East Vancouver's craft beer renaissance
Things are hopping in Mount Pleasant. In recent years, the neighbourhood has started to emerge as a hub for craft-beer aficionados, with a tangible sense of community in the air. The original location of Vancouver’s brewing industry is being reclaimed with new style and flair.
Riding high on the wave of suds are Nigel Pike, co-owner of the Cascade Room (2616 Main Street), and Cameron Forsyth, owner and operator of the recently opened Portland Craft (3835 Main Street), which specializes in artisanal brews from the Pacific Northwest. The two long-time friends already produce Main Street Pilsner, and are set to launch their own Main Street Brewery.
“We’ve had approval from the city, and now we’re in the planning-permit stage,” says the ebullient Pike, interviewed in the Cascade Room. “We’re hoping to be ready to start brewing there sometime this winter. It’s a historic site, which means a lot to us.”
The location on East 7th Avenue just east of Main is on the foundation of the early-20th-century Vancouver Brewery, reputedly the largest on the West Coast when it was built. “I’ve done quite a lot of research into it all,” Pike says. “Before alcoholic products were banned in B.C. for five years, from 1916 to 1921, there was a lively brewing industry in Mount Pleasant.”
It grew up beside a stream tagged Brewery Creek, now built over, which ran north from what’s now Main and 49th to False Creek, with three breweries on its banks. “The Vancouver Brewery had a waterwheel some 12 metres in diameter that provided the power for a mill that ground the grains—old-style green technology at its best. The present structure on the site once housed another brewery, Ye Olde Brewery Garage, and was built around 1910 in an architectural style from California known as Casa Mia.”
Pike turns to three sample glasses brimming with beers available at the Cascade Room this summer. Each brew has a strong Main Street connection. “This is East Side Bitter by R & B, the only Mount Pleasant brewery at present. It’s a lovely English-style ale with a West Coast character. There’s a smooth aftertaste and lots of flavours, such as grapefruit and tropical. But it’s not over the top on hops—no mouth-clenching dryness—and makes the perfect pairing with any spicy South Indian or Thai dish, like the curries we do every Wednesday.”
Red Truck Ale is a taste of what’s further down the road for lower Mount Pleasant. “I recommend it for anyone making a transition to ales, and wanting some colour, complexity, caramel, and a touch of hoppiness,” says Pike after a full sip. “Red Truck [Brewing Company] is in North Van now, but it’s planning to relocate in a couple of years’ time to East 2nd just east of Main. Before long there’ll be craft breweries here popping up right, left, and centre.”
Pike saves his own summer tipple for last. “This is our Main Street Pilsner. The idea Cameron and I had was to make it flavourful, but at the same time really clean and crisp in the aftertaste. It’s a summer quaffer, a good session beer, available in both bottles and cans at many outlets, including our local Brewery Creek Liquor Store [3045 Main Street]—my own favourite. We’ve been stunned by the pilsner’s popularity. This year, it’s already seen 138-percent growth.”
At Portland Craft, Forsyth—the other brain behind the brew—is preparing for the Friday-night rush when interviewed by the Straight in his
high-ceilinged, glass-fronted, simply elegant pub—sorry, “beer-focused restaurant”.
“That’s what we have to call ourselves legally,” Forsyth explains. “We have 16 beers currently on tap, and most of them are hard to find in town.” The blackboard over the bar lists the details—not just names but serving sizes, alcoholic strengths, and bitterness values.
The opening of the new mecca in May was part of the hugely successful third Vancouver Craft Beer Week. “It was completely crazy,” Forsyth recalls. “We were still sweeping and wiping and mopping and hammering at 5 p.m., when the doors were due to open. There was a lineup way down the street.”
As expected, beers from Portland—widely acknowledged as the beer capital of the West Coast—provide the top draw in a spectrum of styles. Forsyth also offers a refreshing beer cocktail, the Drafted Americano: Main Street Pilsner with Campari, sweet vermouth, and orange zest.
He returns from the bar with two beers that have very different thirst-slaking profiles. “You can probably tell by the colour this one’s the Tangerine Wheat Beer,” he says. “It comes from Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka, California. There’s a super-tangerine nose when you smell it, but the body isn’t citrus-y. It pairs really well with our Put a Bird on It—fried chicken on a waffle served with a delicious gravy. Wheat beers are a great choice in summer because they’re light and taste so fresh.”
Next comes the flowery Organic IPA by Portland’s Hopworks, the perfect quencher for a throat fire. “It’s got Ahtanum, Centennial, and Cascade hops to give it a grapefruit-y citrus and pine-resin flavour,” Forsyth says. “And there are three malts, including a Canadian pilsner malt. The overall balance is excellent. All the beers by Hopworks are organic—they care a lot about being green. That fits well for us.
“It’s another kind of organic on Main Street, a very artistic East Side meets West Side culture. I see craft brewers as artists too, constantly pushing the envelope and trying to figure out new ways of doing something that’s been around a very long time.”
Mount Pleasant’s legendary and hidden creek is babbling again.