Firehall Brewery

A very convenient dinner stop after squeezing in a few last hours of climbing at Skaha is the Firehall Bistro in the small town of Oliver, BC. Perhaps more importantly, it is directly above the Firehall Brewery. The brewery’s tasting room is open to the public on Fridays, but, since I was there on a Monday, I had to content myself with the three beers of theirs on tap upstairs in the Bistro. The sampler flight included four tasters, so I included Tin Whistle’s Scorpion Double IPA, which I hadn’t tried while in Penticton.

mostly firehall samplers

Extinguishing my thirst at Firehall Brewery and Bistro — Oliver, BC

    Rob’s Picks

  • Holy Smoke Stout – 4.5% – Smoke aroma and flavor that goes well with the roasty malt and coffee/dark chocolate flavors. Smokiness does linger.
    The Rest

  • Backdraft Blonde Ale – 4.9% – Pretty light, fairly crisp. Touch of honey sweetness and some banana/clove flavors. Little bit watery but easy drinking.
  • Stoked Ember Ale – 4.8% – Amber. Some caramel maltiness, but not much else. Maybe some subtle herbal hoppiness. Quite drinkable, though.

As far as I can tell, those are the only three beers they make so far. I’ll have to stop in again during my next Skaha trip and find out if there are more.


Barley Mill Brew Pub

I gotta say, the Barley Mill Brew Pub in Penticton isn’t the sort of brewpub I usually visit. If I were a hardcore UFC fan or if I enjoyed less-than-interesting lagers and ales, then I would want to hang out at the Barley Mill all the time, swilling their brews with my eyes glued to the fights playing on their tv’s. But I’m not either of those, so if circumstances beyond my control dictate my return, I’d go with the guest taps and try and find a relatively quiet corner.

six reasons at the barley mill brew pub

Sampler flight at the Barley Mill Brew Pub — Penticton, BC

    Rob’s Picks

  • Caballero Cerveza Mexican Lager – Light and well carbonated. Not so bready, more dry. Very drinkable.
  • Nite Mare Brown Ale – Sweet caramel maltiness. Least light of the six – has a bit of a body, which is nice.
    The Rest

  • Classic Draft Lager – Lots of carbonation. Bready, light, crisp, a touch watery. Lingering breadiness.
  • Cayuse Wheat Ale – Very light. Not very bready, with a touch of sweetness. Filtered. Guess I was expecting more of a hefeweizen.
  • Mustang Pale Ale – Somewhat malty, somewhat floral, kinda blah.
  • Red Clover and Honey – Light, kinda malty, with a touch of floral. Bit o’ honey on the finish.

So yeah, I was a bit let down that the Barley Mill wasn’t my thing, but I have since learned that a new Penticton brewpub (Bad Tattoo Brewing) will be opening in May 2014, just in time for climbing season. That’s as good a reason as any to head back, as far as I’m concerned.

Cannery Brewing

The second brewery that my friend and I visited in Penticton, BC, instead of heading straight to the Skaha crags and climbing was Cannery Brewing, where we did the sampling thing and then bought more camp site and/or souvenir beer. I should be used to it by now, but it still surprises me, going from Washington to British Columbia, that production breweries north of the border can’t sell sampler flights or pints – they can fill growlers, sell bottles/cans to go, and give out free samples (about an ounce each), but that’s it. That’s why all my BC production brewery pictures are of their tap handles rather than some artfully posed (more or less) beer glass/taster tray. One thing I learned at Cannery is that it’s good to do the free samples with friends who have very specific tastes – most of the samples won’t be to their liking, and they can then surreptitiously pour the rest of their samples into yours. Just make sure one of those friends is the designated driver. Recently, I heard from some Canadians I met in a bar that breweries can apply for a lounge license or some such, and they can then sell pints and taster flights. So far, though, I have yet to visit a production brewery in BC that has done that.

