We examined three of Vancouver's hoppiest neighbourhoods so that we could share where to drink in the long-overdue craft-beer boom in Vancouver
Credit: Ben Oliver

We examined three of Vancouver's hoppiest neighbourhoods so that we could share where to drink in the long-overdue craft-beer boom in Vancouver

It has always been one of those Vancouver mysteries, right along with sky-high real estate prices and indifference to household earthquake kits: why was our city – so similar to Portland and Seattle in culture – such a craft-beer wallflower? The question is now irrelevant, because whatever was holding us back over the decades is long gone and Vancouver (and North Van and Surrey and New West) is brewing and pouring at an unprecedented rate. Six breweries opened their doors in 2013, and next month’s Vancouver Craft Beer Week event will be the biggest yet. 

But revolutions are no fun from the sidelines, so we hand-picked three neighbourhoods where locally made beers and ambient tasting rooms to drink them in (and so are cabs and transit) are plentiful. Cheers.

Main Street / Brewery Creek

Main Street / Brewery Creek

The Brewery Creek area of the city got its name at the end of the 19th century because of the stream that ran from Tea Swamp (about 15th Ave.) down to False Creek, which extended east all the way to present-day Clark Drive. Several breweries set up shop along the creek – most near the current Main-Kingsway junction – using the creek water to power their machinery and as a principal ingredient in their beer. By 1920, the creek had been completely paved over and redirected into sewers and the breweries were closed. In the past year, however, several new breweries and tap houses have returned to the ’hood with more on the way, resurrecting Brewery Creek in name and fulfilling its rightful destiny. Click on through to see what the Main Street area has to offer.

–Joe Wiebe

Legend:

  1. R&B Brewing
  2. Brassneck Brewery
  3. 33 Acres Brewery
  4. Main Street Brewing
  5. Red Truck Brewing
  6. Steel Toad Brew Pub

R&B Brewing
Credit: R&B Brewing

R&B Brewing

Grrr-eat Growlers

What the heck is a growler, you ask? It’s a refillable container, usually glass or ceramic, for your beer. Breweries often use them as a way to sell take-out beer, plus they just look flat-out cool. Sizes may vary, but don’t be surprised if you walk away with 60-plus ounces of brew.

R&B was an early pioneer in the neighbourhood – when founders Rick Dellow and Barry Benson opened the brewery in 1997, Main Street was decidedly uncool and very rough around the edges.

But the postal code has improved considerably in recent years and now the brewing duo, who first worked together at the Molson plant in the 1980s, find themselves playing the role of mentor to the “youngsters” popping up all around them. R&B does not have a fancy tasting lounge like the new places, but you can fill your growler there on Friday and Saturday afternoons.

Otherwise, look for their bottles in government and private liquor stores throughout B.C. 

54 East 4th Avenue
Founded: 1997
Tasting Room: No
Growler Fills: Yes
Best Beer: Birra Fresca Cucumber Mint IPA

Brassneck Brewery
Credit: Ben Oliver

Brassneck Brewery

The only brewery with an actual address on Main Street, Brassneck is also Vancouver’s most buzzed-about new beer spot. Virtually every drop of beer produced there is sold on-site, either by the glass in the 50-seat tasting lounge or to go in three sizes of refillable growler jugs. Brassneck has seen fanatical support from local beer lovers since it opened last fall, and deservedly so. The secret to its success is simple: a constantly changing roster of great beers – brewer Conrad Gmoser perfected his craft over 17 years at Steamworks – served in a great room. Front man Nigel Springthorpe has a similar pedigree: he built up the Alibi Room to its present status as B.C.’s craft beer HQ. 

2148 Main Street
Founded: 2013
Tasting Room: Yes
Growler Fills: Yes
Best Beer: Passive Aggressive Dry-Hopped Pale Ale

33 Acres Brewing
Credit: Ben Oliver

33 Acres Brewing

Founder Josh Michnik succeeded as a film/television art director in London and Los Angeles before the age of 30, so he knows all about hard work. After helping his wife open clothing store Charlie & Lee in Vancouver’s Chinatown, he set his sights on opening his own brewery. With its clean black-and-white aesthetic, 33 Acres’s tasting lounge feels more like a café than brewery, but there’s no denying the quality of the beer, thanks to the skills of brewer Dave Varga who was lured away from Red Truck last year. 

15 West 8th Avenue
Founded: 2013
Tasting Room: Yes
Growler Fills: Yes
Best Beer: 33 Acres of Life California Common

Main Street Brewing

Main Street Brewing

Restaurateurs Nigel Pike (Cascade Room) and Cameron Forsyth (Portland Craft) teamed up to bring Main Street Pilsner to life a few years ago with Surrey’s Russell Brewery as their contract brewer. Now, they are bringing their flagship beer home to Brewery Creek where ex-Russell brewer Jack Bensley will brew it along with a Session IPA, Robust Brown Ale and other seasonal styles. Though not directly on Main Street, their building has a historic connection: the “Brewery Garage” was originally a warehouse built for the Vancouver Brewery in 1910 and was then used as a mechanic’s shop for decades before undergoing a major heritage renovation as part of a new development. 

