Craft Beer in Vancouver: A Primer

by Gary Kalmek

There is probably a very famous saying somewhere out there relating to having too many choices in life, but I am not sure how many of those quotes refer to beer, and more specifically microbrews. I don’t imagine Nietzche or Satre ever had to deal with the dilemma of which specialized brewery to go to today. That might be because they never thought about beer that much, or because they never lived in Vancouver.

With a growing market Vancouver has developed two main hotspots for microbreweries. The first area is located near the Commercial drive area, with breweries such as Parallel 49, Storm Brewery, Bomber, Off the Rail, Callister, Powell Street Brewery, Doan’s and Strange Fellows all within walking distance of one another. The second is around the Main Street area, with breweries such as Main Street Brewery, Brassneck, 33 Acres, BRU Eatery, and Steel Toad. Due to the closeness of the breweries, it is easy to take a walking tour from brewery to brewery, tasting all there is taste and enjoying the different styles and atmosphere, both in the suds and in the locations themselves. There is also guided brewery tour  which provides tastings, behind the scene tours, and transportation to several breweries throughout the city.  Below are some of the best breweries to be found around the Commercial drive area.


Parallel 49

Parallel 49 feels like the epicentre of the craft/microbrewery explosion that has swept Vancouver. Innovative and different, Parallel 49 has never been afraid to push their beers to the edges, trying something new and vital.

Situated on Triumph Street, a few blocks down from Victoria and Hastings, Parallel 49 has a fair sized tasting room as well as growler fills (a staple of the microbrewery) as well as a few snacks on offer. We ordered a flight of four 4oz beers, priced at just $1 per beer. For the beers that are available to sample there are a few mainstays  The Gypsy Tears Ruby ale, Craft Lager, Old Boy Brown Ale, and the Hopporazi.  Besides these there are always seasonal beers, in limited supply so they might not be there week to week. Generally, one should go for seasonals when trying out beers at microbreweries, as they are usually unique and special.  Parallel 49 is one of the best microbreweries around for seasonal beers.






Doan’s Craft Brewing

A mere five minutes walk from Parallel 49 is Doan’s Craft Brewing, one of the city’s newer microbreweries. Located on Powell Street, the storefront is a bit of a hole in the wall. Inside is a long table leading up to the taps. The selection is far smaller compared to Parallel 49,  but is well worth checking out. The small intimate surrounding and the one long table means there is plenty opportunity to talk to those around you (probably about beer).  It also helps that there are board games (some even beer related) which definitely help as ice-breakers.

The beer list for Doan’s consisted of a nice, easy-tasting Kolsch, an Altbier which is like a pale ale with great malt taste, and a rye IPA which has managed to blend the best of IPAs and Ryes into one beer.






Storm Brewing

If Dr. Frankenstein ever decided to get out of the corpse re-animating gig and open up a microbrewery it would probably look like Storm Brewing. I say this with very positive connotations. Found on Commercial Drive just north of Hastings, Storm is where creativity, passion, and a dash of craziness create a different and wonderfully unusual kind of of beer monster. With a tasting room looking more like mad scientist’s laboratory than a bar, Storm’s attitude is exemplified by its appearance. Tastings are by donation, and while there are some mainstay beers, the true joy of Storm are its Brainstorms, or as I like to call them “crazy creations.” Every week (and sometimes every day) there are new Brainstorms available. These are the seasonal beers, and they usually last as long as they are available for tastings/growler fills. Once they are done, it’s on to the next one. What separates Storm’s seasonals from others is the experimentation that goes into them. With such creations as a cherry whisky sour pilsner, orange chocolate stout, a rosemary IPA and a candy apple lager, Storm is a lab of ideas. You are never quite sure what you are going to get with each visit.






Callister Brewing

There is always a new microbrewery to discover in one of the microbrew hotspots.  Just when you think you’ve seen it all,  another spot is added to the list.   The taster’s taps never run dry, so to speak.

Callister Brewing is one of the newer microbreweries in Vancouver. It has set out to differentiate itself from the competition by providing its resources to independent brewers to make something new.

Callister is something of a diamond in a rough:  a great new microbrewery that offers up some interesting and tasty beer, but also a cooperative to build a community of brewers, and beer drinkers.






Bomber Brewing

Opening a microbrewery in Vancouver and using your hockey team as inspiration is as Canadian as it gets. That inspiration has led to a cozy intimate tasting room, and makes Bomber seem like something akin to a neighbourhood bar.

The standard beers on tap include a personal favourite in the ESB (extra special bitter), an award-winning Pilsner, and an IPA. There are also several kinds of rotating seasonals worth tasting.







Off the Rail Brewing Co.

Another newcomer onto the scene, situated right across from Bomber Brewing, Off The Rail has a fairly spread out tasting room, with plenty of big windows to let in natural light. Plenty of seasonals and year-round mainstays means that through variety everyone will have something to drink and enjoy at OTR. With some fine ales, clean spacious décor, and a room with pretty of sunlight, OTR provides one of the best tasting rooms in the city

With all these breweries so close to one another, it is easy to forget that the city has so many more breweries to offer, not to mention throughout the lower mainland as well. Central City in Surrey, Yellow Dog in Port Moody, Steel and Oak on the North Shore, are just some of the breweries available, and with many more popping up all over the place. Maybe having too many choices in life isn’t a bad thing. If there is a saying out there stating it is, it is surely not about beer.

A veteran pint sampler, Gary Kalmek also selects the recommended books for each experience on The Great Canadian Bucket List.

Great Canadian Bucket List