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The Breakwater Guide to Good Beer: Mid-Island

The Breakwater Guide to Good Beer: Mid-Island

To outsiders, it may seem like Victoria and Tofino get all the attention when it comes to Vancouver Island, but locals know once you exit off Highway 19 there is more to explore. Mid-Island is the area encompassing Nanaimo to Campbell River, and you’ll find clusters of craft breweries in the Comox Valley, Parksville and Qualicum Beach, and Nanaimo.


 Longwood Brew Pub is the area’s longest-standing producer, but a wave of new breweries in the past few years have helped add energy to some of the region’s more famously sleepy towns (ahem, Qualicum Beach and Parksville). Each brewery retains its own charm and flavour, and the beers are good too—often small-batch, inventive and seasonal. The next time you find yourself in the area, make a detour and pay a visit to your next favourite brewery. Below is Breakwater’s guide to good beer in Mid-Island.


History in a nutshell: Longwood Brew Pub opens in 1999, but it isn’t until 2013 that it adds its offshoot production brewery. (Rumour has it Longwood Brew Pub was responsible for the growler fills; they introduced the concept of takeaway half-gallon jugs to the liquor board). Wolf Brewing opens as Fat Cat Brewing in 2000 and later changes its name and ownership. Things go quiet until 2014, when Cumberland Brewing opens, followed in rapid succession by Gladstone, White Sails, Forbidden, Beach Fire, LoveShack Libations, Mount Arrowsmith and Land and Sea Brewing. Up next? New Tradition Brewing in Comox.

Notable beers: Longwood Brewing’s Quinceotica (technically a graff—a more complicated version of a cider mixed with a beer invented by none other than the author Stephen King); Gladstone’s Belgian Single.


Nanaimo

White Sails Brewing | 125 Comox Rd • whitesailsbrewing.com
Located at the edge of Nanaimo’s historic downtown, White Sails might very well be one of the Island’s most underrated breweries. Brewer Tyler Papp has been quietly and consistently producing top-notch beers that have won accolades, including a gold medal at the 2017 World Beer Awards (and a silver at the 2019 Canadian Brewing Awards) for Snake Island Cascadian Dark Ale. The spacious and modern tasting room is located across the street from Maffeo Sutton Park on the waterfront, so you can walk off those pints on the Harbourfront Walkway.

Beer service: tasting room
Food: Yes; locally sourced menu features light meals and snacks
Recommended beer: Mount Benson IPA

Wolf Brewing | 940 Old Victoria Rd • wolfbrewingcompany.com
Wolf has been around in one form or another since 2010 and is recently under new ownership. The brewery at the south end of town features a modest tasting room, where you can sample Wolf’s locally-focused beers, many of which feature ingredients from the immediate area and artists’ work on the labels.

Beer service: samples and flights
Food: light snacks
Recommended beer: Black Tail Dark Malt Porter Beer

Longwood Brewing and Brew Pub | Brewpub: 5775 Turner Rd | Brewery: 2046 Boxwood Rd #101A • longwoodbeer.com
Longwood’s original brewpub is still going strong after 20 years. The cozy English-style pub has a full kitchen, a regular lineup of live music, and is one of the few places left in this province where you can find hand-pulled cask ales. Meanwhile, Longwood’s production facility on Boxwood Road features a tasting room and growler station, where you can sample its “obsessively local beers,” like Island Time Lager, which is 100 per cent made from ingredients grown within 40 kilometres of the brewery.

Beer service: brewpub; samples and flights at the production facility
Food: full menu available at the brewpub
Recommended beer: Quinceotica (if you can get it); 40 Km Wet Hop ISA

Parksville and Qualicum Beach 

LoveShack Libations | 4134 Island Hwy W #1 • loveshacklibations.com
This charming nano-brewery is only open to the public two days a week (so thoroughly Island, we love it), but plan a trip here all the same. There are dozens of different delicious bottle-conditioned beers at the handmade communal table in kitschy, mismatched glassware, all served by owner/operator/brewer/bartender Dave Paul. Come for the beer, stay for the relaxed kitchen party vibe and new friends you’re bound to make. And also the beer.

Beer service: samples and flights
Food: no
Recommended beer: Sunny Bunny Pale Ale

Mount Arrowsmith Brewing | 425 Stanford Ave E #109 • arrowsmithbrewing.com
Brewer Dave Woodward was the founding brewer at both Tofino Brewing and Axe and Barrel Brewing in Langford before he came home to Parksville to open a brewery of his own, after more than 15 years in the industry. It didn’t take long to make an impact: Mount Arrowsmith Brewing was named B.C.’s brewery of the year at the 2017 B.C. Beer Awards. The hip tasting room is bright and consistently packed, thanks to an ever-changing beer lineup, as well as delicious tacos, wings and flatbreads.

Beer service: tasting room
Food: yes
Recommended beer: Jagged Face IPA

Comox Valley

Cumberland Brewing | 4134 Island Hwy W #1 • cumberlandbrewing.com
Cumberland sits near the base of Mount Washington and is minutes away from the ocean and Comox Lake. But let’s be honest, the real draw might just be Cumberland Brewing Co. This beloved brewery features a stellar lineup of beers, including one-off casks every Friday. Recent renovations mean a bigger patio, more inside seating and a new full kitchen serving up bites with the beers. You can’t get Riders Pizza delivered to your table anymore, but don’t worry. It’s moved across the street and has Cumberland’s beers on tap.

Beer service: tasting room
Food: yes
Recommended beer: The Dancing Linebacker Oatmeal Stout

Forbidden Brewing | 4134 Island Hwy W #1 • forbiddenbrewing.com
This tiny brewery located underneath the Westerly Hotel is one of Courtenay’s best-kept secrets. The tasting room may be small, but the beer is big on flavour. Founded by a group of thirsty locals—including Arcade Fire violinist Sarah Neufeld—the brewery began life on a converted u-brew set-up. Thankfully, Forbidden has upgraded to a 10 hec brewhouse, which means more beers on tap and even some in cans.

Beer service: samples and flights
Food: no
Recommended beer: West Coast Pale Ale

Gladstone Brewing | 4134 Island Hwy W #1 • gladstonebrewing.ca
If the sun’s shining, Gladstone’s patio is where you’ll find many locals hanging out. This popular craft brewery is housed in a historic former mechanic shop, and that automotive heritage is present in the decorations and design of the tasting room. Brewer Tak Guenette’s beer, though, draws from European influences with a decidedly West Coast twist. The brews pair great with the burgers from Gladstone’s new burger bar.

Beer service: tasting room
Food: yes
Recommended beer: The Gladstone Pilsner

Land and Sea Brewing | 4134 Island Hwy W #1 • landandseabrewing.ca
The Comox Valley’s newest craft brewery has quickly become a staple in the region, thanks to brewer Tessa Gabiniewicz’s approachable, sessionable beers. The bright and modern tasting room is welcoming and lively, so don’t be surprised if you end up spending the entire afternoon here. The brewery also has a full kitchen serving up snacks, share plates and sandwiches—the Korean barbecued pulled pork bun is a must.

Beer service: samples and flights
Food: yes
Recommended beer: Comexico Pale Ale

Campbell River

Beach Fire Brewing | 594 11 Ave • beachfirebrewing.ca
Campbell River’s only proper craft brewery might also be the city’s best restaurant. The menu changes daily depending on what’s fresh and seasonal. The beer offering is full of West Coast craft classics and every Tuesday the brewery taps a keg of a special one-off beer from Beach Fire’s pilot system. Get there early, though. People love it, and it never lasts long.

Beer service: samples and flights
Food: yes
Recommended beer: High Tide Pale Ale

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