Cool Craft

Spend some quality time along BC’s Ale Trail

by Shelley Arnusch

Photo courtesy of Kezia Nathe

It was more than 30 years ago that Canada’s very first microbrewery, the Horseshoe Bay Brewery, started up in West Vancouver. Since then, BC’s craft beer industry has evolved exponentially, with more than 100 microbreweries throughout the province, each offering distinct, artisanal spins on stouts, ales and lagers—not to mention, in many cases, hip tasting rooms, on-site eateries and behind-the-scenes tours of their brewing operations.

Indeed, there’s never been a better time to be a craft beer enthusiast in BC. Now, aficionados and the craft-beer-curious alike can navigate the province’s beer scene with relative ease via the BC Ale Trail, at Launched last year, this robust online resource provides curated, self-guided itineraries for touring BC breweries in seven regions—Kootenay Rockies East, Kootenay Rockies West, Victoria, Nanaimo and Comox Valley, Port Moody, Whistler and the Sunshine Coast.

Along the Sunshine Coast portion of the trail, you’ll find the Persephone Brewing Co. Just a rock-skip away from the Langdale ferry terminal that serves as the gateway to the region, this welcoming brewery sits on a small farm just outside the town of Gibsons, and it beckons you in with its bucolic charm.

The brewery’s name is a reference to local pop-culture lore—Gibsons, as most Canadians of a certain age will wistfully tell you, once served as the setting for the long-running CBC series The Beachcombers, a Sunday-night staple of the 13-channel era. Persephone was the stalwart boat of series protagonist Nick Adonidas, played by the late Bruno Gerussi.

Despite its namesake, the Persephone Brewing Co. is less concerned with watercraft and more with the land. The operation was co-founded by Vancouver restaurateur Mark Brand and Brian Smith, a Sunshine Coast-based social entrepreneur who met Brand when both were involved in community-building projects in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, including Brand’s Save On Meats butcher shop. Sharing a passion for beer, the two set out to start their own craft brewery, acquiring the Persephone site in early 2013 and opening the doors to the tasting room in August of that same year.

“We kicked around the notion of starting Persephone in Vancouver, but when we saw the land outside Gibsons, we knew almost immediately that it was perfect for a beer farm.” — Brian Smith, co-founder, Persephone Brewing Co.

“The connection between beer and agriculture was obvious, and the Sunshine Coast community is an ideal location for a social venture like ours.”

The “beer farm” moniker is more than just lip service. The brewery grows its own hops on-site, though a popular misconception is that the brewers there grow all the hops used in their brewing. Persephone does use their own homegrown hops, though not exclusively, so not to limit themselves as far as the types of beer they can brew. “Hops have a terroir like grapes,” explains general manager Dion Whyte, “so if we want to brew a real German pilsner, we’re going to use hops from Germany and make sure the beer is authentic.”

That said, it’s the beers that Persephone brews from its own hops that are the sentimental favourites around the farm. “We’ve done a couple of fresh-hopped beers that stand out because of being part and parcel of the whole process of getting that product into the bottle. So, probably every fresh-hopped beer we do has a special place in my heart,” Whyte says.

Visitors to the farm can see the hops for themselves by taking a stroll through the yards where the herbaceous green nubs grow on a tangle of stringy bines (yes, that’s bines, not vines) attached to twine suspended from a tall trellis.

Along with the agricultural elements, a strong community focus has taken root at Persephone. The beer farm has a well-established partnership with the Sunshine Coast Association for Community Living (SCACL), a support agency for people living with disabilities. SCACL community members are given various work opportunities, such as helping to sort good hops from the bad on the harvest tables, as well as the opportunity to use the land for gardening and caring for egg-producing hens.

Persephone has other partners sharing the brewery land as well, including a beekeeping operation and the group Farm To Feast, which runs the property’s outdoor pizza oven and on-site food truck. The operation’s sustainability-driven vision and approach to community partnership won Persephone the Real Estate Foundation of BC’s 2016 Land Award for the private sector.

“What we strive for here is a space where people can come and just feel really comfortable and welcome and not intimidated by a scene.” — Dion Whyte, general manager of Persephone Brewing Co.

The Persephone experience is also designed to be family-friendly. The tasting room is a convivial space with rustic wooden furniture, an old piano tucked into one corner and communal tables equipped with chessboards and crokinole. “It’s not glitzy. It looks like a working farm. The tasting room and the public areas are very homey, kind of like the family cabin, where everybody likes to go and hang out together.”