Photo courtesy Backroads Brewing Co.

On Tap

Finding your favourite craft beer in the West Kootenays

  • Feb. 8, 2021 8:50 a.m.

– Story by Kate Robertson

Since the very first BC microbrewery, Horseshoe Bay Brewery, was established in 1982, British Columbians have had a love affair with craft beers. Today, with more than 150 breweries strewn across the province, craft-brewery tourism is alive and well, and the West Kootenays, with five breweries within an hour’s drive from the runway at the Trail airport, are no exception. So assign your designated driver and be prepared to taste some unforgettable brews.

Trail Beer Refinery, Trail’s first microbrewery, which opened in 2017. The décor of the 75-seat all-ages taproom gives a nod to the city’s main industry of zinc and lead smelting and refining, with its modern twist on industrial, reclaimed elements.

“Trail Beer Refinery is quite different from other local breweries. We not only make a full range of beers and vodka sodas but we serve amazing food [think beef carpaccio and grilled cheese pizza]. Check out our weekly burger Instagram post!” says co-owner Mike Konkin. In the summer of 2020 they will release a new Radler brand.

Ten minutes up the mountain in Rossland is the Rossland Beer Co., where as soon as you go through the door, you’re overlooking floor-to-ceiling tanks. Petri Raito, co-founder/owner and CEO, says, “The vibe of our tap room is very happy and easy. It’s a place where you don’t see people on their phones. The beer menu changes all the time, there are almost always one-offs on the menu, and our beers are always very distinct from each other.”

The taproom is small so get there early (especially on Friday nights when there’s live music), but in the summer there’s also a sunny patio to enjoy your beverage. Either way, it’s guaranteed you’ll be rubbing shoulders with friendly locals dropping in for a pint of their favourite brew after a day of shredding it up on the mountain bike or ski trails.

A half-hour drive brings you to the new kid on the block, Tailout Brewing, opened in late 2019 in Castlegar.

“Tailout” is a fishing term that refers to a pool of water where fish like to hang out, and true to form, you will see fishing references throughout their taproom. Tailout doesn’t serve food in house, but they encourage patrons to bring their own, or arrange for local delivery straight to their table.

A 40-minute drive and you’re in Nelson. With three craft breweries and easy walkability, this is the perfect place to park the car. Stretch your legs with a walk up the hill to the Nelson Brewing Company, the OG of the West Kootenay breweries, established in 1991. In 2006, NBC went fully organic to set themselves apart and to cater to Nelson’s all-natural setting and population. They have a very small tasting room, where you can sample some limited edition brews and one-offs.

Backroads Brewing Co, located in the heart of Nelson’s downtown action. BBC is all about local — the 100-seat taproom is made from wood from local mills and forests, and filled with custom-made furniture and local art.

“Our taproom is for sure our biggest differentiator,” says Brent Malysh, founder and CEO. “We’ve gone for a very cosy cabin vibe. All our tables are community seating, and we don’t have TV or WiFi, so it all encourages strangers to sit together and talk to one another. If you’re one of the lucky ones to get a seat on the patio on a sunny afternoon, it’s pretty special. Baker Street is known for being really eclectic and sometimes just plain weird, so the people -watching is next-level.”

At BBC they make a lot of traditional beers, plus explore lesser-seen styles and do some playful experimentation.

“There’s been a huge increase in the number of companies producing beer in our region, and this has really helped get locals interested in trying a lot more different styles of beer. Right now, probably the biggest trends are hazy beers and sour beers,” says Brent.

Down closer to Kootenay Lake is Torchlight Brewing Co., where they serve up craft beers in a spacious industrial-style setting.

“It doesn’t have the feel of a conventional bar and that’s deliberate,” says managing director and brewmaster Craig Swendson. “We wanted it to be a different and more open space. You can see, and sometimes hear, the equipment in the back. There are pipes and ducts running on the ceiling. We want everyone to know where their beer is actually made. At Torchlight we like to pursue the ethos of delicious innovation.”

Torchlight also has a full kitchen and a menu of tasty pub grub with a twist as well as their own house-made craft sodas on tap as a non-alcoholic option.

Think you can’t be budged from your current favourite beer style? A tasting flight at any one of these West Kootenay breweries might just change your mind.

Story originally published in Soar, the inflight magazine for Pacific Coastal Airlines

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