Call it the Year of the Comeback: 2022 saw the return of beer festivals, beer judging/awards, and beer conferences.

With all the trials and tribulations of 2020 and 2021 behind us, we all went into 2022 with a hopeful smile and a Zen-like sense of serenity, right? OK, maybe it wasn’t quite so serene and peachy-keen a year ago… I seem to remember we had a mini-lockdown during the holiday season — the 1970s-themed New Year’s Eve party I was supposed to attend was cancelled, but I’d grown too attached to the bushy moustache I’d grown for it so I decided not to shave it off immediately, and I still have it today.

Joe Wiebe - Victoria Beer Week 2022
Yours truly sporting a COVID ‘stash during Victoria Beer Week in May 2022

Many beer lovers were excited about the return of beer festivals in 2022. That did happen, but it was with a bit of a shaky start: Victoria Beer Week had to be postponed from March to April, and the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale was pushed back from April to May and reduced in scope to a one-day, outdoor event. Victoria Beer Week did happen, though, and it was a roaring success featuring a mostly sold-out run of events. Unfortunately, even though everyone in attendance had to be double vaccinated, a bunch of us who worked at the events on the final weekend — myself included — came down with COVID right afterwards. In my case, it wasn’t too rough (thanks to all my vaccinations no doubt), although it definitely knocked me back for a while.

In the spring, I was excited to finally get back on an airplane again — it was the first time for me since the summer of 2019. That first flight took me up north to Prince George where I had the pleasure of co-hosting a media tour for several visiting journalists. It was a fun group and we all got along well, which is important when you are squeezed into a small vehicle for long drives for several days in a row. 

While in Prince George we had the chance to visit all three of the local breweries — CrossRoads Brewing & Distillery, Trench Brewing & Distilling, and Deadfall Brewing, which had just opened for business. They each treated us very well, and the writers had a chance to taste a range of delicious beers. We also got to check out some of the local sites, including Cottonwood Island Nature Park, a wooded park on the shore of the Nechako River, and the absolutely gorgeous Ancient Forest/Chun T’oh Whudujut Provincial Park, BC’s newest provincial park that is located about 90 minutes east of Prince George but definitely worth the trip. 

From Prince George, we travelled west to the small city of Burns Lake where we trepidatiously boarded a small floatplane for a 20-minute flight to Ootsa Lake. Our pilot expertly landed us on the small lake, part of the Nechako Reservoir created in 1952, and then let us off on the shore near Little Bear Ranch, which is also home to Ursa Minor Brewing (Little Bear – Ursa Minor: see what’s happening here?), BC’s most remote brewery. 

We were met by owners Nathan and Gwyn, plus a dog or two, who toured us around the farmyard (hello donkeys, hello pigs) before taking us into the brewery’s tasting room. After tasting some of Nathan’s excellent beer, we were also treated to a delicious meal. Check out Pender Island writer Hans Tammemagi’s story about the trip. Also, check London, ON, writer Wayne Newton’s article.

Soon enough, however, we had to head back to Burns Lake, but as it turned out, our pilot had been forced to depart because of the possibility of inclement weather. No worries — we all piled into the farm truck and enjoyed endured a 60-minute ride over bumpy roads to the ferry crossing just below Burns Lake. We said goodbye to our hosts with many promises to return (did you know they offer campsites and even rent out a lakefront cabin? Check out this blog for more details) and walked on to the free ferry. At the north end, we were met by our tourism friends and continued our journey to Smithers.

For me, unfortunately, Smithers was the end of the road. I got to enjoy one evening there, including a fantastic dinner at Roadhouse, an excellent local restaurant run by two sisters, and a visit to Bulkley Valley Brewery for a tasting and chat with the owner, Dave Harris.  The next morning saw me boarding a flight for Victoria while the rest of the gang continued their tour without me. After another day in Smithers, which included a stop at Smithers Brewing, they drove west to Prince Rupert, the end of the road when it comes to the Northwest BC Ale Trail. There, they enjoyed a meal and tasting at Wheelhouse Brewing, as well as a tour of the old train station there, which will become the new home of Wheelhouse Brewing later this year.