cannery row

Tasting room taps at Cannery Brewing — Penticton, BC

    Rob’s Picks

  • Pink Mountainhops Maibock – 6.5% – One of four Canadian breweries, in collaboration with the CBC, to create a beer inspired by a Canadian band, in this case the Pink Mountaintops. Piney, citrus aroma. Crisp, light, slightly creamy. Light citrus and piney hop flavors, light maltiness, to a nice lingering finish.
  • Anarchist Amber – 5.5% – Named after nearby Anarchist Mountain near the Canada-U.S. border that was popular with bootleggers back in the day. Light and bubbly. Bit of biscuit and caramel maltiness and some spicy hop flavor.
  • Squire Scotch Ale – 6% – Smoky aroma with a bit of banana/clove. Smoky caramel flavor mix, with a touch of banana/clove, and somewhat dry. Pretty interesting.
  • Naramata Nut Brown – 5.5% – A light, subtle brown. Some caramel, some malty sweetness, somewhat dry, and fairly bubbly. Quite drinkable.
  • Maple Stout – 5.5% – Little bit of maple aroma. Fairly thick on the tongue, with strong maple flavor that goes well with the stout.
  • Cannery IPA – 6% – Citrus, floral aroma and flavors. Good underlying biscuit and caramel malt character, as well as decent bitterness.
  • Wildfire IPA  – 6% – Limited release to benefit local firefighters. Not sure why they call it an IPA because it’s really a CDA. Anyway, sharp citrus/grapefruit aroma and flavors. Nice dark toastiness, with some caramel, too.
    The Rest

  • Lakeboat Lager – 5% – Named after the SS Sicamous stern wheeler beached on the south shore of Lake Okanagan. Strong banana/clove aroma. Crisp, light, and bitter, with a bit of banana/clove flavor on the finish.
  • Apricot Wheat – Light banana/clove aroma. Light banana/clove flavor to apricot finish, with decent breadiness. Slight egginess.
  • Paddles Up Pale – 5% – Light and bready with a touch of caramel on the finish.
  • Blackberry Porter – Blackberry aroma. Pretty strong blackberry flavor, with subtle coffee notes that build up.

After the two brewery visits and setting up camp, we finally checked out the crags (first time at Skaha for both of us), and it looked awesome. Ran into some climbing friends from Seattle, as well. I’m not sure which is smaller, the climbing community or the beer geek community, but I’m glad I can bridge the two (although not at the same time…).

The Tin Whistle Brewing Company

During a three-day climbing trip to Skaha, near Penticton, BC, my climbing friend and I visited a few local breweries to complement the outdoorsy stuff. The closest brewery to the local climbing shop, our first stop in town where we picked up the brand new edition of the Skaha guidebook, was The Tin Whistle Brewing Company (I’m linking to their Facebook page, but if you prefer Twitter, they are @TinWhistleBrew — they’re not website-enabled, for some reason). Probably should’ve hit the crags instead, but we were thirsty after the six hour drive from Seattle. Plus, we needed to pick up a few bottles for the campsite. Priorities!

Wet your whistle at The Tin Whistle

Tasting station at The Tin Whistle Brewing Company — Penticton, BC

    Rob’s Picks

  • Peach Cream Ale – 5% – Light and crisp, with a touch of peach flavor to a bready finish. Very refreshing.
  • Coyote Blonde – 5% – Slight banana/clove aroma. Light on the tongue, with plenty of carbonation. Some breadiness, with a bit of banana/clove on the finish. Not the most flavorful but pretty drinkable.
  • Stag – 8% – Apple Scotch Ale. Apple, caramel aroma. Apple and caramel flavors blend nicely, with an interesting finish – sharp with a touch of a bitter twist. Least carbonated of the bunch, appropriately enough.
  • Killer Bee – 6% – Dark honey ale. Coffee aroma. Light on the tongue, with a sweet honey edge to the coffee and dark chocolate flavors that play out nicely in the lingering finish.
  • Chocolate Cherry Porter – Winter seasonal, with Washington cherries. Cherry flavor first, but not too strong, to a lingering dark bitter chocolate finish. Underlying dryness.
  • Black Widow Mild – 5% – Light, fairly crisp with somewhat sweet coffee and dark chocolate flavors. Little bit of spiciness on the tongue, too.
  • Scorpion DIPA – 8% – Floral, citrus aroma and flavors. Good malty undertones to sharp sting of a finish.
    The Rest

  • Kettle Valley Amber – 5% – Some biscuity maltiness with a bitter finish.

