Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Vancouver B.C. Beer Travel blog

view of Coal Harbour
My Pacific Northwest vacation got off to an ominous start when I was detained at customs for an hour and a half at Vancouver International Airport.  I always say that Canadian border patrol are a bunch of assholes, and they took it to the next level for no reason other than the fact I knew people in Canada. But I digress; I came for friends, adventure, beer and perfect weather.

I visited three breweries in the Vancouver area and numerous beer bars.  Here is an abbreviated version of my trip.


A week and a half before I departed Washington DC, I hosted a BBA Live blind taste test with beer bloggers from around the US.  I surprised them with a beer from British Columbia, Salty Scot from Parallel 49 Brewing Company in Vancouver.  The review went well and the beer was nicely received by the panelists.  The brewery thanked us on twitter for selecting their beer to review.  I followed up stating that I would be in Vancouver a week later and looked forward to checking them out.

Chris Bjerrisgaard is the marketing manager for Parallel 49 who reached out to me after the BBA Live aired. He extended an invitation for a personal tour, I gladly accepted. My friend Jeff and I met him at the brewery and sat down for a couple beers and introductions.  The tasting room was cozy, yet extremely inviting.  The bartender was pleasant as well.

fermentors at Parallel 49
a few beers
With our second beers in hand, Chris took us on a personal tour.  It was a very active brew house and we had to watch our step. He showed us some barrel rooms, the centrifuge, packaging lines, yeast room complete with in-house yeast wrangler, new expansion plans (nothing top secret) and other things one normally wouldn’t see on a brewery tour.
Chris leading the way.  one of their barrel projects

Back in the tasting room we had a few more beers.  One of my favorites was their Hoparazzi IPL, a style I’m not a big fan of, but I really liked theirs.  Since it was summer, there were a lot of fruit and lower abv beers available including radler and wits. The mosaic hopped DIPA I had was tasty. One of the cooler things was their Infusion Tower; think of Dogfish Head’s Randall, but less of a pain in the ass for the beertenders.  The delicious infusion I had was the IPL with apple in ginger.  I was a fan. 

Chris, thank you for your time and I look forward to more Parallel 49 beers to enter Virginia!
The Infusion Tower

My friend bought prearranged tour and sampling tickets for Central City Brewers and Distillers in Surrey, BC; just across the Frazer River from New Westminster, where I stayed.  I was first introduced to Central City’s Red Racer IPA a couple years ago in Washington DC.  Do to legal reasons, the US version is now called Red Betty.  It was the best IPA from British Columbia I had on the trip.  Red Racer is also a brand they use for a lot of cycling merchandise as well.  Just visit their online store to see. 

Central City entrance
Their new facility is a 65,000 square foot behemoth for a craft brewery.  The tasting room is neat, but it didn’t feel like a place you would want to spend an awful long time in.   But by no means is it off-putting.  Before the tour I bought a sampler of four beers, the highlight was Thor’s Hammer a barrel aged barley wine.  I bought a bottle to ship home, but UPS destroyed the package. 

empty cans waiting for fills
sour project
If you have been on many brewery tours, than there isn’t really anything new to see except for the distilling operation; and that it was a clean, well organized and maintained brewery.  Oh, and I did enjoy seeing the barrel room. After the tour we went to the alternate tasting room and were given four samples of various beers, then a half pint (they call them sleeves in BC) of our choosing.  The tour and tasting were well run and even though it sounds like I wasn’t too excited about the experience, I really enjoyed it and recommend a visit.

Hibiscus Wit with Brett....I think

After leaving Central City we took a fiasco of a cab ride to Four Winds Brewing Company. This brewery was recommended by a lot of people, so it was hard to resist.  We got there around 3pm and their closing time was 4pm, which was too bad because I would have been happy staying there for a while longer.  Four Winds had a nice variety of beers available, including the just released Juxtapose IPA, and IPA made with Brett.  It was enjoyable, but I enjoyed their IPA and Pale Ale a bit more.

Tap handles at Four Winds, color coded for flights
The staff was very nice and accommodating, as were the brewer whom I met and one of the owners. Equally welcoming were the patrons in the tasting room.  Everyone seemed relaxed and happy.  The only issue I had, and this is coming as a tourist, is the location.  It is not easy to get to if you don’t have a car.  My friend and I spent a lot of money on taxis to get to and from Four Winds…though it is way cheaper than a DUI!  If you have the means to visit Four Winds, go for it.
The color blocks indicate which beer you're drinking

As I was staying in New Westminster with a friend, I was eager to try the recently opened Steel & Oak Brewing Company.  But they had been so successful, that they had run out of beer.  I was able to try their red pilsner at a local restaurant and it was a solid 8 on the BBA scale.  I haven’t had that style before, but everything about it in the name was a turn off to my taste buds, pilsners and reds, but this beer worked really well.  Given that, I can recommend any beer by them.

Beer Bars:

One of my flights at The Alibi Room
The Alibi Room bar.  
The best beer bar I went to by far was The Alibi Room.  With an awesome tap selection, including some casks, and a hell of a bottle list, I found a second home in Vancouver.  Most importantly, the staff was extremely helpful in helping me select beers from breweries that I wasn’t familiar with.  The interior had a lot of wood tones that made for a comforting environment.    The two beers that stuck out to me were Central City’s Red Racer IPA on cask with citra hop and Breakside Passionfruit sour, a Berliner Weiss.  The food options looked very good, but I wasn’t hungry enough to order anything.

Earlier in the day, my friend and I went to two beer bars in Olympic Village.  Craft Beer Market was our first stop.  It was a huge place on the south side of the Olympic Village Square.  I was impressed with the massive tap list.  I was so overwhelmed that I wanted to order a sampler; which I did.  The only hitch was that I had to order a pre-determined flight.  Since it was all local beers, I was fine with it.  I should have read the menu more carefully, as the beers for the most part on the predesignated flights are ones I would not have ordered for my own personalized flight.  I would call each beer a safe, boring selection.  It reminded me of the time I ordered a flight at Yard House in California and received a cider, an amber and some Shock Top.  Lessoned learned, but shame on Craft Beer Market anyways.  I digress; the place was cool and scenery quite nice. 
beer flight at Craft Beer Market

On the north side of the square is Tap & Barrel.  This place had a slightly more personal feel to it than Craft Beer Market.  Every beer and wine on tap was from British Columbia, which I thought was cool.  As a tourist from the East Coast of the United States, this gave me a nice opportunity to get down and dirty with the local beers.  Of course I only had time for one beer as we had to take a water taxi across the harbor towards BC Place to make our way to The Alibi Room, which also included taking a subway.

water taxi location at Olympic Village. BC Place pictured
People tell me that Legacy Liquor store on the west side of Olympic Village Square is a good bottle shop, but I didn’t go it.  Otherwise, I found some small decent bottle shops scattered around that I was able to buy ample “souvenirs" at.  Unfortunately UPS smashed my box in transit from Seattle to Virginia.  Thanks assholes.

There were a few places I didn't get a chance to visit which I would have liked to, most notably St. Augustine's Craft Brew House.
I highly recommend a visit to Vancouver, especially in late July-early August.  The weather was perfect.

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