Nimai Rigby spent 2016 touring BC on his own personal ale trail.
Rigby, who lives in Coquitlam in BC’s Lower Mainland, set himself the goal of visiting 100 of the province’s breweries within the year, and completed his quest just 11 days before 2017 arrived.
But why take the journey, and where did it lead?
Just before the completion of his beer odyssey, I met him at Granville Island Brewing in Vancouver to share a beer and find out.
What made you decide to take this on?
“I was at Bridge Brewing and I saw their wooden map of Canada on the wall,” Rigby said. “Have you seen it? The one filled with bottle caps?”
It’s a map made of wood with holes cut into it that have been filled with Bridge bottle caps.
“I could make my own and stick it in my man cave,” Rigby recalled thinking. He created a map of BC instead. Then he and a friend were sharing some beers when they got talking about how he could fill the empty spots in his map.
“Initially I figured I could just pick up a beer from 100 different BC breweries to fill up the map. Even that seemed ambitious at the time.”
Rigby’s friend pushed him further. “He said: ‘Why don’t you actually visit these places? Make a trip out of it?’ I like a challenge, so I said, ‘Sure, why not?’”
After all, the fact he lives in the Lower Mainland meant that he had ready access to a sizeable proportion of the destinations.
“Then my friend one-upped me even further: ‘Why don’t you do them all in a year?’ he said.”
Rigby agreed. “I’ve lived in BC all my life,” he told me. “There’s so many places that I’ve never been to. I’ve never been to the Kootenays before, never been to Penticton and Oliver.”
“I thought this would be a great way to see a bit more of BC.”
The opportunity to explore is something that kept Rigby focused on his journey. His BC brew tour had him driving, camping and discovering the province in a way he’d never done before.
Of all the things you saw on your journey, what stood out for you the most?
“There are so many breweries that stand out, whether it’s quality of the beer or their tasting room,” Rigby said. “Each brewery has its own story and for me that’s what is most exciting to discover.”
He uses Firehall Brewing in Oliver as an example.
“The brewer started as a home brewer in college and somehow picked up some old brewing equipment from a local bootlegger through an RCMP auction. His dad managed to get the old volunteer fire department building. All these weird, random things just… came together.”
Each brewery tells its own story.
“Visiting Victoria and some of the breweries on the Island were like that too,” he added. “Going to Swans and learning the history of that place is really neat. And places like Hoyne that are small and cozy, really humble, but have this passion for their beer that you can feel when you go in there.”
It’s this experience that defines any stop on the BC Ale Trail: an opportunity to taste and feel what inspires each brewer, and each brewery, to create the best beer it can for its community. The stories that grow and evolve around beer and breweries are what attract people and make them feel like a part of the narrative. It also helps us all feel connected to the beer we’re drinking.
What recommendations do you have for anyone who might follow your example?
“People shouldn’t be intimidated by beer,” suggested Rigby. “Everyone starts somewhere. I used to love the usual suspects when I was younger — Canadian, Kokanee, Coors Light — but then, when my friend got a job at Steamworks, he introduced me to craft beer. It was the flavours that got me hooked.”
Rigby is quick to point out that everyone will have a different “gateway beer.” He’s not a huge sour beer fan himself but the fact that sours have become an entry point into craft beer for some people is exciting.
“If you’re going to visit a few breweries, bring someone along who either has never visited a brewery before, or who isn’t into craft beer.”
There are two reasons for this, Rigby explained. First, they will want to do other things than just drink beer all day, so your trip will be more varied and they’ll help you see other things on your journey. Second, “It’s a way to bring someone new into craft beer and that’s really powerful. Once you’ve got them trying different beer options they’ll always find something they like and then you can encourage them to compare different versions of the same style from different breweries.”
It’s a great way to teach someone about craft beer without making them feel like they’re in a classroom. Most of us learn best by doing, after all.
Where will you go from here?
Although he cut it close, Rigby made it to 100 before the year was out. On Sunday, December 18, he filled the last empty spot on his map at Persephone Brewing in Gibsons.
“Mostly, I’m feeling good that I’ve completed what I set out to do,” Rigby says. “Now I can get back to drinking craft beer, but I can say I’ve seen so much more of BC!”
But there are still plenty of breweries that Rigby has yet to visit.
“I regret not visiting some of the breweries in central and northern BC like Barkerville in Quesnel and Wheelhouse in Prince Rupert. Hopefully I’ll be able to go up there some time next year for a visit.”
And with so many breweries opening up around BC, there are sure to be plenty more destinations for Rigby to visit when he sets out on his next personalized ale trail journey.
See Nimai Rigby’s blog at bcbrewtour.net or follow him on Instagram.