Hot on the Tracks of Good Beer in Whistler
Whistler, BC is known worldwide for its skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking and hiking; but how does it rate for beer? We pulled the trigger on a Good Beer Trip over the Canada Day/4th of July weekend to find out for ourselves.
Howe Sound Brewing
Not wanting to get stuck in pre-holiday traffic we didn’t make any stops after crossing the border until clearing Vancouver. We know we passed up a lot of good beer in doing so, but the push was worth it. For what lies in Squamish, BC is a treat that no trip to Whistler would be complete without; a visit to Howe Sound Brewing. In the year since our indoctrination to this fine Brewery and Pub it has quickly become one of our favorites. It doesn’t hurt that they started distributing flip-top liter bottles of their amazing beers in Washington in the past year.
Howe Sound was the same as I remembered; big, open, and comfortable. It was late afternoon on a Thursday and to our liking not very crowded. Since we did a sampler tray last year we didn’t waste any time and each ordered sleeves. (Pints to us from the USA) The Baldwin and Cooper Best Bitter that LushC ordered was as good as we recalled. Definitely more of a traditional British bitter with its malty and florally hop finish. The Sounders faithful won’t be happy, but I started with a Whitecap Wheat; a refreshing light Belgian ale with a nice citrus and spice flavor. Thinking I might get one of their new 6-pack cans to go I followed it up with the Howe Sound Lager. It was as you’d expect a lager to be: clean, crisp, with a bit of malt and hop flavor, and very sessionable.
We finished our fine meals, Salad for LushC and a Chicken Pizza for me, and then went to the cooler to pick out some beer to go. I was going to get the cans, until I found out how cheap their liter bottles were. We paid just over six bucks CDN each for six of the bad boys (after a savings on 6 or more). This has to be a first, a beer in Canada that is cheaper than you can get in the US where we pay $9.99 to $13.99. I would have been certified crazy not to jump on this.
The drive on the Sea to Ski Highway (Hwy99) from Vancouver to Whistler is beautiful. It reminded me of a cross between the Columbia River Gorge and the North Cascades Highway. We were more than ready to be done traveling when we reached our condo rental in Whistler Creekside, about three miles from the Whistler Village. It was just as advertised and met our expectations: comfortable, clean, well appointed, and pet friendly! Creekside which is more laid back and a lot quieter than the Village though still has everything you need in restaurants, bars, groceries and shopping. When you want to go into the Village, it’s only 10 minute away by bus, 30 minute by bike, or a pleasant hour walk via the amazing Valley trail. In the winter, you can even reach the Village via the Gondola and Lift system. Yes, for you skiers there is a ski run here with a gondola. This time of year the only thing we saw on the hill was hikers and bears. Oh yeah, bears. We saw bears every day but the last. LushC saw one about 100ft away one night when walking our Pekingese, Malti. Though you still need to be smart around them, most people didn’t seem too worried about them.
The next day we made our first walk, of many, to the Village. It was Canada Day and the main shopping stroll was lined with red and white clad folks of all ages waiting for the annual parade. Canadians really do it up right in the red and white. We zipped past all of them, knowing that this would be a good time to go the only brewpub in the Village the Brewhouse. Not surprising, the Brewhouse was like a big Ski Lodge. Being part of the Mark James Group, no expense was spared. Big timber posts rose to support the large wood beams. A well-lit bar and dining area graced one side of the building with a darker pub on left. We choose the pub side. There was a large double sided rock fireplace with curved seating around the back of it. There was an upper bar area, a lower seating area, pool tables, as well as a small stage with a sofa and arm chair. Circling above was a model train on a track that went around the pub. Looming above the bar on the mezzanine was the brewery. It was warm and comfortable. We were surprised though when we realized that children were allowed in the pub.
Like the Yaletown Brewpub in Vancouver, the menu looked superb. LushC’s Grilled Salmon sandwich with wasabi and tempura vegetables was delicious. I made a mistake I often do, and ordered their Fish Tacos off their specials. They weren’t awful, but just not great. I must remember to not get Mexican food that far north.
As we usually do when visiting a new Brewery we ordered a sampler tray. I was a bit shocked to find out it was $17.25 with tax. It included six taster glasses of their beer offerings.
