After having such a great time on our last Vancouver craft beer crawl on Main Street, we’d been itching to get out and do it again. And with the recent addition of highly anticipated Bomber Brewing to an already thriving beer neighbourhood, a crawl of East Vancouver’s Commercial Drive seemed like the next logical choice.
And so, we found ourselves setting out on a wet Saturday afternoon to crawl this East Van ‘hood, which has truly become a craft brewing hotbed. While our Main Street crawl was more centred around bars with great beer lists, the north end of Commercial Drive is now home to 4 breweries within just blocks of each other, so this crawl would be more about getting the beer right at the source. But, first things first, we needed to eat.
Undeterred by the near-monsoon rains, we gathered at Commercial Drive favourite St. Augustine’s to get some brunch in our bellies before the day of beer tasting ahead.
St. Augustine’s is one of Vancouver’s most popular craft beer bars, and with good reason – a tap list of more than 60 (yes, sixty) craft beers with a Pacific Northwest focus, a solid menu and a location right next to the Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain station make it an easy sell. It’s definitely got a neighbourhood pub kind of vibe, especially during Canucks games, and you’ll find a mixed crowd of hardcore beer nerds, Commercial Drive locals, and families alike.
Warm and dry for the moment, we settled right in for our first sips of the crawl; friends sipped on Parallel 49 Brewing‘s new Radler (a low alcohol, beer-grapefruit juice hybrid) while I opted for a taster paddle to ease into the afternoon ($8.50 gets you a taster of any 4 beers on the menu – I often use this to decide what I want to order as my first full sleeve).
Perhaps the most awesome feature of St. Augustine’s (besides the size of their beer list, of course) is their electronic beer menus – they show the level of beer in every keg on tap in real time, so that you’ll know if the one you’re hoping to try is about to tap out. They’re displayed above the bar, and also in the men’s washroom (and I’m always hoping they’ll make it to the ladies’ at some point… hint, hint). You can even check the current beer levels from home before you go, as the same feed appears on the home page of their website.
After clearing our plates and emptying our glasses, we headed out on the ten minute walk north to our next stop.
As you may have guessed from the name, Biercraft is a beer bar with a Belgian focus (they also, however, offer some local favourites on tap, including several from the new Bomber Brewing – the two actually share owners). With 20 beers on tap and a Belgian-heavy bottle menu of 100, you can put in a pretty good session at either of their locations (they’re also further west on Cambie Street). I had a glass of my usual Biercraft go-to: the Belgian blonde ale Houblon Chouffe.
Being a Belgian bar means that they, of course, offer mussels (as well as oysters), which hit the spot for several among our crew.
After our round of Belgians, Bombers and seafood, we grabbed our umbrellas and headed just a few blocks north-west to our next stop, the aforementioned and new kid on the block, Bomber Brewing.
These guys have only been open for a few weeks, but they’re already doing all kinds of things right: firstly, they’re located right on the well-used Adanac bike route, and have installed an air compressor in their front wall (as a beer-loving cyclist, this makes me happy on several levels). Secondly, the tasting room is gorgeous (polished concrete floors and tiled ceiling? I like). And last, but definitely not least, the beer is good. Especially the ESB and the Pilsner.
They serve two glass sizes (16 oz sleeve and a full 20 oz pint), plus taster paddles. They had five beers on offer when we visited, and the unanimous group favourite was the ESB (which you can buy in cans in private liquor stores around the city, or at the brewery in can or growler form).
The intended next stop on the tour was Storm Brewing, the longest-standing brewery in the ‘hood. Unfortunately, we were a bit behind schedule and had friends waiting for us at the next stop, so we didn’t make it in this time; but fortunately, I’ve visited Storm on many an occasion before, so I can still speak with authority on their awesomeness.
Storm is known for doing things a little outside the box, and this can be seen in both their beer and their brewery. They don’t bottle their beer at all, so in order to try it you have to find it on tap around Vancouver, or head straight to the source for a growler fill. Their experimental and delicious Imperial Flanders Red Ale took everyone by surprise a couple of years ago, at a time when there weren’t a lot of BC breweries producing sour beers. And when it comes to their tasting room, it lacks the slick presentation of the other breweries in the area, but you feel like you’re drinking your tasters right next to the actual equipment that helped to brew them, which is pretty cool in itself. They usually have their standard brews on offer for sampling (by donation), which include the Hurricane IPA, Highland Scottish Ale, Black Plague Stout and Precipitation Pilsner.
The next stop on our Saturday crawl wasn’t actually beer-related, but it definitely falls under the category of “craft” so we decided it was worthy of a spot on the list regardless. Odd Society Spirits is a small batch distillery that opened several months ago on Powell Street. As of right now, they produce vodka and cassis, a sweet red liqueur, in a gorgeous distilling facility that’s fully visible from the tasting room area. Plus, they’ve just upgraded their liquor license so that they can serve fancy cocktails in the tasting room, rather than just plain tasters. Their bartender wasn’t on duty when we visited, but luckily owner Miriam Karp was able to improvise with a round of simple-yet-delicious vodka-cassis-soda cocktails for our crew of crawlers. The cocktail combined with the quiet, eclectic tasting room made for a perfect break from our busy beer crawl schedule.
Next on our list was Odd Society neighbour and 2013 Canadian Beer of the Year award winner, Powell Street Craft Brewery. Powell Street is a nanobrewery, which means it’s a system less than 4.5hl (450L) in size; or, the equivalent of about 9 standard size kegs or about 690 bomber bottles per batch (aka much less than its microbrewery counterparts). These small batches they produce also happen to be really, really good. So what this means in real-life terms is, don’t wait around if you want to stop by Powell Street for a beer or a growler fill – it goes fast! (but in case you do miss out, their beer is also offered in bottles at private liquor stores around the city) On this Saturday afternoon, we were lucky enough to find space in the cozy tasting room that was nearly full up with other thirsty beer drinkers, and try out the four beers they had tap.
They were pouring a White IPA, a Stout, their Dive Bomb Porter (inspired by the huge murder of crows that flies over East Van almost nightly), and a Belgian Witbier with ginger and cardamom. Most of our group opted for the white IPA, while my addiction to anything containing ginger led me to the Witbier.
Our final stop for the day was perhaps East Vancouver’s most widely known brewery, Parallel 49 Brewing. Owned by the same crew responsible for St. Augustine’s, P49 has made a name for itself with its four standard brews (Old Boy Classic Ale, Hoparazzi India Pale Lager, Gypsy Tears Red Ale and Lord of the Hops IPA), which are widely available in BC Liquor and private liquor stores, as well as a whole rainbow of seasonal brews – ranging from an imperial Russian stout with double-digit alcohol levels to the easy-drinking Seedspitter Watermelon Ale.
When we arrived, the tasting room was hopping as usual, with a mix between people waiting for growler fills to go and those of us who were staying for beers. Each day they offer up a beer mixed with something interesting via their infusion tower, and I had to try the daily offering of Gypsy Tears with rosehips. It was quite subtle, and good!
We ended our day here, happy to relax with a final pint and dinner from the food truck parked outside (which rotates on a near-daily basis), while we chatted about which neighbourhood we should explore next. There are still a couple of key Vancouver craft beer ‘hoods to go, so stay tuned!
Note that this crawl can, of course, be done in the opposite direction, or in parts if you’re not up for a full day of beer drinking. And at a total distance of 3.4 kilometres (2.1 miles) of walking, there’s no reason to bring a vehicle. Drink responsibly!
Breweries, Cideries & Distilleries in BC
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