Craft breweries go gangbusters in Metro Vancouver's 'burbs
Four years ago, launching a craft brewery and tasting room in Port Moody would have been considered, in modest terms, a gamble. But for Mike and Melinda Coghill, location was non-negotiable. “We’ve always been firm believers of trying to live and work in the same community,” Mike tells the Straight by phone.
In 2014, the husband-and-wife team opened Yellow Dog Brewing in a refurbished machine shop on Murray Street, an industrial area that saw little foot traffic apart from the families that flocked to Rocky Point Park across the road on sunny days. Situated over 20 kilometres east of Vancouver’s Grandview-Woodland and Mount Pleasant ’hoods, where the region’s craft-beer craze was taking hold, the brewery and tasting room—their name and branding a loving nod to the Coghills’ Labrador retriever, Chase—saw immediate success.
“The thing we missed most about living in the city was the breweries,” explains Mike, who moved to Port Moody from Vancouver with his family in search of a larger living space, “so we decided to open one ourselves.”
The Coghills aren’t the only brewery-and-tasting-room owners who are skirting Vancouver in an effort to remain close to home. A short walk away, home brewers Dan Helmer and Adam Crandell, both of whom grew up in the area, launched Moody Ales that same year. Next door to Yellow Dog, twin brothers and Maple Ridge natives Cody and Clay Allmin opened Twin Sails Brewing in 2015. Most recently, Parkside Brewery, the brainchild of past Granville Island brewmaster Vern Lambourne and Red Truck Beer’s former director of sales, Sam Payne—both Tri-City residents—joined the bustling block.
Now affectionately known as Brewers Row among locals, the neighbourhood regularly lures craft-beer buffs from across the Lower Mainland looking for a taste of the breweries’ rotating taps. (Yellow Dog makes some seriously crushable sours; Moody Ales often employs offbeat ingredients like pineapple and matcha; Twin Sails specializes in "progressive" and playfully experimental beers; and Parkside offers a selection of crisp, crowd-friendly ales.)
And while Port Moody’s unique zoning regulations have helped make many of these brewers’ pipe dreams a reality, their decision to lay down roots at home has inadvertently transformed the quiet suburb into a craft-beer destination. Call it subeerbia: a mecca of sorts for devoted imbibers.
“With the SkyTrain [Evergreen Extension] open now, we’re getting lots of people coming from Vancouver,” says Coghill. “It’s a very eclectic mix of people, for sure.”
James Garbutt and Jorden Foss, meanwhile, decided to open Steel & Oak in New Westminster, quite simply because they live there. Foss saw a growing number of young folks in the city, many of whom, like him, had relocated from Vancouver after starting families. He fancied a laid-back place where he could hang out and enjoy a few well-crafted beers without commuting to the city.
Evidently, many New Westminsterites felt the same way. “Who would’ve thought that a building beside an overpass, between the SkyTrain and the train tracks, and beside an auto-body shop would be busy, even on a Monday night?” says Foss. The former voice-over actor recalls that he and Garbutt had to temporarily close Steel & Oak a few weeks after opening in 2014 because they had literally run out of beer. (The pair, along with brewmaster Peter Schulz, quickly dipped into their bottling-line fund to purchase more production tanks.)
By attracting locals and Vancouverites alike to the area, the brewery—perhaps best recognized for its award-winning dark lager—has even helped bring attention to neighbouring businesses and developments. “People get their car fixed at Kirmac [Collision & Autoglass] just so they can pop in to have a beer,” Foss says, “and I’ve had numerous people tell me that they decided to buy a condo just on the other side of this overpass because we were close by.”
Glenn Hutton, one of four partners at Richmond’s Fuggles & Warlock Craftworks, sees craft beer’s move into the suburbs as a natural progression. “Vancouver, at some point, is going to tap out,” he says during an interview at Fuggles’s geek-tastic tasting room, where guests can battle it out in retro video games while sipping on glasses of strawberry wit and espresso-infused stout. “So what does that next person have to do to stand out to bring people to their room?”
The brewery’s location in Richmond’s Ironwood, an industrial area situated just minutes away from the city’s B.C. Ferries facility, proved convenient for deliveries around and outside the province. (Hutton says the brand, which totes the slogan “Keeping beer weird”, is huge in South Korea and Taiwan.) The spot, which began crafting small batches in 2015 before officially opening its production space and tasting room last year, also serves as a gateway brewery for Richmondites who are new to the suds scene.
“The good thing about being here [in Richmond] is that we’re a lot of people’s eye-opener to craft beer,” explains Hutton.
Metro Vancouver’s subeerbia has caused such a stir that Vancouver Craft Beer Week is hosting its first-ever Tri-Cities event this Sunday (May 28), where attendees can make the pilgrimage to Brewers Row to enjoy beer alongside live music and food trucks. Steel & Oak and Fuggles & Warlock, meanwhile, will be pouring drinks at VCBW functions such as Big Rock’s Collaboration Tap Takeover (May 27), the Feats of Strength competition (May 28), and, of course, the finale VCBW Festival at the PNE Fairgrounds on June 3 and 4.
Hutton says he would love to see another tasting room join Fuggles in Richmond’s Ironwood. For now, however, he’s enjoying the homecoming and introducing residents of the ’hood and beyond to some kick-ass brews. “I grew up here,” he says. “It’s a fun environment. It’s about being chill and having a place to drink great beer.”