VANCOUVER, B.C. — It’s almost noon in the historically gritty (yet increasingly gentrifying) East Vancouver neighborhood and I’m downing my first beer of the day. Just to clarify: I don’t have a drinking problem, but I do have several sudsy spots to hit during an afternoon immersion in the city’s flourishing microbrewery scene.
So many independent producers have recently opened in Western Canada’s largest metropolis that it’s easy to claim Vancouver as the country’s current craft beer capital. Since many also have inviting little tasting lounges, I’ve plotted a course around four of the newest hot spots.
There are already a couple of drinkers in Bomber Brewing’s cozy, windowless tasting room when I approach the chunky wooden bar. Facing several towering beer tanks looming behind a glass wall, I’m soon licking my lips over a four-glass, $7 (Canadian) tasting flight.
Opened in February, the East Van brewer makes four regular beers plus a revolving roster of seasonals that last until the locals have drunk them dry. I slowly sip a citrusy pilsner, lightly fruity ESB (Bomber’s top seller), and an easy-drinking IPA that’s less lip-puckering than most Pacific Northwest versions.
But the dark, slightly sweet Marzen seasonal is today’s winner. And while I’m tempted to order a full glass and sink into an afternoon of giddy revelry, instead I’m soon blinking in the sun outside. A 10-minute stroll northward — with the North Shore Mountains shimmering ahead — brings me to stop two: Powell Street Craft Brewery.
When homebrewer Dave Bowkett and his wife, Nicole Stefanopoulos, opened this tiny, art-lined nanobrewery in late 2012, he still worked his regular 9-to-5 job. A few months later, their Old Jalopy Pale Ale was named Canadian Brewing Awards’ Beer of the Year and, ever since, they’ve struggled to meet surging demand.
Larger premises, planned for a fall opening, will help. “We’ll be increasing production fivefold,” says the chatty young brewer while pouring a dark and nutty Dive Bomb Porter and confirming he’s finally quit his day job. “I’m looking forward to trying some new ideas. I really want to get into Belgian sours.”
Making a mental note to return my takeout growler for some of Bowkett’s excellent Hopdemonium IPA, I’m soon heading westward by bus. While this area is the city’s biggest brewery district — Storm Brewing and Parallel 49 also live here — the Main Street neighborhood used to be its beermaking hotbed.
But while Main’s last old brewery closed decades ago, a surge of new producers, including at least three scheduled to open later this year, is rapidly restoring the area’s sudsy mojo.
Opened in 2013, the white-walled, Scandinavian look of 33 Acres Brewing Co. makes it Vancouver’s most stylish tasting lounge. But the beer is equally inviting, ranging from a flagship lager and pale ale to a roster of lively seasonals.
At my steel-topped communal table, I sip a toffee-colored English ESB and a smooth, ebony-hued German black lager. And since it’s time to eat, I also indulge in one of the coolest aspects of the city’s microbrewery scene. Vancouver has an equally tasty food truck community and breweries like 33 Acres book vans to park outside their lounges, allowing drinkers to bring their food into the bar.
Refueled with a prosciutto and arugula pie from the Community Pizzeria truck, I’m soon back on the road. It’s a five-minute stroll to the day’s final stop.
When northern England transplant Nigel Springthorpe took over Vancouver’s humdrum Alibi Room bar years back, he introduced a near-legendary menu of top-notch craft beers. Finally, late last year, he opened his own Brassneck Brewery, partnering with local brewmaster Conrad Gmoser.
Pushing through the door, I am hit with a wave of chatty conversation from a tasting room lined with reclaimed wood and rough-hewn tables topped with quickly-draining glasses. Sliding onto a bar stool, I eye the jars of dry-cured sausages and glimpse the brewery operation peeking through strategically placed holes in the walls.
“There are lots of new breweries in town but everyone’s doing something a bit different,” says the generously-bearded Springthorpe as he buzzes around the room chatting with drinkers. “Our approach is to change all the time so you’ll usually have something new to try.”
The brewery produced 48 different beers in its first six months, with around eight typically available at any give time. Mixing top sellers with wild cards, my four-flight taster includes crisp Klutz Kolsch and top-selling Free Radical White IPA plus javaesque Magic Beans Coffee Ale and dry-hopped Passive Aggressive Pale Ale. Then Springthorpe slides two samples across the counter.
Still in production, the Single Malt Single Hop IPA is deliciously tart, while the Sour Cherry resembles carrot juice and tastes of heady, fermented fruit. “People are really willing to try different flavors in Vancouver now. I think these kind of experimental brews are increasingly the way we’ll differentiate ourselves.”