Mountain resorts embracing craft beer as key part of après-ski scene
These five resorts and breweries in Canada and the U.S. are pairing up to delicious results, writes Adam Bisby
The newest addition to Ontario's Blue Mountain ski resort isn't shy about showing off its craft-beer credentials. Bathed in brilliant blue light, four 10-barrel fermenters gleam above the buzzing bar that lines one side of the newly opened Northwinds Brewpub. A glass partition separates more illuminated equipment from the high-ceilinged dining hall, where wall-mounted menus list the 15 Northwinds offerings on tap.
Beer hasn't always been the most discerning aspect of the après-ski scene. This has changed in recent years, however, as scores of local brewers have set up their kettles in and around North American ski resorts and partnered with them on everything from limited-edition brews to slopeside festivals. Here are four resort/brewery pairings across Canada, as well as one a snowball's throw south of the border, that embrace local beer like never before.
Northwinds at Blue Mountain, Ont.
The pub's shiny paraphernalia isn't just for show. The flight I order includes two house-brewed beers – the Liftie Altbier and PistenBully Rye Pale Ale – with five more varieties set to pour within days. "With four fermenters, we can produce two beers a week," head brewer Bryan Egan says.
The sudsy surge at Blue Mountain doesn't stop there. To celebrate the 75th anniversary of its 1941 opening, the resort commissioned nearby Creemore Springs – the region's micro-turned-Molson-owned brewery – to make the Koelsch-style Smart Alec Ale, one of eight draught options at the new Bullwheel Pub. bluemountain.ca, northwindsbrewery.com
Elevation 57 at Big White, B.C.
Sessions Taphouse and Grill may well have become Canada's first and only ski-in brewpub when it launched the Elevation 57 Brewing Company last fall. The basement operation now produces 10 craft brews – including a Blonde Ale, a Hefeweizen and a Smoked Porter – on the edge of the "Perfection" ski run that descends Big White's eastern face.
At 5,757 feet above sea level, Elevation 57 is said to be the loftiest brewery in Canada. I can't confirm this, but I do know from experience that a frosty pint, pulled from one of Sessions's 12 craft-only taps and consumed on the expansive patio, is close to perfection in more ways than one. bigwhite.com, sessionstaphouseandgrill.com
Ellicottville Brewing at Holiday Valley, N.Y.
Think American beer is weak and watery? Think again. An hour's drive south of the Buffalo border crossing, New York State's largest ski resort embraces the stereotype-busting craft-beer scene of Ellicottville.
The Ellicottville Brewing Co.'s wares are well-represented in the Holiday Valley Lodge's raucous T-Bar lounge, where the Ski Bum hoppy ale jolts me out of a late-afternoon torpor and the Blueberry Wheat Ale, garnished with real berries, gets me primed for the hot tub.
Next door, an out-of-town upstart is pouring its own wares. The Massachusetts-based John Harvard's Brewery chain opened its fifth outpost on the ground floor of the Tamarack Club condo-hotel in 2015, but that hasn't made Holiday Valley's taps any less local. Turns out all three of John Harvard's house-branded options are produced by Ellicottville Brewing, which contributes its own decadent Chocolate Cherry Bomb Imperial Stout to the 20-plus taps.
Microbrews multiply exponentially during the annual Holiday Valley Beer and Wine Festival, when more than 30 craft brewers crowd the resort's base area each November. For more sudsy variety in late January, I take a taxi five minutes south to EBC's stylish dining and entertainment complex, where flights of beer and brewery tours provide dozens of tasting options. holidayvalley.com, ellicottvillebrewing.com, johnharvards.com
La Diable at Mont Tremblant, Que.
I'm forced to pop off my skis and walk all of 300 metres to reach Microbrasserie La Diable – talk about a First World problem – but I'd happily navigate Tremblant's snowy resort village barefoot if it meant sipping a cask-conditioned ale in the Laurentians' first microbrewery. Since opening in 1995, La Diable has broadened its small-batch lineup to include everything from a Belgian-style Blizzard wheat beer to an Extrême Onction Trappist-style ale that cements the pub's devilish credentials with an alcohol content of 8.5 per cent.
Down in the town of Mont Tremblant, the Microbrasserie Saint-Arnould is giving La Diable some stiff competition. The 21-year-old brew pub pours twice as many house beers as its resort rival, with the dozen offerings ranging from the raspberry-flavoured La Marie Framboise to the L'Évêque dark beer brewed with Quebec honey. When I'm told the place is named after the patron saint of beer, its rivalry with La Diable becomes all the more apparent. tremblant.ca, microladiable.com/en, saintarnould.com/en.
Mt. Begbie at Revelstoke Mountain Resort, B.C.
Having skied down a near-respectable portion of Revelstoke's 1,713 vertical metres – the most of any resort in North America – I stop for a Nasty Habit IPA on the sunset-facing deck of the mid-mountain Revelation Lodge. I've earned it, after all, and need to refuel before heading into town to sample more of Mt. Begbie Brewing Co.'s wares .
The 10-minute cab ride is de rigueur for beer-loving RMR guests. For one thing, Mt. Begbie won Brewery of the Year at the 2017 Canadian Brewing Awards, with its High Country Kolsch and Begbie Cream Ale both claiming their third gold medals. The former then went on to beat out kolsch ales from 29 countries when it was deemed the world's best at the World Beer Awards in London. For another, a range of small-batch samples are now available in the 22-year-old brewery's brand-new tasting room, part of a recently relocated and enlarged brewing and retail facility.
One variety you won't find here, however, is a limited-edition Thigh Burner Pilsner that was brewed to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the ski resort's 2007 opening. These days, I'm told, it's only available slopeside. Back in the taxi, then. revelstokemountainresort.com, mt-begbie.com