Arriving in Vernon
The feeling of freedom and excitement is undeniable as I drive north on Highway 97 toward Vernon. On a gorgeous March day, I’m ready to kick off my latest craft beer-tasting odyssey, which will also take me to the Shuswap region and Kamloops.
This is a season of transition. Winding along the highway, I look ahead to the still-snowcapped Columbia Mountains and the blue-green waters of Kalamalka Lake. It’s a good time to quench my thirst for wide-open spaces.
I turn off the highway at the northern tip of the lake and drive into the hills, where Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park awaits. The rugged 3,218-hectare park is a gorgeous place to stretch my legs with a hike before heading into Vernon.
Leaving my car at the Red Gate, I follow the Kidston Trail along the park’s western fringe, with my boots crunching over late-winter snow and Ponderosa pine needles. A Columbian ground squirrel scampers over a log, and friendly local dog-walkers pass by.
Another trail brings me to the top of a grassy bluff, where I gaze toward the moody horizon. Kalamalka Provincial Lake Park was once home to the Kekuli native people, and will burgeon with spring wildflowers in just a few weeks. I’m feeling revitalized as I stroll back to my vehicle.
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After checking into the Prestige Vernon Lodge, I enjoy the short walk to 30th Avenue. Its retro vibe captivates me. I score a used copy of the Footloose soundtrack at Record City and check out the Towne Cinema’s old-school marquee. It’s an ideal prelude to dinner at the Marten Brewing Company, Vernon’s first-ever brewpub.
Stefan Marten, who co-owns this 2015-launched corner establishment with his wife Pearl, stops by to regale me with his origin story. I’m tucking into delicious house-smoked brisket on ciabatta and chicken pizza – everything is made in-house from scratch with local ingredients – while sipping a flight of beers that includes the popular Rough and Dirty Red Ale.
With a chuckle, Marten explains how this flavourful, malt-forward beer actually came about by accident. He used Munich 30 Malt rather than Munich 10 Malt while attempting to follow a recipe from Stefan Buhl, a longtime family friend and beer expert educated in that German city.
“Growing up in Williams Lake, I always loved beer,” Marten says. “When I went to Germany, I couldn’t believe the difference in the flavour profile with the Pilsners and other beers. I did lots of home brewing and one thing led to another.”
Grapefruit zest highlights the vibrant, refreshing Blood Orange Wheat Ale, one of brewmaster Joe Strickland’s recent creations. When I throw back some of Marten’s easy-drinking lager, it’s a fun reminder of this industrial chic brewpub’s previous history as a nightclub. The pre-launch renovations incorporated features like repurposed railroad trestles from Revelstoke for the tables.
After dinner, Marten gives me a quick tour of the capacious, welcoming second level, where parties and receptions are held. He also describes how Marten Brewing’s beers are gravity-fed from the main-floor fermenters to the 10,000-square-foot cellar.
I decide that on my next visit, I’ll have to sample their UnderGround alcoholic kombucha and the fish tacos. Of the latter, Marten quips: “If we took those off the menu, we’d have a revolt in the city!”
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Back at the Prestige Vernon Lodge, it’s pure relaxation. The hotel on 32nd Street has plenty of great amenities, including a garden-like atrium with an actual local creek running through it. Board games are available in the lobby, and there’s a well-equipped gym for guests (one person at a time under pandemic restrictions). You can also catch hockey and baseball games on TV at the on-site sports bar.
From Vernon to Shuswap
I wake up refreshed and excited to pay my first-ever visit to Salmon Arm, less than an hour north of here in the Shuswap region. However, as a longtime public art aficionado, I’m also keen to check out some of Vernon’s amazing downtown murals before breakfast.
There are close to 30 murals in total. They reflect this 1892-incorporated city’s rich history, from cattle-ranching to forestry to army training during the First and Second World Wars. Superb photo ops abound.
