As you make your way across Canada, on your Canadian train vacation, there are plenty of ways to immerse yourself in the local scene — and there is no better way than over a pint of craft beer. If you love beer, Canada is a paradise of craft beer styles and creative flavours, where you can have fun broadening your palate. Even if you're a beer novice, you’ll love the opportunity to learn and discover.
Here are some of the best local craft breweries across Canada.
Craft Breweries in Halifax
Beer lovers on a Canadian train trip through the Maritimes will find more than 50 breweries in operation in Nova Scotia. The Garrison Brewing Company, in the provincal capital of Halifax, is one of the best and has been serving small-batch brews since 1997, back when craft brewing was in its infancy. As Garrison’s popularity and offerings grew, the brewery moved to larger premises but always at the Halifax seaport: in fact, “100% Seaport Brewed” is a point of pride at Garrison. Seating is available inside year-round and on the patio in the summer at their brewhouse located in a former CN Rail repair building — making it the perfect fit for your rail vacation. Try Tall Ship, their premium East Coast ale made with Willamette hops and carastan and pale malt, or Pucker Up, their tart, kettle-soured ale made with pomegranate, hibiscus, rosehips and cranberry.
Nine Locks Brewing another Halifax place to check out. Shaun O’Hearn, president and co-founder of Nine Locks Brewing Company, is a long-time restaurateur and you’ll find all the Nine Locks brews on the menu at Your Father’s Moustache. Try the crisp Dirty Blonde, a North American-style Weizen brewed with Canadian wheat and barley, or the Frig Off East Coast IPA, with its light bitterness and huge citrus and tropical hop flavour.
Craft Breweries in Montreal
Montreal, in the province of Quebec, is considered a foodie destination and has several breweries to enjoy while you're exploring Eastern Canada by train. It is home to the famous Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel makers of beer you’ll find on menus and in shops all over Quebec and beyond. Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel is also renowned for food and ambience. The substantial beer menu changes seasonally, with about 20 brews available at a time. Top choices include Lazar Lager and Limonade Poivrée, a refreshing sour. Péché Mortel, a deep, dark coffee stout, has been a fan favourite since 2001 while the Munich-style Hélium lager has been refreshing for a decade. Other Dieu Du Ciel classics include Blanche du Paradis, a Belgian-inspired wheat beer, and Disco Soleil, described as “a taste of liquid summer sunshine."
Another Montreal option is Brasseurs RJ, which started brewing in 1988 and recently opened Quartiers Belle Gueule Pub & Terrace in the heart of Plateau Mont-Royal. Here, you can enjoy a fine meal alongside the outstanding creations of master brewer Jan-Philippe Barbeau. Must-tries include Belle Gueule Originale, the first lager micro-brewed in Quebec; Belle Gueule Pilsner, a unique blonde lager brewed in the Czech tradition; and No. 1 NEIPA, a well-rounded fruity New England IPA.
Craft Breweries in Quebec City
A Canadian train vacation in Eastern Canada also takes you to Quebec City. In the heart of downtown Quebec City, a 10-minute walk from Old Town, Saint-Roch is a lively neighbourhood with an eclectic mix of boutiques, cafés, restaurants, and craft breweries. Check out Noctem Artisan Brasseurs’ Saint-Roch Pub, with its lovely food menu and lineup of cat-themed craft brews: Catnip IPA, Un Chat Un Chat double IPA, Calaca lime-guava gose, and Serenity Czech-style pilsner.
Another Saint-Roch spot is La Barberie, a work cooperative that’s been brewing since 1997. Try Palampam-Plemousse, a refreshing gose, or Mae West, a stout named after a pastry invented in Quebec City in the 1940s. Gigafruits Raptor is a thirst-quenching berry sour that also comes in a “slush” version. Food at La Barberie is by La Bourrache and features a delectable mix of beer-friendly choices.
Not far away, in Saint-Sauveur, the Griendel is a bustling neighbourhood brewery with great food and beer. Try Jolly Jumper IPA, a dry fruity session IPA, or Carillon, a thirst-quenching Belgian white. Prospero is a strong, bitter foreign export stout and L’Heure En Fraiche is a Bohemian pilsner.
