Okanagan beer enthusiasts have reason to celebrate after several new breweries opened in the region during 2023.
Is there such a thing as too much choice? Well, beer fans in the Okanagan certainly don’t seem to think so if the ever-flourishing brewery scene is anything to go by. Appetites for new breweries are as voracious as ever, and craft brewers continue to try to meet the demand.
As new breweries opened in the latter half of 2023, my husband Tom and I set off on a couple of road trips, eager to see what these new establishments had to offer.
Backroads Brewing Osoyoos
Many readers will be familiar with Backroads’ original location in Nelson where they’ve been serving award-winning pints since 2017. Their emergence on the Okanagan beer scene is a new development, however, as they opened their second venue in Osoyoos last summer.
It was with great sadness that Osoyoos’ sole brewery, North Basin, announced its closure in May, and for a time it looked like this pretty town near the US-Canada border would be without a brewery. Fortunately, all was not lost when Backroads jumped on the opportunity to expand into this tourist hotspot. As huge fans of Backroads Brewing (in fact, all three of Nelson’s craft breweries are fantastic — if you haven’t already made the trip to this cool mountain town, you really should) we were delighted that they would be opening so close to our hometown of Summerland, and we wasted no time in making the drive down south to check them out.
We first visited Backroads Osoyoos in the summer of 2023. The location is perfect: right in the heart of this relaxed, summery town, with views over the lake and towards the mountains on the opposite shore. Backroads had sensibly opened almost immediately after their takeover of the brewery to make the most of the tourist season, and so the taproom was initially little changed from the North Basin days. It was such a glorious day that we opted to sit on the expansive patio that stretches along two sides of the building.
There was definitely a summer vacation vibe that day; the sun was shining, the beer was refreshing, and the conversation flowed between the different groups of tourists who filled the tables. As expected from an established brewery like Backroads, the beer was great, both in terms of the range of different ales and lagers on tap and the quality of the brews. We chatted to several of the other customers and all were in agreement that this was a great addition to Osoyoos. In fact, one couple holidaying from the UK had been on their way to visit several wineries but had only made it as far as Backroads where they had settled in for an afternoon on the brewery patio instead.
Once the peak tourist season had come to an end, Backroads took the opportunity to close for a short time in order to transform the interior more akin to the natural, cozy vibe they have going on in Nelson. We were keen to see what changes they had made and so took a second trip to the border town, this time in early January. This cold, grey winter afternoon couldn’t have been more different from the scorching August day of our first visit — it certainly wasn’t a patio kind of day this time, but the newly renovated taproom was warm and homey. Lots of natural wood softened the space while comfortable bar stools suggested a communal, convivial space. Sitting at the bar gave us the opportunity to chat with the barman, John, about all things beer-related, and we were soon joined by a local regular, Tommy, who called in for a growler fill and ended up staying for a couple of pints.
Our two flights covered all eight beers on tap, which ranged from the deliciously light and malty El Dorado Golden Ale to a punchy Pale Ale and on to a couple of fruity IPAs that were both sophisticated and well-balanced. My favourite had to be the Kölsch, although it was nearly knocked off top spot by a deliciously coffee-ish stout that was brought out by the head brewer, Mike, just before we left. The brewery has several neat ideas such as the “hopmeter” on the taproom menu in place of the usual IBU number (a conscious decision to get away from often inaccurate preconceived ideas of the impact of the IBUs on the taste of the beer) and a locals’ mug club. Despite it being a dreary Sunday afternoon in early January, the bar was full, and it was encouraging to see so many people hanging out and enjoying the ambience, particularly in a town so driven by the summer tourist trade.
Buffalo Rouge Brewing
The opening of Buffalo Rouge in the summer of 2023 was highly anticipated by my husband and me. As life-long vegetarians, we could hardly wait for Canada’s first vegetarian brewery to open its doors. For us, their motto of “drink good beer, eat more plants” couldn’t have been closer to our hearts, and although red tape delayed the opening of the brewery, the wait was definitely worth it!
