The plan was to tour via motorcycle to one of the most beautiful parts of Canada and hit world-class breweries along the way. Vancouver Island really does have it all: brilliant fishing, stunning beaches, diverse wildlife, and of course some of the best beer brewed in Canada. Our starting point was Nelson BC, so after a few days on the road making our way to the coast, our story begins.
We jump off the ferry in Nanaimo and within minutes are enjoying a World Beer Cup winner from White Sails Brewing. Their Cascadian Dark Ale is the perfect balance of hop and malt bitterness. This style is no easy task as often the bitterness of the hops and malts add up to astringent aftertastes, but not the case here. It’s almost creamy with just enough hop bitterness and floral aroma to add up to a flavour marriage that’s world-class indeed.
Riot Brewing, just down the road in Chemainus, is another recent World Beer Cup winner for its Working Class Hero Dark Mild and Breakfast of Champions Coffee Lager. 295 judges from 33 countries can’t be wrong. As it turns out they are not — this joint lives up to its name. I pull in on Canada Day with a Reggae DJ set up in the corner of the room, free hot dogs for the hungry masses, and a packed patio filled with pints and good vibes. One of the staff approaches us to check in and see how we’re doing and the next thing I know we’re touring the brewhouse, sampling from the tanks and laughing about how Working Class Hero was going to be axed for the summer but after the win, it’s taking up more tank space than ever.
I arrive Victoria and check into my Air BnB, a $16 bed in a family’s living room. This price doesn’t come without some trade-offs but it was perfect for me and the dirtbag theme of the trip.
Victoria has some of the best breweries in the country, but this trip is all about the fringe breweries and the roads between. Sooke Oceanside Brewing, about 40 minutes west of Victoria in Sooke, occupies half of a Shell gas station. I genuinely love how random brewery locations can be. You don’t need a lot of room to get up and running and serving great beer. Ingenuity, a talented brewer, a little money, a healthy side of crazy and you’re off. I’m impressed with just how good the lighter beers in my tasting flight are, super clean with absolutely no off-flavours. As I work down my flight I’m not disappointed. Everything I try I enjoy; some might not be my typical flavour, but I know a good beer when I drink one. We still have a lot of ground to cover as we head up north so off we go!
One can not live on beer alone. This is why a stop at one of the Island’s best cideries is called for. Tod Creek is located on an orchard a short ride from Victoria. Owner and cider maker Chris Schmidt has to be one of the more ambitious and hardest working people in the industry. He takes us on a whirlwind tour of the orchard, explaining how there was hardly anything here just a decade ago. Now it’s full of apple trees and to keep up with supply he’s bringing in juice from around the area and has a plan for a new location in the Kootenays. We’re sent on our way with some samples to enjoy once we park our bikes. The Original and Blueberry are easily two of my favourite ciders in BC. Not overly sweet or watered back for mass consumption. A perfect blend of crisp, refreshing apple and berry.
I’ve always found it to be true when people say the tougher the journey, the more interesting the reward at the end. Salt Spring Island is one of the most serene settings I’ve had the pleasure of being engulfed in. The kind of place where time slows down, and you’re left making plans to find a way to stay longer. We jump off the ferry and pull into Salt Spring Island Ales. I’m grinning ear to ear. It looks like a prohibition-era distillery: a rustic log cabin tucked away in the trees at the foot of a mountain. We ascend the stairs to what seems to have been the cabin’s loft in its previous life and are delighted to find one of the most intimate and unique tasting rooms in the province. The beer is top notch with the highlight for me being the Earl Grey IPA: an excellent balance of bergamot and hops in this British-style ale. I can’t remember a journey ever being more beautiful or worth it.
After camping on the edge of the ocean at Ruckle Provincial Park, we head for LoveShack Libations near Qualicum Beach. We have a little more excitement on this leg than anticipated. On the way, I’m nearly run off the road by a motorist, and with only inches to spare I avoid the collision. That’s what riding a motorbike is sometimes like.
Nerves rattled, we pull into LoveShack. They’re only open two days a week for four hours so we’re lucky today happens to be one of those days. A small industrial strip building is home to what becomes my favourite brewery experience of the Island. Owner and brewer Dave welcomes us with a warm handshake and leads us to a tasting area near the brewhouse. We learn later that his wife is also on hand; it’s a family business. We grab a table by the brew kettle and get our first beer, a hazy IPA that is one of the best we’ve had on the entire trip. Dave sits down, and we shoot the breeze about how he doesn’t much plan on outgrowing this current situation. “I opened this brewery for $70,000.” The theory that bigger is better isn’t Dave’s modus operandi. If you’re in that area and you see a bottle on a liquor store shelf, don’t pass it up. You’re even luckier if the brewery is open.
Cumberland Brewing could be the model moving forward for breweries in BC. Much like LoveShack, it’s a nano-brewing system built just to supply the local area. There are three keys to a successful small brewery: a great room with a good vibe, friendly staff, and killer beer. Cumberland has all three dialled in, and it’s such a bustling little town you can see why there’s an explosion happening. I get slightly lost looking for the brewery, and at the local hall, there must be 50-60 mountain bikers hanging out enjoying a post-ride session. The town much like the brewery just has something special about it.
Gladstone Brewing is the last stop of the day. All we have heard is how good the pizza is along with the beer. Sadly we have missed the kitchen, so one quick pint is all we have time for as we need to eat, but a rousing game of Connect 4 is fired up as a guy at the next table is on some kind of a roll. After having my butt handed to me, we slink off feeling the sting of defeat.
Last stop on the Island is the often recommended Twin City Brewing in Port Alberni. We pull in soaking wet from a brief but powerful shower and retreat to the patio to dry out our gear under the outdoor heaters. They’re perfect for our current state. The pale ale comes out a few minutes before our incredible looking pizza.
The beer is on point, the hype well deserved. It’s one of the better pale ales I’ve had in the last year. The White IPA is also a hit with our table. I ask a fella with a flight in front of him what his favourite of the bunch is? “The Rattler” his reply. Excited to see where this brewery goes in the future. If they’re on a shelf or draft menu, I’ll be sure to order up, but so far at least they are only serving their local market so you’ll have to plan a trip to Port Alberni if you want to taste their beer.
We loved riding and camping around the Island. No matter what your budget there’s always a journey to be had. I just can’t say enough about the people and places we encountered. We’re already planning next year’s route.