All roads in BC seem to lead to Kamloops.

Named T’kemlups, “meeting of rivers” by the Secwepemc First Nation, this Interior city is where the North and South Thompson rivers converge, while the Coquihalla, Yellowhead, Trans-Canada highways and Highway 97 all connect here.

Many simply drive straight past Kamloops, which has made it a bit of a hidden gem — but perhaps not for much longer as word gets out.

The city combines amazing opportunities for outdoor activities and a bustling centre with upscale shops, funky cafes and some of the best craft beer this side of the Lower Mainland. While I had visited Kamloops quite a few times, it took a local guide to introduce me to some hot spots that I would have totally missed if I had gone on my own.

I made a solemn promise not to share the location of the secret swimming hole we visited. But a few tips I can share are hiking the Cinnamon Ridge Hoodoos, the Saturday Farmers Market, brunch at Hello Toast, coffee and crafts at The Art We Are and of course, beer.

Hello Toast is a top brunch spot in downtown Kamloops. Photo: Chelsea McDowell
Hello Toast is a top brunch spot in downtown Kamloops. Photo: Chelsea McDowell

Beardsell’s breweries

Kamloops’ reputation for craft beer has been quietly yet steadily building. It’s home to Red Collar Brewing, The Noble Pig Brewhouse, the newly opened Iron Road Brewing and Red Beard Cafe, as well as Brew Loops, a craft beer festival held on the last weekend in September.
Kamloops is also home to several hop farms, which are supplying the brewing industry locally and across the province.

A key player in the city’s brewing scene is craft beer pioneer David Beardsell. After training abroad in the mid-1990s, Beardsell moved to Kamloops and launched Bear Brewing, which later became Kamloops Brewing.

In late 2010 he helped establish The Noble Pig, where his beer was well received — but the brewhouse was a bit too small to accommodate his vision. Leaving the Pig in good hands in 2014, he went on to open his own brewery, Red Collar, which has allowed him to fully express his creativity.

Sampling the wares at Red Collar Brewing. Photo: Chelsea McDowell
Sampling the wares at Red Collar Brewing. Photo: Chelsea McDowell

Collar is baller

Beardsell’s passion for beer has left an indelible imprint on the beer community here, and can be seen in the trends toward Belgian and other European styles at both Red Collar and The Noble Pig.

Situated in the heart of the city centre, Red Collar has a charming patio with bright sunflowers and big wooden tables, while the spacious interior has an eclectic touch. Roughly a dozen beers were on tap during our visit, with a good selection of seasonals alongside the brewery’s regular lineup. Our favourite was the cherry sour.

In addition to growler fills and bombers, Red Collar also has canned product for sale, which is ideal for the outdoorsy attractions we were visiting that weekend.

The nacho plate at Red Collar Brewing. Photo: Chelsea McDowell
The nacho plate at Red Collar Brewing. Photo: Chelsea McDowell

Great beer calls for great food, and Red Collar delivers with an impressive menu featuring soup, sandwiches, pizza, wings and nachos, in addition to bar snacks like pretzels, charcuterie and dips. A stack of classic board games in the back to round out the experience.

Pigging out

Less than a 10-minute walk away is The Noble Pig. The aesthetics here are a bit more classic but there are hints of whimsy, such as the canoe chandelier and paintings featuring nude women draped over various types of swine.

Canoe lighting at The Noble Pig. Photo: Chelsea McDowell
Canoe lighting at The Noble Pig. Photo: Chelsea McDowell

The expansive menu has an expected variety of pork dishes, but there are interesting vegetarian and seafood options too. The pizza and poutine are fabulous, while the crispy pickles are an absolute must.

Like the food menu, the beer menu is also impressively long, and features interesting takes on classic styles. Favourites of ours were the saison, Belgian peppered ale, mocha porter and blonde.

Flight at The Noble Pig. Photo: Chelsea McDowell
Flight at The Noble Pig. Photo: Chelsea McDowell

The Iron calls

Iron Road isn’t within walking distance from downtown, but it is within walking distance of Thompson Rivers University — an excellent business decision by its owners.

Seeking to relocate from Vancouver, former geologists Jared Tarswell and Richard Phillips brainstormed half a dozen business ideas before settling on a brewery. They secured not only a great location but also a great brewer in Aaron MacInnes, formerly of Main Street Brewing in Vancouver.

Flights at Iron Road Brewing. Photo: Chelsea McDowell
Flights at Iron Road Brewing. Photo: Chelsea McDowell

On our visit they had been open just a few weeks, and already had quite a crowd building in the early afternoon. As well as the nearby university, Iron Road’s budding popularity may also have something to do with the in-house taqueria, which offers something unique to the Kamloops brewing scene.

Our top beer picks were the summer ale and the farmhouse ale, the latter of which is brewed by dividing each batch in two: half of it is kettle soured before it’s recombined. It makes for a delicately sour and flavourful beer.

Geared toward the Beard

Over on the city’s North Side, across the Thompson River, the best place for beer is a coffee shop: the Red Beard Cafe. They produce fantastic coffee using their in-house roastery and their food is divine no matter what time of day, but over the past few years Red Beard has been making a name for itself by featuring some of the top craft beer and cider from local establishments as well as across North America.

At Red Beard Cafe. Photo: Chelsea McDowell
At Red Beard Cafe. Photo: Chelsea McDowell

While we were here we had the latest collaboration brew from Vancouver’s Superflux Beer Company and Portland, Ore.’s Gigantic Brewing; a Spanish-style cider from Portland’s Reverend Nat’s; and the most amazing grilled cheese sandwich I have had in my whole life. The ketchup was made from blueberries.

Keeping you in the Loops

Mitchell Forgie, the man behind Red Beard, is also one of the organizers of Brew Loops, a festival that celebrates craft beer, outdoor sports and the community of Kamloops.

Now in its third year, Brew Loops this year features 17 events over three days, from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1, including a block party, tap takeovers, beer seminars, guided mountain bike rides and local musicians.

Kamloops is an internationally renowned centre for mountain biking, and Forgie is known as an advocate for increased bike use in the community, so it’s no surprise that one of the annual events is a massive bike brewery crawl.

Forgie said he wanted to bring something like Vancouver Craft Beer Week to the area, where smaller events serving different demographics introduce people from diverse backgrounds to craft beer and each other. Tickets are available online at brewloopsfest.ca.

On your next trip through BC, it’s well worth it to plan some extra time in Kamloops. Doubtless the beer scene will continue to grow in this community, given the enthusiasm that its residents have demonstrated so far.

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