Trying a beer on the Okanagan Ale Trail. Darren Hull photo

Travel down the Okanagan Ale Trail

The best of of brewers, breweries and craft beer in the Valley

  • Sep. 18, 2018 10:30 a.m.

-Story Darcy Nybo

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

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A few decades ago, tree fruits were the hallmark of the Okanagan. But times changed and many of the orchards became vineyards. With that came the wineries, tasting rooms and winery restaurants. But now it’s time for craft breweries to bloom, and they’ve become popular throughout the Okanagan — many of them producing award-winning beers and offering delicious dishes.

Part of the burgeoning industry can be attributed to access to fresh, local ingredients like hops, which grow near orchards and vineyards throughout the Okanagan. Square One Hops in Naramata has a selection of over a dozen types; and south of Vernon in Coldstream, is hop grower Hopanagan Farms.

The demand for craft beer has grown so much that beer touring has become a popular activity. BC Ale Trail (bcaletrail.ca) has 15 designated ale trails including one for Penticton and one for Kelowna. The way things are growing, there may soon be a Vernon ale trail as well.

In the South Okanagan, Oliver’s Firehall Brewery is a meeting place for locals and visitors alike. In Penticton, the Bad Tattoo distinguishes itself with its funky take on pizza. The Barley Mill Brew Pub and Tin Whistle Brewing Company have been creating great beers for over 20 years. Add to them two new contenders: Hwy. 97 Brewery in Penticton and Detonate in Summerland.

At Cannery Brewing on the Okanagan Ale Trail. Darren Hull photography

Cannery Brewing started in Penticton back in 2001. It has since moved to a new location with a large, family-friendly interior called the Tap Room, and a dog-friendly outdoor patio. On nice days, sit outside. When the weather turns, head indoors, play cards or board games or try out the billiards table. There’s even a piano. The brewery offers tours on Mondays and Fridays, and has a delicious assortment of “nibblies” to go with your beer.

While there, we sampled at least 10 of their house-brewed delights.

My favourites were the Radler, Wildfire IPA, Blackberry Porter and Apricot Wheat Ale. The Radler is made with Lakeboat Lager and pink grapefruit juice, and part of the proceeds of all sales goes to a restoration project involving the SS Sicamous.

The Wildfire IPA was created as a tribute to firefighters and emergency services workers, and a portion of the proceeds goes to the Canadian Fallen Firefights Foundation.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the Thornless Blackberry Porter flavourful and easy to drink. This complex brew is made with three hop varieties and five specialty malts, plus natural blackberries. Another favourite was the Apricot Wheat Ale. Slightly hazy with a hint of apricot, this a true Okanagan beer.

Then there is the food. A cheese-and-meat board with nuts makes a perfect sharing plate. This local collection of delectable bites comes with cheeses, dried apples, focaccia bread, house-made pickles, beer mustard, house-made salsa and an assortment of charcuterie, including a tasty duck confit. The Santa Fe Veggie Nachos are well known in Penticton, and people come here specifically for them. Or try the pretzel bombs: they’re crunchy on the outside and fluffy with gooey cheddar cheese inside. Dip them into the Dijon mayo for a true Cannery experience.

At Cannery Brewing on the Okanagan Ale Trail. Darren Hull photography

The Central Okanagan has a charming variety of craft breweries. The most well-known is Tree Brewing, established in 1996. It has since branched out and created the Beer Institute where people can enjoy handcrafted spent grain pizza and other creations with their beer.

There’s also Freddy’s Brew Pub, which is connected to a family-friendly bowling alley.

Many of Kelowna’s craft breweries are brand new. Kettle River Brewing and Boundary Brewing Company both started in 2016, while Red Bird Brewing opened in 2017.

One of the newer craft breweries (2015) is BNA Brewing Company in Kelowna’s cultural district. Choose from the tasting room or the spacious-yet-cosy restaurant. Underfoot, braided rope between the floor boards helps prolong the life of the 100-year-old floors in this early 1900s building. Up the stairs sits an entire floor of family-friendly dining. Off to the side is an indoor bocce ball court.

Back downstairs, we tasted an interesting flight of beer that included Märzen Amber Lager, Earl Pale Ale and the Check Your Head Stout. The Märzen was smooth, not too bitter and light in colour with a nicely balanced carbonation. The Earl Pale Ale is a West-Coast-style pale ale steeped with cold-infused Earl Grey tea. We could smell and taste the Earl Grey right out front. It was a nice, smooth beer with a good dose of hoppy flavour. The Check Your Head Stout was easy drinking with a mild, acidic finish. The vast difference in the beers at BNA is a true testament to the company’s imagination and willingness to try different things.

The food here is delicious. The chef makes a Steamed Pork Bun that looks like a taco and tastes like heaven. Smoked porchetta, pickled cucumber, mustard seed mayo and hot hoisin sauce make this a must-try. The fried cauliflower dish is a vegetarian’s dream, featuring cauliflower with red lentil dahl, cashew and coconut sauce with green apple on a hand-rolled roti. The Jerk Chicken is mighty tasty too. Chico bread, cucumber yogurt, jerk mayo and charred onion combine in this flavourful treat.

There’s only one craft brewery in the North Okanagan, and Marten Brew Pub is a true labour of love. Owners Stephan and Pearl Marten built this place from the ground up. Pearl handcrafted all the large, metal pendant chandeliers and distressed all the chairs. This is a large brew pub with booths, tables and a mezzanine that holds over 150 people.

There’s always something new on tap at Marten Brewing. It has a year-round, authentic Hefeweizen that is delicious. Word to the Weizen has a golden hue with traces of clove and pineapple flavours. It’s light, refreshing and very low on the bitter scale. Lunkhead Lager also has a beautiful golden colour with a revitalizing aroma of hops. Slightly creamy, it’s smooth with a great finish. Locals love the Rough and Dirty Red Ale. It’s well-balanced with a blast of hoppy flavour near the finish. My favourite is the Cookie Monster Stout. This black stout is toasty, chocolaty and smooth all the way through.

There’s a huge menu to choose from at Marten Brewing. They served a house-made potato chip from fresh cut potatoes, and provided a house-made onion dip to go with it. For those who like food a little on the spicy side, the MCB Calamari with red onions and cucumber raita is a great choice. Craving veggies? Try the Thai Me Up salad with chicken: Thai noodles, cucumber, carrot, bean sprouts, scallions and lots of mixed greens served up with a Thai peanut dressing.

There are about 15 craft breweries in the Okanagan with more slated to open in the years to come. Have an adventure and discover your favourite craft breweries on the Okanagan Ale Trail.

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