With any road trip in BC, there are new breweries to experience and even to stay at. Our journey up through the Northwest Ale Trail included three nights staying near BC’s most remote craft brewery: Ursa Minor Brewing. Let the Ale-Trailing begin!
August in BC is beautiful. With pandemic restrictions declining and air travel nightmares all over the news, my family was looking for a late summer holiday that wouldn’t break the bank and didn’t require a plane. A road trip to regions unknown here in our own province seemed the perfect option.
Mountainview Brewing – Hope
My husband’s Tetris-level packing skills were needed to get all our gear into our car with enough room to spare for our two kids and our 100-pound dog, Cooper. Our first day of driving took us from our home in south Surrey down Highway 1 through Hope and into the Fraser Canyon, then up past 100 Mile House until we reached our first night’s accommodation. Mountainview Brewing in Hope was new to us, so it became our first brewery stop.
Adam and Danielle Keil opened Hope’s first craft brewery during the first year of the pandemic–not an easy task. The small town of Hope, tucked in under the mountains’ shadows and bordering the Fraser River, is a rest stop for thousands of travellers each year, as well as a destination for outdoors enthusiasts. A craft brewery in town was past due. Located along Old Hope Princeton Way, just a quick detour off the highway, Mountainview Brewing is in an ideal location as well.
As we enjoyed our flights, a pool table provided entertainment for our 12- and 14-year old after they finished their kombucha (I always like to see quality non-alcoholic options in a brewery). I was intrigued by the light and tasty Dragon’s Back Caribbean stout, a summer beer named after the local Dragon’s Back hiking trail, but my favourites were the Green Hearts Young IPA and the Lost in the Woods Spruce Tip Pale Ale–both representative of this mountainous region.
Mountainview Brewing can be found on the Fraser Valley Ale Trail.
Fox Mountain Brewing – Williams Lake
There was a long stretch of beautiful landscape — hills, canyons, rivers–between Hope and our next brewery. By the time we arrived in Williams Lake, we were ready for some refreshments at Fox Mountain Brewing Co. Owner and head brewer Dave Reedman joined us on their patio for a chat about being the first brewery owner in the region.
Reedman recounted his path to brewery ownership and how his love of homebrewing spurred a desire to learn more. He eventually completed formal training at Brewlab in England before returning to Williams Lake, where he knew that the popular annual beer festival had fertilized a rapidly growing craft beer community. When Fox Mountain opened its doors in 2020, Reedman had envisioned a quiet, small event. Instead, he laughed, “We were slammed! There were people lined up down the front of the building.”
Reedman took me through his brewhouse where his 6-tank system was housed and his young son was cleaning bottles for a bit of extra money. He values all the help he can get; it’s just Reedman and one assistant running the brewing side, although he has a great front of house staff and kitchen. We chatted about the beers that were the most popular locally: the pilsner and their Hillbilly Blond–both light and refreshing traditional styles that resonate with the city’s rural character.
My husband and I ended up trying all the beers available–not a difficult task after a long day of travelling. My favourites were the Godspeed IPA and the Bluebird Saison. I’m a sucker for a good saison and this one delighted — full-bodied with coriander and citrus notes. Their popular Pump Track Hazy IPA was also excellent, with lots of mango and pineapple flavours.
Unfortunately, most southern residents of BC will have to travel if they want to sample some of Fox Mountain’s beers. While they do distribute as far south as Kamloops, the tasting room and local clientele take priority over distribution. “Right now we’re in ‘keep up’ mode!” says Reedman. Being popular is a good problem to have, but it does end up resulting in a lot of work for the small team at Fox Mountain.
Fox Mountain Brewing can be found on the Northeast BC Ale Trail.
Deadfall Brewing – Prince George
A friendly dog was guarding the entrance when I arrived since canine friends are welcome in the tasting room. In fact, everyone is welcome. When co-owner Brandon Baerwald, his wife Erin, and their two friends established Deadfall, inclusivity was a number one priority. And you see this inclusivity in things like the accessibility of the tasting room itself and the free hygiene products in the bathrooms.
