People say life moves a little slower on the island, so maybe that’s why it took over 30 years from the start of the craft beer revolution until a craft brewery opened in Campbell River, a three-hour drive from where it all started.
A Little History Lesson
Back when Canada’s first brewpub, Spinnakers, opened in 1984, Campbell River had just over 16,000 people living in a resource-driven community. Mining, fishing, and logging made up a good percentage of the workforce in a truly blue-collar town. Neighbourhood pubs like the Quinsam Hotel, the Willows, and the Royal Coachman came alive once the time clocks were punched, and would fill up with workers looking for something easy to drink that didn’t cost a lot.
Moving ahead 30 years to the early 2010s, the town had since become a city of more than 35,000, and change meant fewer jobs in large industry and a move to more small businesses driving the local economy. That change has been drawing back so many who had originally left — usually right after graduation — not only by familiarity, but to run those small businesses while easily accessing family activities like hiking, skiing, mountain biking, fishing, and more.
Routine has always been behind the sense of community that kept the town going. Hourly ferries over to Quadra Island, weekend sports for the kids, and summer vacations camping at Miracle Beach and Buttle Lake are still things everyone in town can rely on almost as much as the sound of the Cape Mudge foghorn through the colder months.
So while those neighbourhood pubs may not be there anymore, something new is taking hold, and there’s new energy changing up some of that routine that had kept things going. Those young adults coming back from larger cities had brought something else back: a love for local flavour, including local craft beer.
The New Kids in Town
That love of local was one of the reasons a series of pop-up dinners started being held among some friends. Those dinners led to talk of pairing some home-brewed beers alongside one night’s feast, and, like every group of people who knows a good homebrewer, the conversation steered towards the idea of opening a brewery. That brewery, Beach Fire Brewing, opened in November 2016 and pushed the outer boundary of locally produced beer just a little further north on Vancouver Island.
Since day one, Beach Fire has been able to find success, and beer hasn’t been the only reason. The ever-changing menu, using locally produced ingredients as much as possible, a space that feels welcoming to all who enter, and a selection of beer that keeps people coming back for more have all created a space for everyone in the community. Everything from business meetings to family gatherings to special occasions take place in this comfortable space.
If you happen to be in town on a Tuesday, the brewery’s can’t-miss small batches have become one of its biggest draws, where brewer Darrin Finnerty gets to brew outside the box, and never disappoints. Beach Fire’s beer can also be found on tap at quite a few locations around town, and even further south on the Island, but if you’re looking to bring it with you, you’ve got to go straight to the source for a growler or some of their newly canned beers.
Take a Spin
As more come back to the community, more opportunities present themselves to share the amazing beers brewed throughout this province, and in the summer of 2019, Session Taproom, Kitchen and Spin opened in the downtown core across from the stunning views of Robert V. Ostler Park. This combination of a spin class studio and bistro (trust me, it works) offers an amazing rotating selection of BC beers, While you’re there, try some of the best pizza in town, highlighting another great menu focused on local ingredients. Open from breakfast until late, there’s no wrong time to swing by for a bite to eat, and a drink, starting with great coffee in the morning and ending on a great new beer.
The Difference a Day Makes
A common saying about the coast is how you can ski or mountain bike in the morning, and golf or fish in the afternoon. Campbell River is a hub for so many great experiences, which is why it’s also so exciting that there’s now the added experience of a craft beer festival that calls this city home. The North Island Craft Beer Festival held its inaugural event in November 2019, featuring 14 breweries. It was worthy of an A+, which should come as no surprise considering the main organizers are teachers. With the first year selling out in less than 45 minutes, next year’s event is sure to help continue the trend of good beer in Campbell River.
Good people are working hard to ensure this is a community full of good food, good times, and good beer, and as someone who left like so many others, there are good reasons to go back, whether it’s for a weekend getaway, a two-week holiday, or even for good.
Take some time and enjoy Campbell River on its own, or as a part of the Vancouver Island Ale Trail Part II.