Last week, I made the arduous trip on BC Ferries from Victoria to Vancouver to see one of my all-time favourite bands, Opeth. As I was heading up anyway, I decided to make the trip even more worthwhile, by visiting some of my favorite Vancouver breweries.
My original intention was to cycle up, but well, it’s Vancouver in the fall and cycling 100km in the cold and rain would not be fun. Then of course, drinking and cycling is bad… don’t do it kids!
So, I decided to brave the transit system and used the bus, skytrain, and my feet to make my way not just through Van, but Delta, Surrey, New Westminster, Burnaby, East Van, North Van, and Richmond in an epic trek that involved me walking 25km a day and visiting a total of 30 breweries.
The only ones I missed were in Port Moody and North Van (except Hearthstone), as they were too far out. Well I also missed Russell, Okanagan Springs, Cariboo and Turning Point / Stanley Park as they don’t have tasting rooms. I also skipped Granville Island, as it’s it’s more of a tourist trap now with most of the brewing actually done at Molson’s main facilities in Kelowna.
Here’s how it went down:
I arrived in at Tsawwassen around 10 a.m. and headed on a one hour bus journey to arrive at opening time for my first location, one of the most highly regarded breweries in Canada…
Located in a small strip mall opposite an RV sales yard on River Road, one would not expect to find a brewery that was named the 2015 brewery of the year and that holds multiple B.C. and Canadian brewing awards.
While the outside looked no different from the tool shop and golf store next door, inside was swanky as all hell, with wood-paneled walls, wallpaper with their cool design on it and a nice little bar. They are also the only tasting room I’ve been to that carries different types of glassware for different styles of beer, as most just serve it in a snifter.
Being my first top, I decided to get a flight and went with the Vexillum imperial IPA, Oat porter, Childhood milk stout, and Pequeno Cabo tequila barrel-aged Berliner weisse. Wow! Every single drop of each drink was like the nectar of the gods. The milk stout had just been put on that day and while milk stouts usually don’t have any milk flavour, their name just being derived from the lactose added, this tasted like something you could pour on your cereal.
Sadly, I didn’t try the tacos, which turned out to be a huge mistake, because everyone at every other brewery told me I should have. Oh well, I grabbed a Vexillum to take home and hit the road.
Another 45 minute bus journey up into north Surrey got me to my second stop. As I was walking up the hard shoulder on Bridgeview Drive, a massive facility came into view with the Red Racer logo on the side. I had no idea that Central City was such as huge operation, but the windows in the warehouse revealed dozens of fermenters and a couple of copper stills in sight. It’s almost on par with a commercial brewery. They’re not that huge in Victoria, so I had no idea.
Going through the front door I was met by a huge gift shop, several chillers full of beer, a tasting bar, and an actual bar where you can get cocktails. It was a little daunting.
Thankfully, the guy at the tasting bar was a fellow craft beer lover and we chatted for a long time about beer and he even got approval from his boss to give me a private tour, which is awesome, because they normally only do tours on weekends when the brewers aren’t working. I got to see the working brew house, the fermenters, the copper stills, the barrel room, the hop freezer, and much more. It was awesome!
While I was there I had a flight of their rasperry sour, scotch ale, imperial IPA, and the Thor’s Hammer barley wine. I got a bottle of the latter to take home.
It took me a while to get over to New Westminster to get to Steel & Oak, as Google maps led me astray and made me walk 3km to a bridge that seemingly didn’t allow foot passage. So I ended up going back to Scott Street station and getting the skytrain, which was right by Central City! Once in New West, it’s still a bus ride to the brewery.
The tasting room was set up like a nice bar and while I was there I tried samples of their 2016 BC beer award-winning dark lager, roggen weizen, and weizenbock, then had a pint of the doppelbock. I got a roggen weizen to take home.
The people in the bar at Steel & Oak told me Dageraad was in the middle of nowhere, but it was just a 1.5km walk back to the skytrain, a few stops to Production Way-University Way station in Burnaby, then 0.5km walk to an industrial estate where I found the smallest tasting room I’ve ever been to.
I live close to Phillips, Driftwood, and Hoyne in Victoria and none of them are allowed to sell pints, mostly due to space and seating, but the Dageraad tasting room makes them look huge! Admittedly they just installed some picnic benches in the garage next door, but I was pretty surprised. Maybe intimate is the word!