A vivid mural depicting an international cross-country skiing competition evokes a previous Vernon trip where I enjoyed downhill and Nordic skiing at SilverStar Mountain Resort. The resort features over 1,300 hectares of skiable terrain, just above this city of 40,000.
My wanderings bring me to Ratio Coffee. Nestled inside Vernon’s old train station, the cafe offers a funky atmosphere and a great selection of pastries. In fact, there’s a different theme for each day of the week, including eclairs on Tuesdays and donuts on Fridays.
I splurge on blueberry cheesecake to go with my handcrafted Americano. As a final fun touch, a CN freight train rolls slowly past just as I’m leaving, and the engineer flashes me the peace sign with a grin.
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Fortunately, I’ve left room for my sumptuous breakfast at nearby Eatology. It’s located kitty corner from the Vernon Flower Shop and has a wonderful view of the Monashee Mountains. Sitting windowside, I devour a Mexican skillet with sauteed black beans and bell peppers, served on hash browns with scrambled eggs and homemade chipotles.
From retired couples to brunching girlfriends, Eatology attracts a vibrant cross-section of Vernon locals. Psychedelic paintings and illustrations of herbs adorn the walls, and plexiglass shields divide the distanced tables. As I finish up, I have to concur that their slogan, “The Science of Great Fresh Food,” is bang-on.
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It’s another gorgeous morning for driving as I make my way up Highway 97, passing the mountainous Silver Star Provincial Park and the twisting Shuswap River. I spot eclectic shops near the town of Enderby. I get another glimpse of the region’s rich heritage when I motor past the R.J. Haney Heritage Museum and Village. It includes authentic early 20th-century Salmon Arm buildings like a firehall, filling station, and Finnish-style log house.
When I enter Salmon Arm – a young, verdant city of 17,000 on the Trans-Canada Highway – I make a beeline for the vintage city wharf. Snow and ice still cover Shuswap Lake as I park the car and saunter along the curving boardwalk. It reminds me of the Ogden Point breakwater (recently rechristened the Breakwater District) in the craft beer mecca of Victoria, where I grew up.
This is reportedly North America’s longest curved wooden freshwater wharf, originally constructed in 1907. I savour the fresh, crisp air. Bird-watching opportunities abound here, from Western grebes to great blue herons. A passing woman gently admonishes her Golden Lab (in German) to behave.
Today, it’s a little too chilly to go for a swim, but the view facing Bastion Mountain makes me want to return in the summer for houseboating on Shuswap Lake. Salmon Arm also traditionally hosts a dragon boat festival and outrigger canoe races in June.
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This is the perfect warm-up for lunch at the Barley Station Brew Pub, the epicenter of Salmon Arm’s craft beer scene. As a lifelong hockey fan, I’m immediately struck by the friendly brewpub’s commitment to our national sport.
The windows are festooned with NHL team logos, and a Salmon Arm Silverbacks jersey hangs on the wall, representing the city’s BCHL junior franchise. Salmon Arm recently hosted Rogers Hometown Hockey with longtime Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean and retired NHL stars like Vancouver Canucks goalie Kirk McLean.
Canadians, of course, have an insatiable desire for both hockey and great beer, and I’m nothing if not Canadian. I order a flight of light but flavourful Barley Station beers.
The Talking Dog Wit Bier’s logo reminds me of the exuberant pooch I just saw on the boardwalk, and an orange slice enhances its notes of orange peel and coriander. The Canoe Creek Pilsner masterfully leans on local ingredients to deliver German-style excellence, with organic hops sourced from nearby Armstrong. It feels fitting that the Bachman-Turner Overdrive rock classic, “Takin’ Care of Business,” is playing in the background.
I’m always amazed that haskap berries – recently hailed by the Associated Press as potentially “the next new superfood” – aren’t better known. These dark blue berries, which are softer than blueberries but offer more antioxidants, are grown in the Salmon Arm vicinity.
