Ranking every* brewery in Metro Vancouver

beer

I: Why are you doing this?

Hey, did you know that Vancouver has a craft beer “scene”?

Of course you do: if it weren’t for the fawning articles by international media, the significant renovations to industrial land throughout the city, or the yammering of your bearded friend who won’t shut up about the upcoming cask event at the Alibi Room, you would know it anytime you entered a restaurant or liquor store.

Vancouver has a ridiculous number of breweries, most of which have sprung up in the last five years, meeting a demand that is thus far unquenchable.

More than that, there is a distinct culture around the entire industry, with passions around specific brands and districts that rivals anything outside sports teams in this city.

And what teams are to sports, breweries are to the craft beer scene: people have their preferences partly based on geography, partly based on local TV liquor store habits, and partly based on joining the popular crowd. People gather at the arena tasting room to cheer on enjoy their preferred team beverage, and then talk about it. While drunk drunk.

So which is the champion?

Flickr/Thomas Fisher Library
This would have been a very short article 100 years ago. (Flickr/Thomas Fisher Library)

II: No really, why are you doing this?

There are a few reasons why we’ve set out to rate and rank every brewery in our region. To start with, the proprietor of this website really enjoys ranking arbitrary things. He then asked several of his friends if they’d like to spend the summer and fall visiting tasting rooms they hadn’t experienced, and they heartily joined in.

But more importantly, we felt it was a neat idea that hadn’t been done before — an idea that would start some fun arguments, but also be of some value.

In general, every addition or development in Vancouver’s craft brewery scene is widely celebrated, because everyone in the community wants everyone to succeed. Which is understandable.

Flickr/Province of B.C.
Flickr/Province of B.C.

But, and this is as obvious as it is important, some breweries are great and some breweries are not. Just like any commercial industry in any city where there are multiple competitors.

However, if you’re trying to find out which brewery is best in Vancouver, you generally have to rely on sites where individual beers are rated, or awards where individual beers are given trophies, or subjective lists that go only 5-10 deep and are heavily weighted towards areas where there’s a high concentration of places.

Which is fair! Rating one beer is much easier than trying to rate the totality of a brewery’s output. And trying to make a visit to every single brewery, and drink enough to form a holistic opinion of their quality, and then trying to come up with an objective ranking of the brewery as a whole is almost impossible. It would require stupid people spending way too much time on a vanity project.

Well. We’re those stupid people. We spent too much time on this vanity project. And we’re ready to share our rankings.

III: Methodology

Which breweries qualified? There were four factors which gave us our list of 42 breweries.

    • First, they had to be based within the boundaries of Metro Vancouver: as much as companies on Vancouver Island contribute to the local scene (to say nothing of Howe Sound in Squamish, Persephone in Gibsons, or a number of spots in Abbotsford and Chilliwack), we wanted to get this project done in a timely fashion, and we didn’t want to subjectively pick and choose favourites for a list intended to be for completists.
    • Second, they had to have opened before July 1, 2016: partly because that’s when we started our “research”, but partly because we understand that there are bound to be a few hiccups when opening up a new joint, and it would unfair to judge an outlet working out the kinks in real time. Which means fans of Vancouver’s Strathcona/Faculty/Luppolo Brewing in Vancouver and Britannia Brewing in Richmond are out, for now.
    • Third, they have to have some sort of tasting area: the intent of this ranking is to talk about places you can go to as much beers you can purchase, which means the experience of visiting the brewery and drinking there is very much part of the consideration, as our scoring system will detail. And while we could have included Coal Harbour and Russell Brewing, and adjusted their scores, we didn’t want to compare apples and oranges.
    • Finally, in the case of national/international companies, we only wanted to include breweries fundamentally associated with a unique Vancouver brand, which meant yay for Granville Island and nay for Big Rock.
Granville Island might have won this competition. If it was 1994. (Flickr/Conrad Olson)
Granville Island might have won this competition. If it was 1994. (Flickr/Conrad Olson)

How did you conduct your research? All told, there were 15 people, other than Justin McElroy, that provided their learned knowledge to this project: Ricardo Bortolon, Ian Campbell, Laura Rodgers, Andrew Forshner, Mary Leong, Isabel Ferreras, Kaitlin Green, Hans Seidemann, Gerald Deo, Steve Masuch, Matthew Naylor, Neal Yonson, Bronwyn Guiton and Bryce Warnes.