While there I tried samples of the Burnabarian, Dark Days saison, Blonde, and got a glass of the wet hop blonde. I ended up getting a bottle of that for the road. They had gorgeous glassware for sale, but I wouldn’t have been able to get it home without it breaking. 🙁
I was planning to head to the Steamworks production facility and tasting room next, but I was running short on time to check into my hotel and get to my gig, plus a few of the East Van breweries don’t open till 2 p.m. and I wanted to be heading out of that area by that time the next day.
So I hit up Powell Street and tried a flight their Ode to Citra pale ale, Hopdemonium IPA, Dive Bomb porter, and Idaho 7 dry hopped sour.
Next up was Doan’s. They have a sweet arcade machine in their tasting room and I would have loved to have stayed and played it, but time was not on my side. While there I tried a flight of the kolsh, Whirlpool Party dry hopped lager (P49 collab), Rye IPA, and SMASHR (single malt, single hop w/ rye—Faculty collab). They like their collaborations and rye!
Kinda cheating, but all four of these breweries are in the same building. The facility was founded by Diana McKenzie and Chris Lay, who is also the brewcaster of Callister Brewing. They invite a rotating roster of start-up breweries to sign up for one year and share the production and retail space with their fellow brewers in a low-risk environment. It’s worth noting that Boombox, who have been around less than a year won two B.C. beer awards this year.
I tried a flight of the Callister Sweater Weather Belgian amber, the Boombox Love + Trust barrel-aged fruit sour, the Lightheart Schoolhouse saison, and the Real Cask chocolate mild.
Then I realized it was 6:30 and I had to rush to check into my hotel in North Van and get back downtown in time for my Opeth gig! It was close and I missed most of the opening act, but I did it!
A nice little breakfast and a couple of cups of coffee laced with whiskey and I was ready for round two. This would be a bit of a challenge, as most breweries don’t open till at least 11 a.m. and I had to make the last ferry back to Vic.
Luckily enough my hotel was right by the newly-opened Hearthstone tap room on Marine Drive. They have a swanky little bar set up, but I didn’t have too long to stick around, as I wanted to get back into downtown. I was hoping they’d have the graham cracker ale on, but alas. I ended up having a sleeve of the Bohemian pilsner, as I’ve not tried that before and it seemed a good light way to start the day.
I’d love to have visited more North Van breweries, but I had to head back to town, not away from it. Next time!
As I missed out on the commercial arm of Steamworks on day 1, I decided to head to the original brew pub. Man alive, is this place expensive. It’s like $9 for a pint in there! Thankfully they provided me with a generous free sample of the Flagship IPA, which was delicious.
#13 Postmark Brewing
Postmark is located in the super-fancy Settlement Building and has giant doors that are designed for giants. Again, this place is on the pricey side, so I just tried samples of the 2016 BC Beer Award winning Postmark Blonde and the Oktoberfest lager. It’s nice to see a proper Oktoberfest beer on offer rather than pumpkin or wet hops ales.
Strathcona is a newer brewery located on East Hastings. The area is pretty sketchy, but the tasting room / bar was really upscale, which seemed kind of wrong. It was a little stuffy, too. Here I had a sample of the BC Beer Award winning British IPA and a sleeve of the Wild Double Pale Ale. The latter being my favourite.
Sadly, Coal Harbour doesn’t have a tasting room. They let me have a little gander inside the facility, though.
P49 has the coolest tasting room of the lot. It’s unassuming and unpretentious. Also, their prices are insanely cheap at $4 for a flight or $3 for 12oz! I tried a flight of the Salty Scot scotch ale, Toques of Hazard white IPA, nitro stout, and an special version of their Schadenfreude pumpkin lager infused with coffee, ginger, clove, cardamon and more. Then I had a sleeve of the director’s cut of their Nectarface sour that is a collaboration with Four Winds. The best! I got a Snap, Crackle, and Hop imperial rice IPA for home.
#17 Storm Brewing
Storm is the sketchiest brewery in East Van, actually it’s the sketchiest anywhere. It smells like rat pee outside. They don’t really have a tasting room, more of a table in the loading bay where you can try samples for donation. They have killer beer, though. I had the vanilla whisky Stout, Gin & Tonic pilsner, tequila sunrise IPA, Highland scottish ale, Black Plague Stout, and imperial flander sour. The latter was so intensely sour that it made me wince!
#18 Bomber Brewing
Another East Van fave, Bomber has a relaxed little tasting room with great staff. I had a flight of the Choqlette porter, East Van SMASH ISA, Blood from a Stone Red IPA (Stone collab) and a special black larger they had one. All super legit!
