Cretin IPA, Tuff Session Ale and Blonde Ale. All four are great. I especially enjoyed making radlers with the blonde to have earlier in the day, and finishing off the evening with the stout around the fire. We also were able to pick up their Lager in cans, which was so great for our various adventures around the area. I’m really glad to see more breweries taking advantage of mobile canning units, as travelling with growlers or bombers is pretty awkward.


We were also lucky enough to be able to arrive just as they were releasing their Spruce Tree Ale, which out of all of the various tree-inspired beers in BC is my personal favourite. I learned on one of our visits that they actually pay someone to go out into the forest and pick the Sitka spruce tips for this beer. That sounds like such an awesome job! As well, I also learned that the Kelp Stout, probably one of the most unique beers around, uses fresh kelp straight from the ocean both during the boil and then to condition the final product. The kelp is also harvested locally. No wonder this place is always packed with locals and tourists alike, they really have embraced the spirit of the West Coast here!


Longwood Brew Pub – Nanaimo, BC


On our way home, I wanted to stop off in Nanaimo and check out the three breweries there, Longwood, White Sails and Wolf. It was a Monday again, and Wolf was closed, but I was able to check out the other two.


Longwood Brew Pub has been a popular pub in Nanaimo for a while now, but underwent a rebranding recently that wound up with them opening a production brewery for bottled product as well as selling draught beer at the pub. We had the IPA, ISA, Dunkleweizen, ESB, Irish Red Ale, Framboise, Russian Imperial Stout and Two Penny Ale. I liked the Irish Red and the Dunkelweizen the best, while Scott really liked the Stout and the Raspberry.


The beers we had at the brewpub are made on site, so they do differ somewhat from those brewed at the production brewery. The grain is stored on the top floor, brewed on the middle floor, and then the fermentors are in a cold room on the bottom floor – all visible to the public from the different areas in the pub. I also found it interesting that half of the offerings were served at cellar temperature, which you don’t see too much these days.

White Sails Brewing – Nanaimo, BC


This brewery was the hidden gem of the trip. I had never had anything from them before, and I was really impressed. The space was bright and open with the brewery behind glass on one side, and the tasting room on the other. There was lots of seating and a stack of board games as well, which made me wish we didn’t have a ferry to catch!


I tried everything on tap, and again was really blown away by the quality of their beer. All styles were crisp, clean and very well executed. We learned that they use local and organic ingredients where and when they can. I had the Departure Bay Session Ale, Old City SMASH II, Buttertubs Tafelbier, Yellowpoint Pale Ale, Mount Benson IPA, Snake Island CDA and Gallows Point Chocolate Porter. In case you couldn’t guess, all of the names are local geographic features from around the area. The IPA and CDA were standouts for me, but most of all was their chocolate porter. I have never had a beer like that before in my life. It was so rich and smooth with minimal bitterness. It was so good I had a growler to myself later in the week to celebrate my birthday, and it was like drinking liquid chocolate cake! I am sure we will be seeing more from this brewery in the future, but if you are ever in the area for sure check these guys out!


Of course the trip was over too soon, but I was happy that in just one week Scott and I got to visit quite a few breweries, as well as go hiking, kayaking, surfing, fishing, and also had some time to just relax on the beach. We really live in such a beautiful province, there is so much to see and explore!


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