From the pubs of Prague to the beer halls of Munich, international beer tourism is alive and well. Now, the folks behind the BC Ale Trail are hoping to add British Columbia and its booming craft-brew scene to the list of can't-miss stops for beer lovers the world over.
"Our goal is to be a world-recognized destination for beer tourism," said Ken Beattie, executive director of the BC Craft Brewers Guild.
Launched in October, the BC Ale Trail is a self-guided tour that highlights the array of renowned breweries that dot the province along with all the nearby landmarks and activities that you won't find in the average guidebook. The Ale Trail's slick website also recommends 15 regional itineraries — including one through Squamish — that suggests all the best breweries, pubs, restaurants, cafés, sightseeing, and more in the area based on input from the brewers themselves as well as local destination marketing organizations.
"The brewery will get you into the region, but you're not just coming for the brewery," Beattie said.
"We want to get you a little bit off the beaten path. To see the area. The inspiration comes from the locals telling you where they go, not necessarily where the tourists say to go."
Function Junction's Coast Mountain is among the 135 breweries on the trail, and one of three local stops along with the Whistler Brewing Company and the BrewHouse. Co-owner Kevin Winter said he was happy to support any initiative that not only shines a light on the Sea to Sky's small-but-mighty craft beer industry, but the community itself. (Breweries pay around $500 to get added to the trail.)
"Tourism is already rich and strong here in Whistler, and this is just another reason to visit," he said. "When (the website) is talking about Coast Mountain specifically, for example, it suggests going to do the Train Wreck hike and then following that up with a beer here afterwards. It gives the tourist a little something to do, and we like that idea."
The BC Ale Trail was modelled off the winery tours that have become a staple of any trip to the Okanagan. But it wasn't until the provincial government's sweeping overhaul of liquor regulations in recent years that the concept for the program really began to click.
"One of the things we really worked towards was this past government allowing people to sit in a brewery and try beer like they would at a winery, because that's a key element: you have to be able to sit in the brewery in order to experience the brewery and the freshest possible beer you can have," Beattie recalled. "When the government changed that regulation, that really opened the door."
With the rapid and seemingly unstoppable growth of craft brewing here — there are breweries in upwards of 60 B.C. communities today, with more popping up all the time — paired with the thriving beer culture already in place across the Pacific Northwest, Beattie believes the province is poised to capitalize on the burgeoning "beer tourism" market.
"The fact is that B.C. is so diverse not only in offering great adventure, spectacular landscapes and vistas, and everything a tourist wants, it's also diverse in its beer culture," he said.
"Really, our motivation is, as our tagline says: 'Arrive thirsty and leave inspired.'"
For more information, visit www.bcaletrail.ca.