Back for the month of May for its second straight year, the Kelowna & West Kelowna Tasting Passport contest gives you the opportunity to win the ultimate beer-themed getaway to Victoria.

All you have to do is collect stamps from six of the participating locations and then enter your completed tasting passport in the draw for a chance to win.

When we emigrated from the UK six years ago, we asked friends from all around Canada where we should choose to live. Their response? The Okanagan. And how right they were! It really is hard to beat summer in the Okanagan Valley. Don’t get me wrong, winter here is awesome too with great skiing and cozy breweries to warm up in, but it is the summer when the area truly comes into its own. So, it is a very happy coincidence (or maybe good planning on the part of the BC Ale Trail?) that this year’s Kelowna & West Kelowna Tasting Passport coincides with the start of patio season. With an ever-growing number of craft breweries in the Okanagan, this is the perfect opportunity to check out new breweries, revisit old haunts, and soak up those rays on the newly opened patios.

A colourful flight of beer at Rustic Reel Brewing in Kelowna, BC
Rustic Reel Brewing in Kelowna, BC (photo: Hannah Irvine)

It was another fortuitous twist of fate that resulted in my husband and I having an unexpected Thursday off work, on the very day that temperatures across the valley suddenly leapt into the mid-20s and breweries across Kelowna threw open their patio doors. So, we seized the opportunity of a child-free afternoon of beer tasting and set off towards Kelowna’s brewery district to start collecting our six stamps, with our faithful brewery hound in tow.

1st Stop: Rustic Reel Brewing

We arrived in Kelowna at lunchtime, so our first port of call had to involve a bite to eat. My husband and I are both vegetarian, admittedly not the easiest customers to please, but Rustic Reel Brewing always has the most innovative and delicious vegetarian food on offer, so we made a beeline to their patio. If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit Rustic Reel yet, this is one brewery you can’t miss. They have it all: a mouth-watering beer selection, outstanding food, stylish décor, and a fabulous dog-friendly patio, with huge garage-style doors that open to connect the taproom with the outside world. Lunch there is always exceptional, and Thursday’s dishes of gnocchi and a kale and brussel sprout salad did not disappoint. The sunshine demanded a summery lineup in our beer pairing, and we had a great number of lighter beers to choose from. The highlight for me was the Raspberry Hibiscus Sour — a tart and refreshing number which is so packed full of raspberry flavours that it screams summer — while my husband was blown away by the Hazy IPA, which has now become one of his current favourite beers. The fact that we eventually left Rustic Reel laden with cans of our new favourite beers speaks volumes. 

Hilariously, not only were we offered flights, but so too was Rufus, our canine companion. He very happily tucked into his selection of tasty treats (and a tennis ball) while we savoured the beer. He is a connoisseur of breweries, but this is the first time that he has had his own flight!

2nd Stop: Unleashed Brewing

Seeing as we had our four-legged friend along for the ride, we decided that the next visit really had to be Unleashed Brewing — the self-proclaimed “most dog-friendly craft brewery” in Kelowna. Dogs certainly are at the heart of the operation here, with the beers all named after dogs and some awesome canine branding. Canine companions are not only welcome on the patio at Unleashed, but they are the first brewery in BC to be approved by Interior Health to allow dogs in the taproom. This is fantastic on those cold winter days when a patio is less than appealing, but similarly, as the thermometer climbs and the patio becomes too hot for those wearing fur coats, the taproom offers a cool sanctuary. The hospitality offered to pampered pooches in the taproom really is top-notch, with doggy beds, water bowls, “beer” and snacks, and even a little fire hydrant on offer to make them feel at home (I’m fairly certain they are discouraged from “using” the hydrant though). There is a wide selection of beers to choose from and a brand-new Lavender Honey Ale (Mystical Manu) has just been released. Our favourites had to be the deliciously malty All Dogs Go To Heavenweizen, and the London Dog Special-tea Ale which is sweet and crisp with unmistakable hints of vanilla and Earl Grey tea.

Unleashed Brewing-BC Ale Trail-Hannah Irvine
Unleashed Brewing in Kelowna, BC (photo: Hannah Irvine)

Our next destination was just a few streets away, so after sticking a photo of Rufus on the wall of wigglebutts, we said our goodbyes and strolled on over.

3rd Stop: Vice & Virtue Brewing

Vice & Virtue is another brewery that we had not visited for some time, and as soon as we stepped over the threshold we kicked ourselves for not returning sooner. The small taproom is light, bright and welcoming, as was our host Jacob who had that genuine gift of making all his customers feel special. We were thoroughly spoilt for choice with the beer menu, so simply had to go with two flights, and what a great selection of beers they were! My husband’s top pick was the Brave New World NEIPA which was a juicy, tropical delight, while I favoured the Love Potion Raspberry Berliner Vice with its big punchy, raspberry flavours.  We could very happily have stayed there all evening, drinking in the sunshine and enjoying the funky tunes on the patio (apparently it was trivia night there later too) but unfortunately, real life (and parental responsibilities) beckoned, so we reluctantly tore ourselves away with sincere promises of returning very soon.

