Earlier this summer, just after regional travel restrictions were lifted, I ticked off a cycling trip I’d been dreaming about ever since the pandemic started. It involved visiting breweries in Delta — Four Winds Brewing and a newer farm-based brewery that had opened nearby early in 2020 called Barnside Brewing.
Back in November 2019, I was invited to give a guest lecture at KPU’s Brewing School. I live in Victoria so, after I took the ferry to Tsawwassen, I dropped in at the breweries in Delta. I started at Four Winds Brewing for a quick visit. While I was chatting with brewmaster Brent Mills, I asked him what he knew about Barnside Brewing, which I’d heard was going to open nearby. Brent smiled and pointed to a couple of guys sitting in the tasting room nearby. “Ask them,” he said. “They’re the owners.”
I chatted with the Barnside folks for a bit and then drove over to check out the site about 5 km away. The brewery, which wasn’t quite open yet, was housed in a purpose-built barn showcasing century-old beams and wood gathered from heritage barns throughout Delta. It looked great! Before I continued on my way to KPU, I assured them I’d pop over for a visit again when the brewery opened.
But then came COVID. In fact, that trip late in 2019 was my last time off Vancouver Island for more than 18 months. Throughout much of 2020, I often fantasized about post-pandemic trips I might enjoy, and one of those fantasies was to cycle between those two breweries in Delta. So when the provincial government opened up regional travel restrictions and the forecast called for glorious weather, I proposed a Delta bike trip to a few of my cycling pals. They quickly agreed, as did a couple of friends from Vancouver who I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic — they said they’d ride down and meet us there.
Those of us riding from Victoria wanted to catch the 9:00 am ferry, which necessitated a 7:00 am departure. That’s early for me, although I know a lot of cyclists love the early morning because the day isn’t too hot yet and the roads are fairly quiet. But I set my alarm, drank a big mug of coffee, and was on my bike by 7!
The 35-km ride to the Swartz Bay ferry terminal is flat. Most of it follows the Lochside Trail, a dedicated path for cyclists, pedestrians and even horses (in some stretches). Some of it does involve riding on roads, although most of them have painted bike lanes and are reasonably quiet in terms of vehicle traffic. Since much of it hugs the coastline, you get to enjoy some spectacular scenery, especially the long stretch heading into Sidney.
I was joined by three friends, all of whom are faster riders than I am, so I had to work hard to keep up with them. The weather was cooler than forecasted, and when it clouded over and threatened rain, I realized I’d forgotten to bring a jacket! Luckily, apart from a couple of drops, we stayed dry.
We made it to Swartz Bay by 8:30am. According to Strava, I had beat my personal best for riding to the ferry! I guess the combination of riding with faster guys and the incentive of not wanting to miss the boat pushed me like a strong wind at my back.
We enjoyed a breakfast on the ferry and then prepared to disembark on the mainland side. And then, just as we docked at Tsawwassen, my phone beeped. It was a text with a photo of my friends from Vancouver halfway across the Alex Fraser Bridge on their way to Delta. The race was on!
Riding along the ferry causeway was not particularly pleasant because of the volume of cars and trucks roaring past us, but soon we were able to leave the highway behind. We turned left to head north right after the Tsawwassen Mills Outlet Mall. The route took us through some picturesque farms into the pretty town of Ladner. At River Road, we turned right and eventually joined a trail along the river. Although not fully divided for cyclists and pedestrians, it served us well. The best part was the cool underpass that took us under Highway 99 just south of Deas Island and the Massey Tunnel.
It was right around then that my friends from Vancouver sent a photo of themselves enjoying a beer at Four Winds. They’d beaten us there!
Well, they had no ferry schedule to contend with, after all. In any case, that was incentive for us to stop lollygagging and start pedalling harder. We followed the Millennium Trail along the river on the east side of the highway, which took us almost all the way to Four Winds. The last stretch was back on River Road, now a fairly busy thoroughfare, but it had a painted bike lane, at least.
Arriving at Four Winds Brewing felt triumphant!
