I recently returned from a trip to British Columbia, which is the most westerly Province in Canada. The last time I was there was as a child back in 1984 with my main memory being of seeing a train that was more than a mile long passing us whilst stationary at a rail road crossing in the car.
For this visit I was curious as to how the craft beer scene would compare with that in the USA and also whether it would be heavily influenced by the West Coast hop-forward styles of Oregon and Washington State.
Howe Sound Brewing
After arriving at Vancouver Airport and picking up our rental car we proceeded to work our way through the city traffic and head north to our first destination of Whistler. The journey takes about 2.5 hours and passes through the amazing scenery provided courtesy of the Rocky Mountains.
We decided to stop in the small town of Squamish and grab some lunch at Howe Sound Brewing. Howe Sound have been around since 1996 and as well as a brewery and restaurant they are also a hotel.
Their beers were available as a sampler flight, 10oz and 20oz glasses, and various sized bottles including flip-tops to take-out (note: they are cheaper to buy at the brewery than most stores for the same beers). Our sampler flight included:
- Rail Ale Nut Brown (5% ABV, 19 IBUs) – nutty and finishes with some smokiness – 3.5
- Diamond Head Oatmeal Stout (5% ABV, 25 IBUs) – smoke dominated – 2.0
- King Heffy Imperial Hefeweizen (7.7% ABV, 25 IBUs) – low banana with some orange – 4.0
- Baldwin & Cooper Best Bitter (5.5% ABV, 52 IBUs) – too hoppy for style though nice flavor – 3.0
Next we moved on to our destination for the next few days at Whistler Village, which is a ski resort built for the 2010 Winter Olympics. During the summer there is hiking, mountain biking and various other outdoor pursuits to do and the village itself is surrounded by the towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains.
The location is beautiful with visitors from all over the world taking advantage of the stunning scenery. Within the village we found The Brewhouse by MJG (Martin James Group) where we had the following sampler flight:
- Hefeweizen (seasonal) – light banana and clove – 3.0
- Grizzly Brown Ale (5% ABV, 15 IBUs, English Brown Ale) – on Nitro, smooth and nutty – 3.0
- Lifty Lager (4.5% ABV, 10 IBUs, North American Lager) – light in color with some sweetness – 3.5
- Alta Lake Ale (5%ABV, 25 IBUs, Amber Ale) – cloudy, malty & hoppy with citrus and grapefruit – 2.5
- 5 Rings IPA (7.5% ABV, 60 IBUs, American IPA) – pure grapefruit hops though not too bitter – 3.0
In an industrial part of Whistler we located Whistler Brewing Company whose beers can be found in most of the stores. Here you can see their brewhouse through the up-and-over doors and take a tour to find out more about their system and process.
We enjoyed the following taster flight:
- Paradise Valley Grapefruit Ale (Blonde Ale) – orange in color, clear apprearance and plenty of grapefruit flavor – 3.5
- Pineapple Express (American Wheat Ale) – subtle pineapple flavor and cloudy – 3.0
- Big Sky Uncommon Lager (California Common) – bitter and flavorful – 2.5
- Black Tusk Ale (Mild) – smokey and out-of-style – 1.5
- Lost Lake IPA (6.8% ABV, 75 IBUs, American IPA) – dominant grapefruit hops aroma and flavor – 3.0
Steam Works Brewing
Our next stop was the city of Vancouver and a very popular brewery is Steam Works Brewing which is located on the edge of the old Gas Town area next to the northern shore and rail road terminus.
The food menu has a great selection of choices including the one I chose which was an Indian-style lamb burger – the portions are plenty big enough for most appetites!
