Olympic Beer Primer – Vancouver & Whistler Craft Beer Options

January 29th, 2010 · 20 Comments · Beer & Food, Beer Travels, Washington Breweries

While Molson is the official brewery sponsor and beer vendor of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, visitors will be able to enjoy much more than just bland lager at fine establishments throughout Vancouver and Whistler. Below is some information I put together after visiting Vancouver in 2008, as well as a trip to Whistler in 2009. For anyone headed to the games, hopefully this can help you find some liquid gold (god that’s cheesy). If you have additional questions about the beer scene in British Columbia, or Canadian beer in general, I’d try Canadian Beer News (I’m not sure if there is any beer blog that is BC specific?)

Before I get into the beer, though, Vancouver is just an amazing city overall. Beautiful surroundings, great food, active nightlife and arts scene, Stanley Park etc…I’ll look forward to going back. The highlight was probably the local public market on Granville Island. WOW. Pike Place in Seattle is great and all, but the offerings at this market just looked amazing. Fresh seafood, pasta, meats, veggies, bakeries and tons of other offerings galore. While nice to visit as a tourist, the market really would be amazing for locals. Like I said, it reminded me of Pike Place, but much more functional and impressive for the food.

Our first beer stop was at the Granville Island Brewery. Granville uses this location primarily to make their seasonal and specialty beers, while they produce their regular lineup at a larger location in Kelowna. They had their English Bay Pale Ale, Island Lager, Robson Street Hefeweizen and a seasonal Ginger Beer. The Pale Ale and Lager were both pretty awful, and the Ginger beer was like sucking on a chunk of ginger. As my girlfriend said, “It’s like Asian noodles, without the noodles.” The Hefe was pretty solid. Clean and refreshing with a decent amount of banana and light spice. My only real knock on it was it was a bit thin. Worth stopping in because of its location; any visit to Granville Island brings you right by it.

After checking into our hotel near Gas Town, we headed over to the Steamworks Brewing Company and shared a sampler out on their patio. Besides their normal lineup, they had a Belgian Dubbel, Ginger Beer (is it ginger beer month in Vancouver?) and a Nut Brown. Their Ginger was a godsend after the one at Granville Island; strong ginger aroma but a very balanced amount in the taste. The Dubbel and IPA were also both solid. The IPA isn’t going to blow you away, but it’s balanced and well made. The Oatmeal Stout was pretty brutal, though. Overall, Steamworks is a great place to grab a beer, and it sounds like they rotate seasonal offerings fairly often.
The culinary highlight of our trip was dinner at Boneta. We went all out at this trendy, but beautiful restaurant in Gas Town. We weren’t there for the beer, but it turns out they had the Brooklyn Blast Imperial IPA on tap, which was a great way to start the dinner off. That was followed by a cheese plate and then a feast of:

Smoked Bison Carpaccio, Sherry Vinaigrette, Walnuts, Roasted Tomato
Heirloom Baby Beet Salad, Buffalo Mozzarella, Granny Smith Apple Vinaigrette
Seared Pacific Scallops, Celeriac Ravioli, Braised Oxtail, Mushrooms, Kale, Brown Butter Sauce
Roasted Lamb Rack, Braised Lamb Collar, Quinoa, Roasted Peppers, Pine Nuts
Coconut Bar & Flourless Chocolate Cake dipped in Milk Chocolate, Mango Chantilly
Caramel Bavaroise, Breton Sable, Caramelised Apple, Vanilla Parfait

I know this is a beer blog, but wow…what a meal. Throw in a couple of glasses of wine, and you’ve got gluttony at its finest. This was one of my most memorable dinners in some time, and it was well worth what we paid (Happy Birthday, Jeanne!).

To top off the night, we managed to make it over to the Alibi Room and check out their impressive lineup of beer (see the full tap list from during our visit here). They have about 15 taps, and all of them were pouring a beer from a different BC craft brewer. It’s impressive when you can sit down at a bar like that, and realize that you have never had ANY of the beers that they have on tap. I had small samples of a couple beers, but we were tired and called it a night after that. The bartender informed us that they will be adding five more taps this week, and they will soon have a beer engine installed that will allow them to have cask beer every day. Hell yeah.
I’ll look forward to hitting this place for a longer session in the future. It’s a welcoming lounge that is focused on beer, but is also quite a trendy spot with a varied cocktail list, an interesting food menu, a relaxing vibe upstairs, and a DJ downstairs. This is a place that men should have no problem getting their girlfriend/wife to visit.

After a well rested night, we spent a couple of hours on Sunday walking around and exploring Stanley Park, which is a water-front wilderness paradise right in the middle of the city. It was a beautfiul day to be out and about, and this was just another highlight of a great trip.

On the way back to Seattle that afternoon, we made our last beer stop of the trip at Boundary Bay Brewery in Bellingham. I love their beers (especially the IPA), and this was just my second time visiting. Their Imperial IPA was on tap, and I also picked up the last bottle of it that they had to take home. Awesome. Don’t forget to hit Chuckanut Brewery when in Bellingham as well.

