Revel-Stoked: Once sleepy mountain town reborn thanks to good food, good drink, and great powder

0
1384

For years, Revelstoke wasn’t much more than a place to fill your tank or pull over to rest for the night on the way to Calgary. You could be forgiven if you never ventured far from the Trans-Canada Highway to explore the town itself. For much of its existence, Revelstoke has been a diesel-soaked blue-collar town, thanks to the CP Rail Yard and the various mills and mines providing local employment.

Revelstoke Mountain Resort, located just a few minutes from downtown, is still one of the underappreciated gems of the B.C. ski and snowboard scene despite boasting the most vertical terrain of any resort in North and South America. Photo by Royce Sihlis

But all that changed with the opening of the Revelstoke Mountain Resort 10 years ago, as the community transformed itself from a resource-focused backwater to a sophisticated mountain destination.

Today, Revelstoke is growing. Long-boarded up heritage buildings are being restored, there’s new restaurants, breweries and distilleries. Meanwhile, increasing numbers of savvy Vancouverites and Calgarians are coming to visit, many of them deciding to stay.

While most come for the snow, it’s only part of the Kootenay town’s newfound appeal.

The beer

Revelstoke has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to craft beer. When Bart and Tracy Larson decided to open Mt. Begbie Brewing Co. in Bart’s hometown back in 1996, craft beer was far from the sure bet it is today, especially in somewhere so remote. But Mt. Begbie’s award-winning beers won the locals over and have inspired a loyal following—it was even named Brewery of the Year at the 2017 Canadian Brewing Awards.

Mt. Begbie Brewing’s new taproom is a great place for some aprés pints and bites. Contributed photo

Two years ago, Mt. Begbie moved to its fancy new digs on the edge of town, overlooking the confluence of the Illecillewaet and Columbia rivers and facing its namesake mountain across the valley. With more space comes more variety, and in addition to Mt. Begbie’s line of core beers, there’s an ever-changing rotation of one-offs and experiments on offer at the tasting room. The mildly tart and floral Narcissus Berliner Weisse (4.5% ABV, 9 IBU) is served in the traditional German manner with your choice of four fruit syrups, while the spicy and malty Our Daily Bread (3.8% ABV, 20 IBU) is made with leftover bread from the Revelstoke Food Recovery Program, with proceeds going to the local food bank and school breakfast program.

The new brewery also has a full-service kitchen, so you can forget the typical tasting room offerings of greasy cheese sticks and desiccated pepperoni. Mt. Begbie has pizzas, tacos, charcuterie and rotating specials, like the delicious pork cutlet with panzanella salad I had during my most recent visit—much needed sustenance after a day on that beast of a mountain.

Heading downtown, I paid a visit to Revelstoke’s newest brewery, Rumpus Beer Co. It’s so new that it’s not even open yet, but owners Fred and Dana Orndorff were kind enough to show me around the cosy storefront tasting room on First Street. The focus here will be wild yeasts, sours, mixed fermentation and farmhouse ales.

“I think a 4% saison is the solution to most problems in life,” says Fred.

Rumpus Beer Co. owner/brewer Fred Orndorff hopes to have his craft brewery in downtown Revelstoke open in the new year. Photo by Rob Mangelsdorf

When it comes to educating the locals about craft beer, much of the credit goes to the Craft Bierhaus. Since it opened in 2015, its 24 taps of B.C. craft beer and cider have been exposing Revelstoke to the wonders of hazy IPAs, barrel-aged sours and Russian imperial stouts. Even on a weeknight in the middle of the off-season, the place is packed with locals getting cosy at the large communal wood tables.

The spirits

Unlike many ski resort towns, Revelstoke doesn’t have that master-planned Disney-esque feel to it. Walking around the historic town centre, past the many small, family-owned businesses, it’s apparent that this has been a hard working community for more than a century. Many of the people who live here have local roots going back generations.

As a result, great respect has been paid to the city’s architectural history.

Jones Distillery’s Mr. Jones Vodka has only been on the market for less than a year but has already earned international accolades. Photo by Rob Mangelsdorf

Take Mr. Jones Distilling, for example. Located in a 104-year-old former elementary school facing the Columbia River, owner Gareth Jones has gone to extraordinary lengths to restore the building to its former glory. The open concept distillery (named for Jones’s rogue-ish father) fills up the west side of the building’s main floor, with high ceilings and impossibly tall windows affording spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. Meanwhile, the east side of the building is home to the newly opened (and appropriately named) Old School Eatery, which serves up “sophisticated comfort food” in case you’ve had one vodka too many.