So naturally, I order the Haskap Burger, with haskap-based BBQ sauce, pickled red onions, and bacon, plus a tossed green salad with haskap balsamic dressing. The emphasis on authentic, local ingredients is heartening and satisfying. The pub’s roadside location with a scintillating mountain view adds to the down-home ambiance.
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Just a half hour’s drive northwest on the Trans-Canada Highway, Crannòg Ales combines an even greater emphasis on local, seasonal, and environmentally friendly methods with a devil-may-care Irish flair. Cormac, a gigantic six-year-old Irish wolfhound, comes loping up to greet me when I pull into the snow-laden farm in rural Sorrento.
Crannòg Ales marked its 20th anniversary in 2020 as Canada’s first certified organic farmhouse microbrewery. As becomes apparent, it could certainly sustain itself with little assistance from the outside world if necessary.
Head brewer Brian MacIsaac, who runs the farm with his wife Rebecca Kneen, is happy to spell out his radical approach: “We produce 3,000 litres of beer a week and that’s enough. We get up at 5 in the morning during the planting season, and then start the brew at 7.” There are two hop yards on the 10-acre farm, producing 17 different varieties of hops, as well as nut trees and fruit trees.
The former punk rock bass player proudly shows me an actual crannòg, which is a wooden hut on stilts for sheep to sleep in. Blue-faced Lesters and Shetland sheep peacefully graze in the snowy meadows.
“Livestock here are fed with spent grain from the brewery,” MacIsaac explains. “There’s a food forest for the pigs, and Crannòg Ales has also been certified salmon-safe. The greywater is used to water our fields.” MacIsaac serves on the local water audit committee, and the farm uses a heat-on-demand system for its water, ensuring nothing goes to waste.
My inner craft beer geek gets a kick out of learning that the Crannòg Ales brewing system and tanks are largely courtesy of the late John Mitchell. He pioneered craft beer in Canada when he established the Horseshoe Bay Brewing Company in 1982. Later, Mitchell co-founded Victoria’s iconic Spinnakers Brewpub and Howe Sound Brewing in Squamish.
MacIsaac shows me his compact shebeen with four taps. I enjoy sampling the tasty Wild Gael Potato Ale. It incorporates Russian blue potatoes with viscosity and plenty of mouth feel. Of the Back Hand of God Stout, tinged with coffee and chocolate, MacIsaac says: “I saw people drinking Guinness and quite frankly thought I could do a better job!”
All these beers are low on carbonation – there’s no mistaking them for mass-market suds. Crannòg offers growler deliveries to drop points in Salmon Arm, Kamloops, and Kelowna, and also sells growlers at farmers markets in Salmon Arm and Sorrento. The brewery also sells a wide variety of merchandise, from branded tee-shirts and hoodies to Om Naturale beer soap and stout mustard.
There’s always something happening at this farm. Signature offerings include language workshops on Gaelic and Secwepemc (the local Indigenous language) and an annual long-table dinner in August featuring regional delicacies. I’d love to come back to Crannòg Ales. The ambiance combines a spirit of joyful anarchy with a genuine sense of being stewards of the land.
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My final stop for the day is just 10 minutes down the highway. Quaaout Lodge & Spa is also the home of Talking Rock Golf Resort. When I arrive, the breathtaking view of Little Shuswap Lake inspires me to run down to the 1,800-foot-long sandy beach to take it all in. In the Secwepemc native language, Quaaout means “when the sun’s rays first hit the water.”
Operated by the Little Shuswap First Nations Band, this 70-room lodge opened in 1992. In the spacious main foyer, modelled on a traditional winter house, I admire replicas of pictographs that can be seen in the Shuswap territory. They include depictions of eagles, coyote packs, and ceremonial vision quests, among other things.
I admire the woodland view from the balcony in my well-appointed room, which includes a king-sized bed and Indigenous-made toiletries. The property also has Indigenous cultural landmarks such as a salmon-drying smokehouse, medicine wheel garden, and open pithouse.