Overall, this was a great trip and I loved the city. It lived up to my expectations and exceeded them for the beer that I found…can’t wait to go back.

Up in Whistler, we visited the BrewHouse at Whistler, which is a Mark James Group Brewery/Restaurant. They were advertising a “new” IPA that was very good, and they had a smoked porter that was pretty light all around, but still worth trying. We also tried the Alexander Keith’s IPA (awful; but drinking it at the top of Whistler Mt. made it better), and we picked up several beers at the liquor store that I haven’t tried yet.

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20 Comments so far ↓

  • Pollack

    Interesting and timely. Will you be going at all?

  • Kaiser

    Doesn’t look like we’ll be going. So close…but haven’t even thought about trying to deal with tickets/accomodations/crowds/traffic, etc…

  • Pat

    Phillips Chocolate Porter! had a few one night in victoria, its gotta be available in vancouver as well, unreal, best chocolate/mocha beer ive had

  • Muskie

    You’re lucky I stumbled on this post. I know a lot about Vancouver pubs and breweries. There are 11 micro-breweries in the greater Vancouver area and even more brew pubs.

    Steamworks is perhaps the best brewpub because it has the great view. Albi room is not one of my haunts, shame you missed the Irish Heater, it was rated one of the top 5 pubs in Vancouver by NBC. It has Guiness, Killkenny and other British/Irish beers but also has the largest selection of whiskeys in BC, plus a lot of good beer both draft and in bottle including a Cask Ale which is brewed by R&B right here in town. Their beer is good.

    Howe Sound Brewery which is harder to find on draft is great Pacific Northwest Brewery. They sell big bottles of the stuff in specialty liquor stores.

    Spring which is from Kelona or something has really grown after releasing their 1516 Bavarian beer. They make a porter and a black, one of which is one of my favourite beer going right now besides Hook Norton Double Stout.

    The beer store to go to is Brewery Creek on Main street about 16th and Main. They have so many beers from all over the world. 100s…

    Back to draft, Spring, R&B, and Howe Sound are good but the folks who make Anarchist Ale make a Blackberry Stout which I really liked, don’t think you can get it in draft easily, but a good local beer store would have it.

    Tree, Deadfrog are fairly local and make some OK beers. I prefer R&B I think they are brewing some of the best local beers lately. Whistler Brewing company is famous for strong beers, Black Tusk being one of their signatures.

    Cranbrook Brewing make the Anarchist Ale and the Blackberry Porter.

    Shark Club is a big bar with crappy beer but close to the STadium. Mark James Group has a new pub in an old warehouse right near the Athlete’s village that will be hopping, no idea what they’re serving during the Olympics.

    Heinekene House is out in Richmond, but in the parking lot next to Steamworks is some sort of German Beer festival. So the Germans and their beer will be outside along with athletes and sausage and stout.

    Several countries and Canadian provinces have pavaillions too. Rusia, Sask, etc. etc. They have music and local food and beer so if you wanted to try beer form Quebec or Ontario you probably could easily enough.

    Should be interesting drinking, luckily I know my share of bartenders so I hope to get a little extra service at my regular haunts.

    Have fun and be sure and take public transit.

  • Vince

    For jazz and beer afficionados, O’Doul’s Restaurant and Bar on Robson St at Jervis St is the place to be. Local beers, including Phillips Chocolate Porter, on tap and local jazz bands every night 9pm-12am during the Olympics.

  • Muskie

    Phillips is another good brewery. I think they are from Vancouver Island.

    Anyway good beer from BC.

    Brewery Creek has all these beers and many many American micro brews, European beers, even some beers from Asia besides the usual culprits.

  • Muskie

    Cannery Brewing in Penticton not Cranbrook make the Blackberry Porter which is a very Canadian beer using local fruit but European Hops.

    http://www.cannerybrewing.com/BBP.htm

  • Kaiser

    Muskie – thanks for all the added advice! I’ve only been up that way a couple of times and I definitely haven’t visited everywhere…so the info is useful.

    Geoff

  • Pat

    Well now you have an excuse to go back…phillips chocolate porter!

  • Eric

    Thanks for the timely post. We’ve been on a couple of Good Beer Trips to Vancouver. Steamworks is probably our favorite, mainly for the location. I really enjoyed Dix Brewery which is near the stadiums as well as Yaletown, both Mark James Group Brewpubs. I hope to be able to get into one of those when we visit for the Olympics. On Granville Island there is also the Dockside Brewpub in the Granville Island Hotel. They have a good view of False Creek, and you can stay the night to boot.

    I highly recommend heading up during World Cup and going to the Commercial Drive district. It gets crazy, especially when Portugal or Brazil play. No Brewpubs out there but the Cuban place is excellent.

    Cheers!

    Eric
    GoodBeerTrips.com

  • Vaughan

    Yaletown Brewpub has one of the best line-ups of beer in the downtown core of Vancouver and the restaurant is equally good. If you want to venture out of town a bit, you should definitely hit up Central City Brewery in Surrey. They have the best IPA on tap in BC in their Empire IPA. If you are lucky you might get a chance to try their Imperial IPA which is a healthy 9% ABU and probably way up there on the IBU’s too. Central City knows a bit about hops and compares to many great micro brews in the US West Coast market.

