Beer Travel: Vancouver

Vancouver has long been a hotspot for craft beer in Canada, home to the country’s first prohibition craft brewery back in the 1980s. Unfortunately, British Columbia, the province in which Vancouver is located, has lagged behind compared to the rest of the Pacific Northwest, which also comprises the US states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho as well as Northern California.

But it’s slowly catching up, and is currently experiencing the same rate of growth seen by Portland a decade ago. Today, it’s home to 25 craft breweries, a handful of brewpubs, and an anything-goes type craft beer culture heavily influenced by Vancouver’s relaxed attitude (marijuana is legal here, after all) and an abundance of hops grown in the surrounding regions.

The city is divided in to several neighbourhoods. The one with the highest concentration of craft breweries is East Vancouver, which has affectionately been renamed “Yeast Van”. (Sadly, Vancouverites seemed to have missed an equivalent opportunity to rename Yaletown to “Aletown”, presumably due to a lack of breweries there.)

Although many breweries are within walking distance of one another, there are large gaps between the two major concentrated areas – Yeast Van and Mount Pleasant. So, the best way to get between breweries is either by public transport, or, in true Pacific Northwest hipster style, by bicycle.

Marie Claire Jarratt missed out on picking up the Best Media trophy at the 2019 Australian International Beer awards as she was touring the region, so she's keen to make up for it with a guide to the beers and breweries of Vancouver.


33 Acres Brewing Co (Mount Pleasant)

 

By far Vancouver’s most well-designed tasting room, 33 Acres’ minimalist interior consists of whitewashed brick walls, polished concrete floors, a few pieces of designer furniture and not much else. Equal space is given to both the coffee machine and the brewery’s eight taps, which pour beers that manage to taste even better than the place looks.

The core range is small but well-crafted, consisting of slightly left-of-centre styles like 33 Acres of Life California Common and 33 Acres of Darkness Schwarzbier, which pour alongside limited releases from the newer, experimental arm of the brewery, located in the building next door. Serving sizes are also kept nice and simple too, either a 10.5 oz (310 ml) glass, or a 24 oz (710 ml) bucket (pictured) – the choice is yours.

33 Acres is located at 15 W 8th Avenue.


Brassneck Brewery (Mount Pleasant)

 

Focusing on experimental and eclectic styles, Brassneck Brewery has brewed more than 100 unique beers since opening in late 2013. With extremely limited distribution, the only place to try the beers is at the brewery itself, which helps to keep production small and allows for continual experimentation. Similarly, takeaways are by growlers and squealers only – the brewery doesn’t package its releases.

The tasting room itself is small yet cosy, featuring an abundance of natural wood slats on everything from the walls to the tables. Unlike many of Vancouver’s breweries, the licensing here doesn’t require food service, so it’s one of the few places where the focus can lie entirely on the beer.

Brassneck is at 2148 Main Street.


Electric Bicycle Brewing (Mount Pleasant)

 

Words can’t really describe the eccentricity that is Electric Bicycle, voted Vancouver’s best new brewery in 2018. Everything about it is a bit funky and weird, from the beers themselves to the artwork adorning the building that was formerly, as the name might suggest, an electric bicycle factory. It’s refreshing to see a brewery that doesn’t take things too seriously, except for the time their mascot, inflatable tube man Mister Wigglesworth, was stolen.

The interior is bright and colourful, featuring all the possible colours of the pastel rainbow at once in psychedelic, geometric patterns. If that’s not enough to keep you happy and entertained, there’s also a range of board games available to play and a variety of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches to eat.

Pull into Electric Bicycle at 20 E 4th Avenue.


CRAFT Beer Market (Olympic Village)

 

Canada’s largest selection of craft beer can be found at the CRAFT Beer Market, housed in the same historic building that was the centre of the Athlete’s Village during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. These days, it’s filled with 500 seats, 140 beer taps and a dozen widescreen televisions dedicated to sports, giving it a completely different vibe compared to Vancouver’s small craft breweries.

Nevertheless, the staff are knowledgeable and the selection admirable, focusing predominantly on local craft beer, with the occasional venture further afield to the United States and Europe. The accompanying food menu is beer friendly too, featuring typical North American favourites like tacos, burgers and ribs.

CRAFT Beer Market is at 85 W 1st Avenue.


Yaletown Brewing Company (Yaletown)

 

Vancouver’s first brewpub, Yaletown Brewing Company is one of the few places to get good beer in this now gentrified area of Downtown. Managed by an Australian, it’s also one of the few to have access to a variety of hop varieties from Down Under, the most notable creation being the questionably-named Joey’s Ridgey Didge Aussie Sparkle Ale.

The rest of the beers vary in style, but always remain approachable and well matched to the food. Unfortunately, both food and beer menus are somewhat extensive, and the result is a preference for quantity rather than quality – although with a large group, that not such a bad thing. That said, it’s convenient and enjoyable for the location, as well as being one of the few pubs in the area to offer outdoor seating.

Take in a Yaletown's slice of contemporary beer history at 1111 Mainland Street.


Alibi Room (East Van)

 

Alibi Room is the must visit place for any self-respecting beer tourist. Located a short walk from Gastown’s famous Steam Clock, it’s one of the oldest craft beer focused pubs in Vancouver, featuring 50 taps that predominantly showcase local beers from British Columbia. The healthy food menu focuses on local, sustainably sourced ingredients too, but finding a spot to sit on one of the dimly lit communal tables can be hard given the popularity of the place.

Instead, a better option may be to sit at the grungy bar, featuring a mismatch of tap handles and large glass windows that meet the railroad tracks. Occasionally, you’ll get a glimpse of freight trains going by, which only adds to the industrial charm that’s often associated with some of the best craft beer venues.

You'll find Alibi Room at 157 Alexander Street.


Postmark Brewing (East Van)

 

Another brewery renowned for its attention for good design, Postmark Brewing is located in the same large warehouse room as Vancouver Urban Winery and Belgard Kitchen, meaning that there’s something for everyone. It’s entirely possible to sit at the bar for a beer, order some food, then switch to wine halfway through the meal.

The space is decorated with rustic antiques and wine barrels right next to stainless steel brewing tanks, which sometimes contain experimental batches voted on by the public. It also means that those beers sometimes end up in those barrels, making for delicious wine-infused collaboration brews.

However, a word of warning before venturing here – the Downtown Eastside district of Vancouver is considered one of the most dangerous areas of the city and is best avoided at night, particularly if alone.

Flit from beer to wine and back at Postmark, 55 Dunlevy Avenue.


Other options

  • Faculty Brewing Co (Mount Pleasant) – Down to earth owners who are passionate about creating an inclusive and open environment for beer education. Beers, whose recipes are shared online, follow university-style naming conventions – 100-level for easy, approachable styles, up to 700-level for more complex and challenging styles.
  • R&B Brewing (Mount Pleasant) – one of the oldest craft breweries in Vancouver, featuring cosy, mismatched décor in a living-room style space, with an established core range.
  • Main St Brewing Company (Mount Pleasant) – Well-made traditional styles with modern creativity in a bare-bones, open and airy historical warehouse. Also features four taps for cask ales and a rewarding loyalty program.
  • Parallel 49 Brewing Company (East Van) – Low-key, canteen-style Yeast Van favourite with a large tap list and dedicated kitchen. However, has some of the widest distribution out of Vancouver’s craft beer and is easily found anywhere in the Pacific Northwest and Canada.
  • Granville Island Brewing Company (Granville Island) – Canada’s first craft brewery, that has since partially sold to brewing giant Molson, but remains a popular location for tourists visiting the island.

You can find other Beer Travel articles on The Crafty Pint here.

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