Hyper-local staycations are a great way to support local tourism businesses on the BC Ale Trail. Matt Cavers shares his recent family staycation in Sechelt on the Sunshine Coast Ale Trail.
Between two waters
If you look for it on a map, downtown Sechelt almost isn’t there. Perched on a kilometre-wide neck of land between stretches of salt water, the village just barely ties the hilly Sechelt Peninsula to the mainland Sunshine Coast and prevents Sechelt Inlet from reaching the Strait of Georgia. This unlikely location lies only half an hour’s drive from the Langdale ferry terminal, where you can get on a ferry back to Horseshoe Bay. But standing in Sechelt, with ocean on both sides of you and mountains stretching into the distance in all directions, you feel like you’ve come a lot farther.
And, as it happens, I really didn’t go very far to get there. I live in Gibsons, and, in the spirit of Phase 2 in BC’s Restart Plan, my family and I took a hyper-local day trip to Sechelt to check out some of its up-and-coming businesses — including the one that recently put it on the Sunshine Coast Ale Trail, Batch 44 Brewery & Kitchen, which opened early in 2020 and has recently reopened for in-house service. With summer approaching rapidly, it was time for us to give “staycationing” a try.
We left Gibsons late in the morning under uncertain-looking skies. We’d planned to kick our day off with a patio lunch, but the morning had been showery and we were nervous. Nevertheless, we aimed for The Wobbly Canoe, a popular spot for relaxed meals and drinks in Davis Bay, an oceanfront community just east of Sechelt proper. Amazingly enough, as we pulled in, blue patches were just beginning to appear between the clouds and the air felt warm, if a little windy. This made the view from the Wobbly Canoe’s spectacular patio all the better — we watched a tugboat push through the whitecaps while dazzling cloud formations raced overhead.
Fed and ready for the afternoon, we continued down Highway 101 into Sechelt itself. Here we parted ways briefly — I was due to have a quick visit with the head brewer at Batch 44, while my family went for a stroll. Being a brewer myself, my “quick visits” with other brewers have earned a reputation with my wife and son for descending rapidly into shop talk, which, it seems, has limited appeal to non-brewers.
Head brewer David Macanulty is one of the few brewers in the young BC craft beer scene that you can fairly call “a veteran of the industry.” He got his first brewery job at East Vancouver’s Storm Brewing in 1995 to supplement his income as a professional musician, and later spent more than a decade working in Montreal breweries before returning to Vancouver in 2013 to take the helm at Yaletown Brewing. David welcomed me warmly, showed me around, and poured me a pint of his delicate, lightly dry-hopped Ambrosia Cream Ale, a perfect early afternoon beer at 4% ABV. And, since my family was elsewhere, we discussed malt suppliers and the challenges of working on a new brewhouse.
As Sechelt’s first craft brewery (not counting the short-lived Peninsula Spring brewery that arrived and vanished in the early 1990s), Batch 44 has been greeted enthusiastically by a local population that previously had to drive to Gibsons to visit a brewery. Opened by brothers Emmanuel and George Kobas, the “44” in the name is a homage to their father (born in 1944), who opened a popular Greek restaurant in the same building in 1986. Batch 44’s lineup of solidly crafted, sessionable beers reflects Macanulty’s decades-long experience in the beer industry, and the comfort-food-driven menu features Greek restaurant classics such as gyros and calamari, alongside burgers and other pub staples.
There were eight other beers on the menu, but with several more stops to make in the afternoon, I bought some cans to go, said goodbye to David, and wandered over to Lone Wolf Provisions to rendezvous with my family. While my much-needed americano was being brewed, I admired the display of dark-crusted hearth loaves and watched as owner and founder Jenna Nestman expertly rolled layered pastry into cylindrical “cruffins.”
With a kayak rental reserved in just a few minutes, time was starting to get short, but we didn’t want to leave without a look at the Trail Bay waterfront. The breeze had picked up since lunchtime, and maybe it didn’t feel exactly summery out, but the air was just warm enough for us to justify following the signs to E.B.’s Ice Cream at the Trail Bay pier. Ice cream is appropriate in any kind of weather, I reflected, as the drips from my Hokey Pokey waffle cone flew away from me downwind.
Back in the car and slightly sticky now, we left downtown Sechelt and headed up the west side of Sechelt Inlet to Pedals and Paddles, where a pair of kayaks awaited us. In contrast to the turbulent water where we’d eaten our ice cream, the Inlet was almost glassy as we we stepped into our boats. Dipping our paddles lazily, we glided toward the nearby Lamb Islets, where Pedals and Paddles staffer Kyle Reid advised us we had a solid chance of encountering sea life.
He wasn’t wrong — as we rounded the northernmost islet we looked under our boats and were astounded to see countless sea cucumbers and sea urchins carpeting the rocks under the shallow water. We watched the moon jellyfish drifting past at their leisurely pace. A pair of harbour seals surfaced a few metres away and regarded us silently.
We could have spent hours more on the water, but we needed to return our boats and make our way to the Bricker Cider Company in West Sechelt for a picnic dinner. A kitchen is scheduled to open at Bricker in July, but for now, we were more than happy to pick up a trio of mouthwatering gyros at Batch 44 to enjoy in Bricker’s idyllic picnic area.
General manager and cider maker Nick Farrer chatted with us while we enjoyed our tart, complex Suncoaster Cider, made with apples picked down the road. Bricker’s spacious picnic area, which looks out at the cidery’s young orchard, lends itself perfectly to physically-distanced socializing.
On the ride home to Gibsons, we talked about the fact that the Sunshine Coast really isn’t a bad place to be stuck during a pandemic. With Phase 3 on the horizon, visitors from off-Coast will be welcome again, and likely to be coming in droves. They’ll find a warm welcome in Sechelt.