This nano-brewery on the eastern edge of Kelowna’s brewery district was the brainchild of husband and wife team Liam Mitchell and Crystal Cain. The couple had previously run a popular food truck, The Wagon, which served all vegan and vegetarian food, and it was their dream to expand this business into a brewery. Their dream was realized in July, and of course, we just had to go on opening weekend. Our first impressions of this up-and-coming corner of town were very positive. It’s a creative little enclave with a beautiful plant and flower store on one side of the brewery and a tattoo artist across the courtyard. The taproom itself isn’t large, but on this sunny day, the garage-style doors had been flung wide open onto the patio, allowing the light to stream into the building. The staff couldn’t have been more welcoming and we were greeted like friends by everyone there.
Licensing restrictions meant that the brewery was only able to serve flights of three in those early days, and initially, the taps were restricted to collaborations with other Kelowna breweries, but what collaborations they were! Buffalo Rouge really knocked it out of the park from day one with their Red Ryder, Munich Helles, and, our favourite, the Buffalo Barn: an apricot Saison made in collaboration with the wickedly talented Barn Owl Brewing. Of course, the food was almost as much of an attraction for us as the beer and again we were not disappointed. We were spoiled for choice with a creative and varied vegan menu and were delighted with our delicious lunches. This is not just food for vegans: the food here is so good that it would appeal to everyone — even the most hardened carnivore!
This new little brewery had hit the spot on so many levels — great beer, fantastic friendly service, and funky decor (think Vegas meets the Wild West) — that we returned fairly frequently over the next few months. Since its opening, Buffalo Rouge has developed its own beers, extended its menu (the festive menu was something to behold), and started to host events such as a Live Music Series. We revisited them at Halloween and were delighted to find the taproom thronging with guests who were clearly enjoying the brewery as much as we did. New on tap for the spooky season were two sublime Saisons: the Gingerine, a mouthwatering dry-hopped ginger tangerine saison, and its cousin the Spooky Saison, a lively pumpkin-spice saison.
The beers were perfectly balanced and showed a real sophistication for such a new brewery. Since then Buffalo Rouge has released numerous small-batch beers, such as the Old English, an oat stout, and the Second Breakfast beer-mosa, and we can’t wait to return to try their latest offerings.
Three Lakes Brewing
The newest kid on the Okanagan block, Three Lakes Brewing, proudly proclaims its motto: “Brewed by women, enjoyed by everyone.” Yes, Three Lakes is flying the flag for equality in what is traditionally a male-dominated industry. The three intrepid women who own and run the brewery are best friends Melanie Raby and Cathy van Kesteren, along with Melanie’s daughter Tara Raby who is in charge of the brewing. The idea for the brewery came together over a hike one day — an adventure that is now immortalized in one of their flagship beers, The Hike Pilsner.
The brewery is situated in the north of the city, outside the usual brewery district, but in an area that is already home to a successful brewery, Wild Ambition Brewing, and is clearly booming with development. Next door to the brewery is the popular Two Donkeys Bakery, which offers European-style bread, pastries and sweet treats, and although Three Lakes doesn’t have its own kitchen, they do sell a variety of these delicious snacks to be consumed along with their beers.
We visited on a wet Sunday afternoon, and although it was cold outside we were greeted with a warm reception. The taproom is split over two floors and creates the feeling of hanging out at a friend’s house. There are comfortable soft furnishings and sofas to lounge in, a pool table upstairs, and the walls are decorated with hundreds of photos of friends and family. The brewery is said to be inspired by the natural beauty and outdoor activities of the Okanagan region, and evidence of this is all around, from the photos in which the friends are hiking, canoeing, and skiing, to the tent and kayaks hanging from the high ceilings.
There were three house beers on tap that afternoon, and each demonstrated a strong brewing confidence that belied their new status. The Hook, Line and Sinker IPA was assertive with hop-forward, grapefruit notes; the Lake Minded Lager was crisp with bold hop flavours; and the Barley’s Angel Ale was a robust seasonal barleywine. As their website says, “Lake life, camping, and craft beer… what could be better?”
With such different breweries offering such diverse experiences, I believe that you really can’t have too much of a good thing when it comes to craft breweries. Judging by the popularity of these new establishments, local craft beer enthusiasts agree with me, and the appetite for new breweries is still strong in the Okanagan. But the hospitality industry is a tough one and we have begun to see closures of wineries and restaurants in the area due to reduced footfall. So the onus is on us to support our breweries and help sustain them, particularly in the challenging winter months. With that in mind, I’d encourage you all to spend these chilly days — when it’s too cold to be outside anyway — cozying up in your local brewery or checking out new establishments like these in the Okanagan.