Before dinner, I hit the weights at the hotel gym (available by appointment only under pandemic protocols), pausing in the adjacent corridor to admire Salute to the Salmon, a 3D wall art piece by Peter Postel.
My dinner at the in-house Jack Sam’s restaurant is a true feast. Seated windowside, I enjoy grilled bison striploin with roasted parsnips and carrots, prefaced by a Quaaout greens salad with buttermilk dressing, roasted pumpkin seeds, and sliced Okanagan apples. And naturally, I can’t resist washing it all down with a glass of Crannòg Ales’ malt-forward Red Branch Irish Ale. It’s a great end to my day.
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From Shuswap to Kamloops
A hearty breakfast of wild salmon hash at Jack Sam’s fuels me for the 50-minute drive to Kamloops, my last destination on this beer-themed tour.
This Interior city of 90,000 on the Thompson River boasts a thriving craft beer culture. It’s even better-known worldwide as a sports mecca, and hockey is what brought me most frequently to “Canada’s Tournament Capital” in the 2010s. I’m happy to be back.
After checking into the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Kamloops, I join my friend Roxanne for a casual lunch at Forno on 5th. At the airy corner joint with an open kitchen, we eat Mediterranean-inspired fare like crispy mozzarella balls with tomato and olive ragu and short rib pizza with Brussels sprouts and crispy onions. (Note: Forno is temporarily closed right now, but some of their menu items can be found at The Noble Pig Brewhouse.)
I’m on high hockey alert when I head over to the Sandman Centre for a behind-the-scenes tour with community event coordinator Dewi Evans. Entering the 5,464-capacity Kamloops Blazers arena, a wave of nostalgia hits me. This is where I attended the IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championship in 2016. A giant sign on the upper floor still commemorates that event. We also reminisce about great former Kamloops stars in the Western Hockey League (WHL), like Jarome Iginla, Scott Niedermayer, and Shane Doan.
Evans shows me some of the arena’s recently added features, from luxury loge seating with full food and beverage service to the ramped-up light show that ignites when the Blazers hit the ice or score a goal. I can’t wait to come back for a WHL game.
It’s an easy stroll over to Red Collar Brewing, which debuted in 2014. John Garland, the sales manager, comes over to shine some light on the lore behind this dog-friendly, 140-capacity tasting room: “David and Annamarie Beardsell, the owners, always had a red collar on Goosey, their black Labrador.” There are red dog collars for sale at the bar, plus a dog-shaped donation box for Canadian Dogs for the Blind.
To encourage conversation among friends, there are also no TVs. I don’t need any encouraging as I guzzle a flight of Red Collar’s core beers. The Dubbel, a dark Belgian ale with notes of coffee and chocolate, is a definite standout, along with the easy-drinking Marzen Bavarian Lager.
“We have a lot of Belgian-style beers and European styles in general,” Garland says. “It’s fairly traditional with some new-school influences.”
Before dinner, I take time out to explore Kamloops’ fabulous downtown murals. The back alleys burgeon with stunners like a huge portrait of saxophonist Maceo Parker by local artist Zac Abney. It’s a visual feast, with more than 30 murals to admire.
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Upon arriving at The Noble Pig Brewhouse, a Kamloops mainstay since 2010, I’m amused by the beer menu’s old-school hip-hop allusions. In the lively, intimately lit brewpub, I sample a selection of IPAs with names like The Notorious P.I.G., a Northeast-style IPA with Australian and American hops, and 2’ Pig, a bitter, aromatic West Coast IPA. The Intergalactic Pretzels and beer mustard and the crispy pickles with spicy dill ranch dip also float my canoe – like the canoe hanging over a nearby table.
When head brewer Nick Murphy stops by to say hi, I reserve my most ardent praise for the Stick House Belgian Pepper Ale, his updated version of a unique old favourite of mine.
Murphy emphasizes that the Noble Pig isn’t overcapitalizing on its perennial popularity: “We brew beer in 10,000-litre batches. We’ve started bottling our beer recently, but only distribute it out of this building, not liquor stores.”
