Welcome to Thirsty, a new column about craft beer in British Columbia.
It’s a great time to be a beer geek on the west coast. Three decades after BC’s first modern-day microbrewery opened in Horseshoe Bay, the craft beer movement is booming here. There are now more than 50 microbreweries in BC—seven new ones have opened here in the past 18 months alone, and there are at least another six due to open in the next year, with even more in preliminary planning stages.
British Columbia’s microbreweries as a group have enjoyed sustained growth of more than 20% per year since 2006, with the market more than doubling in size over the past five years alone (from annual sales of $63.6 million in 2008 to more than $134 million this year according to the BC Liquor Distribution Board’s latest quarterly market review).
And I think it’s important to note that the success of craft brewing in BC is not merely an urban phenomenon: breweries have recently opened and are thriving in smaller communities including Tofino, Powell River and Oliver, and more are coming to Invermere, Prince Rupert and New Westminster. In the cities, the craft beer boom has spread beyond the breweries and brewpubs to mainstream restaurants that proudly offer beer menus as long or longer than their wine lists, beer-pairing dinners, craft beer cocktails, and perhaps even a cicerone—a trained beer expert similar to a sommelier—on staff.
Vancouver and Victoria boast private liquor stores that feature hundreds of styles and brands of beer from all around the world, including individual bottles selling for once imaginable price tags of $25 or more. Cask nights are held at different pubs in Vancouver every night of the week, the membership of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has swollen to more than 1000 people province-wide, and beer-focused festivals take place in Victoria, Vancouver, the Okanagan and the Kootenays annually. Plus, craft beer meccas south of the border like San Francisco, Portland and Seattle are just a road trip away.
This monthly column (which began in Vancouver View magazine) will help you quench your thirst for craft beer. I will profile new breweries, describe new beers, interview brewmasters, and preview festivals and other beer events. I may even wade into political issues as they affect craft beer lovers. Whether you are a full-fledged hophead or just someone who is wondering what the heck craft beer actually is, Thirsty is the place for you.
For this introductory column, I thought I’d offer a quick description of some of BC’s newest breweries, just to wet your whistle or maybe even encourage you to head out to your neighbourhood pub or liquor store in search of their products. I’ll start with three this month and continue profiling some more next month. Cheers!
Tofino Brewing Co.
This tiny microbrewery opened last summer with hopes of staying afloat in a market saturated by bigger brands such as Lucky Lager and Blue Buck. Talk about underestimating themselves. Their first batch of 300 growlers, which they thought would last them at least a month, sold out just four or five days after opening. An emergency order of 600 more was gone in another week, and they quickly ordered another thousand. In a town with a year-round population of about 1,650 people, that’s more than one for every man, woman and child who lived there. They had to change their business plan, capping keg sales to allow for the unexpected popularity of the growlers, which now account for most of their business.
I highly recommend visiting the brewery in person, but I know it’s a long trip. Finding their Tuff Session Ale, Hoppin’ Cretin IPA and other seasonal brews outside of Tofino, but you can sometimes find them on tap at the Alibi Room and St. Augustine’s in Vancouver, and the brewery crew usually bring a keg or special cask to festivals on the Island or in the Lower Mainland. Apparently, they are going to start bottling this fall, which should help the rest of us catch their wave, dude.
Hoyne Brewing Co.
101-2740 Bridge Street | Victoria, BC
Tel: (250) 590 5758
Sean Hoyne has been brewing beer in Victoria since 1989 when he brought a six-pack of his home brew to a job interview at Swan’s Brewpub. He moved over to the Canoe Brewpub when it opened in the mid-‘90s and stayed there for the next 13 years. But he’d always wanted to run his own place and he finally got the chance late last year. Hoyne brews five styles: Pilsner, Pale Ale, IPA, Bock and something mysteriously known as Dark Matter. The brewery has found a real niche in the busy growler market in Victoria—there is a near-constant stream of customers when the growler station opens on Thursdays and Fridays from 3:00pm to 6:00pm and Saturdays from noon to 6:00pm.
If you think you’re not into Pilsners, give Hoyne’s a try and I’ll bet you’ll be converted. It’s the closest I’ve had to an authentic Bohemian Pilsner since I drank one in Plzen. For Hopheads, his IPA may not be the hoppiest around, but it is bursting with flavour and aroma. And Dark Matter, well, you’ve got to try it before you can develop your own theory. All I can say is it has one strong gravitational pull.
Hoyne’s beers are available on tap in Victoria and in bottles in government liquor stores and private stores on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland.
Coal Harbour Brewing
1967 Triumph Street, Vancouver, BC
Tel: (604) 215-7471
What’s in a name? This brewery is not located anywhere near Coal Harbour in Vancouver. it’s actually one of two breweries on the same block of Triumph Street in East Vancouver. Coal Harbour Brewing opened quietly in January with a big plan to brew two specialty lagers called Three-11 and Vancouver Lager.
They added a rye ale almost as an afterthought. Well, it turns out the Triumph Rye Ale was their most popular brew, and when brewer Kevin Emms added the Powell IPA to the line-up later in spring, he was rewarded with a gold medal at the Canadian Brewing Awards in the English IPA category. Not bad for a brand new beer from a brand new brewery.
Look for Coal Harbour’s brews in restaurants and bars around Vancouver. Bottles are available in finer private stores as well.
~ Joe Wiebe