For the better part of three decades, beer has been as much about marketing as about the beer. And for all of craft beer’s conscious efforts to do everything differently than macro beer, the industry is still a product of how it presents itself to the world, beyond the brew.
Tasting rooms are a massive part of that. They are, for better or worse, worlds unto themselves, and beer drinkers from major North American beer cities are acclimatized to that (except Victoria, for some reason). You go for whatever unique experience each brewery has to offer. You buy a tasting flight. You soak in the aesthetics. Maybe you talk to the brewer. You probably get all pissed up and stagger on to the next place.
And some breweries are better at it creating these worlds than others. Here’s a list of the nine best in B.C., based primarily on personal preference following a year of “research,” with observations and opinions from friends and strangers I’ve met along the way.
I’ve placed less emphasis on the beer (although that is important) and more on the overall vibe and aesthetics. Only brewpubs and breweries with lounge endorsements were considered.
The Fraser Valley’s latest and greatest brewery has dropped the mic, as far as tasting room design goes. This place is impeccable, like an EQ3 showroom display set to beer. It’s the sort of place to while away rainy day hours reading by its fireplace, or playing chess (or checkers?), or pondering the impending Abbotsford’s cultural millennial revolution that Field House clearly is anticipating.
Another staggeringly impressive location, built almost completely by hand by Stefan and Pearl Marten. The Vernon brewpub is modern, classy and encompasses everything I naively assumed Vernon was not. It’s attached to the Naked Pig (also owned and operated by the Martens), an excellent Southern-inspired barbecue house.
With a wide open setup, huge leather couches, expensive wooden tables and stuffed animal heads hanging from the walls, Kelowna’s BNA Brewing is like enjoying a pint in a One Percenter’s personal residence. Thanks to management’s conscious decision not to serve shooters here, it’s also weeded out the Bro Culture that so many of us find distasteful about Kelowna, replacing it instead with the smart, sophisticated types we tend to forget actually live out there. Like, y’know, the majority of folks who live there year-round.
Like Field House, Four Winds’ Ladner tasting room is the sort of place that lets you forget about the day beyond its windows. The lighting’s low, the walls are painted a soothing teal. The wraparound bar provides a sense of community and connection with whatever strangers are sharing the space with you. The only problem is that it’s not the most easily accessible place by transit.
The brand new Brewery Creek tasting room isn’t yet open at the time of publication, but man, I tell you this place is one of the most original venues in Vancouver. It’s cave-like without being dark, featuring all reclaimed-wood furniture built specifically for the tasting room, and a wall of vintage speakers playing vinyl records. Oh yeah, and a pizza oven.
I mean, obviously. This is the place that kick-started the whole tasting room craze in Vancouver, and for good reason. The long wooden tables, the crowded space, the general sense of glad-tidings of everyone who walks in there. If there’s one space that encapsulates BC craft beer, you know this is it (don’t you?).
I’ve praised this tasting room enough times already, but whatever. High ceilings. Lots of light. A great clientele. Friendly staff. Long wooden tables. It’s a relaxing, reliable venue for social outings of any and every kind (except Trump supporter rallies).
I walked by the patio of Cumberland Brewing a couple weeks ago. The patio was crowded, despite ominous overcast clouds threatening rain. Everyone for the most part stared at me as I walked down, smiling. Some of them had hippie dreads. Almost all of them looked like they work in the forest for a living. A group in the corner was jamming with acoustic guitars, but they weren’t hired to play. It was like they’d all discovered Beertopia, and were inviting me to stay. I haven’t yet, but hell, maybe one day I will.
Obviously, there’s nothing aesthetically pleasing or sophisticated about this place. The walls are green. The tables are all wobbly. The windows are barred. That’s part of P49’s charm…that, and the lively neighbourhood pub feel, attracting all walks of life to have a good time, and a carefree time only. That’s not easy to find these days.