BC Beer Scene – Year in Review 2009

Posted on December 24, 2009

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2010 is something most in Vancouver and BC have had in their minds since the summer of 2003 when they were awarded the Winter Olympics in Prague. You can’t miss it as the city has been uprooted and traffic has been a nightmare. In 2003 I was in Praha for the announcement, but there on entirely different business; ‘Absynthe’ and drinking beer that is cheaper than bottled water. Vancouver is a growing beer destination on the West Coast.

I moved to Vancouver in 2008 from Toronto and I was struck with the much more suburban nature of the city and the lack of decent beer bars. The first impression is the city is run by Molson, Keiths, Coors Light, Okanagan Springs, and Granville Island. Unfortunately that is still the case in most Canadian cities, but the positive side to Vancouver is that Granville Island is not a bad brewery. Sometimes!!

Vancouver Brewpubs..

Everyone in Vancouver talks about Yaletown Brewery and Steamworks as being the places for Vancouver’s best beer. These are amongst the ‘brewpubs’ that dominate the cities beer scene, which like Montreal can produce different batch based beers. Yaletown, Dix,  and Steamworks are all within walking distance to each other.

Yaletown brewery is in the heart of a trendy upscale area where locals are as akin to carrying a poodle in their handbag as they are at acting like their Internet Business is the next Google. We call the area ‘New Moneyville’. Yaletown Brewery is a very cozy bar, with decent beer. This year the brewer has really gone into a Sour Beer, and Brown Ale styles that are different to most in the city and has brewed these with good success.  The brewery is definitely changing the styles of beer they are producing and gaining a lot of respect from people whom aren’t big fans of the brewery. The major issue they face  is having rude and arrogant staff.  Have had numerous evenings there with friends, or alone and always get the feeling I’m interrupting the inattentive and rude bar staff when asking questions about the beer. When drinking beer I don’t want to feel like I’m speaking to a Bouncer outside a trendy nightclub.

Steamworks @ Waterfront station is the bar that I frequent every so often when an interesting seasonal is on tap. The location is convenient as I will have a beer or two there before walking 10 minutes to Alibi room. Steamworks is a brewery that is struggling with capacity and is having some of their beers made by R&B to help with their space limitations. Steamworks are making some special seasonal offerings that bring them to the forefront of the brewpub scene when they are on. This year were saw a Double Belgian, Espresso Stout, Pumpkin ale, a Christmas Belgian Blitzen and a few others that came on briefly and then disappeared. The regular beers are not bad, but its the seasonal beers that make this place special when they are on. Staff can be inattentive when busy, but also quite knowledgeable about beers they have. Would really love to see Steamworks delve into more specialty limited release beers, and less mainstream beers.

Dix Brewery in Yaletown has a real cult following amongst beer people in the city. Their Thursday night Cask night is always a load of fun with the cities beer crowd talking to each other, no matter who you are, and Derrick the brewer is always around to talk to. Dix brew a solid and hop driven IPA, and this year Derrick had a great Double IPA on tap, but it blew at the summer Cask Festival. Caskival is a twice annual festival that Derrick organizes with CAMRA that is once in Summer and once in winter. It is the only Cask based festival in the city. This year there was a Texas Brown Ale, Imperial Stout, Barley Wine, Double IPA.

Beer Bars

One of the unfortunate aspects of Vancouver is the lack of places to drink good craft beer on tap. The liquor stores are full of small craft brewers such as; Nelson, Tree, Phillips, R & B, Howe Sound, Cannery, Driftwood, Fat Cat, and Old Yale, but we can never see them on tap. Some bars are promoting their bottle selection, but it’s that tap selection that is lacking in Vancouver. Some bars still consider Keiths an IPA, and Okanagan Springs lager a craft beer.

Alibi Room is the leading beer bar in Vancouver with 26 taps of BC & US beer, with 1-2 beers in Cask. The owner is a Brit who has a great dry wit, is always behind the bar and has a great knowledge and passion for beer. The bar is the only real place for a cross selection of beers in the city. Alibi has implemented the Sample Tray concept so patrons can order several beers in smaller servings which is a great concept for new beer drinkers. Over the past year there have been some great beers on tap such as Deschutes, Pike Extra Stout, Brooklyn Chocolate Stout, Rogue is a regular, with rare beers such as Swans Barley wine. The staff are great and they are trying to provide a beer venue for people in Vancouver, but there are improvements that could be made. If Alibi  is going to continue to be the premier beer venue in BC (if not Canada) then breweries should be providing their interesting seasonal beers not just their Lagers and pale ales. It is not just the brewers that need to offer more interesting beers, it is patrons who need to ask for these beers as ultimately these are the customers that support the bar.

St Augustines is a new beer bar that opened up right on the corner of Commercial and Broadway in Vancouver. They have 20 taps of local and American beer. The bar is quite new on the scene and are trying to set their focus on not just local but hard to find US beers, as well as limited release seasonal beers. Rogue is a regular feature as well as Lighthouse, Salt Spring, and the Red Truck limited release series. This is a bar that will be interesting to watch in 2010 for their beers and cask nights. They offer sample trays of their beers, but they only serve beer in 1 size 16oz which is too big for some high strength beers.

2009 HIGHLIGHTS

Central City in the Can available at liquor stores is probably the biggest success story for the beer scene. This IPA appears to be a consensus favorite amongst those in CAMRA and other serious beer people. Phillips held the title for best IPA in my opinion until this year when Central City hit the market with their single great IPA that comes in at 6.5%. The beer is not for everyone, but for Hop Fans it is a huge hit.

Phillips Crazy 8’s series, where they produced an Imperial IPA from their own Hops and created what I feel has been one of the best seasonal IPA’s in BC. Phillips are definitely one of the most innovative breweries in the province, and their seasonal releases are turning into hard to obtain beers.

Granville Island Jolly Abbott, this was released in time for Christmas and is a high alcohol Double Belgian ale that is one of the best seasonal beers I’ve tasted from the brewery.  The beer comes in at 9.5% and is best at room temperature.This should be on tap in good restaurants.

Boundary Bay, is a brewpub in Bellingham (1 hour south of Vancouver) that has one of the best IPA’s in North America along with their Cabin Fever winter beer. This brew pub is closer to Vancouver than Seattle and it was awarded 2nd best brew pub in Washington State. The beer is not widely distributed, but their beer is worth the visit, along with a growler to take home. The brewery always have different seasonal beer on tap, whether its the Imperial IPA, Imperial Porter, Cabin Fever, or Barley Wine.

BC has come along way in the last five years, and the brewpubs are getting better with their beers, and especially in the seasonal categories. The major improvement that could occur is in beer knowledge and training of staff. Craft beer is growing, and the industry needs people that care. One of the breweries s in this article had a staff that doesn’t drink beer!!  I don’t know anything about Cars, and don’t care for them so why would I work in a car yard?

BC has a good beer scene for a Canadian city, but it can be better. Beer people need to keep asking questions for better beer, and trying to promote craft beer to friends. We all started somewhere with beer, and so will more people as they discover the nuances of the craft beer.

Hoping  for more craft beers in Vancouver bars in 2010 and more seasonal beers.

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