A bird’s-eye view of British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast offers guests embarking on the new Flights to Flights brewery tour a sense of place well before they start sipping. And, as tour leader Douglas Bevans puts it, a floatplane flight, “is just so West Coast.”
Bevans, who runs Sunshine Coast Art Tours, added the six-hour, small-group air and ales experience this year. The $240 per-person price includes ground transportation to three tasting rooms of your choice (with one complimentary flight of beer), a charcuterie lunch, walking tour of historic Gibsons Landing and to kick things off, a 25-minute sightseeing flight.
The Sunshine Coast is a 180-km stretch of the British Columbia coast northwest of Vancouver. It’s home to the most artists per capita in Canada. And that spirit of creativity and flair can be seen—err, tasted—in its collection of craft distilleries and breweries.
With plenty of outdoor activities and quaint towns sandwiched between rainforest, mountains and the Straight of Georgia, I am thrilled to buckle my seatbelt to see part of it from the air in a vintage Sunshine Coast Air Cessna floatplane. We leave the dock, the engine revs and the plane slowly lifts from the glassy surface of Porpoise Bay, ascending to 1,000 feet above Sechelt Inlet. The pilot gently banks for views of a mountainside waterfall and the white beach and turquoise waters of Thormanby Island.
Sunshine Coast Air
“It pairs with what you’re about to do on the land. Sechelt is an isthmus and you don’t know when you’re driving around, but you get above it and you know,” says Bevans.
The geography can confuse first-timers. There are “It’s Not an Island” stickers sold in local shops, a dig at tourists who think this area isn’t part of the British Columbian mainland. To be fair, you can’t arrive directly by car—the Coast Mountains make that impossible. Access is by seaplane or car ferry.
Flights to Flights guests pick the breweries they want to visit. Or they can do what I did, dropping in at a variety of beverage-makers, including small-batch spirits crafter Bruinwood Estate Distillery, Banditry Cider and Persephone Brewing Co.
A performance artist and former guitarist for Vancouver metal band, The Smalls, Bevans became a tour operator in 2003. It’s challenging at first to square his past rock persona with the genial, soft-spoken guy in a straw fedora taking me along a picturesque coastal route in the Sunshine Coast Art Tours’ 15-passenger Ford Transit.
Just outside the little town of Roberts Creek, the van bumps down a gravel road to Bruinwood Estate Distillery, named for the black bears that occasionally lumber past.
Jeff Barringer & Danise Lofstrom
Former TV producers Jeff Barringer and Danise Lofstrom started the business three years ago, making an ever-evolving range of 45 spirits in the distillery behind their home. The same attractive West Coast-style cedar building also contains the compact tasting room where I sample Earl Grey Gin, award-winning K’Neko Honey Liquor and flavourful Quince Liqueur made with fruit from a neighbour’s tree. One of their most popular products, dubbed “chicken gin” by fans, is Mexican Pechuga. Raw chicken steeps to doneness during the heat of fermentation, adding savoury notes to the clear spirit. You don’t taste chicken, but the umami comes through. Lofstrom says it’s a Bloody Caesar’s best friend.
Our next stop is Banditry Cidery just outside Gibsons, a peaceful spot overlooking apple orchards.
Jamie Armstrong and Kim Scarrow
Husband-and-wife team Jamie Armstrong and Kim Scarrow started Banditry last summer. The cidery gets its name from the term for a flock of chickadees. The tough little birds help keep the orchard pest-free the natural way and that’s key to their brand, Armstrong says.
Head cidermaker Matt Cavers uses 100% B.C.-grown apples for three varieties of Banditry cider. He plans to start using estate-grown fruit and wants to add new flavours. The Banditry tasting room is a former greenhouse. There’s a cooler of B.C. cured meats and cheeses to enjoy with a glass of semi-dry, hibiscus and ginger, or blackberry and Galaxy hops apple ciders.
Whether people aren’t sure what cider is (it’s fermented apple juice) or want to learn more about the process as they hang out, Armstrong and Scarrow are there to help. Banditry has plenty of outdoor seating, including small, quiet pockets scattered across the property. The layout encourages a chill atmosphere and helps make this a family-friendly space, Armstrong says. Kids especially like the small island and the Pekin and Muscovy ducks that live in the orchard.
We sip cider and devour a generous charcuterie box lunch that Bevans picked up from purveyor Good Fridays in Gibsons.
The last stop is the red barn tasting room at neighbouring Persephone Brewing Co. Visitors can do a walking tour of this 11-acre working farm, which includes an orchard and gardens.
As we sipped Persephone’s excellent Dry Irish Stout and citrusy Lemon Drop Sour, I ask sales manager David Schneider what makes the Sunshine Coast such a popular getaway.
“You’re talking a 40-minute ferry ride (from Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay) and you feel like you have a real escape without having to spend the day driving there,” he says. “There’s nowhere closer to Vancouver that feels farther away.”
When you go
Flight to Flights small-group tours—minimum three guests—are $240 per person. Itineraries are customizable and run year-round. Bevans will arrange a pick-up and drop off at the Langdale Ferry Terminal for foot passengers from Vancouver who wish to arrive car-free. Visit sunshinecoastarttours.com to book.