Vancouver has long been known as a destination for lovers of the outdoors, thanks to its unique geography and mild climate. But more recently, the city has begun to earn a reputation with another type of traveller: the craft beer enthusiast. This should come as no surprise; craft beer is booming across the province, and nowhere more than in its biggest city. Hundreds turn out for events such as Vancouver Craft Beer Week and the BC Beer Awards, and in the last two years alone, dozens of new breweries have opened up in and around the city to add to an already-thriving scene. Beer lovers, take note: Vancouver is becoming a legitimate craft beer destination.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of these breweries and craft beer establishments have sprung up in clusters around different neighbourhoods. This makes for the perfect weekend adventure for visitors and locals alike: a walking craft beer crawl. As a certified beer nerd, I can’t think of many better ways to spend my weekends, and so over the next several weeks I plan to showcase some of my favourite craft beer spots, by neighbourhood.
First up? My main stomping grounds, Main Street. The plan? Two craft beer-focused bars, four breweries, one day. Let the crawling begin!
As seasoned beer drinkers, we realized that a solid day of beer crawling would require a solid breakfast, and thus decided to begin our day with brunch at the newest addition to the Southeast False Creek / Olympic Village neighbourhood, CRAFT Beer Market.
Housed in the historic Salt Building, a lone remnant of False Creek’s manufacturing roots, the interior of CRAFT truly is stunning. And, not to mention, huge; even with its more than 400 seats, the miles-high ceilings make it feels like you’ve got endless space. One of my favourite features is the maze of metal-encased beer lines that snake up from the bar in the middle of the room and down into the depths below, where their hundreds of kegs of beer are housed.
But enough about the space – we were there for the beer. Which they happen to have in abundance, in the form of 140 (!!) taps. Most of CRAFT’s taps do indeed serve up craft beer, with a good selection of those from BC (check out their current list here). Seeing as the focus of the day was Main Street, most of us at the table opted for an ultra-local Main Street Pilsner along with our brunch.
With our bellies filled and the first pints of the day drained, we set out on the very short walk across the Olympic Village main square to another craft beer bar, Tap & Barrel.
Tap & Barrel is perhaps best known for its not one, but TWO waterfront patios, which overlook the seawall, False Creek and the downtown skyline (seriously, a patio seat at Tap & Barrel on a Saturday in mid-July is worth its weight in gold). They shut down their 2nd story patio for the winter, but have enclosed the main floor patio and added heaters for those who still want to enjoy the premium view from outside. We, however, opted to sit inside, and ended up sipping our pints underneath these awesome beer keg lights:
The tap list at Tap & Barrel, while smaller than its neighbour CRAFT’s, has the distinction of being made up of 100% BC beers. They also serve BC wine on tap, and a small selection of ciders. All but one of our crew opted for the dark and delicious Backhand of God Stout from Crannóg Ales out of Sorrento (north of Salmon Arm). This is a go-to BC beer for me, especially in the winter time.
The Olympic Village neighbourhood has been growing in leaps and bounds, and Steel Toad was another welcome addition to the ‘hood. Another restored heritage building, though not as big as CRAFT, it has a similar vibe – more like a restaurant than your typical cozy brewery. But make no mistake: the beer is brewed fresh, just metres from your table in the large, airy dining area.
They usually have 6-7 of their brews on tap, plus one or two on cask (yes – they have a cask engine behind the bar), which rounds out nicely to a couple of taster packs. With a large upper seating area available as well, it seems to be a popular place for large parties and date nights alike. They even offer valet parking on the weekends (again, this is not your typical brewery!).
Next, it was onwards and upwards (literally), from the flats of False Creek to the slopes of Mount Pleasant to pay a visit to Brassneck Brewery. Brassneck opened its doors to the thirsty masses in fall 2013, and they’ve been selling beer (almost) faster than they can make it ever since. Once you try their beer, this makes complete sense – ’cause it’s good. Real good. And the cozy, West Coast-inspired space makes it one of my favourite places in the city to grab a pint.
We each grabbed a taster paddle, and between us were able to try all of the beers on offer (which is generally between 8-10, depending on availability). I’m a big fan of their sessionable stout, as well as the Passive Aggressive single-hopped pale ale. If all that beer drinking has made you hungry, they’ve got quite the selection local pepperoni on offer, and there’s usually a local food cart parked outside. Tip: come early if you want to snag a seat in the tasting room – Brassneck is popular and fills up quickly. Luckily, if it’s full, you can always pick up a growler (offered in three different sizes: 16 oz “purse pops”, 1 litre and 1.9 litres) and take your brew to go.
Tucked in just a block east of Main Street on 7th Avenue is the aptly named Main Street Brewing. Although the brewery itself opened in 2014, they’ve been contract brewing their pilsner for years out of Russell Brewing in Surrey, so they launched with a solid base of brand recognition. Not that they probably needed it; the rest of their beer lineup is excellent (try the session – AKA low-ABV – IPA), and the space itself is very cool – it’s another great example of a restored heritage building. In keeping with the rest of the day, we ordered some tasters and got to sipping.
As the sun began to dip below the horizon, we moved on to our final destination, just several blocks south and west of Brassneck. Another relatively new addition to the Vancouver craft beer scene, 33 Acres Brewing Company opened just this summer and is probably my favourite tasting room in terms of aesthetics (clean, simple and bright – with plants at every table). You can usually find two of their beers on offer for tasting (often one of their two standard brews and a seasonal), and you can fill up growlers to go as well. The more stalwart among our party sipped from the brand new and fantastically large 24-ounce glasses, while the rest of us stuck with 12-ouncers.
And with that, we were spent. You can see a Google Map of our route here (it, of course, doesn’t need to be done in one go, or in this order. And please don’t drive! At 2 kilometres – 1.2 miles – it’s easily walkable). More Vancouver beer crawl posts to come – stay tuned!
The Whip: Mere steps around the corner from Brassneck on East 6th Ave, you’ll find longtime Mount Pleasant fixture The Whip Restaurant and Gallery. Always a craft beer-centric bar, they offer a great BC-focused beer list (including one of my personal favourites, Driftwood Brewing‘s Fat Tug IPA) and tap a cask from a local brewery every Sunday afternoon. They also make the best Caesars in the ‘hood, in my humble opinion (protip: get whiskey instead of vodka, and ask them to add just a touch of stout beer. You can thank me later).
The Cascade Room: If you continue your journey southwards up Main from the breweries, you’ll find yourself crossing Broadway and right on the doorstep of the Cascade Room. The Cascade Room has a solid local craft beer list, including two rotating guest taps and often, a craft cask. It’s also a great spot for a cocktail, and if you love pickled things (like I do), they have a pretty sweet little jar of pickled veggies that pairs nicely with a pint.
Portland Craft: About 10 blocks south of The Cascade Room on Main Street you’ll find Portland Craft. Although the focus here is mostly on beers from Oregon, California and Washington, there are several BC beers on tap as well, and a good food menu (including the “Put a Bird On It” chicken & waffles, a shout out to this sketch from the TV show Portlandia). The atmosphere is laid back, and the long communal tables and cozy booths are usually full of locals.
Breweries, Cideries & Distilleries in BC
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