Back in November 2019, I stopped at Four Winds Brewing in Delta on my way to give a guest lecture at KPU’s Brewing School. While I was chatting with Brent Mills, Four Winds’ brewmaster, in the tasting room, I asked him what he knew about Barnside Brewing, which I’d heard was going to open nearby. Brent smiled and pointed to a couple of guys sitting in the tasting room nearby. “Ask them,” he said. “They’re the owners.”
I chatted with them for a bit and then drove over to check out the site about 5km away. The brewery wasn’t quite open yet, but it looked like it was going to be a very cool place to visit: a purpose-built barn showcasing century-old beams and wood gathered from heritage barns throughout Delta. Before I continued on my way to KPU, I assured them I’d pop over for a visit when the brewery opened.
Well, we all know what happened next: COVID. As it turned out, that trip late in 2019 was my last time off Vancouver Island for more than 18 months. Throughout the travel lockdown of 2020 I found myself fantasizing about trips I would undertake when pandemic restrictions were eased. I thought it would be fun to cycle between the breweries in Delta, and when I looked it up, I saw it was only about 20km from the Tsawwassen Ferry to Four Winds Brewing. I could ride 45km (there and back plus riding over to Barnside Brewing), no problem.
What about riding from Victoria to Swartz Bay and back, too? That’s a 70km round trip. Could I manage a 115km ride in one day? The first time I ever rode 100km was the 2019 Tour de Victoria. Since then, I have accomplished that feat only twice. The first time was in 2020 when I rode out to Sooke and back in a single day with my friend Mike in place of the cancelled Tour de Vic. (At the end we had to do a few loops around my neighbourhood to get that total up to 100km.) And then earlier this spring, I asked some friends to do a century ride around Victoria and the Saanich Peninsula. Even though I felt fit and in good cycling shape, I really struggled that day — the last 15km were so hard! So maybe 100km is just a natural limit for me?
When the provincial government opened up regional travel restrictions and the forecast called for glorious weather, I gulped back my trepidation and proposed a bike trip to Delta to a few of my cycling pals. They quickly agreed, as did a couple of friends from Vancouver who I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic — they said they’d ride down and meet us there.
At first I thought we’d catch the 11am ferry, but quickly realized that wouldn’t give us much time on the other side. BC Ferries had not added a 10am sailing yet so it would have to be the 9am boat, which would require a 7am departure. That’s early for me, although I know a lot of cyclists love the early morning because the day isn’t too hot yet and the roads are fairly quiet.
When the day arrived, I woke to the early alarm and slurped back some coffee before heading off on my bike with Tom and Mark. We met up with Ryan at the Uptown switch bridge and then set off up the Lochside Trail towards Sidney. I ride with these guys often, and they’re all faster than me, so I was the one who was working the hardest trying to keep up with them. The weather was cooler than forecasted, and when it clouded over and threatened rain, I realized I’d forgotten to bring a jacket! Luckily, apart from a couple of drops, it never rained.
We made it to Swartz Bay by 8:30am. I checked Strava and saw I had beat my personal best for riding to the ferry! I guess the combination of riding with faster guys and the incentive of not wanting to miss the boat acted like a strong wind at my back.
Bacon and eggs on the ferry never tasted so good. More coffee too! The boat ran on time and we docked at Tsawwassen shortly after 10:30. Just before we disembarked my phone beeped — there was a photo of my friends Shawn and Eric, my friends from Vancouver, halfway across the Alex Fraser Bridge!
Soon enough, though, we left the highway behind, heading north right after the Tsawwassen Mills Outlet Mall. The route took us through some picturesque farms into the pretty town of Ladner. At River Road we turned right and eventually joined a trail along the river. Although not fully divided for cyclists and pedestrians it served us well. The best part was the cool underpass that took us under Highway 99 just south of Deas Island and the Massey Tunnel.
It was right around then that Shawn and Eric texted a photo of themselves drinking a beer at Four Winds. They’d beaten us there! Well, they had no ferry schedule to contend with, after all. Anyway, that was incentive for us to stop lollygagging and start pedalling harder.
We followed the Millennium Trail along the river on the east side of the highway, part of which was still under construction or maybe being updated, which took us almost all the way to Four Winds. The last stretch was back on River Road, now a fairly busy thoroughfare, but it had a painted bike lane, at least.
