The Adequate Tier
It’s relatively easy to identify breweries that aren’t particularly worth recommending: the beer is clearly a cut below, it’s a new outlet working out the kinks, it’s a brewpub chain that hasn’t been trying in years, etc.
Identifying the next tier of breweries in Southwest British Columbia? The ones that are worth going to, but also have some flaws?
That’s a little harder. That’s a little more subjective. That’s one that will cause some real yelling.
So let’s begin.
(For the first part of the ranking, along with an explanation of the 50-point scoring system, click here)
#99: Container (27.4 Points)
Good for: Great community space and programs
Wait, wait, we can explain.
Container opened in 2019 in what was already a cramped market in East Vancouver, but quickly carved a space for itself with great food, an interesting two-level space, community programs like a organic produce/beer box partnership, and wait why are you still yelling?
Okay, we know why you’re yelling: Container is one of the newer breweries that has established a pretty good reputation for its beers. It’s a popular place with a decent amount on tap. What is it doing here?
We went three times. Each time, we found the beers watery — with the exception of the 11.2% Seawise Giant, which we found too syrupy. And the 1960s school chairs, while fun, led an air of uncomfortableness to a cramped space.
And so here it sits! They’re trying plenty of styles and they have plenty of fans. If we happened to go on three off days and gave an average quality score, it would be a top-50 brewery to us.
But we have to go by our experiences. If the reception they’ve gotten since they’ve started is any indication, yours may differ should you visit.
#98: Settlement (27.5 Points)
Good for: Bringing your parents for brunch
Settlement has been forgotten.
Okay, that’s more a cute line than 100% accurate, but since Postmark Brewing disappeared and replaced by Settlement in 2020 after some ownership changes, it’s turned from trendy-but-average to basic-and-average.
Which in this hyper competitive market means nobody really talks about them. And that’s understandable: their beers, like Postmark, trend to the inoffensive and sessionable, and with only six or so options available at any time, there’s not a ton of variety.
Still though, the space they’re in — an airy wooden space holding Belgard Kitchen — is a delight to be in, and it remains a great brunch or dinner option in the area.
You’ll likely have a good time. Just expect beers that are very paint by numbers.
#97: The 101 Brewhouse (27.67 Points)
Good for: When your food and drink friends can’t agree on a place to go in Gibsons
It’s a brewhouse. It says so in the name. You can get decent food and decent beer.
There are a couple extra things that make 101 worth mentioning. There are generally 12 beers on tap, with a decent amount of diversity, and names like “Bob’s Auto Lager” and “Daniel Wesley’s Easy Livin’ Pilsner” deliver what you expect. The banana-heavy hefeweizen is fairly tasty.
And…well, truth be told, it’s mostly a generic brewhouse. Befitting of a name like 101 however, it’s a perfectly fine introduction to the Sunshine Coast if you need more food than the Gibsons’ other two establishments will provide.
#96: Black Kettle (28.08 Points)
Location: North Vancouver
Good for: Ensuring your large group can get a weekend table at a North Shore brewery
Located in an industrial area just to the west of Lonsdale Quay, Black Kettle very much an under the radar brewery, for a variety of reasons.
One, getting to the brewery takes some time (it’s not transit accessible past the Quay) and the tasting room is tables in a warehouse complex and a straightforward patio: quite pleasant if you enjoy minimalism and giant brewing tanks, but that’s it.
Second, the beer is straight to the point: ales, IPAs, porters, an Oatmeal Stout are all in their rotation. But aside from an occasionally-made Kentucky Common beer, nothing is particularly unique, and is your standard eight-types between 4 and 6 per cent you can find far and wide.
Let’s be clear: this is tasty beer. That’s no longer in short supply in Vancouver though, and there’s nothing in their roster that particularly stands out.
Nothing about Black Kettle is bad. But nothing about it is memorable, either.
#95: North Point (28.2 Points)
Location: North Vancouver
Good for: Getting pizza and a sweet view of Vancouver
A few years ago, the City of North Vancouver looked at Port Moody’s brewery district and said “if they can do that, why not us?” (please do not quote me on that, i am not a local politics reporter) and now the area immediately east of Lonsdale Quay is chock full of establishments (including cideries and distilleries), some of which are very good and some of which are just okay.
North Point is just okay.
It’s a trendy space to be sure, close to the water and with good pizza (every new brewery by law must have pizza) and a top floor with outstanding views of Vancouver.
But none of the beers have really made an impact, and the taplist is dominated by IPAs.
And if that’s your thing and you’re able to get a table, then by all means make it the first stop on your beer crawl. Just know there are other options nearby.
#T-93: East Van (28.5 Points)
Good for: Enjoying pickles, pinball and Downlow chicken
There are a lot of newish places in this section of the list, in what we might call Vancouver’s 3rd Brewery Wave from 2017-2020: ones that came after the boom was well underway but before the pandemic. On the whole, they trend towards the generic, because the Formula For Success has been established, the risks in experimenting too much are fraught, and there’s more competition than ever for the top brewers.