Lift Lager – very light golden and slightly cloudy. Crisp and light with an initial metallic macro beer finish that was less noticeable the more you drank.
Belgian Wheat (Seasonal) – Cloudy golden with a spice and fruit aroma. It was light and citrusy with a fizzy buttery finish. “Like drinking an orange soda while sucking on a Butter Scotch Life Saver”-LushC
Alta Lake Amber – Copper in color with a sweet and floral aroma. A bit of copper malt flavor up front with a pleasant lingering floral hop finish. It was much hoppier than expected, especially only at 25 IBU. Was this possibly the IPA?
Big Wolf Bitter – Dark Copper with a malty start that lead to a kind of sour bitter finish. Not my favorite. Was this possibly the Amber?
Grizzly Brown – Chestnut hue with a lasting cream colored head. Extremely smooth toasted malt flavor with only a slight hop finish. Very drinkable, and enjoyable but possibly a bit too watery, judge it for yourself sometime.
5 Rings IPA – My favorite of the lot. Deep golden with the smell of British Malt and floral hops. The malt and hops were very well balanced making it very quaffable. If I had my guess this was the Bitter?
After a full day of walking (40K+ steps) and a great evening with LushC’s coworker and wife we returned to the condo for a good night sleep. We awoke rested and ready to go. The sun was out and it was shaping up to be a beautiful day. Our friends from Seattle, Sarah and Larry, were going to join us later so we planned out a day that would get us back to the condo to greet them.
We started out with a 90 minute bike ride on the Valley Trail. We then returned the bikes and set out on foot to Function Junction, about two miles the opposite direction from the Village. Of course our destination was a brewery.
The trek to get there was something. Looking at the trail map, I thought we could just take the Valley Trail out of Creekside and it would then cross (presumably) under the highway, to a side street that would lead us to a trail that was supposed to be difficult at first then easy the rest of the way to Function Junction. Well, when we got the highway there was no underpass, or crossing. Luckily there was a break in the traffic and we were able to run across safely. The side street jaunt was a bit longer than I expected, and the trail didn’t end up being marked. Nonetheless, we found it and very quickly realized why the beginning was marked difficult. There was a creek about 12ft wide and over knee high deep, running extremely fast. LushC who ventured in to check it out said it was also very cold. We turned around and were about to head back out the highway when I noticed the adjacent railroad tracks. That sparked the thought that we could get over the stream via the tracks. It worked! However as we were about to scurry back down to the trail, a local family advised us that the trail would be pretty muddy. They sort of suggested to taking the tracks. He worked for the railroad and said there were only a few trains a day. Cautiously we followed the tracks about a mile into Function Junction.
There are a few shops, restaurants and cafés in Function Junction, but it is primarily a light industrial area where all the trades that keep Whistler running are. (Plumbers, Mechanics, Lumber yard, etc…) Nestled amongst them is Whistler Brewing.
As mentioned before, I am a big fan of breweries in industrial areas, and Whistler Brewing was not an exception. Large garage doors on both sides gave it lots of light and double height ceilings gave it a spacious feeling. With the front door open, a nice breeze entered on this warm sunny day. There were 10 or so seats at the bar, plenty of pub height and table height seating, and a great built-in banquette along one side. After the walk, it was just what I needed and I was relaxed!
They do offer some light pub fare and sandwiches, but this wasn’t their strong point. It was fresh and appetizing but just not exciting or great. We were hungry and needed something to absorb the beer so it didn’t last long on our plates.
Once again, we started off with a Sampler Tray. It included seven of their beers.
Powder Mountain Lager – Clear, light golden. Crisp with a bit of malt flavor and coppery hop finish. Very refreshing!
Grapefruit Ale – Cloudy, golden with a tinge of pink. The fruit dominated the aroma. Crisp, with a touch of grain flavor and a big grapefruit tang finish. Very Refreshing!
Bear Paw Honey Lager – Malty and sweet with the taste of real honey that becomes more pronounced with every sip. Once again, refreshing!
Whiskey Jack –Sweet, malty with a touch of hops, and a hint of vanilla in the finish. Can you say session beer?