More travelling and fun adventures awaited me in 2022, including a road trip up to the Comox Valley with my son, which included stops at two new breweries: Bayview Brewing in Ladysmith and Fern + Cedar Brewing in Qualicum Beach. Both quickly moved up to the upper tier of my favourite Vancouver Island breweries because of the perfect mix of delicious food and beer they each offered. In the Comox Valley, my son and I gorged ourselves at Rider’s Pizza, which is right across the street from the Cumberland Brewing Co., and one of our favourite pizzerias anywhere.

After a family visit to Winnipeg in July, the rest of my summer adventures stayed within the BC borders. I got to visit my friends at Mayne Island Brewing again and also squeezed in another bike trip to Sooke and its unique trio of local breweries: Sooke Oceanside Brewery, Sooke Brewing, and Bad Dog BrewingSeptember saw the return of the Great Canadian Beer Festival in Victoria, which was a rip-roaring success all around. 

The highlight of the autumn for me was a trip to Toronto where I got to be part of a prestigious panel of judges at the Canada Beer Cup, including folks from all around the world, south of the border in the United States, and of course here in Canada, too. As the only BC judge in the group, I had the opportunity to proselytize about our amazing craft beer scene here to lots of important beer folks so I am sure many of them will be visiting before too long. It was a completely blind judging process so I had no idea which brewery’s beers I was tasting, but as it turned out, BC did extremely well: Vancouver’s Callister Brewing won three medals and the Canada Beer Cup for Best in Show for its Wee Laird Wee Heavy Scotch Ale. All in all, 46 medals went to BC breweries!

The BC Beer Awards also returned in 2022 after a three-year hiatus. The top winner was Courtenay’s Gladstone Brewing, which won five medals and was named BC Brewery of the Year. 

Category 12 Brewing - BC Ale Trail
Karen & Michael Kuzyk, along with Chris Silvestri of Category 12 Brewing at the 2022 BC Craft Brewers Conference.

The other exciting event to return was the BC Craft Brewers Conference, which was held in early November in New Westminster. I enjoyed the chance to (re-)connect with so many people from the brewing community, and I also participated in a presentation about the BC Ale Trail. New Westminster’s local breweries, Another Beer Co. and Steel & Oak Brewing, hosted special after-parties — they both do an excellent job so if you haven’t tried their beers or visited them in person, I recommend you do so.

Brookswood Brewing - BC Ale Trail
A flight of beers at Brookswood Brewing in Langley, BC

Immediately after the Conference, I visited Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Langley to give a guest lecture about the history and development of craft beer in BC to the first-year class of brewing students (something I have done annually since the Brewing and Brewery Operations program opened). While in Langley, I also took the opportunity to visit Locality Brewing, a farm-based brewery that opened last summer. I definitely look forward to returning there in a warmer season when I will really be able to check out more of the farm. I also popped in at Brookswood Brewing, which had just opened in Langley a short time before my visit.

What’s in Store in 2023?

And here we are in the first week of 2023 — who knows what new adventures this year will bring? I hope to visit some more new breweries, including a couple I haven’t made it to yet that have opened on the Island in recent months: Mile Zero Brewing in Metchosin and Rusted Rake Brewing up Island in Nanoose. And you can expect more new breweries to open in communities across BC.

Looking ahead, Penticton’s Okanagan Fest of Ale is set to return to its traditional schedule and program on April 14-15. Fingers crossed I get to attend so that I can check out Abandoned Rail Brewing, another new farm-based brewery that opened there last year, as well as the new location of Highway 97 Brewing Co. and the newly updated Tin Whistle Brewing. Oh, and there are also the two breweries nearby in Summerland, Detonate Brewing and Giant’s Head Brewing, both of which have been revitalized under new ownership. Plus, there are all those new breweries that have opened in Kelowna since my last visit…

Victoria Beer Week will be returning in a new springtime slot, May 5-13, which will allow for more outdoor events. 

Check back here regularly for more news and inspiration. And as you plan your 2023 beer-ventures, be sure to let the BC Ale Trail be your guide. Cheers!

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