The brewery was cool in the heat of the day, with beautiful images of flora and fauna on the walls. At the bar, the forest-green backsplash behind the handmade driftwood tap handles made me think of BC’s woodlands — a cherished feature of Prince George, where hiking, hunting, and forestry are economic drivers.
The Baerwalds are both science professors at UNBC, so it’s unsurprising that they found inspiration in the vibrant natural environment of Prince George. Nature’s ability to create life from death became a theme of the brewery. Even beer’s key ingredient — yeast — dies and comes back to life. This concept became the brewery’s theme.
“It’s beauty, but it’s dark,” says Brandon.
Graphic designer Skyler Punnett used this concept to design the brewery’s logo. The death’s hand reaching holding the stem of a large mushroom represents nature’s constant movement between death and life.
While Baerwald doesn’t possess a brewing certification, he did have plenty of professional brewing experience before opening Deadfall. He’s currently the only brewer, as well as the packager, deliverer, and front of house guy, and he likes it that way.
“Quality control!” he told me.
His perfectionism means that the beer is indeed high quality, but he admits he has to work hard to ensure that. Deadfall’s motto is “Brew no wrong,” and Baerwald follows his own advice. The tap list on that day included a Kölsch, a brown ale, a west coast IPA, a session ale, and a watermelon gose, and I thoroughly enjoyed each one. Baerwald’s choice to offer a Kölsch rather than a Pilsner or other light lager was unusual, but customers are receptive — the Kölsch is one of his top sellers. The watermelon gose, he said with a shrug, was almost out and he didn’t think he’d make it again. But half an hour later, I watched a customer buy two flats of it. It seems the Baerwalds may have to brew more beer than they bargained for — not a bad problem to have for a new brewery!
Deadfall Brewing can be found on the Northwest BC Ale Trail.
Ursa Minor Brewing — Burns Lake
The destination for our BC journey was Ursa Minor Brewing, located on Little Bear Ranch on the shores of Ootsa Lake. After a three-hour drive west from Prince George, a 15-minute ferry ride, and another hour of driving through dirt roads with no cell reception (we had to keep an eye out for “Brewery” signs along the road), we eventually saw the big red sign welcoming us to Ursa Minor Brewing.
We weren’t just there to visit the brewery though. Ursa Minor is part of Little Bear Ranch, a large property first purchased in the 1950s by the parents of Nathan Nicholas, who currently owns and runs the ranch with his wife Gwyn. His mother, Leona, still lives there in her own house and has some great stories that shouldn’t be missed if you visit. Over the years, the family has built barns, fields, houses, and cabins — and one of those cabins is now available as a holiday rental for those who need a break from traffic, noise, and all internet contact. The little red cabin is located maybe 100 feet from the lakeshore and is just a minute’s walk to Nathan and Gwyn’s log home and the brewery. Although it was built in the 1960s, the cabin’s plumbing and electricity have been updated and a solar power system now supplies hot water.
But the cabin doesn’t feel modern; it’s like you’ve stepped back in time into the warm embrace of your grandparents’ home.
Real 1960s artefacts add detail to the cabin’s interior, from a tiny 1960s bottle of Pine-Sol to an old jar of Pond’s Cold Cream to the teal vintage refrigerator. Two cosy beds in the front sunroom area facing the lake plus a pull-out bed in the living room allowed the four of us to sleep very comfortably.
Our two days and three nights on the ranch were spent swimming, paddling around in our inflatable dinghy and kayak, fishing from the shore in front of our cabin (with great success!), and exploring the property. We enjoyed giving the friendly pig, Wilson, spent grain snacks (follow him on Instagram @willythebrewpig), and the horses, donkeys, and farm dogs received many pets each time we passed them. Evenings were spent sitting outside the cabin by our bonfire and staring up at an astoundingly clear night sky. The silence was deep, and, to my suburban children who are used to constant noise, even unnerving. It is truly a space for contemplation.
Ursa Minor Brewing was, of course, a central element of our stay, and we returned multiple times, trekking through the grass alongside the lake from our cabin to reach the little tasting room. Nathan doesn’t grow his own hops or barley, but he sources as many ingredients from his land as he can, like rhubarb, haskap berries, and juniper. His training as a chef is revealed in some of his creative brewing choices, as well as the weekly dinner he and Gwyn serve up to guests.
