As an increasing number of craft breweries and bike routes shape Vancouver, it was inevitable the two would eventually merge. Cycle City Tours, a local company that offers guided bicycle tours primarily aimed at visitors, is hoping to attract residents with its new Vancouver Craft Beer Bicycle Tour. The three-hour excursion, which made its debut run on June 27, operates every second Saturday through September, and it’s a fun way to check out some of the hottest additions to the craft-beer scene while getting some healthy exercise along the way. How very Vancouver!
The tour visits three of Vancouver’s newest craft breweries: Postmark Brewing, which opened June 18 in Railtown; Bomber Brewing, which debuted mid-February in Mount Pleasant, and Main Street Brewing Company, which opened on May 29 a hop-skip from the Kingsway/Main Street triangle. The ride starts at Spokes Bicycles in the West End and covers about nine kilometres of mostly flat terrain, primarily along bike routes.
While there is plenty of beer sampling along the way, the company emphasizes that this is not a pub crawl. “We take the philosophy that craft beer isn’t about getting drunk, it’s about exploring flavours,” explained guide Nick Anderson, a self-described “beer nerd” who led a media preview tour. At each of the three stops, participants are given a tour of the facilities by brewery staff and offered a flight of three samples of three ounces each. With about a pint’s worth of beer consumed over the course of the journey, the amount is intended to keep participants cycling safely. The point is to taste what each place does best, decide what you like, and return or stock up for later; the guides will carry bottles and full growlers in their panniers.
The ride is also about getting to know the city better by pedalling through some boozy history. At landmarks along the journey, Anderson offered commentary on topics like the city’s first pubs and liquor laws post-prohibition in 1921. Apparently, imbibing was even more regulated back then, when the government prohibited entertainment in beer parlours and forbade patrons from walking from the bar to the table with their beer: they had to be sitting down to drink.
Brewery owners these days have plenty of stories to share about red tape involved in setting up their operations. But at Postmark Brewing, co-founder Nate Rayment told the group that Postmark actually came together remarkably quickly: he and his four partners only conceived of the idea over a few pints back in January 2013. It helped that the facility in which they opened, the Settlement Building (55 Dunlevy Avenue), was already licensed for the Vancouver Urban Winery.
The interior has since undergone a total makeover; shiny steel tanks for beer now stand next to the ones for making wine, and all the operations are affiliated. Both the wine and the beer that’s made on-site is served at the new restaurant, the Belgard Kitchen, which is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. The cycling group samples a varying selection of chef and partner Reuben Major’s brunch dishes, which include Swedish pancakes, salmon gravlax hash, and maple-bourbon bacon.
On our tour, Rayment chatted about Postmark’s philosophy. “We’re just a bunch of friends who got together and started this brewery,” he said. “Our whole focus is to create beers more of the sessionable style.” That is, lower-alcohol beer that people can drink multiples in one session. “In the craft-beer world there’s a lot of 7, 8, and 9-percent beer. You have a couple of those and you’re on your ass,” he noted with a laugh. Instead, brewmaster Craig Noble concentrates on “small batch, great tasting, sessionable beers” that fit the partners’ active lifestyles.
Postmark also makes it easy to fill a growler on the go with a charming take-out window. The brewery offers four core beers plus one limited release (a saison) due out later this summer. The flagship Pilsner is a clean, refreshing beverage at 4.7 percent ABV and 24 IBU that blends Czech and German elements. The dry Irish Stout is a light-bodied beer with hints of chocolate and coffee at 4.5 percent ABV and 32 IBU, while the just-released Raspberry Lemon Zest Hefe has 4.8 percent ABV and 14 IBU and uses fresh Abbotsford berries in the conditioning phase. The red IPA is stronger at 6.2 percent ABV with 50 IBU, but nicely balanced. Postmark’s brews are currently only available on tap, but they eventually plan to can the beer.
It’s interesting to contrast Postmark’s pilsner with the flagship version at Bomber Brewing, the next stop on the tour. Located at the intersection of the Adanac and Mosaic bike routes, Bomber welcomes cyclists with a pump outside the building and a sign that reads “FREE BEER AIR”.
Inside, brewery tour manager Heather Ohlin explained the brewery’s canning operation and briefed the group on Bomber’s products. “The Pilsner was the beer that birthed the brewery,” she explained. It’s a light-bodied, Czech-style Pilsner at 4.8 percent ABV and 35 IBU. Ohlin said that even though the operation just opened in February, it’s already ripe for expansion: Bomber will be adding three new tanks in August.
At Main Street Brewing, owner Nigel Pike also said that his brewery has expansion plans in the works, even though it just opened in May. “Our model was to max out [floor space] in three years. Our projection is we’ll max out in one year,” he said as he showed the group behind the scenes. It’s not as if the space was small to begin with: Main Street is housed in an airy, expansive brick building that dates back to 1913 and was once part of Vancouver' industrial Brewery Creek district. It now backs directly onto a steel-and-glass condo complex.
Main Street’s mainstay beers include an easy-drinking Pilsner at five percent ABV/22 IBU and a malty Brown Ale at 6 percent ABV/20 IBU. “It’s our homage to Britain,” Pike says of the Brown Ale, a rich, molasses-tinged brew that “goes great with barbecue and braised beef”.
Fill a growler to go for dinner at home, or, if you’ve made some friends on the tour, linger once the tour ends in the bright, high-ceilinged tasting lounge and order a pint of whatever you fancied most from the flight.
Or, return another day to try some of Main Street’s ever-changing cask creations. These must be sampled in-house, as they’re in such limited supply that the brewery doesn’t fill growlers to go. (The day our group visited, our flight included at dry-hopped Kellerbier at 5 percent ABV/22IBU that was nice and light with natural carbonation.) The brewery also serves substantial sandwiches with fillings like meatloaf with caramelized onions, which further encourages a return visit when the hunger to try something new strikes.
Vancouver Craft Beer Bicycle Tours run this Saturday (July 12), July 26, August 9 & 23, and September 6 & 20 from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. They cost $69 per person, plus $25 for an optional bike rental at the embarkation point, Spokes Bicycle Rentals (1798 Georgia Street). For info, see cyclevancouver.com/.