Black Tusk Ale – Deep mahogany tone with a smooth toasted toffee malt flavor. Lighter bodied so it drinks like a lighter beer, yet still has flavor. (LushC had to get a pint of it)
IPA – Clean, golden with a floral aroma. Very well balanced malt and hop flavor. More of a British style than the West Coast IPA’s we are used to. It is very quaffable.
Weissbier Wheat Ale – Cloudy, golden with a spicy aroma. Citrus, banana, and spice round out this summer seasonal.
After picking up a commemorative hockey puck we decided to head back. The original plan was to bus back to Creekside, but after a caffeine fix at The Lift the decision was made to walk the tracks again. Once we got back to the road, we followed what we thought was a trail, but it soon ended and were forced back on the tracks. Another quarter of a mile and we finally found the Valley Trail that would take us back to Creekside. It was a bit unsettling to hear a train not too far away as we left the tracks. We survived the adventure and made it back to the condo in time to meet up with our friends.
The four of us had a good night hitting the popular spots in Creekside (Dusty’s BBQ and Roland’s Creekside Pub). Beer is expensive in Canada. Thanks to advice from Shaqfeasel we got jugs (pitchers to us yanks) which are a bit cheaper. What was interesting is that they are more interested in the type of beer than who makes it. Whenever asking what was on tap, they’d list Hefeweizen, wheat, pale, lager. You’d have to specifically ask who made it. We ended up ordering a lot of Okanagan Springs Pale or Whistler Pale Ale.
By the end of the evening the beautiful weather had changed to rain. When we awoke, the drizzle was still there, but we were bound and determined not to let it stop us. We bused into the Village to find some breakfast, and then did some shopping for warmer coats. (Uhh, wasn’t it Summer?) Somehow we all made it back to the Brewhouse and split a Jug of beer.
Next on the agenda was the Peak 2 Peak Gondola. It’s a bit expensive, but worth the experience, even without the bonus performance we had. You start by taking a series of two gondolas up to the Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler Mountain. From there, you can continue up to the summit of Whistler or continue on across to Blackcomb on the longest and highest gondola in the world. It was snowing up at the top so we just continued on. I’m a bit afraid of heights, but the gondola ride across didn’t bother me, Sarah was a little unease though. At its highest point we were 1430 feet above the ground. The view was amazing (even though it was cloudy). Just past the mid-way point we got the XXXtra show I mentioned earlier. In the gondola passing us the other direction LushC noticed a young couple, who were presumably consummating their marriage (or practicing for the future event), and yelled “Oh my God, they’re doing it!” Sarah got a glimpse and replied, “They are totally doing it” By this point they were well past us, and I (and I believe Larry) totally missed it.
We arrived at Rendezvous Lodge on Blackcomb, and looked for the bar that was mentioned in all the literature. Darn, they closed at 3:00, how lame.
At this point you can either return the way you came, or descend down to the Upper Village via chair lifts. It was cold, but we all felt the lift would be more fun. It was the first time that LushC and I had ever been on a lift, and we enjoyed it. At one point our chair crossed right over a bear eating grass in a field.
We walked back to Creekside just in time to meet up with Bob and Shirley, who came up from Burnaby to join us for dinner. LushC made some appetizers and we enjoyed drinks in the condo while we all conversed. We settled on going to dinner across the street to Player’s Chophouse. They had selection of Canadian large craft (Macro?), but nothing I hadn’t already tried. For dessert, we were introduced to the Nainaimo Bar by our Canadian friends. They consist of a crumb-based layer, topped by a layer of custard butter icing, and then topped with chocolate. Sweet, rich, and delicious!
The next morning LushC and I had planned a morning massage and spa day at Scandinave. (Leaving Larry and Sarah to fend for themselves before returning home) Wow, was this place worth every penny. Starting with 60 minute massages and then ending with Steam Baths, Saunas, and thermal pool soaks. We could have stayed there all day!
The day was completed with a bike ride to the Village for lunch with a jug of Granville Island Hefe at Black’s Pub followed by a second trip on the Peak 2 Peak (It’s only $10 more to get a 2 day pass). I recommend Black’s Pub for the huge deck and amazing view of the slopes. This time it was clear and you could see for miles. There was nothing xxxtra, but it was glorious.
Sadly, the following morning, our Good Beer Trip to Whistler was over and we packed to head home. We’ve discovered yet another great Northwest getaway with good beer and vow to return soon.