Brew Kid(s) on the Block: Sea-to-Sky Country becomes a craft beer destination

A-Frame Brewing Co. owner Jeff Oldenborger enjoys a pint in his Squamish tasting room. Carmen Faulkner photo

A-Frame Brewing Co. owner Jeff Oldenborger enjoys a pint in his Squamish tasting room. Carmen Faulkner photo

If you’re looking for an easy day trip this spring, Squamish has quietly become a legit craft beer destination thanks to the recent openings of A-Frame Brewing Co. and Backcountry Brewing.

The pair of craft beer upstarts joins long-time local favourite Howe Sound Brewing to give tiny Squamish three breweries, which no doubt comes as welcome news to Squamish locals, who have been looking for a new place to hang out since the combination Taco Bell/KFC closed down. The city is also home to the fledgling Squamish Beer Festival (this year’s event takes place July 8) as well as Gillespie’s Fine Spirits (if you prefer the hard stuff), so there’s no shortage of alcohol-related hijinks to get up to.

It’s easy to see why Squamish is becoming a beer mecca. Firstly, there’s a long history of brewing in Sea-to-Sky Country. The Squamish Valley was an important hop-farming region until the Second World War, and just down the road, the short-lived Horseshoe Bay Brewery became North America’s first modern craft brewery when it opened in 1982. Horseshoe Bay’s John Mitchell went on to help found Howe Sound Brewing when it opened in 1996, and it’s been a staple ever since. So Squamish knows a thing or two about good beer.

The demographics make a lot of sense, too. Squamish is the fastest-growing city in BC, ballooning by 14.6 per cent between 2006 and 2011, according to census data, and is now home to 20,000 very thirsty people. It’s also a young population, with a median age of 36.8, compared to 40.2 years in Vancouver and 41.9 across BC. And young people like craft beer. It’s a fact!

The water profile in Squamish is also ideal for brewing beer, according to Backcountry’s Ben Reeder and A-Frame’s Jeff Oldenborger, who both cited it as one of the reasons for locating their breweries there.

“Yeah, the water is great here,” says Oldenborger. “But it’s the community that makes it a great place to brew. The people that live here want to support local [businesses], and that made it the right choice for us.”

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The two breweries are located all of 600 metres apart on the north end of town and have already developed a budding brew-mance, which is cute.

“Howe Sound Brewing welcomed us with open arms, and we have really bonded with Backcountry Brewing over the building process and look forward to having them so close,” says Oldenborger. “The unique camaraderie among breweries is refreshing.”

If you’re starting to notice some similarities between the two breweries, they come by it honestly: both are a reflection of Squamish’s outdoor culture. Certainly Squamish is an easy place to get inspired. On a sunny day, the drive up the Sea-To-Sky Highway is absolutely breathtaking, and thanks to the $600 million upgrade to the road, hardly anyone dies on it anymore.

The concept at Backcountry was “everybody loves a cabin,” according to interior designer Tanja Nargang. The space indeed resembles a rustic ski chalet, complete with vintage photos and kitschy antiques.

“It’s an homage to getting away and enjoying life in a simpler time,” says Nargang. “I also drew inspiration from après ski, great dive bars and quirky old things. I may be a little obsessed with the latter.”

A-Frame, shockingly, also takes its inspiration from a cabin; specifically Oldenborger’s A-frame family cabin on Okanagan Lake. The end result is a tasting room intended to bring “the lakeside to the mountainside,” with massive tree stumps for bar stools.

As for the beer, A-Frame is offering a year-round selection of beers, including its Okanagan Lake Cream Ale, Elfin Lakes Belgian Ale, Sproat Lake Dry Hopped Pale Ale and Magic Lake Porter, as well as two or three seasonal beers at a time. Backcountry’s initial offerings (courtesy of former Steamworks brewer John Folinsbee) include Ridgerunner Pilsner, Trailbreaker Pale Ale, Powerhouse Porter, Widowmaker IPA and West Coast IPA, as well as rotating seasonals.

If you make the trip up to Squamish this spring, don’t forget to stop at Howe Sound Brewing and grab a bowl of its ale-and-cheddar soup. Seriously.

And one more thing: Don’t be a turd. If you’re planning on driving up to Squamish for a day of drinking, make sure you have a designated driver, take a bus, or spend the night. Seriously.