Despite only having started production in January, Mr. Jones has already picked up a bronze medal for its barley-based vodka at the International SIP Awards, beating out hundreds of other distilleries. Smooth and sweet with a pleasant cereal note, its stands out against most commercial vodkas by actually having some flavour.

“It’s a proper David and Goliath story,” says Jones. And much of the credit for that goes to head distiller Megan Moore.

While the vodka is the only product Mr. Jones currently offers, Moore says a line of gin, including a series of single botanical releases, is in the works.

A few blocks away at Monashee Spirits Craft Distillery on Revelstoke’s main drag of MacKenzie street, owner/distiller Josh McLafferty and bar manager Mike Hallman serve up cocktails made with Monashee’s ever-growing line of certified organic spirits and house-made bitters. Made from organically-grown trinticale—a hybrid of wheat and rye—Monashee’s base spirits have a unique bready spice note to them.

Bartender Mike Hallman prepares a cocktail at Monashee Spirits Craft Distillery. Photo by Rob Mangelsdorf

“Almost everything we use is sourced within 100 miles of here,” says McLafferty. A rooftop apiary supplies the bar with honey, while much of the botanicals used in their sublime Ethos Gin are foraged locally, including the huckleberries, spruce tips, juniper, wildflowers and pine needles.

Hot tip: try the barrel-aged Negroni. Made with Odd Society Bittersweet Vermouth, Woods Amaro and Monashee’s own Ethos Gin, then aged for nine months in a rye barrel and served with a slice of dried blood orange and sprinkled with dehydrated Campari—it might be the best cocktail I’ve had this year.

The food

Since it opened last year, the Quartermaster Eatery has filled an important niche in Revelstoke’s growing restaurant scene—that of hip casual fine dining. The room is tasteful and modern and wouldn’t look out of place in Downtown Vancouver—nor would the menu, featuring maple duck confit drumsticks or vegetarian house-made morel mushroom sausages. There’s even a private bar in the basement where you can sip whisky in the building’s former boiler room.

Quartermaster (Contributed)

If you’re looking for something a little more laid back, the Taco Club is Revelstoke’s answer to Tacofino: the former food truck is all grown-up, having graduated to full sit-down restaurant and bar on MacKenzie Avenue, offering West Coast-inspired Mexican food and cocktails.

The snow

Obviously any trip to Revelstoke should include a few days cutting fresh tracks at Revelstoke Mountain Resort, located just a few minutes from downtown. It’s still one of the underappreciated gems of the B.C. ski and snowboard scene, despite boasting the most vertical terrain of any resort in North and South America. Even on the weekends, the runs are largely uncluttered and lineups are minimal. Thanks to its massive size, the terrain varies wildly depending on what part of the mountain you’re on—as do the conditions—offering something for all skill levels.

If you’re brave enough, finish your day with a leg-burner from the top of the Stoke Chair all the way down to the village, covering all 1,713 metres of vertical terrain over the 15km run. I had to stop twice as my legs had unfortunately turned to jelly, but by the time I reached the base I was in the perfect mood for some après action. And Revelstoke does not disappoint.

The snow is hardly the only reason to visit Revelstoke, however. With so much great food and drink, stunning scenery and charm, you might not find time to hit the slopes at all.

Where to stay

If you’re looking for the classic ski lodge experience, the Coast Hillcrest Hotel is steps away from Mt. Begbie Brewing, with more exposed timber and antlers than you can shake a ski pole at. Hot tub, restaurant, bar, massive fireplace—it’s all here. It’s also the home of Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing, in case you don’t want to share the slopes with anyone else.

For a more contemporary, urban feel, try the Explorers Society Hotel in downtown Revelstoke. This boutique hotel is located right above Quartermaster Eatery and features a roof top hot tub and lounge.

Rob Mangelsdorf was a guest of Tourism Revelstoke.

The Winter 2018 issue of The Growler is out now! You can find B.C.’s favourite craft beer guide at your local brewery, select private liquor stores, and on newsstands across the province.