Don’t let the cold, wet weather keep you from enjoying craft beer at your local brewery.

One of the ways that many craft breweries have adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic is by expanding their outdoor patios to allow more patrons to visit the brewery and sample beers in person. This has helped to mitigate the reduced capacity of indoor tasting rooms and provided an alternative for people (me included!) who are simply not comfortable sitting inside even with social distancing rules in place. 

Back in May, the provincial government’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB) announced a new measure allowing breweries to apply to temporarily expand their service areas until October 31, 2020. This generally led to outdoor patio expansions, since most breweries’ tasting rooms are fixed spaces that can’t be expanded. Throughout the summer and into the fall, this worked well for all involved. The breweries could accommodate more customers outside and customers who were wary of sitting indoors could spread themselves out in the summer sunshine.

Please Note: Travel Restrictions & Recommendations

Until at least December 7, there are travel restrictions throughout British Columbia. At this time, all non-essential travel should be avoided. This includes travel into and out of B.C. and between regions of the province. Do not travel for a vacation, and do not travel to visit friends or family outside of your household or core bubble. Stay close to home, and socialize only with those in your immediate household or core bubble. Enjoy beer from your local breweries and stay close to home.

Whistle Buoy Brewing patio
Staying warm at Whistle Buoy Brewing in Victoria, BC (photo: Brittney Kwasney – Bright Photography)

Earlier this fall, with the prospect of colder, wetter weather looming, the LCRB extended all temporary service area expansions for another year to October 31, 2021. With this assurance, many breweries have chosen to invest in winterizing infrastructure, including tents, pergolas, heaters, and awnings.    

On southern Vancouver Island, winters certainly get cold and wet, but the temperatures usually stay above freezing, snow is not a guaranteed event, and it isn’t unusual to enjoy days of sunny weather where the thermometer registers double digits in the early afternoon. Heck, the Cowichan Valley boasts Canada’s warmest mean temperature annually. So it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility to imagine sitting on an outdoor patio here in December or January. 

Here is a rundown of what some of the Island’s breweries are doing to winterize their outdoor facilities as we head into the coldest, darkest, wettest time of year.

Whistle Buoy Brewing on the BC Ale Trail - Victoria, BC
Whistle Buoy Brewing in historic Market Square in Victoria, BC

Victoria’s newest brewery, Whistle Buoy Brewing, was less than a year old when COVID-19 hit. Located on the bottom level of Market Square, Whistle Buoy opened in the summer of 2019, with a small tasting room and an outdoor patio that is guaranteed to be busy on sunny days. The brewery has always depended on customers drinking its beer on site, so its patio expansion is crucial to its financial survival. Recently, it installed a 1,100-square-foot tent over its expanded patio, with partial side panels that block the bitterest wind while still allowing for airflow. It seats up to 50 people with tables well spaced out to keep parties apart. Several propane heaters keep the chill away, although it’s still a good idea to bundle up or BYOB (blanket). You are allowed to bring your own food with you, too, or you can buy something from a food cart that often parks at one end of the patio.

Vancouver Island Brewery - supplied photo - BC Ale Trail
Staying dry on the patio at Vancouver Island Brewing in Victoria, BC

Not far away on Government Street, Vancouver Island Brewing has winterized its parking lot patio in front of the brewery with patio heaters, tents, and lanterns for the tables. 

Hoyne Brewing - supplied photo - BC Ale Trail
Hoyne Brewing in Victoria, BC

Even though Hoyne Brewing does not have a tasting room or patio, the brewery has installed an awning to help keep customers dry as they wait in line to buy beer at the brewery’s store, which only allows one person at a time.

Twa Dogs Brewery - supplied photo - BC Ale Trail
Inside the tent on the patio at Twa Dogs Brewery in Victoria, BC

Twa Dogs Brewery at Macaloney’s Caledonian Distillery has installed a big tent over its parking lot patio space, complete with walls and windows to keep the winter winds out but let the sunshine in. String lights hang from the ceiling and there are heat lamps over each table. This was done while still keeping accessibility for wheelchairs as well as bicycle parking. 

Howl Brewing - supplied photo - BC Ale Trail
Danny Van Netten shows off a loaner umbrella at Howl Brewing in Victoria, BC

Howl Brewing’s tiny tasting area cannot accommodate many people, and although it has a small picnic area across the parking lot where patrons can enjoy sample flights or glasses of beer, government regulations prohibit the addition of any infrastructure like tents or even patio umbrellas to picnic areas at breweries. That said, the folks at Howl say, “Rain or shine we will be brewing beer, and for the winter we will provide hand-held umbrellas that will be sanitized before and after every use along with a warm smile and craft beer.” (It’s one of my favourite destinations by bicycle from Victoria so I can vouch for the smiles and the quality of the beer!)

Howl Brewing, Hoyne Brewing, Twa Dogs Brewery, Whistle Buoy Brewing, and Vancouver Island Brewing can all be found on the VICTORIA ALE TRAIL.

Red Arrow Brewing - supplied photo - BC Ale Trail
Red Arrow Brewing in Duncan, BC

Looking Up Island, Duncan’s Red Arrow Brewing recently upgraded the licencing on its outdoor picnic area into a full-service patio and the brewery took the opportunity to add some tenting and heaters. There are five tables of four and one table of six available under the tented space.

Red Arrow Brewing can be found on the Vancouver Island Ale Trail Part 1.

In Port Alberni, Dog Mountain Brewing’s awesome rooftop patio has also been significantly winterized. It is now covered with a giant circus tent with walls and windows so that customers can still enjoy the views. There are two natural gas heaters that can heat about 1,500 square feet, and 10 socially distanced tables with six seats each.

Ace Brewing - supplied photo - BC Ale Trail
Ace Brewing has built a pergola over its patio at the brewery in Courtenay, BC

Courtenay’s Ace Brewing has built a pergola above its parking lot patio and is looking into tenting options for covering it and gas heaters to keep it warm. It is dog friendly and has room for 30 people.

Gladstone Brewing - supplied photo - BC Ale Trail
The covered patio at Gladstone Brewing in Courtenay, BC

Also in Courtenay, Gladstone Brewing has expanded its outdoor seating, adding some tenting and heaters as well.

Beach Fire Brewing - supplied photo - BC Ale Trail
Staying warm on the back patio at Beach Fire Brewing in Campbell River, BC

And up in Campbell River, Beach Fire Brewing created a large outdoor seating area behind the brewery earlier this year. Beach Fire has covered and enclosed the space, and added heaters and a wood-fired pizza oven to help keep things cosy. Blankets are provided (washed between uses), but customers are definitely recommended to bundle up. 

Ace Brewing, Beach Fire Brewing, Dog Mountain Brewing, and Gladstone Brewing can be found on the Vancouver Island Ale Trail Part 2.

Twin City Brewing Company in Port Alberni on the BC Ale Trail
Twin City Brewing Company in Port Alberni, BC

Know before you go

When exploring the BC Ale Trail, make sure to look up important information about the area you’re visiting and check on cancellation policies. Practice safe and respectful travelling as you explore the communities in our wild backyard that are open to visitors and make sure to be a considerate craft beer consumer while you’re out and about.


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