The West Kootenays are a stunning region of eastern British Columbia, cloaked in dense forests, hemmed in by majestic peaks, and ribboned by the dazzling water of the Columbia and Kootenay Rivers. Travelers on the BC Ale Trail get to enjoy all of that …along with a few pints of tasty locally-brewed ales and lagers, too.
Coming in from the south, you’ll cross the border and climb in elevation to Rossland — a beloved (and still relatively off-the-beaten-path) ski destination in the winter and a mecca for mountain biking and hiking in the warmer months. Regardless of what season you’re visiting, you’ll find a solid selection of brews and a dependable crowd of locals and visitors clinking pint glasses at the Rossland Beer Company. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself chatting with new friends at the cozy bar overlooking the brewing area — or hanging out on the patio with some new canine buddies, too. The Helter Smelter is an eminently quaffable amber with a surprising — but not overpowering — highlight of hops.
Head down the mountains to nearby Trail, a smelter town where the residents take great pride in their hockey team, their industry, and the brand new Trail Beer Refinery. The beer here is unpretentious and consistently sessionable, regardless of what style you’re into, and the pub itself is becoming a focal point for the revitalizing Trail downtown. Play some indoor lawn bowling just a block away from the Columbia River, and if you’re hungry be sure to grab a burger — their size is legendary, and only seems to be growing, according to local fans.
North, where the Columbia and Kootenay Rivers meet, the city of Castlegar is not only the sculpture capital of Canada, but it’s also home to one of the best pubs in the Kootenays — the Lion’s Head. With 12 rotating taps of B.C. brews, this renovated biker bar is now a spacious and colorful community hub, with fantastic food and plans to open up an in-house nanobrewery on the second floor. Just steps away from the banks of the Columbia River with an impressive rock wall right in the back parking lot, don’t be surprised to see outdoor enthusiasts of all stripes stopping in to replenish some calories or local musicians making good use of the in-house piano.
At just over 10,000 residents, the city of Nelson sits at the west end of Kootenay Lake and acts as the cultural hub of the region. It makes sense, then, that it’s also home to an active brewing scene. If you want a nice pint while exploring Nelson’s historic Baker Street, be sure to stop into Backroads Brewing Company. Their pub has a thoroughly modern feel and spills out onto the street with an outdoor patio.
If your tastes lean more toward the adventurous, you’ll definitely want to stop in at Torchlight Brewing, which was so beloved by Nelsonites that it graduated from a tiny nano-brewery to a full-scale operation in just a few years. The Mild in May English ale is served on nitro for a unique take on the style, while the Noctis sour ale has notes of hibiscus and lavender. Even the standard styles are great here, like the near-perfect Blondes in Stereo blonde ale.
And because Nelson is a city that loves its history, you can’t leave without visiting the Nelson Brewing Company. NBC was founded back in 1991, but recent new owners breathed new life into the established brand by going all-organic and even more recently opening up a cozy, neighborhoody tasting room in the Brewery’s historic building (it was formerly also home to an icehouse, and a mostly-buried stream still runs through the brewing area’s floor and helps regulate the temperature!). From their After Dark brown and exquisitely tasty Happy Camper and Bent Pole IPA, it’s clear the team at NBC knows what they’re doing — and loves doing it, too.