On solo trips through Europe, the United States, and other parts of Canada, she’s found the best way to gain an appreciation for the flavour of a new city or country is by sampling their suds.
“The easiest way for me to get out and see it was to look up brewery tours or craft beer tours in the area,” says Walters, who was born in B.C. but lived her formative years between Paradise and Marystown.
“I loved it because you get to meet 12 or 15 new people, find out their stories in addition to drinking the beer being produced in the area and learning about the history and culture.”
Last Christmas, Walters, an outgoing and affable sort, engaged in a conversation with some visitors from Ontario over pints at a George Street pub. Impressed by the number of craft beer options available and Walters’ intimate knowledge of local breweries, the visitors suggested she do it for a living.
It wasn’t long before the idea began fermenting in the back of her mind.
“I really thought to myself, ‘how do we live in St. John’s, we drink the second-largest amount of beer in Canada and we have nothing here in terms of a cultural experience that celebrates the beer that we make and are known for here and our drinking culture other than Screech-ins and we do that really well.’”
Six months later, Walters is set to entertain and educate her first group of guests this weekend through her company St. John’s Beer Tours.
“What I’ve ended up with is different from what I set out to do, but it’s for the best. I’m so pleased with how it’s all panned out
“It’s looking to be a very fun and exciting summer.”
Pulling out all the hops
Through partnerships with local breweries and businesses, Walters has designed four tour packages, all for a nominal fee, and each offering a different experience.
The Ultimate Brew Tour, for example, starts at Yellowbelly Brewery for a sampling, proceeds to The Fifth Ticket for samples of Port Rexton Brewing Co. and Quidi Vidi Brewery products, and concludes with a trip to the Mill Street Brew Pub for another final round.
There’s also an optional Screech-in performed by Brian Day, who’s made a name for himself at Christian’s Bar.
Another tour, called the Scuff and Scoff in QV, involves an afternoon touring Quidi Vidi Village and ends with a tour and tasting at the brewery, and guaranteed access to it popular kitchen party. The scoff portion comes from the Jewish Deli.
There’s also a tour, which involves a trip to Jack Axes followed by sampling at Mill Street.
“There’s a lot involved,” admits Walters. “There’s going to be the walking tour aspect and everyone at the end gets a Newfoundland beer-drinking certificate to say they’re a beer-drinking pro and there’s always a chance for some dancing.”
Tours are capped at 15 people, which in her experience lends to better experience for guest and tour guide alike.
“That’s the kind of intimacy I want on a tour, that I get to know everybody’s first name at least and where they’re coming from and what their stories are,” says Walters, who will be conducting all the tours. “When you’re drinking beer, it’s always that communal experience where you get to create a new little family.”
And it’s not just beer. In between destinations, Walters will offer a glimpse into St. John’s history and culture, stuff that tour books and GPS-located story-telling apps won’t provide.
“The general history of the place, but also cultural tidbits that you wouldn’t pick up from anybody other than a local,” she says.
Ale’s well that ends well
While Quidi Vidi and Yellowbelly are well-established brands in the province, Walters says with major growth in the craft brew industry over the past few years and more to come, now was the perfect time to tap into the beer tour market.
“The beer industry here is growing exponentially,” says Walters. “Last year we had five, within the next year we’ll have six more.”
On the way are Split Rock Brewing in Twillingate, Bootleg Brewing in Corner Brook, Scud Runner Brewery in Gander, the Dildo Brewing Company, Killick Stone Brewing in Petty Harbour and the Newfoundland Cider Company in Milton. Already off the ground are Pasadena’s Western Newfoundland Brewing and Storm Brewery in Mount Pearl.
Even though all these companies are out to make a unique product and ultimately turn a profit, Walters insists there’s already a strong sense of community in the local brew scene.
“The sense of community that I’m finding in the brewing industry and the craft beer scene, it’s kind of electric. Everyone wants to help out each other. Nobody is cutthroat. I think that’s really unique.”
Walters expects that a number of her beer-loving guests will be out-of-province visitors, but she’s hopeful that Newfoundlanders will give in to beer pressure and learn more about the growing variety of options in their own backyard.
It’s not about immediately converting them from their preferred brown-bottled brew, but about opening their eyes and taste buds to something new.
“If there’s anything Newfoundlanders are good at it, it’s supporting the things from Newfoundland, that’s why I see this doing very well.
“We are very proud of who we are and proud of what we produce and wanting to support that.”
You can learn more about Walters’ pursuit of hoppiness at stjohnsbeertours.com or through its Facebook page.