A good night just gets better when I polish off my roast chicken on a bed of rice and steamed vegetables. I’m all set for a solid sleep at the DoubleTree and one more blowout in the Loops.
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Living the Beer Dream in Kamloops
I cross the Thompson River for breakfast at Red Beard Cafe. The inviting blue-green exterior is equalled by the homey interior. A server in a leopard-print jumpsuit brings me the Garam Masala French toast with cinnamon, nutmeg and maple syrup, as I admire modern art mounted over the fireplace and juxtaposed with eye-catching beer bottles. It’s a great place to fuel up.
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Just down Tranquille Road lies Bright Eye Brewing. The garrulous, personable Mitch Forgie co-owns both Red Beard Cafe and this 2019-founded experimental craft brewery. Forgie, originally an enthusiastic home brewer, takes pride in the fact the 78-seat, two-storey venue has no core beers: “We’re making beer for our North Kamloops neighbourhood. We have six taps at any given time, and we’re three times as busy as we thought we’d be.”
Sitting at the bar, I roll with Forgie’s play-by-play as I taste different beers. “Stay Woke is our coffee saison,” he notes. “We’re big coffee guys and we look into the aromatic qualities of coffee. We originally created it for a Broken Social Scene concert, and it was a runaway success.”
I also relish the subtly fruity Grapefruit Throwback and the Jemaine Hazy IPA, whose name pays tribute to Flight of the Conchords actor Jemaine Clement.
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Before entering Iron Road Brewing, my final stop on this beer pilgrimage, I pause to enjoy the sunny hilltop viewpoint next to Thompson Rivers University. From here, it’s easy to see why Kamloops became a hub of trade and commerce, from the 19th-century fur trade and gold rush to the ranching boom and agricultural bounty of later decades.
I take my time at Iron Road, a magnet for locals in an industrial park, chilling out at the back with a flight that includes the ultra-approachable Locomotive Lager. It all pairs nicely with my Mexican quinoa bowl with chicken, black beans, feta cheese, and julienned peppers with a cilantro lime vinaigrette. Iron Road’s menu also features a mouthwatering selection of empanadillas, nachos, and churros.
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A four-season playground where adventure awaits around every corner. In the Spring, hike, bike and adventure through fields and valleys bursting with blooms. Summer is all about our warm-water lakes – swimming, boating, SUP and more have visitors returning again and again. In Fall, experience a harvest season second to none, with all the beauty and bounty you can expect of the season. And in Winter, take home tales of champagne powder snow and horse-drawn sleighs.
Vernon is magical in any season; you’re invited in every season.
Kamloops is more than a city, it’s a state of mind. It’s a small-town kind of friendly with metropolitan flavours on the side. Far from the hustle and bustle, it’s a place where you skip the crowds, stretch your legs and expand your horizons. Resting on the shores of two picturesque rivers, the landscapes invite a sense of improvised adventure.
Be amazed by twisty single-track bike trails and winding walkways. Tee off on award-winning golf courses. Cast a line on trophy stillwater. Poke around local shops and boutiques. Engage with the vibrant arts and culture scene. Sample an assortment of food that promises to satisfy and satiate even the most discerning of palates. Indulge in a burgeoning bevy of wineries, craft breweries, restaurants and cafés that are overflowing with culinary enthusiasm and intensity.
The Shuswap boasts a small town feel and big country activities; and this may be the finest place to get back to getting down-to-earth.
The Shuswap is a region comprised of communities centered around Shuswap Lake, just north of the Thompson-Okanagan region, near the centre of BC’s interior.
Our region is the home of the world-renowned Shuswap Lake and is one of Canada’s premier warm water destinations. Our mild weather, varied geography (alpine meadows, warm lakes, desert-like rolling, arid hills, enchanting forests) and four-seasons ensure that there are a variety of new adventures and experiences to be found.