Off the beaten Ale Trail!
I’m always up for an adventure — especially when there’s a beer at the end! We all have stories of the lengths we’ve gone for a beer, and I thought I did too. But then I made the trek to Ursa Minor Brewing — BC’s newest farm-based brewery. . .
When you’re up in Northern BC, you don’t have too look far to see a beautiful view. If you want beauty and a beer, you might have to venture off the beaten track a bit. Armed with a handwritten page of directions (you run out of reception halfway there) my wife and I — two seasoned suburbanites — ventured deep into the middle of nowhere to find our destination.
Head south from Burns Lake on Highway 35. Cross François Lake on the (free!) ferry — yes there are in-land ferries in this province. You can check ferry times online or just chance it and wait in the peace for a while. Across the lake, keep going south; the road lines are a little faint, so just stay to your right and you’ll be fine.
After a while, take a right just after Tatalaska Lake onto Keefes Landing Road. I can’t tell you how long exactly, because we were distracted by the view and the remnants of what once was a thick forest. The 2018 fire ravaged this area and it’s still recovering. Both the landscape and the burned-out areas are breathtaking in their own right. Just make sure you make that turn, and roll over the cattle guards slowly. You’re in open-range land now. For those of you who don’t know… this means cows.
From this point on, you’re in cow territory. Judgy-eyed cow territory. After a a short while, you’ll hit a turn to stay on Keefes Landing Road to the left. You should turn here, but if you miss it because your navigator is too busy taking pictures — don’t worry, you have another chance to turn at Ootsa Nadina Road down the way. Either way, the road is dirt now and you’re getting closer.
Just when you acclimate to driving on dirt, you hit your first landmark: the Nechako Reservoir Spillway. It seems intimidating to drive over, but keep going and everything will be fine. From here on out, it’s a game of “follow the road.” Avoid the big rocks, chat with the cows blocking the road (they’ll eventually mooove), and look for the big red “Ursa Minor Brewing” sign on the right. Turn in and follow the signs to the brewery. Drive slow because you’ll be distracted by the landscape in front of you — it could be easy to take a left into the lake!
Once you’ve arrived, you’ll be thankful you made the trek! Open the brewery door and you’re greeted by Nathan Nicholas and his amazing family. I’ve never felt so welcome to a brewery in my life. Especially when their pups, Sitka and Max, come over for their mandatory head pats! Grab a drink and listen to their story: of their family, of the history of the land, and of their beer. It’s all really interesting.
Like every start-up brewery, Ursa had its struggles opening up. Starting with the fire evacuation in 2018, then in 2019, family health issues had them spending the better part of 2019 in Vancouver — delaying the launch of the brewery even further. Once 2020 rolled around, nothing could stop them though… not even COVID: the virus took a right instead of a left back at Keefes Landing Road, or maybe the cows scared it off.
Nathan has been brewing for as long as he can remember. Living off the beaten path means that a beer run is a two- to three-hour journey, depending on the ferry of course. He decided that it was just easier to brew it himself — and brew it he does. Deliciously too! Taking advantage of the ingredients right in their own garden and their surrounding area, they are committed to sustainable brewing practices. Putting a new twist on traditional farmhouse brewing, Ursa Minor brings a range of styles to their tasting room and in cans for consumption at home!
With five beers on tap, everyone will find something they enjoy. Those who enjoy the lighter side can have a taste of the Pig’s Eye Rye Ale or the Pondosy Pale. The heavyweight lovers will not be disappointed with the Ootsa Pogo Double IPA. If you’re looking for something darker, the Dark Sky Ale hits that sessionable combination of dark malts and light body perfectly. For anyone a little more adventurous (me), the Lost Viking Juniper Wheat Ale throws out a slightly tart, slightly botanical flavour that is perfect for summer.
Every part of the family has their hand in the production of the beer in their own way. Nathan’s eldest daughter, Molly, confidently assists in the brewhouse and tasting room. His youngest daughter, Mandy, contributes her talent as an artist to the label art. Nathan’s wife, Gwyn, has one of the hardest jobs of all: she handles the heavy lifting with the government business and order desk, making sure everything is in place and up to code. When it comes time to canning, it’s all hands on deck, often putting in 10-hour days to make sure the local stores are stocked with farm-fresh beer. Oh and let’s not forget their three pigs, Princess, Red, and spunky little Wilson, who do their part by chomping down on all the spent grain created. Lucky pigs.
After spending any time at Ursa Minor Brewing with the Nicholas foursome, you’ll agree with all the five-star reviews they’ve received. There truly is no other brewery in BC quite like this one. I’ve been to a lot. Something about the combination of scenery, hospitality, and friendly pooches, makes this place a must-visit for any adventurous beer nerd.
Congratulations Ursa Minor Brewing Team! I’ll be back to see what happens next.