Timing is everything when it comes to getting a true sense of Tofino. Located on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island, BC, the former fur trading and logging village has a population just shy of 2,000 residents. Yet the surfing mecca sees more than one million visitors each year—most via a five-hour car and ferry trip from Vancouver. It’s easy to see how some of Tofino’s wild nature could get lost in the hum of peak tourist season in the summer.
Speaking of nature, one of the best ways to get a taste of Tofino is through its food scene—but even moreso in its cocktail scene. Our advice? Go in the off-season (right now!) and seek out these places, all of which which make their drinks with foraged ingredients and local hooch. Each sip evokes an undeniable sense of place, and a deeper, more delicious understanding of this coastal refuge at the end of the world.
Wolf in The Fog
Bar Manager Hailey Pasemko crafts a modern riff on the Manhattan, called Jamie’s Tears. Her take uses Irish whiskey, swaps out the vermouth for Pineau des Charentes (a sweet nutty dessert wine from France), adds house-made oaked bitters and a few drops of ocean water collected from nearby Chesterman Beach. The cocktail stems from an inside joke: One gal on the kitchen staff, Jamie, claims she never cries, so the salt water is said to represent her unshed tears.
For The Angler, Pasemko infuses vodka with smoked locally caught wild salmon via a process known as "fat washing." After the fish has been hot smoked, it goes into the vodka and straight to the fridge for a few days. Then it’s frozen to remove any residual oils and passed through a paper filter to create a clear, smoked salmony vodka. Pasemko describes the cocktail as a breakfast drink, which includes ginger, maple, and orange juice. It's her answer to the bacon infusion trend that’s hot in the cocktail scene. "It reminds me of the ’everything’ bite at brunch—when you have smoky bacon, maple syrup and pancakes all in one bite—and then wash it down with some fresh orange juice," she says.
150 4 St, Tofino, BC, Canada, (250) 725-9653; wolfinthefog.com
Tofino Brewing Company
At Tofino Brewing Company, 10 pounds of bull kelp goes into each batch of its Kelp Stout. The kelp is hand-harvested from Barkley Sound, an area south of Tofino that encompasses Ucluelet, the Broken Group Islands and the surrounding area. The original plan was to brew an Oyster Stout, but Dave, one of the owners, is deathly allergic to shellfish. So they mulled over alternatives and arrived at a different sea-inspired compromise. The dark, rich brew came in 3rd in the “Spice/Herb/Veg” category at the BC Beer Awards 2015. Tofino Brewing Company’s Spruce Tree Ale, a spring seasonal that uses locally-foraged Sitka Spruce Tips, took first place in the same category.
Industrial Way, Tofino, BC, Canada, (250) 725-2899; tofinobrewingco.com
Canada’s answer to the Bloody Mary, the Caesar, is without a doubt one of the country’s most popular cocktails. It’s estimated that more than 350 million Caesars are consumed by Canadians every year. What sets this version apart from its American mate is the addition of clam broth or Clamato. Schooner’s ups the ante with its Admirals Caesar, garnished with a bacon-wrapped scallop (caught on the east side of Vancouver Island), a grilled local spot prawn (fished from Tofino Inlet) and garlic toast. Since spot prawn season is short and sweet (March to June), local oysters are subbed in when necessary.
331 Campbell Street, Tofino, BC, Canada, (250) 725-3444
The Pointe Restaurant at Wickaninnish Inn
In Tofino, temperate old-growth rainforests meet the Pacific Coast. Spruce, Hemlock and Cedar are a few of the towering beauties that grace the area. At the luxe Wickaninnish Inn, local wood inspires its “Feather George” cocktail. Named for the Inn’s current wood carver in residence, "Feather" George Yearsley, the drink features cedar-infused rye whisky, sweet vermouth, Abricot de Roussillon, a Mezcal rinse and orange bitters.
500 Osprey Lane, Tofino, BC, Canada, (250) 725-3100; wickinn.com
Rhino Coffee House
Tofino Brewing Company beer makes an appearance at Rhino Coffee House in several of its donuts. (Okay, so this is technically not a drink, but it uses a local brew in the recipe.) The inspiration? Owner Duane Bell’s father. "My dad had always talked about these beer donuts he used to have in Toronto, so I worked with my baker to develop these recipes," says Bell. Beer gives a wonderful not-too-sweet flavor to their cinnamon sugar, old fashioned and sour cream glazed varieties.
In keeping things local, Rhino Coffee House also has a “Hall of Fame” line of donuts named for outstanding volunteers in the community. For example, the Josie, a vegan jelly donut, is named for Tofino’s mayor Josie Osborne, who’s, yep, a vegan.
430 Campbell Street, Tofino, BC, Canada, (250) 725-2558; rhinocoffeehouse.com
Ice House Oyster Bar
This Dark and Stormy/Moscow Mule mash-up—the Cider Mule—is made with Rumrunner cider from Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse, fresh lime, housemade ginger syrup and vodka. After tasting five different ciders from the Vancouver Island cidery, members of the staff remarked that the Rumrunner had lovely notes of caramel and molasses, flavors typically linked with good rum. A twist on the original was born, perfect for kicking back on sunny days on the Ice House deck.
81 West Street, Tofino, BC, Canada, (250) 725-4239; icehousetofino.ca