Buoyed by the fantastic experience we’d had at Vice and Virtue, we decided to stick with the theme of revisiting breweries that we had previously rather neglected for our second day of stamp collecting. So, minus the dog this time (it was too hot for a patio even for our little sun worshipper) we set forth to The Hatching Post.

4th Stop: The Hatching Post

Set amongst the fancy wineries that overlook the lake in West Kelowna, The Hatching Post saloon is immediately recognizable as a beer-lover’s refuge. The saloon building looks like it has stepped straight out of a John Wayne movie, and the Western theme continues inside, with saloon doors leading into an opulent Western bar. We had visited The Hatching Post on its opening day, just over a year ago, and were impressed even then by how slick the operation was, but today’s visit showed just how much the brewery has developed with a year of experience under its belt. With eight beers on tap, there was something to appeal to everyone, from the light, refreshing but packed-with-flavour Lager, to a couple of IPAs which would please the most ardent hop-heads. Our clear favourites today were the Black Sunday, an American Wheat ale with deliciously citrusy flavours (a patio crusher if ever there was one) and the Parlour Tricks, a NEIPA that packed a punch but with a soft mouthfeel and lack of bitterness.

The brewery also boasts a smokery and the plates of smoked meat emerging from the kitchen would be heaven to the meat eaters in the crowd (the couple sitting next to us confirmed that the “burnt ends” were amazing). It was also nice to see that vegetarians have been carefully considered too with a selection of delicious-sounding plates on offer. We stuck with the smoked beer nuts (which come as a tasty side on the tasting flight) this time though, and after picking up a couple of bottles to take home (packaged in very cool Western-style bottles of course), we continued on our way.

5th Stop: Barn Owl Brewing

Barn Owl Brewing, in the Mission area of Kelowna, is a little out of the way and so is sometimes overlooked by those heading to the brewery district, but it really is worth the short detour. This is our go-to Kelowna brewery in winter as the taproom nestled in the rafters of the historic 1920s Surtees Barn is the coziest we’ve found anywhere in Canada (a bold claim I know, but one we’re sticking with), and their Vanilla Chestnut Ale is my favourite winter sipper. In the past, the brewery has been rather stymied by its lack of outdoor space for the summer months, but no longer. The new acquisition of an on-site bakery means that Barn Owl has been able to expand its patio, as well as its food and drink menu. On this sunny Sunday afternoon, bikers and dog walkers thronged happily in the sunshine, sipping beers and coffees, while live music drifted outside from the musician who entertained the shade seekers inside.

This brewery is clearly beloved by the locals in the area, and for good reason. With an impressive 16 beers on tap (even more astounding when you see the tiny size of the brewing area) there really is something for everyone here. With so many beers on offer, we decided that we really should do two flights here (totally altruistically of course) and selected a beautiful array of colourful summer sippers. The star of the show for us was the Casey Clarke Show Kolsch which was packed with fruit aromas and had a delicate sweetness to it, while the tart Genesis Raspberry Wheat Ale also deserves a special mention. While we were there, brewery owners Gary and Tim could be seen chatting amicably with their guests — their appreciation of their loyal customers was clearly evident, and their love of the place was both obvious and contagious. 

6th Stop: Shore Line Brewing

With time ticking on, we dragged ourselves away from Barn Owl and on to our final destination of the day. Shore Line Brewing, as the name suggests, is located right on the shores of Lake Okanagan and has arguably the best views of any patio in Kelowna. The bright, stylish taproom has seven core beers on offer, ranging from the light, crisp Lochy Lager to some heavily hopped IPAs, plus a rotating seasonal brew which today was the Birdie Juice, a Citrus Blonde Ale bursting with grapefruit and lime flavours. Coming soon are the Watermelon Kolsch and the 360 Pineapple Hazy which I definitely need to try once they’re released — a good excuse for a return visit. At 5 p.m. the patio was beginning to fill up with people needing refreshment after a gruelling day on the beach, and the atmosphere was buzzing.

By this point, we were feeling decidedly snacky, and the delicious tempeh tacos we ordered complemented our flights superbly.  Looking out at the lake from the Shore Line patio was the perfect way to end the weekend and remind us of how fortunate we are to live in such a beautiful area. It was remarkable how easy it was to complete our tasting passport in a couple of afternoons, and we have barely scratched the surface of the craft beer scene in Kelowna & West Kelowna. Maybe we should be aiming to complete one passport per weekend throughout May — now that would be fun!

The Kelowna & West Kelowna Ale Trail Brewery Passport promotion runs May 1-31 

Pick up a Tasting Passport at one of the 20 participating locations, and each time you visit a new location to buy a pint, some food, non-alcoholic beverage, swag, and/or beer to-go, ask for a stamp. Collect six unique stamps and be entered to win the ultimate beer-themed Weekend Getaway to Victoria. If you don’t manage to get all six stamps you can still hand it in at month’s end to be entered to win one of our subsidiary prizes.

For more information and a list of locations where you can pick up a passport, click here.

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