261 East 7th Avenue
Opening: May 2014
Tasting Room: Yes
Growler Fills: Yes

Red Truck Brewing
Credit: Ben Oliver

Red Truck Brewing

Red Truck’s new space means a wider variety of seasonal styles beyond the usual Red Truck Lager, Ale and IPA in bottles and cans. There will also be a growler station and a full-service restaurant with a truck-stop diner vibe. (For geography and history nerds, the brewery is situated almost exactly where the original Brewery Creek once emptied into False Creek, although there is no evidence of that today.)

295 East 1st Avenue
Founded: 2005, but a new brewery is scheduled to open in May
Tasting Room: Yes
Growler Fills: Yes

Steel Toad Brewpub
Credit: Ben Oliver

Steel Toad Brewpub

Steel Toad is part of a heritage restoration of the Opsal Steel building, which was originally built in 1918. The brewpub features a 270-seat restaurant with beer piped directly from serving tanks into the brewery, including some English styles (ESB and Stout) that will be served through a traditional English beer engine.

Also look for a range of sessionable beers (less boozy and brewed to imbibe while wallowing the afternoon away), including a Saison, Belgian Pale Ale and a dry-hopped pale ale, along with a stronger West Coast IPA. No off-sales in bottles or growlers are planned. 

97 East 2nd Avenue
Opening: June 2014

East Vancouver

East Vancouver

The craft-beer revolution arrived early in East Van: Shaftebury Brewing opened its doors in 1987, and Storm Brewing has been pouring since 1994. But things stayed quiet for almost 20 years – until three breweries opened in the Powell/Victoria area in 2012, suggesting that it might yet become Vancouver’s Brewery District. Main Street’s exponential growth of independent breweries means it might own that distinction right now, but the diversity of options in East Vancouver makes it a solid option for beer-soaked explorations, too.

–Joe Wiebe

Legend:

  1. Storm Brewing
  2. Coal Harbour Brewing
  3. Parallel 49 Brewing
  4. Powell Street Craft Brewing
  5. Bomber Brewing

Storm Brewing

Storm Brewing

Storm Brewing’s James Walton is the mad scientist of B.C., creating unusually flavoured Frankenbeer in his grungy East Van brewery that’s reminiscent of the lab of a mad genius, or “Super Genius,” as his email signature reads.

Well-known for his Black Currant Lambic, a Belgian sour fruit beer he brewed in 1997 and then barrel-aged for 12 years (sadly all gone now), Walton also brews conventional craft-beer styles very well, including an IPA, stout, pilsner and Scottish ale, often tweaking those recipes with unusual ingredients: Basil IPA (perfect with pizza!), Dill Pickle IPA, and Echinacea Stout. Stop by the brewery for an informal tour and growler fill – if you dare.

310 Commercial Drive
Founded: 1994
Tasting Room: No
Growler Fills: Yes
Best Beer: Whatever crazy creation James comes up with next.

Coal Harbour Brewing

Coal Harbour Brewing

Coal Harbour was the first of a trio of breweries that opened in rapid succession in the Powell Street area in 2012 and its emphasis on craft lager is what sets it apart from its ale-brewing neighbours. The brewery has no public storefront, but plans to open a tasting room and growler station this summer will change that and surely draw a few folks over from Parallel 49 Brewing across the street, which always seems to be packed.

1967 Triumph Street
Founded: 2012
Tasting Room: Soon
Growler Fills: Soon
Best Beer: Triumph Rye Ale

Parallel 49 Brewing

Parallel 49 Brewing

Google “successful craft brewery in Vancouver” and Parallel 49 should show up at the top of your screen. Since brewing its first batch of beer over Easter weekend in 2012, P49 has not just grown quickly, it has exploded.

Homebrewer-turned-head brewer Graham With has produced dozens of styles of beer, most of which have been great and some of which have been excellent, and all of which have sold out quickly. It was founded by a quartet of East Van guys who also own St. Augustine’s, the Commercial Drive tap house, so they clearly know what the consumer wants.

1950 Triumph Street
Founded: 2012
Tasting Room: Yes
Growler Fills: Yes
Best Beer: Snap, Crackle Hop Imperial Rice IPA

Powell Street Craft Brewery
Credit: Ben Oliver

Powell Street Craft Brewery

David Bowkett built this tiny East Van “nano-brewery” on evenings and weekends while continuing to work at his day job. He opened the brewery in late 2012 with a five-year goal to expand enough to allow him to give up his nine to five. Less than half a year later, his Old Jalopy Pale Ale won 2013 Beer of the Year at the Canadian Brewing Awards, and since then Powell Street has not been able to keep up with demand. Bowkett’s five-year plan is being accelerated considerably – he plans on moving the brewery into a bigger space later this summer.

1830 Powell Street
Founded: 2013
Tasting Room: Yes
Growler Fills: Yes
Best Beer: Hopdemonium IPA

Bomber Brewing
Credit: Ben Oliver

Bomber Brewing

The newest brewery to open in Vancouver, Bomber is located on the Adanac bike route, just east of Clark Drive, the perfect stop on your bike commute home after work or as a destination on a sunny Saturday.

