by Nancy Mueller
My thirst-quenching five-day adventure begins with a 1.5-hour flight from Vancouver, B.C., along with a few fellow craft-beer aficionados, into Prince George (PG) for a visit to the town’s three breweries. Upon arrival, a guided tour through Cottonwood Island Park in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation connects us to the city’s Heritage River Trail system and the playful tree carvings by local artist Elmer Gunderson.
Downtown discoveries lead us to PG’s first craft brewery, CrossRoads Brewing & Distillery, for a flight tasting featuring the brewery’s flagship and seasonal offerings. Formerly the site of a service station, the brewery was instrumental in revitalizing the downtown core, welcoming family-friendly gatherings on its large outdoor patio and serving stone-fired pizzas made with local ingredients along with its unique craft beers.
Can you judge a beer by its name? I opt for CrossRoads’ Sun Kissed IPA in the hope of finding out. Notes of grapefruit and citrus confirm my flavor choice while colleagues lean more towards the copper-hued Old Westie Amber Lager, Cinder’s Red Rye and classic Pidherny Pale Ale.
The next morning, after hiking the Ancient Forest Trail under a canopy of towering old-growth red cedars, our beer wanderings bring us to the town’s two other breweries, Trench Brewing & Distilling in the industrial district with its oversized communal tables and cozy, lodge-like decor, and the intimate, open concept Deadfall Brewing Company, a newcomer on the local craft beer scene. They both focus on making small batch productions of creative beers—like Trench’s Pine Pass Pale Ale and Deadfall’s Basal Brown Ale—relished by novices and aficionados alike.
While we could continue road tripping the Northwest B.C. Ale Trail to our next destination that includes a ferry crossing, instead we take to the sky via Lakes District Air from Burns Lake to reach remote Ursa Minor Brewing at Little Bear Ranch about 60 miles south. Owners Nathan and Gwyn Nicholas give us a warm welcome to their 540-acre farm, also home to Willy, a 400-pound pig, and two affectionate donkeys, Rosa and Bella—and notably for our visit, the couple’s brewery. With six different craft beers on tap in the tasting room, our only dilemma is choosing one that fits our favorite flavor profile. Fortunately, that’s what flights are for. After sampling the Lost Viking Juniper Wheat Ale, Siberian Express and a test batch of Little Blue Boat Summer Ale, I settle on a fresh and fortifying Pondosy Pale Ale.
For our next pub-of-call, we set off for Bulkley Valley Brewery and Smithers Brewing Company in the town of Smithers. With the backdrop of Hudson Bay Mountain in a town whose Main Street received the People’s Choice award for the “Best Main Street in Canada,” it’s easy to see why both are popular places to sip and savor after a day spent on the slopes or nearby mountain-biking trails. Whether opting for Bulkley Valley’s flagship Hazy Days or Sasquatch Pale Ale, Smithers Brewing Co.’s mainstay Last Cast Lager or seasonal Flower Power Kettle Sour, it’s clear that “People in our town are fiercely proud to have a local brewery,” says Cam McKeigan, co-owner and head brewer at Smithers Brewing.
We follow the Northwest B.C. Ale Trail onwards to Sherwood Mountain Brewhouse in Terrace for tasters and snacks. Trained in the tools of the ale brewing trade in Berlin, owner and brewmaster Darryl Tucker brings a European-inspired sensibility to beers on tap including a classic brown Munich Lager, light-bodied Coast Mountain Pilsner and, for the newly beer-initiated, Friar House Lager.
At our final destination in Prince Rupert, a mural walking tour with Terrace Art Gallery, a visit to the Heritage Park Museum plus a guided tour of North Pacific Cannery and the Heritage Rail Station Rehabilitation, root us in the town’s history before we drop by Wheelhouse Brewing for a tasting. (Wheelhouse Brewing Company soon will be moving into a newly repurposed 100-year-old rail station, overlooking the waterfront.) A peek at the company’s tap list reveals its proximity to the town’s harbor: Killer Wit in a nod to the killer whales passing by on their annual visit, described as “light, floral and effervescent;” Foggy Harbour NEIPA, “big, tropical, juicy flavors and aromas and a cloudy, hazy appearance,” Gillnetter Golden Ale, “a beer crafted for everyone,” and more.
As our five-day adventure draws to a close, the only question on everyone’s mind is: “How soon can we come back?”
Northern British Columbia offers much more than beer; find out more at hellobc.com/places-to-go/stewart-cassiar-highway-16 and at travelnbc.com. Plan your own Northern B.C. Ale Trail by visiting bcaletrail.ca/regions/northern-british-columbia.