Gas stations with a good beer selections and young Asian women drinking flights. It was these two among many, many other moments that made me fall in love with the beer reality in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island. We went to British Columbia for orcas, trees and coasts and we came back with a serious crush on all things BC.
“Awesome!” It’s a word that is rarely uttered sincerely. We heard the word at a gas station in Nanaimo, where we picked up a can of beer to enjoy on the hike we were about to do. “That’s all for you?” – “Yes, just a small beer for the hike.” – “Awesome!” said the guy behind the counter, who’s kingdom was small, next to a gas station, but had a good craft beer selection and all the bottles and cans were either in the cold room or in fridges. And his smile told us that he actually meant the awesome. And he’s right: Going for a hike and having a can of craft beer is awesome.
We stopped for gas and left with a newfound awe for the beer reality here.
What do you know about BC craft beer?
We probably should have or could have known how amazing the beer “scene” is in the Southwest corner of British Columbia. But apparently we are reading the wrong publications. At the same time, what do you know about the Canadian beer scene? Here in Europe we are familiar with Dieu Du Ciel, La Trou Du Diable and Mondiale De La Biere – all from the French part of Canada. The only BC-beer I consciously registered was the odd Steamworks offering that due to its long transport time was usually aged to shit by the time it arrived here. A quick research shows me that no Canadian brewery attending this year’s Great Britsh Beer Festival or Mikkeller Beer Celebration and at Beavertown’s Extravaganza there were “only” Toronto’s Bellwoods and Montreals Dieu Du Ciel. Only few Canadian beers were available at Beergium and none at Beer Merchants.
British Columbia craft beer is practically a terra incognita.
Craft beer is part of the “general counscousness”
So here’s what we didn’t know. Back in 2014, craft beer had 21% of the beer market in British Columbia. The metropolitan area of Vancouver has a guestimated 40 breweries, craft beer in Vancouver, so writes Joe Wiebe in his book “Craft Beer Revolution” is part of the “general consciousness”. Craft beer in other words is part of everyday life, it’s normal, it’s everywhere and because of that, people don’t have any reticence. Which takes me to the second epitome moment mentioned above and which happened at 33 Acres: Their beer lounge (which is what they call these kinds of taprooms) is very white, was full on a Wednesday night and the audience looked international and between twenty and fifty years old. And on stools at the window, two Asian women of roughly 24 years, drank flights. This scene was so far removed from any beer-nerdism, it was “awesome”! This is what it means when craft beer is part of the “common conscious”: Drinking a flight of craft beer or getting a growler is just something you, anybody, will do. How amazing is that!?
Due to the shear abundance of options, this post cannot be a complete guide to the beer offerings in Vancouver (i.e Craft Beer Central) and on Vancouver Islands with Victoria (i.e. Craft Beer Capital). Besides, we had coasts to hike, orcas to see, bears to avoid and be awestruck by the beauty of the land. Therefore, if you want to go deeper or go there, a good start is the website of the BC Ale Trail, an organization that offers itineraries for activities that eventually lead to beer. It’s a very well done website, with great videos and even though we didn’t do any of the trips exactly as described, it helped us find our ways. All other information that you’ll need is only a google search away, so google away. However, if you do plan to go, a) here are some pointers and b) take us with you. We cannot wait to go back!
We went to more than 20 breweries and brewpubs (and had to skip several we would have loved to go to), so we cannot write a blurb about all of them. While many of the breweries are outside of cities (particularly on Vancouver Island), East Vancouver has around 20 breweries in walking distance of each other, if you have that kind of constitution. We’ve done a crawl of 7 and it took us from 13.00 to about 20.00. It was great though! There’s blogposts about the crawl as well as a leaflet available in hotels, so beer is also a tourism thing.
Of all the breweries we visited, here are some stand-outs:
- Four Winds Brewing Co.: Our favorite of the trip. Great beer of various styles, all good and some a bit outside the “norm”. And the best friggin’ tacos ever!
- Parallel 49 Brewing Company: Great location with a food truck inside the building. Also mind-blowing amount of own beers and guest beers. Could have stayed for hours.
