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Oakes Weekly - January 2, 2003
Getting Paddywhacked in Nelson
January 9, 2003
Written by Oakes
Normally when one awakens in a mountain town with the snow falling gently out the window, it is precisely the kind of thing one went to a mountain town for. On this day, however, snow piling up on treacherous mountain roads was going to be a problem.
<P>I was supposed to drive five hours out to the Crannog Ales farm brewery, where they make Canada’s best organic beer, grow their own hops, and...well, more on Crannog in the coming weeks. I wasn’t able to visit, but I will be conducting an interview with them shortly.
<P>It was my good fortune, however, that if I had to be snowed in, I was snowed in at Nelson. While traditional ski centres like Whistler and Banff have become overrun by foreign tourists and McStarGap, the locals of Cascadia have taken their ski & party scenes underground - to places like Jackson Hole, Fernie and Nelson.
<P>Nelson is a spectacular Victorian town wedged on the hillside overlooking Kootenay Lake, in the heart of the Selkirk Mountains. When the air is not filled with snow, the white-coated and mist-shrouded mountains and glistening lake provide a stunning natural backdrop.
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The Selkirk Mountains envelope the town of Nelson.
<P>The town itself was built in the 1890’s on the back of a silver rush. Buildings from that era, the Whitewater ski resort, and the Kootenay School of the Arts all attract an eclectic mix of hippies, ski bums, and outdoor sports enthusiasts (not to mention an influx of 19 & 20 year olds from Spokane looking for legal beer and almost-legal weed), bringing with them excellent cafes and coffee shops, organic food stores and, since 1991, the Nelson Brewing Company.
<P>The brewery is located in the 1897 building that housed the original Nelson Brewing Company, which closed in 1956. Bottles from the old brewery still line the windows of the new brewery’s reception area.
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The Nelson Brewing Company building
<P>The brewery sells five main brands: the roasty, bottle-conditioned Blackheart Oatmeal Stout, the Cascadey Paddywhack IPA, Wild Honey Ale, Old Brewery Ale and Nelson After Dark (one of several strong milds in BC that don’t actually call themselves milds). These are sometimes available cask-conditioned at festivals and cask nights held at local pubs. An espresso stout is occasionally produced for a local coffee shop. For winter, there is also Faceplant Efficient Ale, a 6.5%er brewed with brown sugar and molasses.
<P>One oft the most impressive things about Nelson is the local support the town gives the brewery. I’ve been to a lot of small town breweries and what I’ve seen and heard has dismayed me. Breweries are frequently pointing out that they sell little product locally, and usually rely on the big city for their survival. I’ve been to small-town brewpubs where half the patrons are drinking Coors Light. Not here. In a land where Kokanee, Interbrew’s local corn-water, is the beer of choice, it is refreshing to find a place where the best-selling beer is the local micro. Every bar in town has a Nelson tap, most have three or four, and very few establishments have a tap from anybody else. The Heritage Inn, one of the landmark Victorian buildings in town, is one of the biggest sellers of microbrewed beer in the country.
<P>It’s a long way from anywhere, of that I can attest, but in a province scattered with boring small towns, Nelson is a slice of civlization worth the extra effort. And you won’t go thirsty for good beer when you get there.
<P>As a side note: The Oakes Awards will go next week, and I will have some pictures for this article around the same time.
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