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Nanaimo on Tap: Please, Only the Good Stuff

Nanaimo on Tap: Please, Only the Good Stuff

From bootleggers to macro-breweries, Nanaimo has certainly witnessed a lot in over 150 years of brewing. Besides bootleggers, Nanaimo’s brewery scene has come full circle as new microbreweries are rising once again—some literally out of the ashes. 

The brewing scene started slowly but by the 1880s John Mahrer built the Nanaimo Opera House (part of it still standing today) with the profits from Nanaimo Brewing Co. Then, following its consolidation into Union Brewing Co. (UBC), George Reifel assumed leadership, transforming it into one of the largest breweries in the PNW. 

However, prohibition in 1917 changed the landscape of Nanaimo’s brewing scene, forcing Reifel to find other means of selling alcohol. By 1934, Reifel and his son found themselves facing smuggling charges in the US after bootlegging a staggering $236 million worth of booze in today’s currency. 

Nanaimo’s local brewing scene then lost momentum following the rise of macro-breweries. But a resurgence began again in the 90s with the first microbrew operation—Fat Cat Brewery. Now, three awesome microbreweries rebel against corporate beer culture, bringing global recognition and unique flavours to the local beer scene of Nanaimo.

The 100 Mile Beer 

With the exception of hops growing wild along the Millstream River, Longwood Brewpub sources most of its ingredients locally. Self-proclaimed “obsessively local”, The Tyee newspaper rated Longwood Brewery as “The Most Local Brewery” in BC. Several beers are sourced from entirely local ingredients, coming from within a 100-mile radius of Nanaimo. Longwood also hosts fundraisers for multiple local causes—Nanaimo Hospital Foundation and Rugged Coast Research Society to name a few. 

“We strive to support locally owned Vancouver Island businesses. Islanders supporting Islanders!,” says Harley Smith, head brewer. 

Their most popular beer is the Island Time Lager, a classic brew in many books, but their Big One West Coast IPA and Berried Alive blonde ale are worthy mentions for those seeking a bit more oomph to their beer. 

Brewed From the Ashes 

Before burning down in 92’, the old Newcastle Hotel, commonly called the “Newkie”, stood as a testament to the prominence of Nanaimo’s early brewing scene. Besides being a popular pub, the Newkie was built by Reifel from UBC’s profits. Now, White Sails Brewing sits over the ruins, continuing the legacy of local breweries. Despite sitting on the roots of old, White Sails is certainly up a couple of notches on the old ways.

Serving an assortment of interesting brews, White Sails has accumulated a batch of accolades. The brewery has won gold medals in World Beer awards for their Snake Island CDA, and Bastion Blonde Ale among other BC and Canadian awards.


Brews with Bite

Wolf Brewing Co. stands at the intersection of European tradition and West Coast creativity. Brewmaster Kev Ward infuses his brews with his English heritage, honed through hands-on experience gained by volunteering his time with various brewers eager to share their knowledge. Ward’s reputation then grew as someone who reinvigorated tired pubs in his travels of the English countryside. Now, after his move to Nanaimo, Ward has infused his unique flair into Wolf Brewing Co.

Indulge in more than just great taste with Wolf Brewing Co.! Each beer can boasts label art crafted by local artists, capturing their unique take on Island life. From bears catching sockeye to forest-bound mountain bikers, their brews are not just a drink but a visual representation of the Island. Keep your eyes peeled for their creative cans next time you’re stocking up.

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