I live just off Main Street north of Broadway, and while I don’t have the requisite beard and Ray-Bans, I do enjoy indie music and artisan-roasted coffee and have been known to don skinny jeans. I’ve probably drawn just enough of a profile for you to assume I’m into craft beer. Well, your assumption would be correct, and I’m absolutely chuffed that within the last year and a half, four craft breweries have opened for business less than a kilometre from my home.
First out of the gate was 33 Acres Brewing Co. (15 West 8th Avenue), with its sleek room serving a small selection of tidy ales to stay or to go. Next, Brassneck Brewery (2148 Main Street) opened, so close to home that we refer to our visits as “going downstairs”. Brassneck features an ever-changing selection of up to 10 beers at the ready, including many geek-friendly options such as a recent sour ale brewed with Viognier grape must. The most recent to open is Steel Toad Brewpub & Dining Hall (97 East 2nd Avenue), which made its debut on October 10. It’s a tad more epic, with not only wine and cocktails on offer but a full lunch and dinner menu instead of the more-typical-for-small-breweries food truck parked out front.
It’s Main Street Brewing Company (261 East 7th Avenue) and its 60-seat tasting lounge that’s currently top of mind, as my latest visit reminded me of how I love what separates it from the others. Sure, this popular brewery from the folks who brought us the Cascade Room and the Union has an India Pale Ale on offer (I think it’s practically illegal for a B.C. brewery not to craft the ubiquitous style nowadays), but it’s the cask beers that keep many coming back. While most breweries work primarily with draft beer via kegs (pressurized with carbon dioxide and occasionally nitrogen, which also keeps the beer well carbonated), cask ales are often unpasteurized or unfiltered and are conditioned (including a secondary fermentation), then served directly from the cask without added pressure through a few pulls of a hand pump, also known as a cask engine. The result is more of a British-style ale that, while those unfamiliar with it may find it insufficiently carbonated, is seen by proponents as a fresher, more honest beer. While the team at Main Street Brewing often do experimental brews, their Pilsner, Brown Ale, and Session IPA make up their standard trio. The Pilsner is golden with crisp apple flavours, the Brown Ale all malty with a mildly hoppy finish, and that Session IPA bursts with grapefruit, lemongrass, and a big bouquet of hoppy goodness. Often, you can try the draft and cask versions of all three side by side (prices run from $1.75 for a four-ounce taster to $6 for a 16-ounce sleeve), so you can compare and contrast the character of the two styles. Eats are good and casual, too: there’s always a toasted veggie or meat sandwich on the chalkboard menu, along with snacky fare like dill pickles, pepperoni, potato chips, and more. The best part is that when you find your new favourite, you can pop next door to the brewery’s retail side and get a bottle or growler filled to go, priced at $4 to $11.
On Vancouver’s tasting-lounge front these days, it’s not just beer lovers who are having fun. Craft distilleries like Odd Society Spirits (1725 Powell Street) and the Liberty Distillery (1494 Old Bridge Street) are making spirits that have quickly gained a cult following, and staff are happy to help you taste through them so you can try before you buy, and they’ll even whip up a cocktail for you right on the premises.
I was a tad disappointed recently when I popped into Long Table Distillery (1451 Hornby Street) to find that there isn’t a cocktail or food option to follow their tastings unless you catch them on Gin & Tonic Fridays, when a food truck pulls up outside. How I’d love to try a cocktail made with their Texada vodka ($44.99 for 750 millilitres), which has been distilled with lemongrass and then kissed by Texada Island limestone, or their bourbon-barrelled gin ($35.95 for 375 millilitres), which warms you up with flavours of clove and caramelized orange peel! Well, I was elated to learn that starting at the end of this month, they’re supplementing Gin & Tonic Fridays with a cocktail program on Thursdays and Saturdays and will have bits and bobs of cocktail-friendly snacks on offer too. (Keep tabs on longtabledistillery.com/ for more news on this.)
Finally, for wine fans, let’s not forget that on any day of the week, you can head to the Settlement Building (55 Dunlevy Avenue) and saddle up at Vancouver Urban Winery’s bar. You can sample through 36 wines on tap. Many of them are B.C.’s finest, including hits from JoieFarm and Le Vieux Pin, via tasters, glasses, bottles, or flights. If you get peckish, you have the full menu of the building’s new Belgard Kitchen to choose from. Hey, even if you get a hankering for beer you’re in luck, since, in true Vancouver fashion, there’s a craft brewery—Postmark Brewing—in the building too.