Driving through the Kootenay Rockies region in southeastern British Columbia was one of the highlights of my “Craft Beer Odyssey,” the 2,400-km research trip I undertook last summer as I was writing my book, Craft Beer Revolution: The Insider’s Guide to BC Breweries. And I was excited to return to the region earlier this summer, this time to promote my book.
Kootenay residents are known for their independent spirit—far from the Pacific coast, folks in the Kootenays are used to taking care of themselves. This is true about the microbrewing scene there, too. Four breweries and one brewpub in Cranbrook, Fernie, Invermere, Nelson and Revelstoke have worked hard to establish themselves in a region dominated by the big breweries of yesteryear. After all, the area is also home to the giant Columbia Brewery, where the mainstream Kokanee brand is produced.
The first craft brewery in the Kootenays was Nelson Brewing, which opened in 1991 and has been going strong every since. Based in a historic building that was once part of the Columbia Brewing chain, the company decided to reflect the healthy lifestyle followed by many Nelsonites by going all organic in 2006—only the second brewery in BC to do so.
Nearby, across the river from Castlegar in the small town of Robson, is an oasis in the wilderness: the Lion’s Head Pub. Although it does not brew its own beer, the Lion’s Head offers 12 taps of craft beer from all over BC.
Up in Revelstoke, Mt. Begbie Brewing opened in 1996, making it the second oldest Kootenay craft brewery. Owners Tracey and Bart Larson have won over the locals and tourists alike with their diverse range of beers, including their Nasty Habit IPA, High Country Kolsch and Bob’s Your Dunkel, one of the best names for a beer I’ve come across.
BC’s easternmost craft brewery, Fernie Brewing, opened in 2003—which means it is celebrating its 10th Anniversary this year. With three ski hills around the town, the brewery was initially busier in the winter than the summer, but that has changed over the past decade as the brewery has grown and expanded its range to the rest of BC and even into nearby Alberta. Fernie Brewing’s seasonal brews are some of the best in BC—look for Pumpkin Head Brown Ale in the autumn and the unique What the Huck Huckleberry Wheat Ale year-round.
Two new operations have opened in the Kootenays in the past year. Arrowhead Brewing, which opened last fall in Invermere, is establishing itself with a unique brand that reflects a retro, 1950s pinup-girl/hot rod car style — and the beer’s great, too. Over in Cranbrook, popular local restaurateur Heidi Romich asked brewmaster David Beardsell (of Kamloops‘ Noble Pig Brewhouse) to help convert Heidi’s Restaurant into a brewpub called the Heid-Out Restaurant & Brewhouse, which just opened in June. She is handing over the reins to her daughter and son-in-law to run.
I also recommend celebrating the region’s microbrewing culture at the East Kootenay Beer Festival, held each June at the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort. See you there!
Breweries, Distilleries & Cideries in the Kootenay Rockies