I: Why are you doing this?
Because ranking things is fun.
Because B.C. has a stupendous amount of craft breweries.
Because me and my friends thought it would be fun to go to as many of them as possible.
We’ll explain and justify the rest later on.
But first, here’s the list of every* brewery in southwest B.C. that was open at the start of 2018 and had been in operation for at least six months. Click on each brewery for a detailed review.
|78||Steel Toad (RIP)||Vancouver||18.8|
|76||Maple Meadows||Maple Ridge||20.2|
|75||White Rock Brewing||White Rock||20.3|
|70||Off The Rail||Vancouver||25|
|61||Chaos & Solace||Chilliwack||27.6|
|59||Black Kettle||North Vancouver||27.8|
|58||Moon Under Water||Victoria||28.3|
|56||Dead Frog||Langley Township||28.8|
|54||Green Leaf||North Vancouver||29.1|
|49||White Rock Beach Brewing||White Rock||30|
|44||Deep Cove||North Vancouver||31.5|
|33||Moody Ales||Port Moody||32.9|
|32||Salt Spring Island||Salt Spring||33.1|
|27||Ridge Brewing||Maple Ridge||34|
|24||Axe & Barrel||Langford||35.6|
|22||4 Mile||View Royal||36.1|
|T-16||Foamers’ Folly||Pitt Meadows||36.5|
|13||Steel & Oak||New Westminster||36.8|
|12||Fuggles & Warlock||Richmond||36.8|
|11||Category 12||Central Saanich||37|
|8||Yellow Dog||Port Moody||38.1|
|4||Twin Sails||Port Moody||38.8|
*Mayne Island Brewing Company is not included, because it’s only open from 1-5pm on Thursdays and Fridays and therefore we haven’t been able to get to it yet
II: Wait, this is insane.
Yes. Yes it is.
III: Did you actually go to all of these breweries?
Yes! Well actually, I missed out on a couple of them, but our ranking team has gone to each of these breweries multiple times in the last two years.
All told, there were 17 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, Layne Bruin, Samantha Bruin,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 26-34. The majority visited 20-40 breweries.
- 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.
IV: How did you score things?
People’s ratings are based on trips to the brewery where tasters are consumed, but can be modified after the fact. The five metrics are:
- 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 from the brewery? Do you think it’s good enough to give it a few bonus points because otherwise the quality is inconsistent? Do you want to knock it down a peg because everything is good but nothing is memorable? 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 … how much deviation is there 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 others 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?
V: You ranked a brewery I enjoy much too low, this list is dumb
First of all, that’s not a question.
But if you think certain things in our rankings are stupid, that’s fine — we’re not going to accurately represent 78 different breweries in the exact way think about them, and while our group is certainly large, it’s not large enough to avoid some quirks that come with small sample sizes.
More importantly, you’re probably not upset with our ranking so much as you are with our rubric. If you think Dageraad should be higher because they make good beers, we’ll remind you that quality only counts for 40 per cent. If you think Main Street is too high, we’ll remind you that a great experience and making a wide variety of different beers each count for 20 per cent. If you think Central City/Howe Sound/R&B are too low because you’ve been drinking them forever and they’re great, we’ll remind you that this ranking is based on what breweries are doing relative to the competition today, not what they’ve accomplished in the past.
Ultimately, any list comes down to a question of values, and when we began this project, we collectively decided to value the following things:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
VI: Okay, that seems fair. Can you breakout some of the categories though?
Sure! To start with, here are the following:
- A separate list of the top breweries in Metro Vancouver
- Same for Greater Victoria
- Same for the Fraser Valley
- Same for the Sea-to-Sky and Sunshine Coast regions
In the past, some of you wanted to see more detailed lists based on the individual metrics. So, here’s the Top 10 breweries measured broadly by Beer Quality (20 points), Doing Interesting Stuff (Innovation+Diversity = 15 points), and Fun Experience (10 points)
Keen readers will note that Brassneck is the only brewery to be in the Top 10 in all three areas, which is a good summation of why we consider them the top brewery in the region.
VII: How did your rankings change from last year?
In 2016, we only ranked breweries in Metro Vancouver, but we continued to visit them in 2017 as we expanded the list. While we continued to tinker with each brewery’s overall point total on repeat visits, not a whole lot changed in the overall list — but there were some noteworthy ups and downs:
- Twin Sails went from from 18th in Metro Vancouver to 4th, on the back of a crazy 12 months where they were introducing new IPAs/Stouts/Ales nearly every week that were blowing our socks off. Some of us now think they’re the best brewery in B.C., others of us think they have too many similar-tasting beers, few of which are accessible to people who want a lighter flavour in their beverages. But they easily had the highest increase year over year.
- Dageraad, Yellow Dog and Parallel 49 all opened up new tasting rooms, and each benefitted: Yellow Dog went from 7th to 5th in Metro Vancouver, while Dageraad went from 14th to 6th, because their beers were always good, but now you can choose from more than four of them in an area larger than a walk-in closet. Parallel 49 stayed in 10th, but that’s more a function of their room being functional to begin with, and their quality slipping ever-so-slightly.
- Everyone yelled that we overrated Foamers’ Folly, so we went back a few times and agreed with the masses, dropping it from 4th place in Metro Vancouver to 11th.
- Some people yelled that we were far too harsh on 33 Acres, so we went back and realized … that it was still overrated by the masses. Like, a lot. But we decided that it may have been a tad harsh to put them below R&B Brewing, Dead Frog and Green Leaf, so they increased in points — though they ultimately dropped from 31st to 33rd in Metro Vancouver because of the inclusion of new, better breweries like Strathcona and Luppolo.
VIII: What’s next? You’re not going to try and rank the entire province, are you?
I mean, we might. But the proprietor of this website has gotten a lot busier since he started this project two years ago, and we need to figure out a mechanism to visit new breweries while keeping tabs on old ones.
So we’ll keep you posted on that. For now, we hope you enjoy this project, hoping it encourages you to explore the vast opportunities for creative inebriation that exist in our corner of the world.