To celebrate Vancouver Craft Beer Week (May 30 to June 7), The Dish soaks up the local suds scene.
In case you hadn't heard, British Columbia's craft brewing industry is booming. Early last year, as part of the provincial liquor law overhaul, brewers were given permission to operate on-site tasting lounges. As the numbers attest, this additional source of income has been invaluable to helping small brewers get off the ground.
In 2013, 10 new microbreweries opened across the province. This year is expected to bring 22 new breweries, at least 13 of which will be in Metro Vancouver (about six have opened already). Many are nano-brewers – tiny neighbourhood breweries (see Powell Street and Brassneck below) that sell exclusively from their own tap rooms.
You could take a bus tour. Two new companies – vancouverbrewerytours.com, wildsidevancouver.com – have kick-started a beer tourism business. But one of the more delightful (unanticipated) developments is that in Vancouver, the microbreweries have sprouted in two neighbourhood clusters.
Walking around the East End, you barely shake a reusable glass growler without stumbling into a tasting room. Thus we present these two self-guided walking tours.
2148 Main St., Vancouver; 604-259-7686.
Owners Nigel and Raya Springthorpe are the godparents of the local craft beer craze. Eight years ago, they opened the Alibi Room and took a gamble by selling only local and imported craft beer kegs and casks. Even though provincial regulations now allow breweries to serve their beer in a commonly owned bar, you'll have to go to Brassneck to taste their new brews. This cozy timber-lined tasting room has become so popular they brew fast enough to share with their sister restaurant.
Drink: Head brewer Conrad Gmoser was once best known for his pilsner, winning multiple awards during his 16 years at Steamworks. But you can't define him these days. Since the opening in September, he's brewed more than 50 types of beer. Although the dry-hopped Passive Aggressive pale ale is Brassneck's best seller, you must try his excellent small-batch sours. Go now before the eccentric dill-and-lemon-drop-flavoured Shogun runs out.
Eat: As with almost every tasting room, you can buy pepperoni sticks at the bar (these ones are from Oyama). But one of the coolest trends among these small brewery tasting lounges is that they're almost all teaming with food trucks. Here you'll find a different one parked outside every night. Simply order your food outside, then head inside (if you can find a seat) and grab a beer.
33 Acres Brewing Co.
15 W. 8th Ave., Vancouver; 604-620-4589.
Cute as a white-walled Scandinavian café, this preppy hipster brewery is Vancouver's most stylish, multipurpose tasting lounge. Not in the mood for beer? Take a seat at the steel-topped communal table and order a kombucha or pour-over Matchstick coffee.
Drink: David Varga, formerly of Red Truck, fills the five taps with round, accessible West Coast brews and European oddities. Start with the deceptively light 33 Acres of Life, a dark amber California common (steam ale) or the flagship 33 Acres of Ocean, a hop-forward West Coast Pale Ale. But do try the rotating seasonals, which currently include a peppery saison named after cyclist Eddy Merckx, a refreshingly dry French blanche and a curiously candied roggen made from Bavarian rye.
Eat: The in-house kitchen offers an extensive array of snacks, all procured locally. Try the charcuterie board with Oyama smoked bison prosciutto and sourdough bread from Nelson the Seagull, or Earnest Ice Cream's chocolate malt made from wort. Beer-infused waffles are available for weekend brunch. A different food truck parks outside every day for lunch and dinner. And starting this Sunday, Big Lou's Butcher Shop will fire up a weekly barbecue from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Main Street Brewing Company
261 E. 7th Ave., Vancouver;
When it opens next week (fingers crossed), this heritage building will stand as the most stunning brewery around. Housed in the Doering and Marstrand Brewery Garage, it's a rare example of Mission Revival style architecture. Owners Cameron Forsyth (Portland Craft) and Nigel Pike (The Cascade Room, et al) have partnered with Evoke Design to showcase the building's cathedral ceilings and original bones with cheery sunroof windows, distressed timber and exposed brick.
Drink: Jack Bensley, formerly of Russell Brewing, will rotate four casks hooked up to an old-school British beer engine that really sets this room apart. Look for some rare Australian hop varieties not commonly seen in these parts.
Eat: For now, the plan is to keep the kitchen simple with jerky, house-made pickles and popcorn.
Also in this neighbourhood:
R&B Brewing Co., 100-54 E. 4th Ave., Vancouver; 604-874-2537.
R-and-b.com Red Truck Brewing Co. (Opening Soon), 295 E. 1st Ave., Vancouver; redtruckbeer.com
Steel Toad Brew Pub (Opening Soon), 97 E. 2nd Ave., Vancouver. Steeltoad.ca
1488 Adanac St., Vancouver; 604-428-7457.
Opened in February, this busy brewery with onsite canning facilities is owned by Don Farion and Dean Mallel of BierCraft Restaurants and Incendio Pizzeria. The tiny, dark tasting bar, which overlooks the beer tanks, usually has a lineup out the door on weekends. Expect it to get even busier during the World Cup, when the games will be shown on a large projection screen.
Drink: Mr. Farion, an award-winning home brewer and certified cicerone, keeps his three flagships – pilsner, ESB and a mellow IPA – on tap year-round. His malt-forward merzen and creamy BierCraft blonde have become cult favourites that are harder to find.
Eat: Three Rivers pepperoni sticks, mixed nuts, olives and house-made chips. Food trucks occasionally park outside in the evenings. On weekends, Biercraft provides soup and panini platters.
Powell Street Craft Brewery
1830 Powell St., Vancouver; 604-558-2537.
The tiniest of Vancouver's nano-breweries is about to get five times bigger. Owned by husband-and-wife team David Bowkett and Nicole Stefanopoulos, Powell Street will move into a new facility four blocks down the road in July. They still plan to keep it simple with small, handcrafted batches. But a new tasting lounge licence will allow them to serve more than one glass to each customer a day.
Drink: Old Jalopey Pale Ale was named Beer of the Year at the 2013 Canadian Brewing Awards. The new White IPA, with tropical aromas and a seductive balance of coriander and orange peel notes, could definitely be another contender if it weren't just a seasonal.
Also in this neighbourhood:
Coal Harbour Brewing, 1967 Triumph St., Vancouver; 604-215-7471. Coalharbourbrewing.com
Parallel 49 Brewing Co., 1950 Triumph St., Vancouver; 604-558-2739. Parallel49brewing.com
Storm Brewing Ltd., 310 Commercial Dr., Vancouver; 604-255-9119. Stormbrewing.org