Arriving at Four Winds Brewing felt triumphant! The brewery has long been a favourite of mine, both for the quality of their beers as well as the friends I have made among the family that owns it. It was founded by brewmaster Brent Mills along with his brothers Adam and Sean and their dad, Greg, back in 2013. Since then, Four Winds has won numerous awards, including Brewery of the Year and Beer of the Year at the Canadian Brewing Awards. Sadly, Greg Mills passed away last year — they named a special beer in his honour: Greg IPA.
My friends and I ordered some beer and Four Winds’ famous tacos, and settled ourselves in the tented patio in the parking lot in front of the brewery, which is located in a light industrial complex in Tilbury. The weather was sunny and warm, the beer and food were delicious, and we had completed the first stage of an epic bike ride. Needless to say, we all had big grins on our faces.
[photo: Four Winds Friends2]
For my friends from Vancouver, the main challenge getting there was the Massey Tunnel, which connects Richmond and Delta on busy Highway 99. Although there is a shuttle that takes cyclists through the tunnel, it runs on a fairly occasional schedule, so they decided to take another route that ran through New Westminster and over the Alex Fraser Bridge (32km).
After sampling a few of the beers at Four Winds and filling up on tacos, we got back on our bikes and headed towards Barnside Brewing. Unfortunately, the first route google recommended took us to a dead end. The cross street it said was there turned out to be a farm lane that was blocked off and marked as Private. Oh well, that wasted about half an hour in total, but that was why we took the early ferry after all: to ensure we had more than enough time to visit each brewery.
The proper route took us through some very pretty farm country. It was a short ride, but very pleasant apart from a headwind and the rather strong odour of manure, which happily disappeared when we reached the brewery.
At first, Barnside Brewing seemed so busy that we were worried we might not be able to get a spot on their patio! There were lots of other bicycles already parked there along with a bunch of cars in the parking lot. As it turned out, we only had to wait about 15 minutes before a picnic table opened up.
Founded by four neighbouring farming families who grew hops and barley, along with other crops like cranberries, Barnside Brewing opened early in 2020. Barnside brews exclusively with its own farm-grown hops, and also uses its own barley as its base malt. Custom malting on a small scale is very challenging, so it still has to buy most of its specialty malts from elsewhere.
The brewery also uses cranberries and other produce grown on its farms, and if they don’t grow an ingredient themselves, chances are they are collaborating with another local farmer to obtain what they need.
Barnside Brewing also has a tasting room kitchen featuring hearty, healthy farm fare. Even though we’d already stuffed ourselves with tacos at Four Winds, we still managed to squeeze in some delicious baked pretzels. The beers we tried at Barnside were tasty, and the setting was very comfortable, but soon we had to get back on our bikes and begin the long journey home. By now we were all referring to this bike ride as “The First Annual” so when we bade farewell to our Vancouver friends, it was with a promise to do it again next year!
The ride home to Victoria was less exciting, I’ll admit. After all, there weren’t any more breweries to visit and we already had about 60km under our pedals! We decided to take a different route back to the ferry towards the city of Tsawwassen. Unfortunately, we faced a stiff headwind that took away from the pleasures of riding on a quiet, flat country road through farmland. Eventually, we were back on the ferry causeway, this time heading towards the boat that would take us home.
Burgers and fries for dinner on the ferry felt well deserved, and then my companions promptly began snoozing in their seats. I’m not a napper, but my eyes closed for a little while. Soon enough, we were docking at Swartz Bay again and getting back on our bikes for one more long ride home. I was a little grumpy at first. My saddle was rather sore by this time and my body was tired, but once we got moving, the warmth of the early evening sunshine energized me, and I honestly enjoyed the ride home.
We could have stopped at a brewery on the way home, of course. Both Howl Brewing and Category 12 are located on the Saanich Peninsula not too far off the Lochside Trail (and, exciting news, look for Beacon brewing to open in downtown Sidney later this summer!), but it had been a long day already and none of us wanted to stay out after dark.
Ultimately, I made it home about half an hour earlier than I’d expected. It was a very satisfying day — it felt great to check something off my post-pandemic bucket list, and I am already looking forward to doing it again next year.