The brewery has long been a favourite of mine, both for the quality of their beers as well as the friends I have made among the family of owners. It was founded by brewmaster Brent Mills along with his brothers Adam and Sean and their dad, Greg, back in 2013. Since then, Four Winds has won numerous awards, including Brewery of the Year and Beer of the Year at the Canadian Brewing Awards. Sadly, Greg Mills passed away last year — following his death, Four Winds named a special beer in his honour: Greg IPA.
We ordered beer, grabbed some of Four Winds’ famous tacos, and settled ourselves in the tented patio in the parking lot in front of the brewery, which is located in a light industrial complex in Tilbury. The weather was sunny and warm, the beer and food were delicious, and we had completed the first stage of an epic bike ride. Needless to say, we all had big grins on our faces.
For my friends from Vancouver, the main challenge getting there was the Massey Tunnel, which connects Richmond and Delta on busy Highway 99. Although there is a shuttle that takes cyclists through the tunnel, it runs on an occasional schedule, so they decided to take another route that ran through New Westminster and over the Alex Fraser Bridge (32 km).
After sampling a few of the beers at Four Winds and filling up on tacos, we got back on our bikes and headed towards Barnside Brewing. Unfortunately, Google Maps tooks us to a dead-end by the old landfill. The cross street it said was there turned out to be a farm lane that was blocked off and marked as Private. Oh well, the detour wasted about half an hour in total, but that was why we took the early ferry after all: to ensure we had more than enough time to visit each brewery.
We had to ride all the way back to Four Winds before finding the correct route, which took us through some very pretty farm country. It was a short ride, only about 5 km in total, but very pleasant apart from a headwind and the rather strong manure odour. Fortunately, that aroma disappeared by the time we reached the brewery.
At first, Barnside Brewing seemed so busy that we were worried we might not get a spot on their patio! There were lots of other bicycles already parked there along with a bunch of cars in the parking lot. As it turned out, we only had to wait about 15 minutes before a picnic table opened up.
Founded by four neighbouring farming families who grew hops and barley, along with other crops like cranberries, Barnside Brewing opened early in 2020.
Barnside brews exclusively with its own farm-grown hops, and also uses its own barley as its base malt. Custom malting on a small scale is very challenging, so it still has to buy most of its specialty malts from elsewhere. The brewery also uses cranberries and other produce grown on its farms. If they don’t grow an ingredient themselves, chances are they are collaborating with another local farmer to get what they need.
Barnside Brewing also has a tasting room kitchen featuring hearty, healthy farm fare. Even though we’d already stuffed ourselves with tacos at Four Winds, we still managed to squeeze in some delicious baked pretzels. The beers we tried at Barnside were tasty, and the setting was very comfortable, but soon we had to get back on our bikes and begin the long journey home.
By now we were all referring to this bike ride as “The First Annual” so when we bade farewell to our Vancouver friends, it was with a promise to do it again next year!
I’ll admit the ride home to Victoria was less exciting. After all, there weren’t any more breweries to visit and we already had about 60 km under our pedals! We decided to take a different route back to the ferry towards the city of Tsawwassen. Unfortunately, we faced a stiff headwind that took away from the pleasures of riding on a quiet, flat country road through farmland. Eventually, though, we were back on the ferry causeway, this time heading towards the boat that would take us home.
Soon enough, we were docking at Swartz Bay again and getting back on our bikes for one more long ride home. I was a little grumpy at first. My saddle was rather sore by this time and my body was tired, but once we got moving, the warmth of the early evening sunshine energized me, and I honestly enjoyed the ride home.
We could have stopped at a brewery on the way home, of course. Both Howl Brewing and Category 12 Brewing are located on the Saanich Peninsula not too far off the Lochside Trail (and, exciting news, look for Beacon Brewing to open in downtown Sidney later this summer!). But it had been a long day already and none of us wanted to stay out after dark.
Ultimately, I made it home about half an hour earlier than I’d expected. It was a very satisfying day — it felt great to check something off my post-pandemic bucket list, and I am already looking forward to doing it again next year.