Make no mistake: Vancouver has emerged as the craft beer capital of Canada (sorry Victoria). And Brewery Creek – the unofficial brewery district developed around Main Street – has become the industry’s beating heart.
Like SE Portland in Oregon or Seattle’s Ballard in Washington, Brewery Creek has become the shining example of how BC’s craft beer industry can – and should – look (and taste).
Unlike Victoria, the Vancouver breweries have cultivated a tasting room culture, which has been vital in educating those who had no previous interest in beer. It’s also helped foster a particular sense of community and identity that BC has never really seen until now.
And unlike Yeast Van, Vancouver’s other unofficial brewery district, Brewery Creek is smaller, more concentrated, and anchored by a single arterial road. Main Street was already a cultural hub, and it’s combination of condos, boutiques, restaurants, bars and industrial space has made a fertile environment for which the industry and the culture could blossom (and adding to the vitality of the already trendy neighbourhood).
But this isn’t anything new. Brewery Creek was home to a brewery district over 100 years ago. It’s named after an actual creek that used to run down Mount Pleasant, the banks of which were home to numerous breweries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
“Before 1880, Mount Pleasant was mostly untamed wilderness,” local author Jesse Donaldson writes. “But, by the end of the decade, as Vancouver’s population exploded, the banks of Brewery Creek were suddenly packed with all manner of businesses – including a tannery, slaughterhouses, and eventually, multiple breweries – and its roar slowed to a trickle as industry dammed every inch of its length.”
By the 1890s, the brewery industry here was booming, but had started to dwindle by the 1920s. Prohibition effectively killed it off and there wasn’t another brewery active in the area until R&B Brewing set up shop on East 4th, between Quebec and Ontario streets, in 1997.
But as the province and the city loosened its collective grip on alcohol production and consumption, the neighbourhood’s central location and available industrial space made it an ideal location to start a brewery.
More than a few people had the same idea. And now here we are.
Now, a guide to those breweries, in case you’re not aware.
R&B Brewing (opened 1997)
The first brewery to open in Mt. Pleasant since Prohibition was a local mainstay, hipping people to the fact that, no man, Molson Canadian is not the only goddamn beer you need to drink. A close brush with bankruptcy last year resulted in Howe Sound Brewing buying R&B. The company has invested some dough into expanding the lineup and building one of the better tasting rooms in BC, which should be opening any day now.
Beer to try: East Side Bitter
33 Acres Brewing Co. (opened 2013)
One of two breweries to open in the neighbourhood in 2013, and one of two to prove to the uninitiated that Vancouver craft beer is something to be reckoned with. 33A’s dependable, approachable and mostly delicious beers, and their minimalist aesthetic, have made the brewery the most effective welcome signs for the industry.
Beer to try: 33 Acres of Sunshine
Brassneck Brewery (opened 2013)
2013’s other brewery opening had just as much of an impact as 33A. With an ever-rotating lineup of beers – most of which are stellar – to a tasting that was designed to force strangers to actually talk to each other, it’s become the epicenter of craft beer culture in Brewery Creek.
Beer to try: One Trick Pony, if you can find it.
Main Street Brewing (opened 2014)
MSB had actually been in the works for as long, if not longer, than Brassneck and 33A, but licensing and permitting issues resulted in chronic delays. But it was worth the wait. MSB has an approachable, underrated tap list that gets better with every new batch, and a tasting room that we can’t seem to write enough about. It’s comfortable and laid back and never feels crowded, even when it’s full.
Beer to Try: Naked Fox IPA
Steel Toad Brewpub (opened 2014)
Is it a restaurant? Is it a brewery? Is it a sports bar? These are the questions lobbed at Steel Toad since it opened in early 2015 in the former Opsal Steel building. And in its attempts to carve out an identity for itself, people unfortunately have been missing out on what the brewpub does best – excellent pizza and a distinctly European style approach to brewing largely absent from other breweries in the neighbourhood.
Beer to try: Saison Sauvignon
Big Rock Urban Brewery (opened 2015)
Alberta’s Big Rock made the audacious decision to make a go of it in the increasingly competitive and notoriously fickle local beer industry. They’ve gone all out with an impressive production facility, a restaurant and a lineup of beers designed specifically for local palates.
Beer to try: Hollow Tree Red Ale
Red Truck (opened 2015)
Red Truck is often derided for not being craft enough, but that’s mostly because they’re great at selling lots of beer that appeals to mainstream tastes. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Craft beer is a business, after all. And since the gigantic production facility opened last year, the brewery has thrown a series of parking lot parties that were a helluva lot of fun. Let’s hope they bring those back.
Beer to try: Red Truck Ale
Faculty (opening May 2016)
Brewery Creek’s newest, still-under-construction brewery is located along the Ontario bike route at 3rd Avenue – at the base of Mount Pleasant’s incline, which I have no doubt will be great for business. The academia-themed tasting room will serve beers named in honour of college courses: 241 Minze Weizen, 421 Cascadian Pale Ale, etc.
Beer to try: Your guess is as good as mine.