Comox Valley’s brewery scene is drawing comparisons to those of Port Moody and Victoria
The Comox Valley, encompassing Courtney, Comox and Cumberland, as well as several smaller communities, is one of the most visited places on Vancouver Island.
Looming large on the horizon is Mount Washington, the Island’s only ski hill — and previously one of the main reasons out-of-towners head to the area. But today, besides the amazing skiing and snowboarding, there are plenty of other reasons to visit the Valley.
Hiking, biking, golfing, fishing, museums and markets are just some of the other activities that can be enjoyed within this small region. The majestic Nymph Falls is a short drive away from downtown Courtenay and offers spectacular views, while the emerging culinary scene in the Valley, much of which is focused on locally produced ingredients, is gaining a reputation as one to watch.
Of course, another great reason to visit the Comox Valley is its thriving craft beer scene, which offers a super local focus you have to experience in person and where even the larger breweries are well worth a visit.
Cumberland Brewing, which opened in 2014, has a reputation for putting its local community of less than 5,000 people first and the town’s residents have shown their appreciation with strong support for their local brewery.
But don’t hold your breath waiting to purchase cans or bottles of this brewery’s popular suds at your local liquor stores because Cumberland Brewing doesn’t play that way. Instead, you have to show up in person to enjoy their products at the brewery.
So, consider bookending your visit to the Valley with a family friendly stop at their sunny outdoor patio and don’t forget to bring a growler — or two — to grab some Forest Fog Wheat Ale or the Red Tape Pale Ale to-go.
From Cumberland, it’s a short drive to the much larger city of Courtenay where brew fans should check out the tasting rooms at Ace Brewery and Gladstone Brewery, which are within walking distance of each other.
Both have wider distribution so there’s a chance you will find their beers outside of Courtenay, but there’s nothing like a personal visit to up your appreciation level.
Ace is dedicated to aviation history and uses art, memorabilia and decor to showcase that theme, making it’s a must-see for history buffs and aviation fans. The brewery has a large selection of beer to choose from, so there is truly something for everyone, but it’s also good to watch out for their Pilot Project beers, made from home-brew recipes that win at competitions held at the brewery.
Meanwhile Gladstone Brewing, located in a converted mechanics shop, also has a unique charm, which makes their delicious beers, such as the IPA or the dark lager, even more tasty when experienced in person. A newly expanded menu and patio — with some very effective and new-age space heaters — are also draws.
Continuing this road trip, there’s no doubt the journey from Courtenay to Comox is long and arduous one (kidding). The trip literally requires using a bridge to cross the river that divides the two. And while the proximity between them might be confusing to newcomers, it’s a blessing for beer hunters.
Comox’s latest addition to the brew scene, New Tradition, is a great response to the question, is there anywhere you can’t put a brewery? Can you put a brewery (with a kitchen) in a mall? The answer is absolutely and New Tradition shows how.
Situated in the Comox Centre Mall, New Tradition has a welcoming tasting room clearly designed for all visitors. The brewing is done down a short hallway from the tasting room and, not to leave a foot of space unused, the “kitchen” is a stove in the middle of the brewhouse.
Just a short drive away is Land and Sea Brewing Co., which with keeping in the theme, also includes a tasting room with decor and atmosphere unique to the brewery. Speaking with owner Jason Walker, it’s clear Land and Sea is very much focused on selling their beers at the source, with no plans to expand and conquer the global beer scene. Which is kind of too bad because the beer, brewed by head brewer Tessa Gabiniewicz, is good enough that they could. Land and Sea’s tiny brewing system, much like Cumberland Brewing, is just enough to keep their taps flowing so if you want to try some you’re going to have to go and get it yourself.
If you’re still thirsty after all that great beer in the Comox Valley, don’t forget about its wineries, cideries and distilleries. If you happen to be heading south when leaving the Valley, make sure to make a stop in nearby Qualicum Beach, where you can find one-man show Loveshack Libations or Qualicum Beach’s newest brewery, Fern and Cedar, sister brewery to Parkville’s Mount Arrowsmith Brewing.
While there are many great places to drink craft beer in B.C., the Comox Valley provides arguably some of the best — and all within a relatively small geographic area. Beyond that, much of it is best enjoyed “in situ,” or, as the locals say, in a tasting room while watching the brewer work their magic.