Early next morning, Chris and I left the shadows of The Chief and headed for Vancouver. While most tourists visiting Canada’s third largest city beeline to Granville Island, Yaletown, Gastown, or Stanley Park, we were destined for the gritty, industrial East side, the epicenter of Vancouver’s growing beer culture.
Chris estimated the drive to be just under an hour. What wasn’t accounted for, however, was the blood pressure enhancing experience that is Vancouver traffic. After inching our way through several extremely inconvenient construction zones, we finally arrived at our first stop of the day: R & B Brewing Co.
Located in East Vancouver (called East Van or the East Side by locals), R & B Brewing doesn’t usually provide tours. But Barry Benson (the ‘B’ of the operation) chuckled as he told us that Chris must have caught him on a good day when he agreed to meet with us. We ended up “rescuing” him from paperwork when we arrived, so in the end everyone was happy. Barry was a fun and gracious host as we dodged the usual hoses, puddles of water, and brewers as we made our way around the brewery.
Barry offered us healthy samples of their award-winning beers. All of the brews, including the Bohemian Lager, Hoppelganger IPA and the Red Devil Pale Ale, were fantastic but Chris’ favorite was the East Side Bitter. An aggressively hopped Pacific Northwest version of the the traditional style, Chris was overjoyed when Barry advised us to check out the nearby Alibi Room, where he could have East Side Bitter on cask.
When our hour-long visit came to a close, Barry wished us luck at our next stop: Storm Brewing Ltd. We didn’t understand why Barry would say that until we stepped into Storm Brewing and met the owner/brewer James Walton.
James sported bleach blond, spiky hair, a tight purple t-shirt and black platform shoes with springs in them; an outfit more expected at the club than a brewery. Up on a short ladder when we came in, I think the first words out of his mouth were “This fucking glycol system isn’t working and I’m trying to fix it.” This was the beginning of a colorful time at Storm and I think it’s safe to say that it was the most interesting brewery visit we’ve ever had!
James offered us a Basil IPA. Even though he admitted it was old and wasn’t sure how it would taste, it was quite good. The spiciness of the basil was a perfect complement to the hops.
He bounced around the brewery (probably from the spring-filled shoes) alternately fiddling with the glycol system, stirring his brew, answering the phone and stopping momentarily to chat with us or the other visitors. In the meantime, we simply wandered around checking out all the interesting “stuff” he has around the metal shop/mad scientist’s lab/brewery.
Before we left, he also offered us a whiff of a cardamon tincture he made for possible use in an upcoming brew and a taste of one of his renowned sours. One of the tartest beers we have ever tried, Chris said it reminded him of the recently released Russian River Beatification.
Don’t let James’ unique (and dare I say eccentric) approach to owning/operating a brewery fool you, the beers were amazingly different and tasty.
Continuing our beer tour of East Van, we moved from the old guard to the new. A few blocks from Storm Brewing, Parallel 49 had opened a few weeks earlier. Or so Chris thought. Finding the address, we peered into the darkened, not-yet-finished tasting room. Disappointed, we continued on to the next block over to visit the East Side’s other new brewery, Coal Harbour Brewing Company.
Their brewmaster, Kevin Emms, was nice enough to receive us even though we didn’t make arrangements ahead of time. (He said that we must be Americans because Canadians don’t just pop in). As he showed us around the modest facility, Kevin remarked several times that Coal Harbour is an operation working on a shoestring budget. Apologies weren’t necessary, however, as Coal Harbour is a place where hard working folks are making great craft beer.
We tasted one brew, Smoke & Mirrors, an 8.5% ABV smoked Imperial Ale. The rich color and smoked aroma were not completely lost on me, even though the style is far from the top of my list of favorites. The flavor was very smoke-forward and I’m sure that those who like Rauchbiers would enjoy this one.
Their standard lineup includes a Helles, Vienna Lager, Rye beer and a gold medal winning IPA and all are available at the local bottle shop. Kevin was unable to sell us bottles and unfortunately we didn’t have time to pick some up before we left the city. Shoestring budget or not, Coal Harbour’s beers are well worth checking out.
As we were leaving Coal Harbour, Kevin asked whether we were visiting Parallel 49. Chris explained that we had walked by and saw the not-yet-completed tasting room so assumed we couldn’t visit. Kevin replied, “just walk around the back…”
A larger brewery than Coal Harbour, we were surprised to learn that Parallel 49 had been up and running for only a few months. The brewer, Graham With, showed us around and talked with us about the Vancouver beer scene.
He then took us to the tap room that we had peered into earlier to taste some beer. Chris liked the Hoparazzi, a 6% ABV Golden Lager given the West Coast IPA treatment. Coming in at a respectable 50 IBUs, Hoparazzi had wonderful citrus notes.
The most surprising of the brews was the Seedspitter, a watermelon Belgian wit. It was crisp and refreshing with a subtle watermelon flavor; perfect for the summer season. We joked with him about serving it with a slice of watermelon on the side, just like our friends at 21st Amendment. He politely said that they wouldn’t be serving it that way, but the bars probably would be. Once it’s open, the tap room will be a comfortable spot to sample Parallel 49′s beer.
And that concluded our beer tour of East Van. Some call the area “gritty.” But given the proximity of the breweries to each other, we agreed with one of the brewers who called it “brewer’s alley.” In any case, it was a fun day out and a great introduction to the colorful side of the Vancouver beer scene.