Craft Breweries in Toronto
Toronto, in the province of Ontario, is Canada's biggest city and the starting point for our Canadian Cross Country train trip. Here, craft brewery options range from small neighbourhood operations and brewpubs to big beerhalls and taprooms. Narrowing it down, Bellwoods Brewery has been top pick among craft brew aficionados since 2012. The tables indoors and outdoors are usually packed but well worth the wait. Sip on a Jelly King, a dry hopped sour ale that comes in regular (think tangerine and grapefruit), as well as seasonal versions like raspberry peach or mango, guava and passionfruit. Brettal Head is a pale ale aged in a foeder — a big oak barrel — where this fully fermented, very dry hopped beer undergoes refermentation. IPA fans should try Goblin Sauce or Link Up, both double IPAs. That’s just the beginning of a long list of brews. The knowledgeable staff are happy to offer beer guidance and tell you about their seasonal food menu.
In Toronto’s west end, Indie Ale House is another top spot with a brewhouse and restaurant loved for its gourmet burgers, pizza, and fried chicken. Try the Slings & Arrows, a traditional-style Berliner Weisse aged in first-use Chardonnay barrels, or Grendel’s Revenge, a deep, rich Oude Bruin made from a blend of beers aged in Port and Madeira barrels. Their West Coast IPA and Evoke Cherry Sour are two more favourites at this award-winning brewpub known for being experimental with its brews.
Craft Breweries in Banff
Banff and the Canadian Rockies Explorer is our newest trip, allowing visitors to spend more time experiencing this vibrant mountain town. When someone mentions “The Brewpub” in Banff, locals know that means the Banff Ave. Brewing Co. It is part of the Bearhill Brewing Group, which was founded by three best friends, Brett Ireland, Alexander Derksen, and Socrates Korogonas, who were born and raised in Jasper and wanted to create a beer culture inspired by community. The Jasper Brewing Company in Jasper, Campio Brewing in Edmonton and Last Best Brewing & Distilling in Calgary are also part of the family.
At the Banff Ave. Brewing Co., you can try a long list of Bearhill Brewing Group beers. Sip on Banff Ave Gaia Gruit, an herbal ale brewed in support of the Pink Boots Society of Canada, or Strawberry Basil Sour, created in support of the Avalanche Rescue Dog Society. Their flagship Head Smashed IPA is always a good option, as is the White Wit, their crisp version of a classic Belgian wheat ale. The Brewpub has a taproom and a pub that share a food menu featuring all the expected pub offerings plus a few surprises.
Craft Breweries in Jasper
The other mountain town you will spend time in on a Canadian train vacation in the Rockies is Jasper. The Jasper Brewing Company was founded in 2005 and was the first brewery established by the Bearhill Brewing Group (see Banff above). It was also the first brewery in Canada ever built in a Canadian national park. Since opening, the Jasper Brewing Company has been drawing locals and visitors with its changing lineup of brews and great pub food in one of the most spectacularly beautiful parts of the country. Try the Babe Blueberry Vanilla Ale, featuring Fraser Valley blueberries and a hint of vanilla as balance. Rockhopper, an American-style IPA, is another well-loved choice or try Fire Engine Red Ale, classic Irish red with a deep amber colour and smooth flavour. Brew master Spike Baker’s favourite is their 6060 Stout, a dry Irish stout named after the Bullet Nose Betty steam engine 6060.
Craft Breweries in Vancouver
Vancouver is the start or end point for many of our Canadian train vacations, including the Canadian Cross Canada journey on VIA Rail and the Essential Rockies on the Rocky Mountaineer. Vancouver is a craft beer city and with more than 40 breweries, so it’s pretty tough to choose just one or two. However, Vancouver is also notable for two craft beer “firsts” — and both are must-stops.
Opened in 1984, Granville Island Brewing is Canada’s very first microbrewery. Beer options were limited back then, and Granville Island Brewing was determined to change that by making beer in small batches using high quality, natural ingredients. Try the English Bay Pale Ale, their most popular beer, and the West Coast IPA. In the summer, you can sip on a Peach Sour and in the cooler months, a Lions Winter Ale. Located on Granville Island, one of Vancouver’s top places to visit, Granville Island Brewing is also the perfect place to stop for a meal or a snack.
Steamworks Brewing has been crafting brews and rotating taps for craft beer lovers for more than 25 years. Located in historic Gastown, Steamworks Brewing is known for being Canada’s original steam-powered brewery. Top brew picks include their flagship Hazy Pale Ale and award-winning Heroica Red Ale and Lions Gate Lager. Nitro fans enjoy watching the ripples rise in the Nitro Stout. Then there’s their Pilsner, a crisp simple brew that goes with everything. The menu is yet another reason to pay at visit to this brewery in historic Gastown.
About the author: Carolyn Camilleri is a Contributing Writer with Fresh tracks Canada. A magazine writer and editor since 1996, she loves the discovery that comes from travel. Her work has appeared in several Canadian travel publications, including Where Victoria, Harbour... Read more