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Pouring pints along the BC Ale Trail

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Story by Joe Leary

Though somewhat anecdotal by definition, the term “craft beer” is generally characterized as being “made in a traditional, non-mechanized process by a small brewery; often independently-owned.”

And when the first brews appeared on the BC craft landscape at Horseshoe Bay Brewing in 1982, few could have imagined their eventual growth with any degree of accuracy.


By 2010, there were 54 breweries registered throughout British Columbia. Ten years later, that number had ballooned, and at last count in early 2023, the tally sits north of 240.

“It’s been phenomenal,” says Ken Beattie, of the growth and ultimate explosion in popularity of an industry that a mere 20 years ago was barely on local radar.

As executive director of the BC Craft Brewers Guild, Beattie is no stranger to suds, having spent nearly a quarter of a century working for Canada’s major brands: Molson/Coors and Sleeman/Sapporo.

He left big beer in 2012 and began his current role a year later, representing the locally owned and operated British Columbia craft breweries. Their overall explosion in scale surprised even him.

“It is unprecedented growth that has been driven by the consumer’s acceptance across the province to support locally-owned businesses,” he says of its progress.

“This, coupled with our advocacy efforts, working with all levels of government to reduce red tape; the entrepreneurial passion of owners and staff alike to create world-class beers; along with a world-class experience in tasting rooms across BC.”

The tasting rooms have since become meeting places in their communities, offering an inclusive and welcoming experience to local neighbours and visitors alike.

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The growth of the industry across British Columbia was such that in 2016, the BC Craft Brewers Guild joined with a consortium of dedicated beer aficionados, consultants, writers and overall craft beer innovators to form the “BC Ale Trail.”

A member of Destination BC’s co-operative marketing program, the BC Ale Trail is a series of self-guided itineraries highlighting local craft breweries and businesses that support or work with the craft beer industry throughout BC and the surrounding landscape.

In all, it encompasses more than 220 breweries across 21 different ale trails and more than 55 communities throughout the province.

A collateral benefit of a booming industry means not only increased competition but ever-changing rules and regulations in how the customer can access the fruits of the brewers’ labour. In the early days, on-premise consumption was subject to stringent regulatory control and tasting rooms were generally limited to a take-out area to get “growler fills” of local craft beer to go.

Today, the tasting room concept has grown exponentially, with the industry as operators who are constantly expanding their food service and menu offerings, along with themed-event nights and various forms of entertainment.

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Sam Payne has been around the craft beer industry on the sales, marketing and distribution side since 2004. Beginning with his role in helping start up Red Truck Beer Company, he is now an owner with The Parkside Brewery, Rewind Beer Co. and Good Hustle Beverage Distribution, all based on “Brewers Row” in Port Moody.

Getting “beers in hands” in the infancy of the craft movement proved somewhat challenging. “The big companies and regional/ semi-national brands dominated local taps,” says Payne of that time.

“Craft beer was so new to consumers that the need and opportunity wasn’t front and centre for operators.” Things shifted quickly, and a new era in the beer business was heralded in just a few years later. “Around 2007, we had a few more opportunities present themselves,” he says

“Restaurant industry leaders like Trevor Kallies, Jay Jones, Ed Perrow, James Iranzad and Nigel Springthorpe were supporting small breweries and consumers started to see “the little guy” show up on beer lists around town more often, in highly-visible areas.”


Since its inception, the British Columbia craft beer scene has witnessed seismic growth and the industry has more than quadrupled within the past dozen years alone. Now, with the added “BC Ale Trail” app making the overall experience even more accessible to the consumer, Beattie and the BC Craft Brewers Guild are beaming with pride.

“You can’t help but be optimistic about the future of our locally-owned and operated British Columbia breweries, going forward.”

Chart your course along the BC Ale Trail:

Download the BC Ale Trail app for free on the App Store and Google Play

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