Technically speaking, neither Squamish nor Whistler is considered a part of Vancouver, Greater or not. But if you think about it, much more so than Surrey, Burnaby, Coquitlam, Richmond, or Port Moody, both communities act as a major barometer of how far Lotusland has come as a world-class city.
As Vancouver’s stature has grown both in Canada and internationally, so has that of Whistler and Squamish.
Recall that once upon a time Canada’s third-largest city was considered a provincial backwater: a detached home in 1980 went for $90,000 (roughly $243,000 when adjusted for inflation). In that same period of time, Squamish was a solidly blue-collar logging community, and Whistler a destination for ski bums who paid for daily lift tickets by scrounging for change under the seats of their VW vans.
Today, the idea of owning a home in Vancouver is a pipe dream for anyone who hasn’t come up aces on Lotto Max. Squamish is booming as a funky refuge for anyone/everyone who can’t afford Vancouver, and Whistler is a destination for those living—or dreaming of living—the life of an international jetsetter.
All three communities have blossomed into thriving and vibrant hubs for arts, culture, and culinary excellence. And, more importantly, for craft beer.
Vancouver has one of the most vibrant microbrew communities in the country. But don’t forget that the B.C. Ale Trail also snakes up the Sea to Sky. Here’s a six-pack of great craft breweries in Squamish and Whistler.
#405-1201 Commercial Way
The tasting room: The last thing anyone wants when escaping the city is a room that looks cold and industrial-chic. Backcountry Brewing travelled back to the ’70s for inspiration, creating a 50-seat space that pays homage to chalets from the era of the Crazy Canucks. Yes, not only were ski cabins once a thing, but you didn’t need to win Lotto 6/49 to afford one.
The beers: Ridgerunner Pilsner and Widowmaker IPA are always on tap, but hit things right and you might score a limited release like the Big Gulps Huh, Welp See Ya Later (a blue raspberry lemonade sour) and the Flipadelphia kolsch.
Howe Sound Brewing
37801 Cleveland Avenue
The tasting room: Think (appropriately enough, given Squamish’s history of logging) wood and lots of it, with the brewpub’s gorgeous wooden floors, walls, and thick overhead beams. Those famished after a day of sprinting to the top of the Chief, and then rappelling down double-time, will want to check out food offerings ranging from Cod Tacos ($17) to Ale and Cheddar Soup ($10 for a large) and the Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich ($18).
The beers: For accessible and light, go with the Howe Sound Lager or the Pilsner Plunge. Or get adventurous with seasonals like the Super Jupiter Mango ISA or the Woolly Bugger Barley Wine.
#1-38927 Queens Way
The tasting room: The folks behind A-FRAME Brewing had a simple (and quite frankly beautiful) goal during the design phase: namely, building a space that replicates a weekend at a lakeside cabin. That includes firepits on the patio, and on a great day the Hip on the stereo system, which is to say peak Canadianness.
The beers: Favourites include the award-winning Okanagan Lake Cream Ale, the hops-blasted Shuswap Lake IPA, and the Magic Lake Porter. Yes, A-FRAME Brewing is really that committed to taking you to the lake, even if it’s only in your mind.
4355 Blackcomb Way
The tasting room: Assuming that your name isn’t Nancy Greene or Jackrabbit Johannsen, the second you hit the slopes you’re probably dreaming of that first après-ski beverage. BrewHouse is one of the busiest spots at Whistler-Blackcomb, with highlights including an expansive two-sided fireplace for warming up on cold Juneuary afternoons, and a vibe that suggests Wild West Coast saloon with a contemporary twist.
The beers: No one has ever been disappointed by the 5 Rings IPA, which took home B.C. Beer Awards in 2012 and 2014.
Whistler Brewing Co.
1045 Millar Creek Road
The tasting room: After touring the brewery, and loading up on “beeraphenalia” at the merch store, hit the taphouse of one of the first craft breweries in the province. Yes, Whistler Brewing’s roots go back to 1989, long before there was any such thing as Yeast Vancouver.
The beers: For those who don’t want to undo all the hard work put in on the slopes or while hiking the trails of Whistler, the Mighty 90 Low Cal Pale Ale is a no-brainer. The rest of us will have offerings like the Honey Lager, Black Tusk Ale, or seasonal Grapefruit Ale.
Coast Mountain Brewing
2-1212 Alpha Lake Road
The tasting room: Billing itself as a boutique craft brewery, Coast Mountain Brewing prides itself on being welcoming to both newbies and connoisseurs (which is to say, the only people who might get a sideways glance are those whose definition of a great beer is a lukewarm Mickey’s Big Mouth). An intimate tasting room provides a laid-back destination for both long-time locals and tourists from far-flung locales.
The beers: Go deliciously heavy with the Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout or the Black Diamond Vanilla Bean Stout. The adventure doesn’t stop there at Coast Mountain Brewing, which is to say you’ll have trouble choosing between the Fruit Snack Blackberry Lime Berliner Weisse, the Juice Box Sour Wit, and the Surveyor IPA.