Pemberton is a beer-loving cyclist’s dream, complete with easy off-road trails, jaw-dropping scenery, and kilometres of flat ground. It’s even better if you look at a map before you start riding!
For weeks I’d been planning a family camping trip to Pemberton. This was the plan: my own family and I would drive up there to meet up with our friends from the Interior, then spend five days and four nights hiking mountains, climbing rocks, swimming in cold rivers, and, of course, visiting a couple of the up-and-coming mountain town’s local breweries on behalf of the BC Ale Trail. It was a fantastic plan.
But then our friends, for some very understandable reasons which are irrelevant to this piece, pulled out. And then my wife, for some similarly understandable reasons, did too. My family camping trip had imploded in the way that fantastic plans sometimes do, and through no fault of its own. Still, I had a job to do, and I’m not one to shirk my duty to society. So that’s why, on a promising August morning, I found myself alone, driving northward on the Sea to Sky highway with the music loud, coffee in the cup holder, and my bike on the back of the car. It would have been nice if the original plan had happened as intended, but I wasn’t upset because things were looking up.
Biking towards beer
After arriving in the late morning and pitching my tent in a campsite high above the Green River at Nairn Falls Provincial Park, I climbed onto my bike and set off toward my first destination. I’d sketched out a rough itinerary for myself that saw me biking from the campsite to Pemberton Brewing Company, the Pemberton Distillery, and finally, to The Beer Farmers, before heading back to the campsite at the end of the day. I knew it would be a manageable forty-five kilometres, over almost entirely flat ground, no less.
Somehow, though, I entirely neglected to research the finer details of my route beyond connecting the three points on Google Maps, and, so, I never found this detailed map produced by the Pemberton Valley Trails Association, which would have made my travels significantly easier in parts. So, rather than rolling out of the provincial park onto the wide, smooth grade of the Sea to Sky Trail, I turned onto what I thought was the only trail into town, which turns out to have been rated “more difficult,” and I’d like to think that I didn’t disgrace myself too badly as I wrestled my bike over massive roots, rocks, and steep climbs. Either way, nobody was around to see whether or not I walked any of it.
Eventually I found my way, and I rolled into Pemberton itself past the bustling public beach at One Mile Lake. And this is where the true greatness of my day came into crystalline focus: I was alone, on a bike, headed for a brewery that required no hill-climbing to reach, and all around me stood the kind of jaw-dropping mountain backdrop that we British Columbians take for granted all too often. Cruising past a line of cars stopped for construction on Highway 99, I wore a giant, bug-inhaling grin on my face, which grew wider when a helpful flagger directed me onto a trail running parallel to the highway that I’d failed to notice. Gravel crunching under my tires, I sped eastward in peace.
Pemberton Brewing Company
I arrived at Pemberton Brewing Company exhilarated from my ride and glowing with the kind of self-satisfaction I experience when I arrive at far-flung places on a bike. Some of that feeling vanished when the brewery’s friendly social media representative and bartender, Kate Sangster, asked if I’d arrived on “Cream Puff,” which, as my trail app revealed, is one of Pemberton’s best-known downhill mountain bike trails, descending three hundred and fifty metres over two kilometres. I had to admit that I’d come the flat way, but all wasn’t lost — one of the brewery’s most popular beers, a remarkably juicy hazy pale ale, is also named Cream Puff, so I still got a little piece of the action (despite being terrified of downhill mountain biking).
Assistant brewer Mark Franzen was kind enough to tour me through the spacious production area, which includes not just one of the most impressive cold rooms I’ve seen in a small brewery, but two of them. I’ve been a brewer myself and I get excited about details like these. Seriously, if you’ve ever tried to maneuver a full pallet of cans around a brewery floor, you know just how nice a few extra square feet of cold space can be. Also, there’s nothing that refreshes like walking into a massive refrigerator on a hot August afternoon. Meanwhile, the kettle wafted sweet, malty steam throughout the building.
