It’s a long, slow drive to Tofino, the home of British Columbia’s newest and Canada’s most westerly brewery. The many curves on Highway 4 demand thatthe driver be alert and cautious. Fortunately, there are enough turn outs to allow veteran travellers of the highway to pass by a white-knuckled newcomer. And some of the rest areas provide spectacular views of old-growth cedar trees, crystal clear lakes, and towering mountains.

As the driver gets closer to Tofino, glimpses of Long Beach, with the Pacific Ocean’s surf pounding on the sand, are seen through the trees. Many shiny new SUVs and old, battered Volkswagen busses carry surf-boards or sleek ocean kayaks on their roofs. Entering town, you see more and more carvings of bald eagles and banners depicting breaching whales.

And, if you’re looking carefully, you’ll see a small sign pointing down Industrial Way to Tofino Brewing Company. The brewery, which occupies Unit C and D in an Industrial warehouse, opened this spring.

Owners Brian O’Malley and Chris Neufeld bring limited experience to their enterprise. Chris defined himself as someone who enjoyed drinking really good beer. Brian had been a bartender and his grandfather had started a brewery in Quebec in the 1950s. The two believed that opening a brewery in a very small isolated town seemed a good fit. “There are over a million tourists who come here every year — to kayak, surf, fish, and watch whales. But more important it’s a close knit community that believes in buying local.”

“Most of our business is local,” Brian remarked. “We have taps in four places in town; but a lot of the locals come to the brewery to buy growlers. In fact, we do half of our business right from here.” Two taps are fixed on the wall that’s beside the counter/desk. While we were talking, several people drove up and came into the building clutching a growler or two, which they filled themselves.

Both owners noted that if they were to succeed, they needed an experienced brewer. In Dave Woodward, they found just such a person. He’d trained at Sunderland University in England and most recently created a variety of acclaimed beers for the Brewpub at Whistler, a member of the Mark James group of gastro-pubs. He noted that, although Tofino’s 10 hectolitre brewery has only two fermenting tanks, meaning that only two brews are available at one time, the small scale along with close contact with customers (the brewing equipment is all part of the same space as the sales desk) spurred creativity.

Only one beer — Tuff Session Ale — is always on tap. A five per cent, copper-coloured beverage, it’s a west coast style pale ale. The malts provide a degree of sweetness which is balanced by the warrior and cascade hops. “I wanted something that was drier than the typical English session beer,” Woodward explained.

The second fermenting tank has been filled with several different beers. “We wanted to try as many different styles as we could,” Chris Neufeld explained. “Being as small as we are, we could do that. We didn’t have to tie up a tank for a long time with one type of beer.”

The current second tap was a “California Common”, which would be called “Steam Beer” if San Francisco’s Anchor hadn’t copyrighted the term. It went by the name “Pils-Knot.” It was gold, light to medium, smooth mild beer, with chewy malt flavours and very little hop presence.

Other “second beers” have been Fogust Wheat Ale (a German style hefe), a pilsner, and an IPA. Plans were to offer a pumpkin ale later in the spring. Chris offered me a “growlito” (a one litre growler) of the IPA which had been preserved with pressurized carbon dioxide. It was a dark amber beer, in which the hops dominated, but didn’t overwhelm.

I bought two growlitos of the two current brews and took them, along with the IPA back to the mini-fridge in my motel. Then, after a long walk along the shore, watching little children surfing expertly alongside of adults and a variety of dogs chasing sticks and the occasional seagull, I returned to my room, had a small taste of each of the beers. After that, I went out for a delicious meal, accompanied by a Tofino brew.

As I sat outside watching the sun set over the Pacific, I realized that everything had made the long, tiring drive to Tofino worthwhile. The air was clean, crisp and salty; the scenery was in the best-sense of the phrase, world class; and the beer was very good.

Back at the motel, I made sure that the caps of the growlitos were tightly screwed on. I wanted the beer to be as fresh as possible the next day when I offered my Victoria relatives some beer that they wouldn’t find around their town.

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