Vancouver has had a fine tradition of locally brewed beers going back to the 1880s. But by the late 20th century, local beer pickings had become slim and sadly predictable. For various reasons, all that has changed in recent years. The Terminal City of the 21st century has witnessed an explosion in craft breweries. But where to begin?
Fortunately, the crew here at Forbidden Vancouver Walking Tours knows a thing or two about Vancouver beer. We cover some of the early history of beer drinking on The Forbidden Vancouver Tour – but we’ve done our fair share of research on modern day beer drinking as well! We’ve taken the time to slosh through innumerable small batches of brew so you don’t have to. What we’ve come up with are ten of the best locally brewed craft beers you’re sure to enjoy. We’re confident there’s something here for everyone, unless you just hate beer. In that case, scroll down for some non-beer local libations just for you.
1. Westminster Brown Ale (Main Street Brewing)
Brewed in what was once the garage of one of the city’s first beer makers in the historic Brewery Creek area of Mount Pleasant, Westminster Brown Ale is a tasty treat for the seasoned beer drinker and novice alike. The flavour is complex and distinct. It’s perhaps a little sweeter than you’d expect, but not too sweet and even a little bitter, with hints of citrus and caramel. The label credits the blend of German, Canadian, and English hops for the unique taste, and for us, it’s a reliable brown ale for any occasion.
2. Contradiction Sour (Powell Street Brewery)
Fruit-infused beers appear to becoming more and more popular lately, and this is one that does it well. Contradiction lives up to its name; the contrasting flavours cascade down your throat to make it anything but a boring beer. Predominantly sour, but sweet and a little acidic, it pours like a stout, but the taste is more like an IPA. The citrus and tamarind work wonderfully with the other flavours, which is not always the case with fruity beers. Highly recommended if you’re looking for something a little different.
3. Kaffee Coffee Blonde (Steel & Oak Brewing Co.)
Mixing coffee with beer is another trend that doesn’t always work so well, but Steel & Oak get it right with Kaffee. It’s not a heavy beer, and the flavour is suitably delicate and nuanced. The Ethiopian coffee doesn’t overwhelm the taste buds, but acts as a backdrop to let the other flavours, notably citrus and bergamot, shine through, making this a satisfying beverage indeed.
4. Olde Winston Smoked Porter (Off the Rail Brewing Co.)
They say it’s a winter beer, but you would enjoy an Olde Winston Smoked Porter any time of the year. The signature smoky flavour is subtle enough to combine nicely with the subtle coffee and chocolate flavours. It pours dark but won’t make you feel weighted down like some porters. It has sweet and sour tones and is punctuated with a slight bitterness.
5. Dark Mild (Strathcona Beer Co.)
“Dark” and “mild” are not two things you find together very often in the world of Vancouver beer, but when you do, it’s refreshing on more than one level. It’s a smooth, rich tasting malt beverage with hints of chocolate and coffee. Dark Mild is a traditional English style beer popular that working folks have enjoyed forever, for good reason. If you head down to their tasting room on East Hastings, they also have the perfect dish to pair with the Dark Mild: delicious pizza.
6. Amber Ale (Dageraad Brewing)
For something a little European, Dageraad specializes in Belgian style beers. Their Amber Ale is not trying to reinvent the wheel, just deliver a satisfying Belgian beer, which it does. A little malty, a hint of fruit, a bit salty, and just hoppy enough, this is one of the lighter tasting beers on this list, but with a rich flavour and a delightful floral aroma. Recommended with a meal.
7. Black Plague Stout (Storm Brewing Ltd.)
Storm began brewing in 1994, making them a pioneer of Vancouver’s modern craft beer scene. Despite their head start, you won’t find them competing for shelf space at the local liquor store, as they only brew kegs for local watering holes and the occasional house party.
Black Plague Stout was named to honour the fact that beer drinkers often survived the black plague of the middle ages because the disease spread through stagnant water, not yummy beer. The flavour is just how a stout should taste: deep, rich, and smooth, with hints of licorice and cocoa. Recommended for when you only want one or two pints to quench your thirst.
8. 33 Acres of Sunshine (33 Acres Brewing Co.)
To be honest, 33 Acres’ branding made us reluctant because it felt unwise to trust a company that seemed unable to decide if it was marketing beer or yoga sessions. But once we tried it, we were instant fans. 33 Acres of Sunshine is a lovely blonde, malty, French-style beer with a slightly fruity aroma and taste. The defining ingredient is coriander, which nicely complements the citrus and licorice accents. A full-bodied, yet fairly light beer, 33 Acres of Sunshine is the perfect summertime beverage while lounging on the beach. Or anywhere, really.
9. Cheeky Bugger Ordinary Bitter (Brassneck Brewery)
Another beer you won’t find in your local beer and wine store, at least not yet. In the meantime, you’ll have to check out their Main Street tasting room or head down to the Alibi Room in Gastown to sample their wares. One to try is their Cheeky Bugger Ordinary Bitter. It is indeed ordinary, but if you like beer, that’s not a bad thing. A nice fruity aroma, a juicy, malty taste, and a slight bitterness that lingers on your tongue; what more could you want from a bitter? A straight shooter of a beer.
10. Personas West Coast Commons (Fuggles & Warlock Craftworks)
Fuggles & Warlock prides itself on “keeping beer weird,” but though good beer making may be rare, it shouldn’t be shunned as weird, so long as the experiments prove successful. F&G’s Personas West Coast Commons tastes like no other beer you’ve tried, but really, it’s just a delicious beer. An amber lager that tastes more like an ale (but less bitter), Personas is a refreshing hybrid brew, mildly spiced with a hint of citrus, and happily hoppy.
Bonus: Not Beer
No. 82 Amaretto (Sons of Vancouver Distillery)
The number in the name refers to the number of attempts Sons of Vancouver made before they hit the amaretto jackpot. It’s a complex tasting liqueur made with apricot kernels, Bourbon vanilla beans, and orange peel, and sweetened with demerara and blackberry honey, for a sweet, nutty taste that goes down easy. Plus Sons of Vancouver owner-operators James and Richard are the nicest gents you will ever meet!
East Van Vodka (Odd Society)
An homage to the city’s quirky east side, East Van Vodka is made in small batches in German-made copper pots, with Prince George barley malted in Armstrong, BC, and filtered Vancouver water. It’s more fragrant than most vodkas, and a little sweeter, so don’t expect a traditional vodka. Nevertheless, it’s smooth and tasty, and great in cocktails.
Wine (Tom’s East Vin Winemaking)
If beer, liqueur, or spirits aren’t your thing, and you are looking for something economical and are feeling adventurous, head down to Tom’s East Vin and make your own wine. Tom offers a full range of wine kits ranging from $120 to $200 that will net you 29 bottles of wine in a month or two. French, Italian, Chilean, Australian, Californian; Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet, Malbec, Riesling; red, white, rose: whatever your wine preference, Tom himself will set you up with a kit and walk you through the easy process of winemaking. Impress your friends that you made something this good yourself!
So many options! Choices were more limited a hundred years ago. What could you drink in the illegal drinking dens of Gastown back when alcohol was outlawed? Find out on The Forbidden Vancouver Tour.