Like a jewel on the West arm of Kootenay Lake, Nelson is known as the “Queen City” and for having “more restored heritage buildings per capita than anywhere else in the province”. That’s one of the reasons I love it and it’s where I graduated from high school.
Sadly, I don’t get back often. I keep in touch with friends and follow the Nelson Star News and other Nelson pages on Facebook. I’ve been thrilled to see its craft beer industry grow; for a city with a population of around 10,000, having three active breweries is impressive.
An invitation by our nieces and nephews to attend the 50th wedding anniversary of my brother and sister-in-law at their home in New Denver was quickly accepted to spend time with our extended family. Perhaps we’d explore a beach day at Slocan Lake and play a nine-hole golf round. Plus, we could detour Friday afternoon and discover Nelson’s breweries.
About four hours from Penticton, Nelson’s welcome sign and a homecoming feeling warmed my heart. We drove by a few of my old haunts before parking downtown.
Backroads Brewing Company
We checked out some funky shops for outdoor enthusiasts, home entertainers and vintage collectors and arrived at Backroads Brewing Company, 460 Baker Street, as the doors were opening at noon.
Founder/CEO Brent Malysh proudly toured us through the facility which recently expanded, almost doubling its capacity for brewing and seating. Partner/Brewmaster, Mike Kelly, was attending to his latest batch while Partner/CFO, Tracey Brown, was handling the taps up front.
We tasted the Saison, El Dorado Golden Ale, Pale Ale 1st Descent Northwest IPA, Blackberry Grisette, Blackberry Tart Gose, and Steel Cut Oatmeal Stout. At 6.3 per cent, the IPA was the strongest among them. We loved the beautifully crafted beer that doesn’t pack a wallop. The cabin-feel taproom made it apparent the owners are winter sports enthusiasts. With a chair from a former lift at Whitewater Ski Resort, the room could be a ski lodge.
Intentionally without Wi-Fi, Backroads encourages folks to mingle over beer in its farm-style family tables. There’s live music Wednesdays and some Saturdays and the occasional film event showcases the area’s plentiful outdoor activities. It’s easy to see why Backroads has been a huge success since opening in 2017.
Torchlight Brewing Co.
Next we walked to Torchlight Brewing Co., located at 125 Hall Street close to the waterfront.
Hoping to connect with Josh Secord or Craig Swendson (owners), I was forewarned that it was a double packaging day with all engaged. I was lucky to catch Josh handling the taps and multi-tasking to tell me about the flourishing brewery. Later, I watched Craig work the packaging line.
These two buddies started the business when Josh was laid off a job in Halifax. Born and raised in Nelson, it was time to come home. With support from three years of saving, family investment, and some Community Futures funding, Torchlight started as a much smaller brewery. New tanks arriving this summer are highly anticipated to deal with the growing demand. Food was added with a new chef and, given the buzz, the menu is popular. Torchlight makes its own craft sodas as a non-alcohol alternative and may be packaging these soon as well.
Consistent with Nelson’s other craft breweries, Torchlight is committed to the community. It is part of initiatives such as Art Walk and the Rail Town Social and offers a schedule of live entertainment and activities. With a large choice of beer, it was tough to decide which to test.
Torchlight also noted a demand for lower alcohol beers so, again, I found well-made brews that didn’t overpower. The Kveikening Nordic Table Beer at 4.5 percent, Jazz Handz Radler, 3 percent, and Big Squeezy Stone Fruit Pale Ale, 5.5 percent, are great examples of Torchlight’s styles.
Nelson Brewing Company
Then it was up the hill to 512 Latimer Street, home of the city’s oldest brewery – Nelson Brewing Company, established 1991.
Simon Barna, head brewer, toured us through this historic setting. Primarily a residential neighbourhood, Nelson Brewing was able to operate here because it was built as a brewery in 1896 and housed Columbia Brewing.
The roastery for Nelson’s famous Oso Negro coffee shares the building so the businesses collaborate, with the coffee stout as one tasty result. The Virtue Early Grey E.S.B. is another wonderful collaboration with Virtue Artisan Tea across the street.
Nelson Brewing is organic since 2016, going to great lengths for that purity. Consider Wild Honey Organic Ale – the honey for which is sourced from an eastern BC farm with sufficient buffer to be certified organic. Also showcased in the outstanding flight we experienced was Cukey Monster Cucumber Kolsch, Bramble On Raspberry Wheat Ale, and Intergalactose Hazy IPA.
Licensed as a tasting room, the brewery offers growler fills and flights, with no pints permitted. Another former Whitewater Ski Lift chair is proudly displayed on the porch.
Nelson is a wonderful winter destination, with the city and the rest of the Kootenay Rockies West Ale Trail providing a fine complement to the abundant outdoor activities. The three local breweries offer a selection of each other’s beer, true to the camaraderie and warmth of the community.
We’ll be returning soon to the area to experience the beer, golf, and stunning autumn colours. Then, in winter, we’ll hit the slopes and find a spot for that après-ski ale.