- Riot Brewing Co.: A newcomer to the scene that did one of the most impressive beers we had on our trip: Breakfast of Champions, a Coffee Lager.
- Storm Brewing: You only get “samples” in a plastic cup – i.e. no “proper” taproom – and the equipment looks old. Was one of the early breweries founded, back in 1994. Does very tasty beers in a gritty environment. Feel off the beaten track, but also a bit like the “brewery the revolution forgot”.
- White Sails Brewing: The building looks amazing and the beers were among the most tasty we’ve had. But also one of the worst offenders when it comes to serving the beers too cold.
Furthermore, we also visited: 4 Mile Brewing Co., 33 Acres Brewing Company, Andina Brewing Company, Bomber Brewing, Brassneck Brewery, CANOE Brewpub, Forbidden Brewing Co., Gladstone Brewing Co., Granville Island Brewing, Longwood Brewery (production location), Luppolo Brewing Company, Main Street Brewing Company, Phillips Brewing Co., Postmark Brewing, Powell Street Craft Brewery, Steamworks Brewing Co. (brewpub location), Strange Fellows Brewing, Wolf Brewing Company, Yaletown Brewing Company
Beer is popular in BC, therefore you’ll not be the only one trying to get it. There were several places we skipped (Alibi Room, Craft Beer Market and Taps & Barrel Olympic Village), because the wait for a table was up to 45 minutes; or we were not let in the door, because the place was “filled to capacity” (Swans Brewery). Here’s where we did go though:
- Darby’s Gastown: A weird beast, because it has a great beer list, but awful lighting and is in an awful neighborhood – Vancouver has a drug problem and this is where the addicts congregate. This had, however, also one of the friendliest barkeepers who enjoyed us being interested in the beer, while the “woo girls” were woo-ing away in the corner.
- Six Acres: Either at the end or in the middle of the Gastown district, which is where every tourist guidebook sends you. Tiny place that oozes authenticity. It’s rather hipster, but you’re just as likely to sit next to a couple of 60+ that stumbled off a cruise ship. Good beer selection and good food.
- Tap Shack Burrard Bridge: Tiny place that’s at a perfect location once completing the Stanley Park stretch of the seawall hike. It offers a nice view, a good beer list with local offerings that you can also sample in a flight.
- Tap & Barrel Canada Place: If you’re lucky as we were, you get a seat overlooking the seaplane terminal, i.e. you get the frontier vibe with planes coming and going. Food is okay, list of beers is local and varied and can be sampled in a flight.
- The Drake Eatery: A legend in Victoria and the only place we drank non-BC-beers, as there was a Greenflash and Alpine tap-takeover. We hear the food is good too. There are bars in town with more taps, but this has around 40 and even if you do flights, you’re not going to drink all of them.
Grocery stores don’t sell alcohol, so you need to go to liquor stores and there’s plenty of them, some run by the government, some independent and one is even advertised on the ferry between Horseshoe Bay and Nanaimo. As beer was readily available when eating out, we had little need for store bought beers and thus didn’t visit many liquor stores. Here are three we visited:
- Lucky Liquor in Nanaimo: Huge and overwhelming. Not too many singles, apart from bombers. Not all in fridges. Also a few international options (in general it was impressive how few international options there were – we would have thought there’d be more US beers considering how close it is).
- Steamworks liquor store: They not only sell their own, but also plenty of beers from Canada and even some international ones. Partially in fridges, some even behind dark glass. Gave the impression of having some rarer options and many singles.
- Vancouver Island Liquor: This is where the “awesome” happened, and as far as we can tell, this doesn’t even have a website.
General likes and dislikes
- Low ABV-beers are the norm. At Parallel 49, only 7 out of the 29 beers on tap were above 6 ABV. We have had several great Session IPAs, a style I usually avoid like the plague.
- Level of professionalism and care that is shown in the beer labels and the architecture and interior designs of the breweries and bars. Craft beer is not some amateur industry, but one that shows respect via its appearance.
- Too many of the beers were served too damn cold. This was a common theme throughout all the visits and made us hug our glasses more often than not.
- There were too many places we went to with fruit flies buzzing about. Considering what fruit flies are a sign of, they stand in ginormous contrast to the general appearance of the operations.