The Okanagan.

Travel  |   Touring the Okanagan Valley, BC   |   Summer 2017


 

 Much like the Niagara Peninsula, the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia (Canada’s second largest wine region, with 8,619 acres of planted vineyards) has been an attraction for wine lovers for over twenty years. Luckily the Valley has its own emerging craft beer scene, as passionate as those in Prince Edward County and the Niagara Peninsula, and as much a proud part of the local culture.

Starting just north of the border between the United States and Canada –with no wall in sight yet – your first chance to carve out space for a good pint of craft beer in your wine-heavy itinerary is in Oliver, British Columbia. The highway signs exclaim that you’re entering the “Wine Capital of Canada,” but fear not. Among all those vineyards and wineries, you can extinguish your thirst for beer at the Firehall Brewery, run by a local musician named Sid who started home brewing in his dorm room at university and has never looked back. The Firehall’s downstairs Beer Shop & Social tasting room offers draught beer, snacks, board games, and regular events. The brewery also hosts a series of Back Alley concerts in the warmer months.

As you make your way into the Valley, through White Lake Grasslands and Vaseux protected areas, and along the west side of Skaha lake, you’ll find Penticton, nestled at the bottom of Lake Okanagan. Penticton is home to the oldest brewery in the region: Tin Whistle Brewery, which opened there in 1995, the same year as the birth of the Okanagan Fest of Ale, an annual two-day festival in early April. Since 1995 Penticton’s beer scene has expanded to boast four breweries and a quaint brewpub called the Barley Mill. 

Cannery Brewing, which opened in 2000, has recently moved into a new downtown location with a popular tasting room. Nearby is Bad Tattoo Brewing, opened in 2014. Its custom-built facility within sight of the beach includes a popular pizza restaurant and a solid range of beers. Filling out the scene in Penticton with Tin Whistle, which moved into Cannery’s original location in the Cannery Trade Centre, is the newest arrival, Highway 97 Brewing, which took over Tin Whistle’s original building when it moved out.

Heading further north towards Kelowna, you’ll find one of the Okanagan’s newest breweries in Summerland, about 15 minutes north of Penticton. A small operation, the very newly opened upstart Detonate Brewing is only open Fridays and Saturdays. 

If you’re not in town on a Friday or Saturday, your next craft beer stop lies 35 minutes north in the beautiful city of Kelowna. Head north on BC Highway 97, and make sure your navigator keeps an eye on Lake Okanagan, in case of a sea-serpent sighting.

Tree Brewing started the Kelowna craft beer revolution in 1996, and was joined by Freddy’s Brewpub five years later. It took some time for another microbrewery to join the scene: a second operation run by Tree called the Tree Beer Institute, housed downtown right next to Waterfront Park where the annual Great Okanagan Beer Festival has been taking place every June since 2015.

Now, twenty years later, Kelowna is home to several other breweries: BNA Brewing, named for the historic BNA Tobacco building in which the gorgeous restaurant/brewery is located; Kettle River Brewing, just around the corner from Tree; and Boundary Brewing, closer to the airport to the north of the city. Two more breweries are slated to join the scene very soon: Red Bird Brewing will open across the street from Tree, and another operation is in the works across the floating bridge in West Kelowna.

Vernon, BC, a 45-minute drive north of Kelowna, past McKinley Landing, Pixie Beach, and Kalamalka Lake, is the northernmost point of our Okanagan Valley Wine-turned-Beer Tour. Vernon is the home of the Okanagan Spring Brewery, which was one of the early leaders of BC’s craft beer movement in the 1980s and 1990s. Okanagan Spring Brewery eventually ceded its status as an independent brewery when it was bought by Sleeman Breweries and then, ultimately, Sapporo Brewing. Happily, craft beer returned to Vernon in 2015 when the Marten Brewpub opened downtown at 30th and 30th next to the Naked Pig BBQ Smokehouse, which is also run by Stefan and Pearl Marten.

As you may have suspected, Canada’s most popular wine-producing regions have created tourist-fuelled havens that nurture more than just the vintners whose initial undertakings created the scenes. Just as any developing art scene becomes its own catalyst for creation, innovation, and culture, the wine counties of Canada are, and will continue to be, hotbeds for people who are committed to creativity and quality in craft brewing.