Craft beer was still an emerging trend when a trio of locals envisioned adding a beer festival to the Sea-to-Sky event lineup. This summer, at least 50 breweries and cideries will offer their wares to about 2,000 aficionados and adventurers on June 25 – reflecting the exponential growth of the craft in Squamish and beyond.
Scott McQuade is a Squamish real estate agent, but he used to be owner of Scotties Liquor Store in town. Over beers — what else? — with Trevor Magee, who was general manager at Howe Sound Inn and Brewing, they conjured the idea of the Squamish Beer Festival. When their friend Kathleen van der Ree, who owned Northyards Cider, introduced them to JP Tondreau, who has a wealth of experience in event planning, the dream became real.
Among the many things the COVID pandemic has screwed up is basic arithmetic. This year's festival is (sort of) the eighth annual, though having missed the past two years, it is really only the sixth event.
"We didn't even pull the plug in 2020 until probably a month or so into the pandemic," McQuade said. "We were like anybody else. We thought this thing will be over in a few weeks and we'll be back to partying. We slowly realized this is not going to be a possibility."
He added with a doleful laugh: "For sure, we'll be back in 2021, right?"
Over the years, the pioneering Howe Sound Brewing — which was recently awarded Brewery of the Year at the 20th annual Canadian Brewing Awards— has been joined by A-Frame Brewing and Backcountry Brewing, as well as Cliffside Cider and Geo Cider, reflecting the growing passion for small-batch artisanal sips.
Squamish may have been ahead of the curve and remains a must-stop on the B.C. Ale Trail, but other communities are catching up. Brewers and cider makers from across the province (as well as food trucks) will show off their best at the event, which runs from 1 to 7 p.m. They will face some practised palates.
"People here know their beer, for sure," said McQuade.
The musical performers had not been firmed up by press time, but organizers promised a stepped-up level of entertainment. Among activities expected to return is axe-throwing, a nod to the town's lumber industry roots.
Traditionally, the beer fest took place the weekend after Canada Day. In the aftermath of the pandemic mayhem, a major craft beer festival in Vancouver shifted its dates to that weekend and so the Squamish team thought they would back it up to the weekend before the national holiday.
"In all fairness to them, they didn't realize that that was our weekend," McQuade said. "At the same time, we want to make the brewers happy and the patrons, too."
Getting tickets in advance is a good idea.
"There have been a couple of years in the past where we've sold out and unfortunately had to turn people away," he said. "We hope that we never have to, but, at the same time, we're happy that we sold out."
Returning after a two-year unwelcome break, the festival promises more of the same – only better.
"It's going to be a lot of the things that they remember from past events but we're hoping that we can step it up to that next level and just get people together again enjoying craft beer outside," McQuade said.
Of course, if you miss Squamish Beer Festival, there is never a problem wetting your whistle in this town. Cork & Craft Tap House is a sort of year-round beer fest, with Squamish, Pemberton, Whistler and Vancouver craft offerings. Copper Coil Still and Grill offers an array of drinks to accompany their New Orleans-slash-West Coast menu. Located in the party-central Crash Hotel, the newest bars in town — The Cleveland Tavern and One and a Half Ave offer plenty of sudsy options.
The Backyard Pub has an impressive menu of beers, ciders and spirits to accompany a pub food menu that covers the bases. The Watershed Grill, magnificently perched above the river in Brackendale, has a compendious menu of both food and drink. Norman Rudy's Pub, in the Executive Suites Hotel, offers all the local drinks with superb pub fare. (The avocado fries are a glorious, bizarre surprise!) If you want to add gambling to the mix, Match Eatery and Public House, in Chances Casino, offers burgers, ribs and fish and chips alongside domestic and imported beers and a full list of bubbly or hard options.
In other words … whenever you are in Squamish, there is no excuse to be thirsty.
***Please note, this story originally appeared in the summer of 2022 edition of Discover Squamish magazine.