I had no idea Off the Rail was located opposite Bomber, so this was an unexpected stop! The tasting room wasn’t quite as fun as Bomber, but I tried a flight of their Canadian Brewing Award winning Raj Mahal India ale, Belt Up ESB, and Classic Pale Ale, as well as the East Bound and Brown.
OK, this is one I was really looking forward to, their Boris imperial stout, Reynard oud bruin, Nocturnum dark IPA, Jongleur wit, and White Guardian white IPA are to die for!
I had a flight of ones I’d not tried before, being the Beyard Farm House saison, Pink Canary wild ale, Frank brown ale, and Idaho 7 Cyclohops IPA. All astounding. Sadly their latest Fellowship beer had been released that same day, but I couldn’t taste it. Oh well!
#21 Red Truck Beer
OK, I was getting a bit drunk and manged to get lost and wandered around an East Van industrial estate for a while…
Thankfully, Red Truck’s Truck Stop is incredibly recognizable, so I didn’t miss it. It looks like an old fashioned-dinner! I’m not all that wild about their beer, so just had a sample of their blackberry bourbon ale, which was rather good.
Brassneck was founded in 2013 and has been winning awards every year since. Their brewmaster also used to be brewmaster at Steamworks. The tasting room is unpretentious and has a stripped down look. I did a fight of their Stick & Stones rye saison, Passive Aggressive dry hopped pale ale, One Trick Pony single hop imperial IPA and their Dark Place bourbon barrel-aged brett porter. Good god, that porter was wonderful. I wish I’d had room in my bag for a growler!
One of my friends raves about the Main Street pilsner, so I decided to drop in and check them out. The tasting room was a little trendy, but not bad. I tried a flight of the Main Street pilsner, Fresh-hopped ESB, Naked Fox IPA, and Stag & Pheasant imperial stout. Oh man, that stout! No wonder they won a BC Beer award for it.
#24 33 Acres Brewing
Hmm, you know those people who say that craft beer enthusiast are pretentious hipsters? Well, don’t show them this place. Everything is white and the whole place has a minimalist look. It’s like a IKEA show kitchen. Thankfully, the beer is great. I tried the 33 Acres of Life Californian common, 33 Acres of Euphoria Belgian Tripel, 33 Acres of Progress American saison, and 33 Acres of Darkness black lager. The beer was great, but I feel like I was expected to take tasting notes.
#25 R&B Brewing
R&B is a cozy little brewery and pizza house with a warm environment. I tried a flight of the So Fresh + So Green wet hopped IPA, Vienna Lager, East Side bitter, and Enigma kettle sour. The lager was really crisp!
#26 Faculty Brewing
Faculty is again a little hipster-looking, bu again, has great beer! I tried a flight of the blonde, Chinook pale ale, white IPA, and wet hop stout. The wet hop stout was interesting, because hops aren’t prominent in a stout, so the wet hops just gave it a subtle fresh edge.
OK, so I’ve never heard of this place, but it was right across from Faculty. From the outside it wasn’t much to look at, but they had a really nice restaraunt inside. I was in a rush for the skytrain, but felt compelled to try a sample of their Yorkshire best bitter, having grown up not far from the John Smith’s bitter plant in Yorkshire. It was pretty authentic!
#28 Big Rock Urban
Big Rock are really based in Calgary and this is their Van off-shot. Oh well, it was on the way to the skytrain, so I dropped in. I just sampled the wet hop IPA and English mild. Not bad!
#29 Dogwood Brewing
I’ve not heard of Dogwood before, but made the detour to stop by. It was a whirlwind stop and I got a bit lost again, but I’m glad I went, because they have a really nice tasting room. I had a flight of the honey ale, stout, fest, and wet-hopped ESB. The ESB was made with hops from the UBC farm and was so good!
OK, last but not least was Fuggles! They have a great bar with pool tables, arcade machines, big screen TVs. It was so cozy that I stayed way too long and nearly missed the last ferry! Their beers all have awesome labels, mostly with sci-fi and anime themes.
I tried a flight of The Last Strawberry wit, Bean Me Up espresso milk stout, Pixel Pils Czech-style pilsner, and Persona West Coast common. Oh god, then I had a glass of the Chrono wet hop IPA. It’s one of the best wet hop IPAs I’ve had this year and I got a bottle to go.
Finding my way back to the bus to get to the ferry was a bit of a challenge after all of that beer and I think my liver hates me. Going to work the next morning was not what I’d describe as fun, that’s for sure!
Until next time, Van. Thanks for all of the boozy souvenirs!