You know when you discover something new about a person you’ve known a long time, something that radically changes the way you view them? Secret talents, long-forgotten epic travels, famous grandparents—something that inspires a perspective shift so that you’re suddenly looking again, looking closer at this familiar old friend, who suddenly seems just a little bit…exotic. Nuanced. Evocatively complex. Definitely more interesting.
So, I don’t have a friend like this. (Do you? Because if so—awesome. Love it when that happens.)
What I have is a town like this. A town I’ve lived in for more than five years, that I thought I’d pretty much figured out. And now it goes and shows me stuff I didn’t even know it had. I was recently offered the chance to participate in a food tour organized by Vancouver Island Expeditions—a tour of local food and beverage creators that, as I’ve said, were not on my mental map of This Is Nanaimo.
You might think I’d much sooner take part in a bakery tour than one that heavily involved alcohol (see here for evidence). Truthfully, alcohol’s just not my thing. Unless. Unless it’s just a taste. I do love a little taste of what’s going on. DH loves doing wine tours with me because I’ll happily participate in the tasting but hand him the majority of my glass (and be the DD—win-win). I’m also fascinated by processes (Scribbles into stories! Milk, cream and sugar into ice cream! Babies into children!) and so the transforming of ordinary ingredients into extraordinary alcoholic concoctions is up there on my list, even if I’m not going to take more than a sip.
First up: Arbutus Distillery. Can I just say: stills are gorgeous apparatuses. Apparati? Proper grammar aside, the coppery towers, faintly reminiscent of Vernesque submarines, practically begged to be photographed. Once I got over my photo lust, the malted grain was passed around to sample—surprisingly sweet and nutty—and we got to sip the distillery’s current flight of products—gin, vodka and absinthe. My favourite was the gin—not your usual customer, but something they call West Coast style gin. Just reading their tasting notes makes me swoon a little: “Robust citrus tones upfront, with prominent juniper and coriander back-bone. Light pepper and lavender on the back end.”
Longwood Brewery is the sister operation of Longwood Brew Pub, which is the place I’m familiar with—burgers, fries, sandwiches: done. The cheeky thing about the brewery is they have beers the pub doesn’t (and, actually, vice versa), so for those who find and frequent the back-of-nowhere location of the brewery, treats are, literally, in store. Here we tried everything from a raspberry ale to ginger-ginseng cream ale to a coffee-influenced stout. This is also where we received a brief education in the intricacies of brewing wheat beers and a lesson on how beer cans are put together. Yes: riveting stuff. (But maybe not so punny.) The raspberry ale was a standout for me because of its raspberry flavor, complementing the beer with fruit tones but not adding sweetness.
Next stop was St. Jean’s Cannery, a fixture of Vancouver Island and the largest salmon cannery in Southern BC. Best part: the window into the canning room, bustling with workers weighing salmon in tins and cutting choice cuts from filets. Less of an assembly line and more of an…open concept office that processes fish. They also can local oysters, tuna, chanterelle mushrooms—and they smoke these things as well, to which I say: Hallelujah. The smoked tuna alone was habit-forming. Also, the fact that their tourist room is built in the shape of a giant tin can, well, there are puns coming to mind, but I will resist for your benefit. You’re welcome.
(Photo credit: www.stjeans.com)
Our last stop was Wolf Brewery, in its current incarnation fairly new to the Nanaimo craft brewing scene. Their beers are varied, nuanced and interesting. They’re especially interesting if you hang out in the tasting room for a while and ask a million questions of the brewmaster like I do. Poor guy. The winner for me here was a seasonal beer that makes the brewery zero money because it’s so expensive to produce. By definition, then, it’s a for-the-love-of-it brewer’s beer. They call is Cerberus, after the three-headed dog of Hades, and it’s triple-hopped, so on the bitter side. But floral and citrusy and refreshing in that way hoppy beers are. In other words, rewarding.
The exactitude and passion of all the creators on this tour was inspiring, but it also refreshed my perspective on this town I thought I knew. This place in which I buy groceries and ferry kids around and live a life that clearly doesn’t include enough of these wonderful, creative enterprises that are popping up around me. Now to find out what else I’ve been missing…