When you think of the Okanagan Valley, more often than not it conjures up an image of rows of vineyards, stunning blue lakes and sweeping vistas. While yes, it’s very true that the Okanagan is home to some of the best Canadian wineries, there’s been an interesting transformation happening behind the scenes leading to a revitalization of the downtown core of Penticton. The source? Not the famed vineyards, but a vibrant craft beer scene.
Craft beer is nothing new to Penticton, it has been around in one form or another for more than 25 years. But, as with many other areas of the province, the boom of craft beer has given rise to a collective set of breweries in the area, a group that has self-labelled themselves as the “Penticton Seven”.
The “seven” happen to be around at a time where Penticton is starting to see a huge influx of new residents, businesses, shops and trendy restaurants. It’s a perfect storm of growth; reasonable cost of living and other factors are enticing younger families out to smaller communities like Penticton, bringing with them the demand for cool places to eat and their refined craft beer palates.
With all this demand, the local industry has never been hotter, no wonder Lonely Planet named Penticton Canada’s craft beer capital.
Meet the Penticton seven
Bad Tattoo Brewing
Bad Tattoo is one of the easiest breweries to find in Penticton, the building stands out and is only a block or so away from the beach. Featuring a large and heated outdoor patio, and an eclectic pizza menu made with their stone pizza oven, it’s a great late night hangout. Doesn’t hurt the beer is good either; their Los Muertos Cerveza Negra has won multiple awards.
Barley Mill Brew Pub
With an old school pub vibe, the Barley Mill is a classic brewpub during a time where everyone strives to be “modern”. Everything is made, and sold, onsite and you definitely should head upstairs to find what might possibly be the most unique brew system in Canada. The tanks sit amongst the tables with equipment and pipes winding and fitting into every possible nook and cranny. It takes talent for a brewmaster to work the way they do here, making their beer even more impressive.
A large part of the reason Penticton is such an inclusive brewery scene is due to Cannery Brewing. Having been around for the better part of two decades, Cannery has deep roots in the community and it shows. Not only is the team here responsible for things like assembling the group together to form the Penticton Ale Trail, but they source all their food as local as possible supporting local farmers along the way. Add this year’s launch of the “Backyard”, an outdoor music/food/drinks gathering place, and you can see why Cannery is so beloved in the community.
Highway 97 Brewing
Highway 97 Brewery Co. was established three years ago by the Kapusty family, and is located right along the highway of its namesake, conveniently in walking distance from the Penticton Ramada (which also happens to have a great craft beer focused bar, the Station Public House).
That will soon change however as after only three years, they’ve outgrown their humble building and will soon be moving to a much bigger facility at 200 Ellis Street – directly across the street from Cannery Brewing. The new location will increase their production capacity, add a kitchen, bring their guest count up to 90 and offer an outdoor patio. Exciting changes are in store for them.
Neighbourhood Brewing Co.
The latest of the “seven” to join the neighbourhood (see what we did there). Neighbourhood Brewing is the brainchild of the founders of Port Moody’s Yellow Dog, in an effort to spend more time in a community they love. This brewery will make a BIG impact to the scene; seating an enormous amount of drinkers on two floors and outdoor patio. At the time of our visit they were nearing completion and ramping up hiring with the expectation of an open date in November.
Slackwater Brewing opened in 2019, but it already had some serious pedigree behind it. Founder Liam Peyton was extremely familiar with BC’s beer scene, having founded the Whistler Beer Festival and he recruited brewmaster Chris Vandenberg who cut his teeth at Parallel 49, Postmark and Powell Street. They now have a vibrant brewery, kitchen and events space that would shine amongst Vancouver’s best breweries. They also happened to repurpose Penticton’s last remaining night club, cementing craft beer’s dominance in the town.
Tin Whistle Brewing
You wouldn’t know it but Tin Whistle is the oldest brewery of the bunch and has practically been all over the city. Founded back in 1995, Tin Whistle has been family owned and operated since Lorraine Nagy took it over in 1998. The brewery moved into Cannery’s old facility in 2015 when Cannery built their current location, and have been brewing there ever since. It’s the no bullshit kind of brewery in both aesthetic and brewing philosophy, which means the beers really need to shine…and they do.
The Revitalization of Pentincton
It’s a fair assessment to say the wineries of the Okanagan have taken center stage for years. The city of Penticton itself was primarily deemed a “sleepy” retirement community with a fairly dull downtown core. The changes over the last few years are dramatic, and while it can’t all be attributed to the growth of craft beer, there is a correlation that can’t be ignored.
With the exception of a few, the breweries have formed a natural cluster around the north end of downtown, creating a spillover effect to the businesses around. There’s brand new restaurants like The Black Antler and Pizzaria Tratto, trendy coffee shops like Wayne & Freda, neighbourhood favourites like Bench Market, new condo developments, a movie theatre, vintage clothing stores and more. There is a definite community building, and it just so happens to be anchored by the local breweries.
Other communities around BC have seen the same effect. Take Port Moody’s Brewery Row as a prime example. The development of just a handful of breweries in one specific location has led to the influx of thousands of happy drinkers. This then creates a demand for more places to eat, window shop, better transportation choices, etc. Before you know it, you’ve created an area that draws in more than just the casual crowd but people that actually want to put down roots.
The secret seems to lay in the community embracing the change, and Penticton has been very supportive to craft brewers. For years its been the home of the Fest of Ales festival, and this year, the city officially designated Penticton Craft Beer Week.
One thing is for certain, Penticton residents are spoiled with choice. They have a wealth of local wines, spirits, cider, beer, fruit and food and have an enthusiasm for more. It’s an exciting time to watch Penticton grow and has evolved into a destination that everyone can enjoy.