  • Occupations: A diverse group of middle-class Vancouverites between the ages of 25-32. The majority visited 10-30 breweries, the proprietor of this website visited all 42 because he is damaged.
  • Expertise: Everyone in our group had their own developed craft beer tastes going in, and stopped drinking Molson non-ironically by the time they graduated university, but none could be considered experts/professionals/snobs in the realm of beer tasting.
  • Method: People would go a brewery, order a flight to their liking (confident that everything would be tried because of differing preferences in the group), and consider. The rating didn’t have to finalized right there, and people could consider other beers they had from the place in question when putting down their scores, but since the core of the project was “what’s the best place to grab a beer?”, these visits were the centrepiece of our analysis.

The biggest question: what is the scoring system? The problem with any “objective” ranking is that you have pick your metrics, and those choices are value judgements in and of themselves. So when deciding upon a system, we talked frankly about what we ultimately prioritized in a good brewery. And we realized the following:

Flickr/Province of B.C.
Flickr/Province of B.C.
  • We greatly valued consistent quality over one or two great beers: Having a standout beer that everyone loved was important, but more important to us, when considering a brewery as a whole, was whether you could try new beers and be regularly impressed, and whether you could fill up a flight reliably without encountering a dud.
  • We narrowly valued experimenting over typecasting: This was a tough call, because once a brewery is popular enough, they ultimately choose whether to expand their roster or not, whether to stick to one or two styles, or whether they try and appeal to a broader population. Still, we thought that given the previous bullet point, balancing out the value we gave consistency with how experimental they were would be fair. Many places can make good beer, many places can consistently innovate. The ones that do both? That ‘s what we want to reward.
  • We valued good tasting rooms, especially if they were unique: If you think the beer should be the only factor in rating a brewery, then bully for you. But we’re all human, and location and layout and design and branding and everything else psychologically impacts how enjoyable a drinking experience is, and we felt it was important to recognize that. Plus, people wanted a category where they could be a bit subjective, so you know.

IV: Scoring system

  • QUALITY — 20 points: how do the beers generally taste? If someone had their growler at a party, but you didn’t know the exact beer, would you mock them? (Under 10 points) Shrug your shoulders? (Exactly 10 points) Be generally positive? (Over 10 points) Endorse their choice? (Over 14 points) Try and steal their growler? (Over 17 points)
  • STANDOUT — 5 points: Do you have a favourite beer? Do you think it’s good enough to give your brewery a bunch of bonus points? Here was the place to do it.
  • DIVERSITY — 10 points: How many selections do they have in the tap room? Most places have a mix of IPAs/lagers/ales, with 2-4 seasonals and signature beers thrown in … is there any deviation from that?
  • INNOVATION — 5 points: Do they put their own spin on beers? Have they been leaders or followers in local trends? What does the company do that is different (and valuable) than everyone else in the market?
  • EXPERIENCE — 10 points: How did you feel coming away from the tasting room? Was it fun? Had thought been put into the design and overall branding? Was sitting at the bench and enjoying the atmosphere more worthwhile than grabbing a growler (or bottle from the local liquor store) and getting out of there?
Appropriate response of a normal person to all of this, if they were a panda.
Appropriate response of a normal person to all of this, if they were a panda.

Everyone put in their scores. What you see is the average.

Is it subjective? Absolutely. A little silly? By definition. Unfair to rate something based on, in some cases, just one or two experiences? Yep! Are some of the scores in the individual categories objectively wrong? Probably!