Of the four BC breweries we visited, I think Tin Whistle was my favorite. They’re still a relatively small operation but making great stuff. They do a lot of fruit beers, which I don’t usually like, but I enjoyed all of theirs, which says a lot. Gotta say, I can’t wait to return to Penticton, do some more climbing (Skaha is pretty awesome), and drink some more Tin Whistle beer.


Saturday night, after dinner at Canoe and then finding Moon Under Water closed, I headed to Swans Brewpub (or Swans Brewery, or Swans Buckerfields Brewery — probably easiest if I just stick with “Swans”) where a rock ‘n roll cover band blasted out the tunes to a packed house of 50- and 60-somethings dancing and having a good time.  I actually considered staying and doing a tasting before coming to my senses and calling it a night.  So instead I returned Sunday right after brunch at Spinnakers and had a light lunch and the sampler tray.  Disaster nearly struck as I rattled off which beers I wanted to try when the waitress misheard “Riley’s” and instead included their Raspberry Ale, which, after three other raspberry beers over the past several days, I really did not want.  She was apologetic about it, brought me the Riley’s, and let me keep the Raspberry.  Yay.

Swans had an Old Victoria feel to it — the furnishings were pretty dated, the food I ordered (hummus plate) was okay but not very interesting, and most of the patrons looked 20 years older than me.  A brewpub my parents would go to, if they went to brewpubs.  But then two college kids sat down at a nearby table.  One waxed on about how in five or ten years, he thought it was possible that British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, and Baja would secede from their respective countries and form the nation of Cascadia, with an economy based on art and beer.  Ah, youth.


“Cygnets” (sorry, I couldn’t resist) at Swans Brewpub — Victoria, BC

    Rob’s Picks

  • Appleton Brown – 5% – A bit sweet with caramel flavor and not particularly fizzy. Very subtle apple notes, and a touch watery. But quite drinkable.
  • Extra IPA – 6.8% – Floral aroma. Good floral hoppy bite with some caramel malty balance. Pretty light on the tongue.
  • Riley’s Scotch Ale – 8% -Strong caramel and alcohol flavors. Nice malty body. This will knock you on your ass.
    The Rest

  • Smooth Sailing Honey Ale – 5% – Not as sweet as I expected. Floral and bitter, with subtle honey notes and a touch watery.
  • Pandora Pale Ale – 4.5% – Malty, kind of floral. Fairly big body but nothing too remarkable. Goes down easy, but with some lingering bitterness.
  • Raspberry Ale – 7% – Strong raspberry aroma. Strong raspberry flavor, too, with an alcohol edge to it. No breadiness, thankfully. Best (and tartest) raspberry beer of the trip, but still not a fave.
  • Oatmeal Stout – 5.4% – Pretty light stout and a bit watery. Some coffee and chocolate flavors to a bitter finish.

There were no logo glasses for sale, but the waitress suggested I try the adjoining Swans Liquor Store because sometimes they had promo glassware available.  They didn’t have any, either, but the puzzled blank stare I got from the cashier when I asked about it made it worth the effort.


Sunday in Victoria turned out to be much more relaxed than I expected.  Woke up somewhat early, so I ambled around downtown until I found a decent-looking cafe (with free wi-fi) for a caffeine pick-me-up.   Back at the hostel, I leisurely packed my panniers before deciding it was finally time for the mellow bike ride to Spinnakers Brewpub.  It’s a somewhat upscale place, which is why I scheduled it for a late brunch — dinner was a little too pricey for my not-quite-employed budget.  They had eight brews on tap, and the first flight I selected (pictured below) was quite nice, so I doubled down and ordered a second to try them all.

little spinnakers

Liquid brunch at Spinnakers — Victoria, BC

    Rob’s Picks

  • Cascadia Dark Ale – 6.5% – Smooth and creamy, with good roasty malt and coffee flavors. Not the usual dry CDA — pretty cool.
  • North West Ale – 5.5% – Floral and citrus aroma. Good floral and citrus hop flavor mix, with great malt balance. Really smooth, creamy, and drinkable. Lingering bitterness.
  • IPA – 7.1% – Light citrus and floral aroma. Lighter maltiness than NWA, similar hop flavor mix but muted by more bitterness. Also really smooth and creamy.
  • Tsarist Imperial Stout – 7.75% – Coffee and alcohol aroma. Interesting. Creamy, with coffee and alcohol flavors. Pretty smooth but makes you think.
  • ESB – 5.2% – Strong caramel start to a bit of a bitter finish. Nothing too interesting, but very drinkable. Subtle floral notes.
    The Rest

