Brewing on the Hill: Whistler's Finest

December 15, 2017

By Alison Sinkewicz, December 15, 2017

Fanaticism is a trait that tends to be applied to more than one aspect of a life. And there are not many hobbies more tied to extremism, perhaps, than skiing and snowboarding. Going down the mountain on sticks requires considerable dedication and risk: days full of freezing temperatures, broken bones, and numerous humiliations at the park before reaching any level of greatness.

Of late, brewing and drinking have taken on similar amounts of obsession. Not surprising, then, that at the foot of many mountains across North America, skiers, snowboarders, and the like have taken to brewing their own craft with that same dedication they bring to the hill.

For many years at British Columbia’s Whistler Blackcomb, which receives 2.1 million visitors a year, post-ski beer options were limited to a just few big-box lager choice – most notably the Canadian classic “Glacier Fresh” Kokanee beer. Now, speckled across the scenic Sea to Sky Highway, there are dozens of craft brew stops along the way brewing up something fresh.

Murray FoubisterHow long has it been since I was up the mountain again?

Deep Cove Brewers and Distillers

Outside of Vancouver city proper is the laid-back, outdoor-crazed community of Deep Cove, North Vancouver. Between the steep-sided glacial fjord Indian Arm and the gaze of Mount Seymour is an outdoor enthusiast's paradise: hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking are all available inside the community. In the winter, visitors can stop off from the various smaller ski hills that surround the town and into Deep Cove Brewing for a beer or six-pack to-go.

“Being on the North Shore here, everyone is a skier, snowboarder, paddle boarder, you name it,” co-founder Shae de Jaray explains. “I live right at the base of the trail, and it’s a five minute drive to the brewery, and I’m minutes away from going snowshoeing with my big Bernese Mountain Dog, I really couldn't ask for anything more.”

Deep Cove, which opened in 2014, hosts an expansive list of traditional Northwest style beers.

“We do a range of beers, but a big focus of ours is a level of sessionability behind each style of beer,” he says. “We tend to not make beers if you can only have one.” A stellar example of this is the company’s flagship lager with a 4.7% alcohol by volume that is a classic Canadian style beer – light, crisp, and clean. “We cater our beers to our clients’ active lifestyles, and they're going to throw a pale ale in their backpack and hike up Quarry Rock on a Saturday.”

For the winter, the company expands its offerings into slightly more substantial offerings to help fight that winter cold. A much anticipated release is their Belgian-style Dubbel which sits at a healthy 7.7% ABV with warm notes of vanilla and clove.

BackcountryThe ski lodge looks better these days.

A Frame Brewing

Up the Sea to Sky Highway, just 45 minutes from Whistler village, sits Squamish. That city has seen a surging population in the past few years as people opt out of city living for a slower, and more affordable lifestyle.

“We were looking for a place to raise our kids and have the culture and the outdoor lifestyle, and for us that was easy to find in Squamish,” A Frame Brewing co-owner Jeff Oldenborger says. Another storybook location, Squamish is huddled under towering mountains and nestled up oceanside along the network of fjords known as Howe Sound. “We very much are an après destination,” he explains. “Really, in Squamish it’s après anything, whether it’s kite boarding, skiing, or snowboarding.”

Beers at A Frame are microbrewery classics, and it does come off a bit more raw than other established breweries in the Pacific Northwest. But the young spot, which opened in 2016, is a locals’ favorite. They create special brews in high rotation. Andrew Sawyer, previously of Stanley Park Brewing, leads the direction of clean and traditional style beers such as typical hazy IPA, cream ale, and a more adventurous black IPA with heavy pine notes.

Backcountry Brewing

Just up the road in the same small town, Backcountry Brewing offers a robust selection of beers and food in their 50-seat tasting room. “The people here are really energetic and work in the industry, lots of ski reps, [mountain] biking reps, living here and that’s who we want to serve,” Backcountry’s Ben Reeder says. The beers are focused on typical European styles, the signature pilsner hopped with Saphir and Spalt Select.

Drinkability is important at Backcountry as well, which focuses on building more mild-mannered beers easy to pair with food. “We’re more about aroma than bitterness, we have a West Coast IPA that’s really our most bitter to date.”

Coast MountainAlpenglow, indeed.

Coast Mountain Brewing

Back up the Sea to Sky in Whistler is one of the area’s newest and most innovative breweries, Coast Mountain Brewing. Breaking away from the more traditional styles of the area, Coast Mountain is a destination for the more adventurous drinker. Run by the husband and wife team Kevin and Angie Winter, the one-year-old brewery has already proven itself with a wide range of tantalizing and exciting recipes.

“We wanted to differentiate ourselves in the market by doing different beers,” Kevin says. “We’re always looking for something different, flavorful, something that has a purpose to be on the tasting menu.” That translates to specialized brews such as the Alpenglow Blood Orange Sour, soured with in-house Lactobacillus Culture and dry-hopped with Mosaic before being aged. “We use six different yeast strains, premium malts from England and Germany, we source hops from around the world to give our beers as much color flavor and excitement as we can,” Kevin explains.

A long-time Whistler resident, Kevin’s fanatical passion for his beers isn’t too far off from his dedication to skiing. “I grew up on the hill, for sure,” he explains. “Growing up, I was skiing probably 100 days out of the year.”

For him, it’s easy to see why beer and skiing seem to go well together, “It’s a culture and a passion, and you can find the parallel there: People are diehard skiers and people are diehard brewers and were both of those here at Coast Mountain. It drives us to succeed and there's a community that rallies behind it. Really, we support each other.”

The White’s enthusiasm for beer is palatable in the exceptional La Petite Dank IPA, made with Columbus, Mosaic and Simcoe: funky and wild, the beer is a tour de force of fermentation. But as more snow begins to build up on the mountain, visitors may want to come in a little bit later to the brewery. 

“We operate on the 20 cm rule,” Kevin warns. “If there’s 20 cm of snow up there, we may be opening a bit late that day. Its ski town after all, so we have to have our priorities in check.”

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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