Tastings at the Pemberton Distillery
Walking outside, I saw that the Whistler Wood Fired Pizza Company’s bright red truck had pulled up to the edge of the patio and smoke was beginning to curl from its chimney. My stomach rumbled in response, but I had more stops to make and my ride wasn’t close to halfway done. So I climbed on to my bike and rode for — three, maybe four minutes? — to the Pemberton Distillery and climbed off again. A Pemberton institution, the distillery’s best known products include Schramm Gin and Vodka, spirits produced with potatoes grown only a short distance away at the farm that’s home to The Beer Farmers, my third destination. But I was already familiar with those spirits and I was craving something oaky, so I asked assistant distiller Jake Schramm to pour me a sample of Pemberton Valley Organic Single Malt Whisky. The aroma of the peat-smoked malt lingered with me as I strolled through the distillery, admiring the rows of oak barrels filled with the same golden nectar that was in my glass. A wash boiled away inside the copper pot still, and strong, clear spirit trickled out through the sample port.
With a bottle of Nocino — black walnut liqueur — tucked away in my bag, I said goodbye and got back on my bike to begin the ride to my final stop. Once again, my lack of research led me slightly astray. If I’d had any sense, I would have left on the Friendship Trail, which would have brought me directly from the distillery all the way back to central Pemberton without having to to ride on the (admittedly generous) shoulder of Highway 99. But the highway ride went quickly, even after the friendly flagger from earlier in the day convinced me to take a beautiful, but winding detour along Pemberton Creek. Soon I was rolling through downtown Pemberton and then out the other side, following the Lillooet River upstream.
Getting to The Beer Farmers
Pemberton Meadows Road is a dream come true for the exertion-averse and beer-focused cyclist. The reward offered is out of all proportion to the effort exerted, which is to say: it’s dead flat and absolutely stunning. For 12 kilometres I pedaled between farm fields, here and there crossing canals and tributaries of the Lillooet River, resisted by nothing more serious than a gentle headwind. I could have kept riding up that road all day — (it’s easy to say things like this after the fact) — but a sign painted on a farm outbuilding announced that I’d reached The Beer Farmers, my destination, so I rolled down a gravel driveway and took the last available space in the crowded bike rack.
On a sunny August afternoon, The Beer Farmers resembles a community picnic on a farm more than it does a brewery and tasting room. A handful of tables dot the front lawn, but small groups of people were just as comfortable sprawling on the grass enjoying a meal from the food truck. The Beer Farmers comes by its rural charm honestly — the Miller family has owned and farmed the land it’s on since 1911, and brewing is just the most recent activity it’s taken on. In some ways, it’s an afterthought — as if to illustrate this point, farmer and brewery hand Will Miller led me briskly through the compact production area into a much larger adjacent storage room, stacked floor to ceiling with crates of organic potatoes from the surrounding fields. And yet, brewing is also very much an extension of farming for the Millers, who have planted 30 acres of their land in malting barley. Farmer Bruce Miller, that’s Will’s dad for those keeping up, poured me a glass of last year’s Wild Saison, brewed from barley farmed on the Miller lands and fermented with locally wild-cultured yeast. And, to complete this picture of bucolic charm, it was brewed by head brewer Brenda Miller, who is Will’s mom.
By now it was late in the afternoon. I’d felt absolutely no time pressure all day, but now my stomach was rumbling louder than ever. As I sped back toward Pemberton, I kept my eyes fixed on Mount Currie’s jagged form, as if it were guiding me towards my evening meal. Where every kilometre of road felt welcoming and spacious on the way up the valley, now it just felt endless. I, of course, had not bothered to bring anything by way of a snack on my ride. Next time I will, and I’ll read the map too! But relief wasn’t that far off. Not more than an hour after I left The Beer Farmers I was on the patio at the Mile One Eating House, staring at the cheese curds topping both my Hillbilly Deluxe burger and the poutine I’d ordered in a hunger panic.
Mount Currie stood above it all, radiant in the early evening sun. It had guided me well on this adventure.
Know before you go
As you plan a late summer or fall holiday on the BC Ale Trail, make sure to look up important information about the area you’re visiting and check on cancellation policies (and maps!) before heading on your adventure. Practice safe and respectful travelling as you explore the communities in our wild backyard that are open to visitors and make sure to be a considerate craft beer consumer while you’re out and about.