  • Raspberry Ale – 4.8% – Strong raspberry aroma. Pretty strong raspberry flavor, with breadiness. Unfortunately, doesn’t overcome my hurdle of not liking fruit beers. If only it were a sour!
  • Hefeweizen – 4.2% – Nicely balanced hefe — light banana/clove and lemon flavors, breadiness, with a slight spiciness on the tongue. Pretty smooth, but a touch watery.
  • India Session Ale – 4.5% – Floral aroma. Strong floral hoppiness, light maltiness, lingering bitterness.

On the way out, I stopped by their bottle shop/gift shop and picked up a logo glass, which has the dubious honor of being the most expensive piece of brewery glassware I’ve purchased.  Maybe it will make every beer I pour into it taste like a little pint of heaven.

Canoe Brewpub

After some much-needed washing up at the hostel, I headed out on a short bike ride to Canoe Brewpub for dinner and, of course, a sampling of all their beer.  Their full name is Canoe Brewpub, Restaurant and Marina, but that’s a bit too much of a mouthful for me.  They were pretty busy (it being a sunny, warm evening probably didn’t hurt), but there were a few open stools at the bar for losers like me out on a Saturday night by themselves.  The building was pretty slick, and the crowd was pretty well-heeled — a little more upscale than what I’m used to.  Or maybe I’m just spoiled by how casual Seattle is.  Then a charity event started featuring a local band, and I suddenly wished I’d brought along some earplugs — they played the standard, loud, bar rock.  Made for an easy decision about whether to stick around and have a full pint of something or head to the next place.

Canoe Canoe?

A “fleet” of samplers at Canoe Brewpub — Victoria, BC

    Rob’s Picks

  • Beaver Brown Ale – 5.4% – Good dry brown with some chocolate and coffee flavors.
  • River Rock Bitter – 5.2% – Floral aroma. Big floral hops, malty, and a bit sweet. Very drinkable.
    The Rest

  • Red Canoe Lager – 5.2% – Light and sweet with a touch of floral hops, but not as crisp as I’m used to. Bit of a bitter finish.
  • Siren’s Song Pale Ale – 5% – Hoppy aroma. Somewhat bitter, but balanced by maltiness and breadiness. A bit watery, though.
  • Southern Cross IPA – Made with Australian hops. Very floral, though not as big as the River Rock. Darker in color but lighter in body. A bit maltier, too. Pretty smooth. Floral bitterness lasts a while.

They didn’t have any logo glasses in stock, unfortunately (the bartender even went searching through the store room for several minutes), so I’ll be re-visiting at some point.  Maybe for lunch, though, or disguised in some khakis.

Hoyne Brewing

I could say it was a short bike ride from Vancouver Island Brewery to Hoyne Brewing but most of the Victoria breweries are short bike rides from each other, conveniently enough.  I could also say that the folks working at Hoyne were super friendly and cool, but that pretty much applies to the other Victoria breweries, as well.  Hoyne had the smallest taproom, though, so that’s something that sets them apart from the others, and it made for a fun, cozy tasting.

Taps at Hoyne Brewing

Taps at Hoyne Brewing — Victoria, BC

    Rob’s Picks

  • Hoyner Pilsner – 5.5% – Subtle breadiness, subtle sweetness. Really refreshing and light.
  • Summer Haze Honey Hefe – 5.1% – Honey from Empress Hotel. Subtle sweetness. Not too bready, but more so than the Pils.
  • Dark Matter – 5.3% – Really good Dark Ale.  Nice and dry with coffee flavor. Very crisp, too.
  • Down Easy Pale Ale – 5.2% – Piney aroma. Piney flavor with light malty base. Would be smooth, but piney-ness makes you think. Nice!
  • Devil’s Dream IPA – 6% – Strong piney aroma. Great piney hoppiness, subtle maltiness, and really crisp. Pretty intense.

