5 Craft Breweries to Visit on Vancouver Island (Where Everyone Knows Your Name)

If you don’t know the TV show whose theme song title I’ve shamelessly used in my post title,  you probably weren’t born when it was on the air. Google it. Watch it. It’s fabulous. And the theme song is classic.

But to get to my point, the song represents the sense of community that I feel craft breweries and their tasting rooms have brought a back into our social culture. (Even with social media taking over our lives!) It’s something we especially felt when we were on our recent road trip along Vancouver Island’s portion of the Circle Route on the BC Ale Trail. More on that in a second.

The Brit often talks about how he feels some of the tasting rooms we visit remind him of English pubs. A typical English pub tends to be on the smallish side, with a cosy or hygge feel.  You order from the bar and they might have snacks. (If you’re lucky, some have a kitchen.) Whenever I’ve been in one, it’s always a mixture of age demographics, and everyone knows almost everyone. (And there’s at least one dog lying on the floor waiting for pretzel crumbs or a dropped chip.)

I think the mixed demographic is key to my point about community because there’s no segregation and there’s something for everyone. Everyone is there to relax after a hard day’s work, or because it’s someone’s birthday. Or just because.

Coming back to the craft beer, the tasting rooms are very similar to pubs. Everything is snug, the beer is good to great, and everyone is welcoming (not necessarily “NORM!” welcoming – again for my 90s babies, look it up! – but you know what I mean); and although craft breweries tend to be on the hipster side – especially in Vancouver! –  there doesn’t tend to be much typical hipster indifference in terms of service. You can go on a date, play board games with friends, go by yourself – it doesn’t matter. You feel part of a community no matter why you choose to be there. And the staff tends to know the preferred growler refill for regulars. (Which would make anyone feel special, am I right?)

While we were on the Island for two days, we went to visit five of Townsite Brewing’s #friendsinbeerplaces. (To the young’uns and/or non-country fans out there, the fact that you may not know who Garth Brooks is, or the song that this tag plays off of gives me some sadness. It’s amazing, look it up. You’re welcome.) I can’t even begin to tell you how welcome we felt in every place we went to. We could easily picture ourselves becoming the regulars that we mostly are at the tasting room near our house.

#GetThrifty: As I’ve mentioned before, if you can’t make up your mind, or are wanting to get the most value out of your spend, a flight is the way to go. You get to try however many come in a  ‘bat’ for what would be the price of a pint in a pub. This is also a great deal because a flight usually adds up to being 20oz (a proper pint), and many pubs and tasting rooms often serve a ‘pint’ of 16oz. 

1. White Sails Brewing (Nanaimo)

Because we were on a  tight schedule, we didn’t get spend as much time at White Sails as we would have liked. The high wood beams and fireplace took our breath away and I wanted to stay all evening. The Mount Benson IPA is particularly good (as are the soft pretzels!), and they apparently make a mean cup of coffee. Their popular Friday Night Cask event always features live music, and I need to get back there on the first Sunday of the month. Why?  Because I want to connect to the character of my favourite beer at Yoga on Tap!

Personal Note: Brian, our host at White Sails, and his girlfriend were five weeks from their baby being born at the time, so a big congratulations to them on the birth of their bundle of joy!

Address: 123 Comox Rd, Nanaimo | Web: http://whitesailsbrewing.com/

2. Mount Arrowsmith Brewing (Parksville)

The night we went to Mount Arrowsmith, they were launching their Sea Run Saison via a fundraiser for ALS. The family that owns the brewery is very philanthropic, and particularly business savvy within the community. They are doing something right as they are continually expanding and won Brewery of the Year at the BC Beer Awards in 2017 (after only a few months of being open!) It’s a cool spot and I love their tag of #IslandBrewMountainView. The Low Pressure Porter was my favourite and the Brit loved the IPA (surprise!)

Personal Note: Matt from Mount Arrowsmith was also expecting a bundle of joy, with his wife being one week from her due date at that point. Congratulations to them on  the newest member of their family!

Address: #109-425 Stanford Ave E. Parksville | Web: https://arrowsmithbrewing.com/

3. Love Shack Libations

You know how they say to expect the unexpected? This nano-brewery (it’s tiny!) wasn’t on the itinerary, but owner Dave Paul reached out via Instagram, and I’m SO glad he did. The man is running a one-man show, incredibly happy to be doing so, and has the most romantic soul. Oh, and the beer is fabulous. More about this place coming up next week, but if you’re curious now, the tasting room is only open eight hours a week. and it’s worth the planning and drive (with your DD, obvs.)

Personal Note: A very big THANK YOU to Dave as he invited us in on a day where the tasting room was closed. So we feel very privileged!

Address: 4134 Island Hwy W #1, Qualicum Beach | Web: loveshacklibations.com

4. Gladstone Brewing

Gladstone gets my vote for one of the coolest locations for a brewery. It used to be a mechanic shop, and if you’re familiar with that kind of facility, you’ll agree that it’s the perfect place to set up shop as the way you wash out a garage is the same as how you wash out a brewery. The drainage system was already there and the building’s history provides natural inspiration for decor. I loved that their flights come in cutout license plates and the space has a cool 1950’s vibe to it. The Brit was driving so I enjoyed the East Coast IPA for him. Hee-hee… There is also a taco counter at Gladstone and the patio is lovely!

Personal Note: Marissa is the Marketing Manager at Gladstone and her genuine love for her job and where she lives was very inspiring to me.

Address: 1244 4th Street, Courtenay | Web: gladstonebrewing.ca

5. Cumberland Brewing

Cumberland was our last stop on the Island, a good thing too because after we checked into our cute little Airbnb, we parked ourselves at the tasting room for what turned out to be three hours. Our hosts, Darren and Mike, were so kind and a lot of fun to chat with, and the beer is on point. My favourite of the bunch was the Dancing Linebacker Oatmeal Stout, and would you believe their tasting room menu includes a FABULOUS warm kale salad with quinoa and roasted yams? (I was so happy.) Darren and his business partner also own the pizzeria across the way, which we will definitely be trying out when we go back!

(Something to note is that Cumberland doesn’t can or bottle. (Gasp!) They only do growler fills. But it’s working for them, which goes to show how important it is to cater to your own community.)

Personal Note:  Darren looked very familiar. And when he told us he used to be an actor and also host a show called Wings Over Canada (he is also a pilot), you should have seen his delight that I knew what that was.

Address: 2732 Dunsmuir Ave, Cumberland | Web: cumberlandbrewing.com

~

I think my favourite part about this leg of our road trip was that I didn’t feel like a city girl. We felt like locals and had the best time. Also, before I forget, Happy National IPA Day and International Beer Day!

Thank you to all the breweries for hosting the Brit and I, and to Townsite Brewing for liaising and connecting. As always, opinions are my own.  

Be glad there’s one place in the world,

Where everybody knows your name,

And they’re always glad you came;

You want to go where people know,

People are all the same;

You want to go where everybody knows your name.

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