I was driving by 33 Acres last Wednesday and found two lengthy lines of people waiting to get in – one for the tasting room and one for the growler fill line. Later, a co-worker who was in that line told me the wait for growler fills was 45-minutes.
That’s crazy. A 45-minute wait! For growler fills! On a Wednesday! While 33 Acres does have those space-age looking fill stations that take a frightfully long time to fill, so do plenty of other local breweries, and without the wait times.
No, the astounding thing here is that many people were waiting to drink 33 Acres beer on a Wednesday. Location has something to do with it, but there are three other tasting rooms (Brassneck, Main Street and Big Rock), one brewpub (Steel Toad) and plenty of craft-focused bars located in the neighbourhood.
This lineup – which is a common enough occurrence that 33 Acres regularly employs an “At Capacity” sign outside – speaks to the demand for 33 Acres beer, and the fact that they, more than any other brewery in BC, have mastered the art of the transition, or the “gateway” beer.
Gateway beers are so important for the beer industry. I feel like I’ve written this a million times before, in million different ways, but the way to grow this industry is to ensure most breweries have at least one beer that can be enjoyed by people who usually drink spirits or wine, or anyone who’s been drinking pedestrian lager due to a lack of awareness.
Anheuser-Busch is very aware of this trend and has a whole product line devoted to the gateway beer in Shock Top (which is a silly marketing scheme all around). Phillips Brewing stumbled on to this with great success with Blue Buck. These beers are appealing for some beer drinkers because they’re balanced with just enough sweetness and just enough bitterness, and taste very little like…well, Canadian.
That balance is vital for keeping craft neophytes coming back to craft. If you try a Fat Tug as your first foray in to craft beer, you’ll likely be turned off for good. I hear it all the time, “Craft beer’s not for me.” If you think this, you’ve probably tried some hoppier-than-hell IPA and went running back to PBR.
What 33 Acres does extremely well is produce a dependable, consistent list of beers that newbies looking for a “craft beer experience” can go and enjoy themselves by trying a tasting paddle and baste in the chic, trendy aesthetics of their tasting room. Or, it can appeal to craft beer fans that appreciate depth of flavour and a clever approach to brewing.
This isn’t meant to be a love letter to 33 Acres – I’m simply using them as an example of just how successful a brewery can be with this approach. For better or worse, 33 Acres has become the most efficient billboard for craft beer in Vancouver, but there are plenty of other locally produced beers that offer that same depth of flavour and approachability needed in a gateway beer.
Here are the best options for gateway beers, in case you’re wondering.
33 Acres of Sunshine
33 Acres’ best beer, in my humble opinion, and easily it’s most approachable and refreshing.
Phillips Blue Buck
This guy spawned countless craft beer fans in BC; a malty, slightly sweet body and a light kiss of the hops that helps newbies get acquainted with beer’s bitterness. Perfect for newbies.
Parallel 49 Tricycle Radler
Any radler will do, but this one’s widely available and really tasty. Tricycle tastes hardly like beer at all and more like grapefruit juice, so it’s a good option for anyone that associates the word “beer” with the words “fizzy” “light” and “tasteless”.
Dark(er) Belgian beers are ideal for people coming from a wine background. This one has a rounded sweet flavour and very little bitterness. There a lots of Belgian-style beers being brewed in and around Vancouver right now, but this one tops them all.