And yes, they had logo glasses for sale.  At the rate I was going, I’d soon be biking around with ten or eleven beer glasses in my panniers.  Not ideal.  So instead, I wrapped up the first five as well as I could, carefully stuffed them into my friend’s backpack, and he then ferried them back to Seattle via the Clipper later that afternoon.  I owe him a few beers for that.

Vancouver Island Brewery

After camping at the Sooke Potholes, my friend and I biked back along the Galloping Goose to Victoria, with only one stop to pick fresh blackberries growing right by the trail. The fourth day (for me) of Bike Tour 2012 was beautiful but hot, and we were quite thirsty by the time we reached Vancouver Island Brewery. A tour had started moments before we rolled our bikes into the taproom, but rather than join the group we decided just to do a tasting session. (There was a bit of  a time crunch — we wanted to visit one more brewery, as well as get something to eat, before my friend’s return trip to Seattle on the Clipper.)

Vancouver Island Brewing

Taster at Vancouver Island Brewing — Victoria, BC

    Rob’s Picks

  • Beachcomber Summer Ale – Crisp and bubbly, with banana/clove flavors and good bready finish. Nice balance of flavor.
  • Piper’s Pale Ale – English style pale. Very smooth and creamy. Subtle hoppiness, lingering maltiness. Really solid.
  • Hermann’s Dark Lager – Great dry and coffee-flavored ale. Light body, but solid.
    The Rest

  • Spyhopper Honey Brown – Not so brown. Nice honey sweetness and somewhat malty, but a touch watery. Pretty light.
  • Sea Dog Amber – Malty, slightly sweet. Very smooth and well-balanced, but not too interesting to me.

Full disclosure: I’d been to Vancouver Island Brewery once before, way back in 2003 or so. I showed up a few minutes before they closed for the day, however, and only had enough time to buy a tiny logo taster glass — didn’t even get to try any of their beer. It felt good to get that corrected, finally.

Phillips Brewing

Several days before the bike tour, I did some internet sleuth-work to plan out a schedule of Victoria brewery visits, and Phillips Brewing got the luck of the draw for first.  Fellow beer-biker Jonny took the Clipper from Seattle while I took the Coho from Port Angeles, and, after meeting for brunch at Shine Cafe and taking care of a few pre-ride details, we pedaled on over to their tasting room.  Super nice folks working at Phillips, and they told me about two brewpubs that my brief searching hadn’t found.  This weekend in Victoria would be busier than I thought.  In between the steady stream of customers coming in for growler fills, we managed to taste all the beer they had on tap.

Phillips Brewing

The taproom at Phillips Brewing — Victoria, BC

    Rob’s Picks

  • Phoenix Gold Lager – Bready aroma. Bit of alcohol flavor, a touch sweet, and bright on the tongue. Great summer beer.
  • Slipstream Cream Ale – Not too creamy, but smooth, and also kind of bright. Pretty similar to the Blue Buck but with a bit of creamy flavor.
  • Hop Circle IPA – Big citrus aroma. Good citrusy hoppy flavor, but not too big. Underlying bitterness, and a little bit of maltiness to balance. Pretty drinkable.
  • Longboat Chocolate Porter – Big chocolate aroma. Good dry chocolate flavors, and nicely thick on the tongue. Quite drinkable.
    The Rest

  • Blue Buck Pale Ale – Really smooth, not too aggressive. Kinda malty, with a bit of alcohol flavor. Sort of a bigger bodied lager. Their best selling beer and quite popular in Victoria.
  • Raspberry Wheat – Raspberry aroma. Light raspberry flavor, nicely tart. Somewhat dry, but in a slightly watery way, oddly enough.

Some people like to mix the Raspberry Wheat and the Longboat Chocolate Porter, which in theory I can understand, but when I tried it there, it didn’t click for me. Ah well. Phillips also has plenty of logo glassware and shirts and whatnot for sale, and so of course I had to get a glass. Settled on a smaller one, though, and then biked by the hostel where I’d be staying the next night and stored it and the two Port Angeles logo glasses before we galloped off on the Goose.

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