Some of my favourite brews at Ursa Minor were the Siberian Express Haskap Saison, the Ootsa Pogo Double IPA, and the Pigs Eye Rye Ale. Before we left, Nathan added one more beer to the list, which I thoroughly enjoyed: a soured version of a double IPA, a beer that was initially the product of yeast going off track, but which became popular with customers. And non-drinkers aren’t left out; homemade spruce tip iced tea and rhubarb soda were two of the non-alcoholic offerings available that weekend, and both were delicious — our kids preferred them to pop which is high praise!
Nathan and Gwyn are welcoming hosts who have cultivated a sustainable, simple, and family-oriented way of life on their property. We felt like family when we arrived, and we truly enjoyed our conversations with them as we learned about the history of the ranch. It was also a special time for the four of us as a family. Detached from our phones, laptops, school, and work, we could reconnect over good drinks and good food (including our fresh-caught trout from the lake).
Ursa Minor Brewing can be found on the Northwest BC Ale Trail.
Lillooet Brewing – Lillooet
We regretted having to leave Little Bear Ranch on our third day, but we felt refreshed as we began our journey home back through Prince George and then south. While we couldn’t visit Prince George’s other craft breweries, Trench Brewing & Distilling and CrossRoads Brewing & Distillery, due to a staff event being held that day, we did have a tasty pint of the 1000 Peaks Blood Orange Witbier from Trench and the Fast Lane IPA from Crossroads while enjoying pizza at Betulla Burning.
Our travels eventually took us down past Hat Creek Ranch (formerly owned by one of Vancouver’s first brewery owners, Charles Doering) through the Duffy Lake road and finally into the Fraser Canyon and to Lillooet. Here, we took a break to get a sneak peek at the soon-to-be-opened Lillooet Brewing Co, which is perched on a hill with a stunning view of the Fraser River below.
Lillooet Brewing is the brainchild of Sam Quinlan, founder of HOOH Hops, and Sacha Bordas, brewer and builder. They finalized their purchase of the property — previously a local feed store — in March 2020, just before the pandemic crashed into their plans. However, over the past two years, they’ve worked consistently to establish their brewery’s brand, its values, and its core lineup of beers, so they now feel well positioned for a strong opening in early fall 2022.
Lillooet Brewing’s priorities are clear: environmental sustainability, local ingredients, and wildlife conservation. The brewery recycles water and does its own canning, and its recipes use as much locally produced hops and barley as possible. Both Quinlan and Bordas are outdoorsmen and enthusiastic about how the rural nature of Lillooet brings so many opportunities for encountering wildlife. Their beers reflect this enthusiasm, with each one named after a local species. The first two beers are the Western Screech Owl Hazy Pale Ale and the Mule Deer Lager.
Using a grant from Northern Development, the brewery partnered with the Lillooet Naturalist Society in a project called Lillooet Wild that provides educational resources on various local species, resources that will be linked to QR codes on the beer labels. Additionally, the tasting room will feature images of local wildlife by local artists and photographers, and more partnerships with other wildlife groups are in the works.
“I think of this [the brewery] like a National Park headquarters,” laughed Quinlan.
The 12-tap tasting room will be accompanied by an outdoor full-service patio area and a picnic area licensed for liquor. So if you have dogs or kids that need some room, you can buy a six-pack from the tasting room and walk over to the picnic spot, where native plant species accompany the beautiful view of the river. More plans are in the works for Lillooet Brewing, such as producing certified organic beers and working with local barley farmers, but they’re well on their way to become one of Lillooet’s popular spots for tourists and locals alike — and of course, all animal lovers.
Lillooet Brewing is not on the BC Ale Trail yet — but we hope to add it soon!
Our final quick stop was at the Beer Farmers in Pemberton, another brewery that prioritizes local and organic ingredients. Both dog- and family-friendly, and with some sheep on site and great views of the surrounding mountains, Beer Farmers is always worth a stop if you’re passing through Pemberton. It is mostly outdoors, though, so plan for the weather!
We returned to south Surrey with many new beers to add to our fridge and many more family memories. Now to plan our next BC road trip — there’s lots more to see (and drink) in this province.