Its founders include the owners of BierCraft, the pair of Belgian beer-focused restaurants with locations on Commercial Drive and Cambie Street, along with a home-brewing pal who all play together on a beer- league hockey team named, you guessed it, the Bombers.
Core brands include an ESB, Pilsner and IPA in cans, along with a range of seasonal specialty releases in 650-ml “bomber” bottles.

1488 Adanac Street
Founded: February 2014
Tasting Room: Yes
Growler Fills: Yes
Best Beer: ESB

North Vancouver

North Vancouver

Although the North Shore isn’t exactly a craft-brewing destination (the handful of original humble brewpubs that did pour here have all closed in the past few years), it does have the distinction of being the birthplace of craft brewing in the province.

It was in Horseshoe Bay in 1982 that the eponymous brewery and its English-style ale rocked the local taste buds weaned on bland carbonation. It closed in 2000, but Horseshoe Bay Brewery started a revolution that continued with the opening of Bridge Brewing two years ago and three more in the past year, all within a bike ride or one-zone bus ride of each other.  – Tom Gierasimczuk

Legend:

  1. Black Kettle Brewing
  2. Green Leaf Brewing
  3. Bridge Brewing
  4. Deep Cove Brewers and Distillers

Black Kettle Brewing

Black Kettle Brewing

The first craft brewery to open in 2014 is a tiny space in the shadow of the North Shore Auto Mall, almost abutting the trains that grind past its industrial building. Owner Bryan Lockhart and brewmaster Phil Vandenborre have launched with a single beer, the 4.5% ABV Black Kettle Pale Ale, a subtly floral, nicely hopped pale.

They most recently added an IPA to their quiver – a slightly more bitter (equally floral) citrus brew liberally hopped up with Cascade hops. Black Kettle is selling 650-ml bomber bottles and kegs, as well as filling growlers on-site. If you drop by in June, they should be pouring a wheat beer that the staff calls the beer of the summer. 

106 - 720 Copping Street
Founded: 2014
Tasting Room: Yes
Growler Fills: Yes
Best Beer: Black Kettle Pale Ale

Green Leaf Brewing
Credit: Ben Oliver

Green Leaf Brewing

Another North Van brewery newcomer (opened in December), Green Leaf Brewing Company nailed its location. Tucked amidst the bustle of Lonsdale Quay and the Seabus station, the bright, soaring tasting room has been an instant hit with the locals shopping at the adjacent market and day-tripping tourists making the trip across the inlet.

Brewery owner Martin Ebadi is pushing his commitment to sustainability at every drop, from custom-designed equipment optimized for heat reclamation to operational efficiency. The two initial releases have been the requisite nicely hopped pale ale (pictured above) and a mouth-coating coffee- and chocolate-infused stout.

123 Carrie Cates Court
Founded: 2013
Tasting Room: Yes
Growler Fills: Yes
Best Beer: Green Leaf Brewing Co. Stout

Bridge Brewing

Bridge Brewing

A relative greybeard in North Van’s nascent craft-brew explosion (opened in 2012), Bridge Brewing Company occupies the eastern flanks of the North Shore, at the base of Seymour Mountain along the Dollarton Highway stretch flanked by MEC, Arc’teryx and the thirsty adventurers who patronize them. The brewery has built a very loyal following, both from commuters on their way home from downtown and sore downhillers looking for a carb infusion to numb the bruises.

Bridge has expanded its roster with several more regular brews, including their beer store standout, Hopilano IPA (bad puns be damned), a very good cliché of the Northwest IPA, plus regular cask nights featuring daring seasonal, limited-time pours. Bridge is also a growler-filling master, with a pouring system that replaces oxygen with CO2 to help keep take-home beer fresh for weeks, not days. 

115 - 2433 Dollarton Highway
Founded: 2012
Tasting Room: Yes
Growler Fills: Yes
Best Beer: Cascade Dry Hopped Seymour White Kolsch

Deep Cove Brewers and Distillers
Credit: Ben Oliver

Deep Cove Brewers and Distillers

A block west of Bridge is Deep Cove Brewers and Distillers, opened last summer by local boy Shae De Jaray and Torontonian Shawn Bethune, two engineers living the craft-brewery dream. Their revelry in the business is evident the moment you step into the adorned, 10-person tasting lounge. Polished brass and shiny piping surrounds you and if you drop by after work on Fridays or on the weekend, chances are someone will be jamming on a tiny stage.

A steady rotation of food trucks keeps visitors fed and the expanding distillery offers boozy options unmatched by other craft breweries in town. The newest spirit is the rosemary and olive gin that joins the vodka made from 100 per cent B.C. barley. Still, it’s the beer that shines here, especially the 2013 B.C. Beer Award-winner Quick Wit Wheat Ale and its slight spice and lively fruit flavours, made with orange peel and fresh ground coriander.

170 - 2270 Dollarton Highway
Founded: 2013
Tasting Room: Yes
Growler Fills: Yes
Best Beer: Quick Wit Wheat Ale