Peak Beer

By Peter Bailey.

Revelstuck. That’s what the locals call it when snow closes the road in and out of Revelstoke, British Columbia. But with a fine local brewery in town, getting stranded isn’t such a terrible thing.

For me, Revelstoke has been just another hardscrabble mountain town on the road to the coast. But for Mt. Begbie Brewing founder Bart Larson, Revelstoke was home, the small town he had to leave for the opportunities of the big city. Larson studied at UBC and SFU, earning a PhD in nuclear physics and doing work at Los Alamos, the home of the Manhattan Project. Forced to decide between city life in the States and the mountain life of B.C., Larson made the right choice and returned to his hometown.

There, Larson turned his scientific talents to the art of craft beer making, launching Mt. Begbie Brewing with his biologist wife Tracey in 1996.

Like other mountain towns, Revelstoke has an interesting past and a unique local culture that those of us passing through don’t see. Mt. Begbie Brewing is rooted in its place, named after the mountain that overlooks town, which in turn was named after Matthew “Hanging Judge” Begbie. Beer labels feature local lore and historic photos from the Revelstoke Archives. They have walked a careful line, brewing tasty beers but not too radical to be rejected by more traditional locals.

In town the pace of change seems slow but that’s part of what makes the place special. Talking about development in the mountain West, Alberta writer Robert William Sandford noted, “It is not what we built that truly makes us unique as a culture, but what we saved.” People are attracted to mountain towns for their special character, yet as they move in, that character begins to fade away. My parents moved away from Canmore not long after the town got its first stop light, claiming “Canmore has gotten just too big.” Revelstoke may never be a Canmore but growth is happening more quickly since Mt. Revelstoke Mountain Resort opened in 2007. So too with Mt. Begbie Brewing, which grew slowly but steadily over the years, but in the last three years it has seen 20 per cent annual growth. After moving a couple of times, Larson is now hoping to build a 15,000 square foot brewery to accommodate growth.

Craft breweries and brewpubs are a positive and welcome addition to mountain towns. I remember my first time skiing in the Rockies in 1981, hitting the powder at Jasper’s Marmot Basin. I loved the skiing but even as a callow youth I recognized that Jasper was lacking in food and beverage options. Jasper Brewing has been a great addition to the food culture of Jasper, as have breweries all over the mountain West. Even tiny Valemount, B.C., just past Jasper, now has a craft brewery, Three Ranges Brewing.

Done well, beer can be a door into the culture and character of a place. Next time you find yourself in Revelstuck, or on the road less travelled, slow down, breathe and enjoy a mountain beer.

Schuss on down to Sherbrooke Liquor or other good beer stores to find these mountainous beers; with the exception of Jasper Brewing’s beers, usually available only at the brewpub in Jasper.

Double black six pack

RedChairDeschutes Red Chair NWPA, Bend, Oregon

Born in 1988 in the outdoorsy town of Bend, Deschutes sets the standard for what a successful craft brewery can be. Always brewing great beer, Deschutes has grown year by year to become one of the largest craft brewers in the U.S. Red Chair Northwest Pale Ale is a beautifully balanced pale ale named after the red chairs of the oldest lift at nearby Mt. Bachelor ski resort.

GrizGrizzly Paw Big Head Nut Brown, Canmore

Canmore’s brewpub has been an après-ski standby since 1996. None of their beers will frighten the horses, but the opening of a big offsite brewery in 2013 may open the road towards more adventure. Big Head is an easy-going brown ale with sweet caramel body and mild hops.

PowerhouseMt. Begbie Powerhouse Pale Ale, Revelstoke

Bart Larson turned his back on a career in nuclear physics when he returned to his hometown and started a brewery in 1996. Working to honour local history and local people, Larson brews beers popular with skiers, boarders and sledders alike. Powerhouse is a mild but tasty pale ale, perfect with lunch at the brewery’s bar high on the hill at Revelstoke Mountain Resort.

BlackFernie Black Mammoth Winter Ale, Fernie

Fernie is the quintessential mountain ski town, full of oddball characters united in their love of powder. Since 2003, Fernie Brewing has generally stayed on the groomed runs with its beer, but recently they headed off piste. For their tenth anniversary they brewed this rich, strong winter warmer, spiced with dark cocoa and curacao orange peel.

rockJasper Brewing Rockhopper IPA, Jasper

Opened in 2005, Jasper Brewing was the first brewery in a national park. Jasper has grown better year by year, in both their beer and cuisine. Rockhopper is their flagship, a hoppy pale ale, perfect accompaniment to your tall tales of running the shutes off Knob chair at Marmot.

arrowArrowhead Black Jack Irish Stout, Invermere

Dining at Golden’s Whitetooth Bistro on New Year’s Eve, I was pleased to see the Columbia Valley now has a craft brewery of its own. Panorama and Kicking Horse resorts can share. Opened in 2012 in Invermere, across from Kicking Horse Coffee, Arrowhead is off to a good start with this delicious Guinness-style stout with coffee and chocolate tones.

Peter Bailey still carries his beer up the hill in a 30-year-old backpack. He tweets as @Libarbarian.