B.C.’s craft-beer revolution rolls on, and rather than slowing down it’s just gathering pace. It’s spreading from the city centres to new communities in the suburbs and beyond, extending the range of styles on offer and establishing East Van’s port area as one of the continent’s new brewery hubs.
Perched on a barstool in the tasting room at Strange Fellows Brewing, which opened last December on Clark Drive, David Perry is buoyant about the future prospects for local beer drinkers. The new president of CAMRA Vancouver (a branch of the consumer advocacy group Campaign for Real Ale) points to the rapid maturation of the scene here in Vancouver.
“We’re seeing cask beer really taking off, and the rebirth of the English mild [ale],” Perry says. “For us, it’s very exciting—we like that traditional serving style, not requiring the extra gas, hand pumps pulling the beer out of the cask and giving a low-carbonated true ale. That’s probably the biggest trend right now in what beer drinkers are looking for. We’re seeing this become almost a mainstay of the beer community now.
“We’re also starting to see people moving out of Vancouver itself and into the outskirts—so in New Westminster, for instance, there’s Steel & Oak [Brewing Co.], and in Port Moody there’s Moody Ales just two blocks from Yellow Dog, which is one of the sweethearts of the brewing scene now. And a third brewery is in the works” in Port Moody, Perry says. “In terms of taste, smoke is big now—Steel & Oak came up with a smoked hefeweizen, and Yellow Dog has a smoked porter. And sours are also becoming big—Flemish ales, lambics.”
Another exciting development is the emergence of a neighbourhood of breweries in the semi-industrial zone of East Vancouver near the north end of Clark Drive. By summer, there will be eight breweries and tasting rooms within easy walking distance of one another.
The furthest south is Strange Fellows (1345 Clark Drive). Look for the big black-and-white sign on the street, bent over at a 45-degree angle. Amazingly, it predates the brewery—but it’s a perfect fit with the inspired off-kilter oddness that owners Iain Hill and Aaron Jonckheere seek to cultivate. Step off the busy industrial artery and you enter a very different world—a high-ceilinged, elegantly designed space with a window overlooking the tanks and barrels behind, furnished with long wooden tables.
Strange Fellows is already in full swing with a broad palette of styles, including Nocturnum, a beautifully balanced dark India pale ale, and Bayard, a potent farmhouse saison. Hill is determined to keep Strange Fellows quirky and has produced a Calendar of Strange Days—little-known festivities that the brewery will celebrate each month with a specially produced beer. In March, it’s a wit (wheat) beer and the occasion is Carnaval de Laetare from Stavelot in Belgium.
A five-minute stumble north, there are two more breweries almost facing each other on the Adanac Bikeway—the already well-established Bomber Brewing (1488 Adanac Street) and new kid on the block Off the Rail Brewing Co. (1351 Adanac Street). When it opened in mid-February, Off the Rail set off at a sprint, to the delight of co-owners Steve Forsyth (former owner of the Railway Club) and Trigger Segal. “We started with 12 beers on tap—all from Steve’s recipes—and the first two weeks have been fantastic,” Segal says. “The second that we opened the doors we were packed, and every day since then the tasting room has been full.”
Keep heading north on Clark and you come to the new and much larger premises of Powell Street Craft Brewery, which expanded to 1357 Powell Street last September. Then veer west to Storm Brewing (310 Commercial Drive), closely followed by Coal Harbour Brewing (1967 Triumph Street), Parallel 49 Brewing (1950 Triumph Street), and soon-to-open Doan’s Craft Brewing (1830 Powell Street). Something weirdly wonderful is happening to this once dour and uninviting part of town.
“And what’s remarkable about the [craft-beer] community is that it’s so cooperative,” Perry says. “All of these breweries work together. They make beers together. When one of them is opening up they lend hops to them—‘Do you need help with your filtration? How are your tanks doing?’—I hear such things time and time again. It’s unlike any other business I can see. Craft beer, cask beer, and all these different smaller trends are affecting the mainstream. This isn’t a trend that’s going away, this is something tangible that people want to be part of.”
“Peak beer” isn’t yet on the horizon—far from it.