One early autumn day I was playing with my son on Granville Island when a pungent smell wafted through the playground. I inhaled deeply and smiled. “Vern’s brewing pumpkin beer today,” I said, more to myself than my toddler. Vern Lambourne is the brewer at the Granville Island Brewery, Vancouver’s original microbrewery, founded in 1984.
Some people like the sweet, malty smell associated with the production of beer, but for those who don’t: well, if you live in Vancouver, you better get used to it. The city will soon be virtually enveloped in the heady scent of hops and barley, thanks to a wave of new craft breweries opening this year.
Three breweries opened here last year—Coal Harbour Brewing and Parallel 49 Brewing Company across from each other on Triumph Street, and Powell Street Craft Brewery nearby—and four more hope to open in the city in 2013, along with two in the suburbs and three major expansions for existing breweries.
The first new craft brewery set to open in Vancouver this year is 33 Acres Brewing Company (15 West 8th Avenue), which is aiming to have beer on the market by mid-June. I visited on the day when electricity was hooked up to the brewing equipment two weeks ago.
“I was jumping around and dancing earlier when I saw the lights come on in the brewhouse,” founder Josh Michnik said. “That was pretty exciting. Tomorrow’s going to be a great day when that boiler fires up.”
Michnik, who is 29 going on 30, with an unkempt beard that brags of long hours spent putting his brewery together (he stopped shaving November 1—it seems to be a trend among brewery start-ups, akin to playoff beards), decided to open 33 Acres two years ago after several years working as a film and television art director in London and Los Angeles.
Adjacent to the Anza Club, one block off busy Broadway, the brewery’s storefront will undoubtedly be very popular among workers at nearby businesses, including the thirsty digerati at HootSuite, which recently moved into a building two blocks away. Michnik is focused on serving the locals first and foremost.
“That’s all I aspire to do. I have no interest in opening a brewery that’s on a truck route. That’s just not what I’m about.”
Next to open in Vancouver—by July 1, they hope—will be Brassneck Brewery, the brainchild of the Alibi Room’s Nigel Springthorpe and brewer Conrad Gmoser, who spent the last 17 years at Steamworks. Located at 2148 Main Street at 6th Avenue, just around the corner from the Whip, Brassneck will be a growler-only storefront brewery with a pedestrian focus. Customers will be able to sample a wide variety of beer styles, buy a glassful to enjoy on-site if they like, and pick from three sizes of growlers to take beer home: the typical 1.89-litre (half-gallon) jug as well as litre and half-litre refillable bottles.
“Definitely a big part of the whole deal is to bring a new type of retail experience to the table for Vancouver,” Springthorpe explained while sipping a Fat Tug IPA through his own facial hair at the Whip. “We’re trying to set it up so that everything happens there. The perfect scenario would be that 95 percent of the product we make is going out of those doors [on Main Street] with a few draft accounts here and there, no packaged product.”
Springthorpe arguably knows what beer lovers want better than anyone else in B.C. thanks to the on-the-job research he has conducted at the Alibi Room, the Gastown taphouse considered by many to be the best place to drink craft beer in the province.
“There are places like this that exist,” he said of Brassneck. “They just don’t exist in Vancouver.”
In addition to 33 Acres and Brassneck, two craft breweries are about to open just outside the city: Deep Cove Brewers and Distillers in North Vancouver and Four Winds Brewing in Delta. Both breweries served their first beers at CAMRA Vancouver’s Spring Sessional cask festival on May 4 and should have beer on the market in June.
Main Street Brewing and Bomber Brewing also hope to open in the city this year, but neither will likely have beer flowing before the fall. Red Truck Beer, the production brewery for the Mark James Group, is building a new truckstop-style brewery and diner on 1st Avenue just off Great Northern Way. Major brewery expansions are also in the works for Surrey’s Central City Brewers + Distillers, which will open a new $20-million brewery in July, and Steamworks, which will open its own new production facility in Burnaby this fall.
Look for some of the city’s new breweries to be serving beer at the Vancouver Craft Beer Week Beer Festival events on June 7 and 8 at the River Rock Casino Resort in Richmond.
Take a deep breath, Vancouver. The smell of brewing is here to stay.