But at worse, we think this list is a great argument starter. At worst, we hope it’ll be a decent guide. And if it doesn’t do either…well, we drank (mostly) a lot of tasty beer we otherwise wouldn’t have in the last seven months, so we don’t have any regrets.

So without further rambling, here are the ratings of (nearly) every brewery in Metro Vancouver.

(Click on the name to read the individual review)

  BOTTOM TIER  
42 Steel Toad 19.14
41 White Rock Brewing 20.25
40 Maple Meadows 20.33
39 Dockside 22.29
  MEDIOCRE TIER  
38 Off The Rail 25.00
37 Granville Island 25.29
36 Big Ridge 25.33
35 Yaletown 26.25
  ADEQUATE TIER  
34 Black Kettle 27.00
T-32 Doan’s 27.50
T-32 Dogwood 27.50
31 33 Acres 27.69
30 R&B Brewing 28.60
29 Dead Frog 28.80
28 Green Leaf 29.38
  AVERAGE TIER  
27 Parkside 29.86
26 White Rock Beach Beer 30.13
25 Postmark 30.71
24 Red Truck 30.75
23 Deep Cove 31.63
  GOOD TIER  
22 Hearthstone 32.20
21 Central City 32.210
20 Bomber 32.214
19 Callister 32.29
18 Twin Sails 32.50
17 Steamworks 32.63
16 Moody Ales 32.71
  VERY GOOD TIER  
15 Ridge Brewing 34.17
14 Dageraad 34.20
13 Powell Street 35.29
T-11 Bridge Brewing 35.60
T-11 Fuggles & Warlock 35.60
10 Parallel 49 35.86
9 Storm 36.11
8 Trading Post 36.13
  GREAT TIER  
7 Yellow Dog 36.42
6 Steel & Oak 36.86
5 Main Street 37.11
4 Foamers’ Folly 38.25
  GOD TIER  
3 Strange Fellows 39.50
2 Four Winds 40.80
1 Brassneck 41.20

Categories: Brewery RankingsTags: , ,

13 Comments

  1. This is amazing thus far. Strongly agree with the vast majority of the comments and ratings thus far – while it’s hard to see a brewery that makes such consistently terrible beer as Parkside or Dogwood place higher than breweries like Doan’s who do pretty good beer, I can’t argue the results when other criteria is considered as per your rating system. Can’t wait to see the upper tier results later this week!

  2. Foley

    Great stuff, I recently did this exercise myself, less the methodology.

    FWIW my top 3 were Yellow Dog, 33 Acres and Four Winds. I get that I like 33 Acres way more than most people, but to rank it below Dead Frog and Red Truck is downright bizarre.

    • Justin McElroy

      Yeah, below Dead Frog and Red Truck seems to have rankled a few people. If there was a larger pool of rankers, that likely wouldn’t have happened, but preferences among a small sample size are what they are — and visits to Red Truck/Dead Frog revealed they were better than we remembered them being in university.

  3. Moses

    Thanks for doing this Justin! This was the best internet reading I’ve had in months. I agree with most of your group’s picks, and I was sure Brassneck and 4 Winds had to be 1-2. I’ve also discovered some new breweries to try, especially Foamers Folly.

  4. malkinson

    I’ve been to all the breweries on the list, and the ones in Vancouver many times, and my list would look pretty close to this one. As with others, I’d put 33 Acres quite a bit higher, and Main Street lower. I also think Storm should be lower. It’s a unique and rather hilarious place, and we still always stop there on beer bike tours, but the beer is really pretty bad when it comes down to it. But anyway, good project and list, cheers!

    • whatevs

      “…we only wanted to include breweries fundamentally associated with a unique Vancouver brand, which meant yay for Granville Island and nay for Big Rock.”

  5. Mauricio

    There is a 43rd brewery (brew pub, or brewery & hotel) you might be missing called Dockside Brewing on Granville Island. It could be a good contender for your 43rd spot.

  6. Mike H

    I would agree with this list for the most part (especially God Tier and lower tiers), but am surprised Twin Sails isn’t higher. Those guys are slaying it.

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