We started with a sampler flight of the following:
- Killer Cucumber Ale – light & clear in appearance, a cucumber aroma & flavor then spicy and perfumed – 2.5
- Golden Coconut Ale – aroma & flavor were of toasted coconut, a bit like drinking macaroons – 3.0
- Gastown Saison – a lemon aroma and spicy flavor – 3.5
- Frambozen – slightly tart raspberry flavor – 3.0
After this we had a sample of the White Angel IPA then half a pint of the Pale Ale and Oatmeal Stout:
- White Angel IPA – supposed to be a Belgian IPA Wit but was loaded with West Coast C-hops – 2.5
- Pale Ale (5.5% ABV, 35 IBUs) – slight C-hops aroma & flavor – 3.0
- Oatmeal Stout (5% ABV, 30 IBUs, on Nitro) – roasty & smokey flavor – 3.5
Pat’s Pub and BrewHouse
One afternoon I decided to take a walk down Hastings Street to visit a couple of breweries in a different part of Vancouver. I left the downtown area where our hotel was and passed the various exotic cars such as Bentley’s, Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s and Aston Martins to name but a few then found over the next 45 mins my surroundings changed rapidly as I wandered into a very different neighborhood.
West Hastings Street changed into East then I came upon Pat’s Pub & Brewhouse which features a long list of craft beers, live music, and their Pat’s Classic Lager which is brewed on the premises and has been since 2008.
The style of beer is a typical American Lager and although I could not find out the ABV, my estimation is that it will be around 5%.
Down by the docks I found the next brewery called Postmark Brewing. The frontage was unusual with blocks of wood of varying sizes – some sort of art work? Inside there was a wine tasting seminar being held and I managed to get a look around the modern brewhouse which only opened within the last year. Prior to this the company had mainly focused on wine production.
First of all I tried a sampler flight of the following beers:
- Dry Irish Stout (4.5% ABV, 32 IBUs) – slight roasty aroma with a bitter roast flavor – 3.0
- Raspberry Lemon Zest Hefe (4.8% ABV, 14 IBUs) – raspberry dominated with some banana and clove – 3.0
- Strawberry Blonde (based on the Blonde Ale below) – slight strawberry in the flavor – 2.5
- Blonde (4.2% ABV, 18 IBUs) – smooth and grainy – 2.5
I then had a taster of the following:
- West Coast Pale Ale (4.6% ABV, 40 IBUs) – refreshing with C-hop aroma and flavor – 3.0
Granville Island Brewing
Our last brewery to visit during our stay was Granville Island Brewing and as its name suggests it is indeed located on a small island to the south of Downtown Vancouver and is reachable via a short ferry boat ride. The island features an indoor market as well as a variety of boutiques and craft shops.
This brewery features an extensive sampler flight:
- Island Lager (5% ABV, 19 IBUs, Premium American Lager) – smooth & clean – 3.0
- Hey Day Hefeweizen (5% ABV, 15 IBUs) – banana and bready with a hint of clove, low carbonation – 2.5
- English Bay Pale Ale (5% ABV, 18 IBUs) – caramel and malty – 3.5
- False Creek Raspberry Ale (4.5% ABV, 11 IBUs) – a light raspberry aroma with stronger raspberry in the flavor plus it lingers – 3.0
- Van Damme (4.5% ABV, 40 IBUs, Belgian India Session Ale) – a hoppy aroma & flavor using Nelson Sauvin hops, no detectable Belgian yeast esters – 1.5
- Two Tides India Session Ale (4.6% ABV, 35 IBUs) – slight citrus aroma and flavor – 2.5
- Maple Shack Cream Ale (5% ABV, 15 IBUs) – malty with a hint of maple – 3.0
- Swing Span Amber Ale (5.6% ABV, 45 IBUs) – bitter, malty and almost ‘meaty’ hop flavor – 2.5
- Infamous IPA (6% ABV, 55 IBUs, English IPA) – harsh grapefruit flavor – 2.0
We very much enjoyed our first real experience of the Canadian Craft Beer scene and found the beers in general to be comparable with those in the USA for styles and quality. The availability and price of the beer in stores was also extensive, affordable and a high quality broad selection.
If you have any comments or questions please do not hesitate to leave them below.