  • Greg Warwick

    Wow! So many choices in great craft beers/breweries from which to choose. And all this talk of ginger beer, you’re right!

    I do like ginger beer, but my preference is for Fentimans Botanically Brewed from the UK and also from Pennsylvania, USA, but their North American HQ is in Burnaby, BC. It’s brewed and fermented over seven days and has a little bite, but not like those described above. I think the Canadians favour ginger beer because there are so many Brits and Europeans that settled there.

    Anyway, I love my Fentimans and also slide in a Curiosity Cola or Shandy when I’m looking for a break from break from a nice porter, need a caffeine boost and something thirst quenching and non-alcoholic. Cheers! Greg

  • Rick Green

    Thanks for putting the non-sponsor beer primer together, Geoff.

    A little bit of an update… The Alibi Room now has 25 taps and three beer engines, most of which are BC craft beer and rotate all the time — no crap on tap! There is no other place in the entire province with such a selection. [That’s why you should go there, Muskie.]

    There’s a new tap house on Commercial Drive that is trying to go in the same direction as the Alibi Room, St. Augustine’s (http://schmap.it/x4rczl), only word is that they want to eventually have 40 taps.

    Since the last time you’ve been here, there are a couple other places that have regular cask nights, in addition to the Alibi Room and Irish Heather who have cask on all the time. On Mondays at 6:30pm, St. Augustine’s has one. Thursdays will see one at Yaletown Brewing at 4:00pm and Dix at 5:00pm. On Sunday, there’s one at The Whip (http://schmap.it/3f3lb2) at 4:00pm.

    If you’re coming here for the Olympics and you find places mobbed, CAMRA Vancouver has a “Good Beer Guide” at http://camravancouver.ca/guide/ that will offer you some alternatives.

    Previously, I would not have recommended Dockside, even though they have the best patio of all the brewpubs. [Steamworks’ patio has a view, mostly, of a parking lot and surrounding buildings with traffic noise ambiance — blech!] They now have a new brewer, so my view will probably change.

    For those who may be going up to Whistler, there isn’t a lot of good beer in the Village. Probably the only place worth going is The Brewhouse (Mark James brewpub: http://markjamesgroup.com/brewhouse.html). However, Whistler Brewing has a new brewery nearby in Function Junction. Not to be missed, is a stop in Squamish at Howe Sound Brewing (http://www.howesound.com/).

  • Canuck

    Haha this Muskie guy is one funny dude…

    “I know a lot about Vancouver pubs and breweries”

    Really?…

    “Albi room is not one of my haunts”

    Alibi Room

    “Shame you missed the Irish Heater”

    Irish Heather

    Hehe… better check your spelling.

    “Steamworks is perhaps the best brewpub because it has the great view. ”

    Right, because when I want a really good craft brewed beer what I really want is a good view.

    Now that I’ve been a total loser here’s a secret little tip:

    Go into Irish Heather then walk through to the back, across a little alley, and in the door into shebeen:

    http://irishheather.com/gallery.php?id=shebeen#

  • Bierfesten

    Granville Island brewery currently have a limited edition Choc Stout on tap at the brewery, as well as a winter beer. Till Feb 5th they have London Pride Pale Ale.

    Alibi Room & St Augustines are the two ‘Beer Centric’ Bars in the city with over 20 taps of local craft beer. No Molson Canadian or Guinness on tap at these bars, just better local beers, or US craft beers. When in doubt ask a bartender..

    Steamworks currently has a belgian amber beer as their seasonal beer and its walking distance to Alibi Room.

    Take a Skytrain to Central City brewery for their IPA that is in the TOP 10 in North America.

    Look up the CAMRA Vancouver website for more detailed beer bars/events.. as you are likely to hit a CASK night in the city during February.

    Don’t worry Ginger Beer month is over!!

    All Government Controlled liquor stores carry craft beers from BC brewers such as Phillips, Tree, Granville Island, Lighthouse, Dead Frog. Private beer stores (firefly&Brewery Creek) carry more selection of ‘limited releases’ though.

  • Julie

    Find those mentioned above and every other craft brewery location in Canada and the U.S. on http://www.pubquest.com. Cheers!

  • Muskie

    Hey I was typing in a hurry. The Irish Heather and the Shebeen are one and the same now, the latter only opens after 6pm and it has slightly different taps than out font, but they’ll bring anything to you. Sean moved his empire across the street into his own building. He had NBC and Jason Priestly there tonight supposedly.

    All my recommendations were spot on. Carrall is a good street to drink on Six Acres has put together as special Canadian bottled beer list just for the Olympics. Irish Heather also has a good selection of micro brewed beer in bottles, but I prefer draft when drinking outside my home.

    There has been more press about Molson-Coors forcing micro-breweries out of official venues and Rick and Berry always seem to get interviewed, they made Iceholes based on a Stephan Colbert dig.

  • BeerBlotter

    If you go to Alibi Room, get the Storm Brewing 12 year aged Lambic. Wow.

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