Your adventure in British Columbia’s fertile Fraser Valley begins with a hike on Sumas Mountain. After taking in the views of the province’s largest agricultural area, it’s time to reward yourself with a flight of “ground to glass” craft beer at Ravens Brewing Company. Then it’s off to lunch at Bow & Stern, a family-owned eatery known for its fish and chips and ale, followed by a visit to Field House Brewing, which often hosts concerts on its 3,000-square-foot “beer lawn.” Now it’s time to stroll through historic downtown Abbotsford before grabbing a pint and a timber-fired pizza at Duft & Co Brickhouse.
This is just one day on the BC Ale Trail, a network of breweries that allows people to get to know various B.C. regions through self-guided tours. “We want to encourage people to explore the craft beer scene and enjoy other activities in each region,” says Joe Wiebe, director of content at the BC Ale Trail. “British Columbia has an amazing combination of absolutely spectacular wilderness and outdoors experiences as well as a really mature, interesting and exciting craft beer scene that is comparable to anywhere else in the world.”
The BC Ale Trail launched in 2016 with seven regions. Last year, eight more areas were mapped out and a few more will be added this year to cover the province. The interactive website allows you to plan your trip with prepared itineraries and to get to know a region before you visit it through engaging videos and blogs and colourful descriptions of the breweries. You can even choose whether you’re travelling by car, bus, bike or foot.
“When you plan a trip to visit one of our regions you’re not just drinking beer the whole time,” Wiebe points out. “You’re going out and doing something fun and exciting, getting some exercise, and then you celebrate by going to a brewery.”
The Ale Trail also highlights the many beer events that take place across British Columbia, including the upcoming Fort Langley Beer & Food Festival over the May long weekend. Even if beer is not your thing, there’s much more to discover at this event and others, including live music, dancing and local food. At the Fort Langley National Historic Site, you can take a break from the festivities and immerse yourself in the history of the place where British Columbia was declared a province.
“There are so many wonderful food, wine and beer festivals around the province ranging in size from multiday events with many hundreds of attendees to small community celebrations,” says Janice Fraser of Destination BC. “Going to one of these events is a great way to be introduced to a new destination, to get to know a community and to sample some of the local flavours.”
If your trip doesn’t coincide with a festival, don’t fret: self-guided tours are an excellent way to discover the local food and drink, Fraser says. In addition to the Ale Trail, visitors can look to Westcoast Food for an array of classic and quirky experiences from Dine the Line public transit tours to Richmond’s famous Dumpling Trail. The just-launched Buy BC: EAT DRINK LOCAL also directs visitors and British Columbians to food producers and restaurants that are committed to locally grown and produced foods.
“Local flavours point to the kinds of foods that can be grown or harvested in an area, so it gives a sense of the ecology and the nature of the region,” Fraser says. “Seafood is a big part of the coast of British Columbia, and the valleys offer fantastic growing opportunities.”
Wiebe and Fraser agree that meeting the creative makers and entrepreneurs behind the food and drink of British Columbia is a highlight of exploring the province. “I love the experience of visiting the breweries and hearing their stories and really getting the whole picture in that glass,” says Wiebe, adding that Canada’s craft beer revolution has its roots in British Columbia. The country’s first microbrewery opened in Horseshoe Bay in 1982, followed by the first brewpub, Spinnakers, in Victoria. “We have a lot of history and a lot of innovation.”
As for the culinary creators, Fraser says international influences paired with local products results in flavours that can’t be tasted elsewhere. “I think the creativity and the unique backgrounds of the people—whether they grew up in British Columbia and embody that through their cooking or they’ve come to British Columbia and brought some really amazing influences from other parts of the world—is what can really be found reflected in our foods.”