All of which is to say that East Van Brewing is as generic as its name.
There are 8 to 12 beers on tap, pretzels and pickles and paninis to eat, Salty’s Lobsters Shack now into the space, a nice big area where there’s usually space, both a nitro stout and juicy double IPA to try, the former of which won a Canadian Beer Award (and on the whole, their stouts and nitros are their strength).
But the place feels workshopped into existence, and nothing about it suggests actual ties to East Van, in a way that seems shallow and displeasing.
Still, there’s pinball. And a big semi-basement space that hits the spot in a summer heatwave. It may not really be East Van — but it’s perfectly adequate.
#T-93: Moon (28.5 Points)
Good for: Having an old-style Victoria pub experience
Named after Orwell’s eponymous final essay in London’s Evening Standard about the perfect brewpub, it’s a fitting name as Victoria’s oldest-feeling brewpub: no Victorian architecture but the “barmaids” & atmosphere are friendly & welcoming, it’s quiet enough to chat, and there’s a wide variety of food. The place feels lived-in without being schlocky, a neighbourhood pub in all the best ways.
But what makes Moon Under Water special isn’t the beer, which is fairly mediocre. What used to be best — Potts Pils and Creepy Uncle Dunkel — don’t merit seeking out anymore but they’re still good. Other beers we enjoyed — a Sang Du Merle sour, a Mango Sour, the Lighter Side of the Moon pale ale —speak to the fact that there’s a decent amount of things one *could* like from Moon Under Water.
They do interesting one offs from time to time (a barrel-aged beer version of Victoria’s infamous “Shaft” was an example last year), but the options on tap rarely stray from the handful of standard styles one expects everywhere. And while everyone in our group had one beer they enjoyed, it was hard to get unanimity in our ranking group on any singular offering; the word “inconsistent” was said more than once.
Moon Under Water has an important niche in the scene and in our hearts. But strip away the good branding and distribution, and it’s little more than a blue collar Swans in a worse location.
#92: Green Leaf (28.86 Points)
Location: North Vancouver
Good for: The best patio view of Vancouver
If you take to the seas and venture north across the briny depths of the Burrard Inlet, Green Leaf Brewing will be your first welcoming ground floor presence after getting off the Seabus. You’ll notice a beautiful patio view — which has grown in size, making it easier to snag a spot with a ridiculous view of Downtown Vancouver — and a diverse group of IPAs and sours.
There’s all the ingredients for a brewery with buzz. But unless you’re forced to take the Seabus on a regular basis, it lacks a raison d’être: you can probably get better beers anywhere else on the North Shore. We’ve found IPAs that were much too IPA to be drinkable, and sours that tasted closer to medicine.
They used to try weird things: a beer brewed with mushrooms, beer brewed with burning rocks, and an IPA aged in a merlot barrel. Now, it’s settled into a fairly staid routine with one or two new offerings each year that don’t move the needle.
Still, there’s a lot to try, and perhaps the best patio of any brewery on our list.
#91: Sooke Oceanside (28.75 Points)
Good for: Views + amazingly designed flight holders
Sooke Oceanside is one of those places in our rankings that might suffer from a lack of distribution.
It’s a place that has won a couple of awards and in our two times there we haven’t had a dud of a beer. But neither time did any of their ale-heavy options really excite us (the Renfrew Red is well done, but it’s a red ale, so,) and with limited chances to enjoy it outside Greater Victoria’s western communities, it sits here.
But let’s take a moment to discuss something that is particularly unique to Sooke Oceanside: their flight paddles, which detailed cutouts of Vancouver Island, with two planes of metal separated by a couple inches and four holes up and down the island to stick your taster glass in. They’re our favourite paddles to date, and if Oceanside ever commissioned a few more to be made, we’d happily fork out the cash for them (hint, hint).
Sooke Oceanside has also moved in recent years from a cramped place next to a gas station to a full building, complete with patio oceanside views and a decent menu. They’re fully in that mid-career cycle of any business where they’ve built an audience, can turn out a few new beers a year, and do decently well indefinitely.
It has never excited us. But that’s no reason not to try it yourself.
#90: Slow Hand (28.81 Points)
Good for: A good honest pilsner
In the teeny tiny space once occupied by Doan’s, Slow Hand seeks to provide honest pilsners and lagers, which when they opened in 2019 was somewhat of a novelty in a market dominated by double IPAs and fruity sours.
Other places have since pivoted a bit to providing more straightforward flavours, but Slow Hand’s options are still worth checking out, in particular a 3.5% table beer called Small that is unique in the market.
But Slow Hand is a place that suffers from our rubric: the small tasting room isn’t ideal for spending much time in, means there is limited options on tap, and it’s heavy focus on a couple types of beers mean flights aren’t particularly interesting.
Consider splitting a four-pack with friends on a nice summer day though. Slow Hand has a limited grip, but it’s definitely focused, and you just may find it effective.
#89: Dogwood (28.9 Points)
Good for: Having a brewery in the South Van void
New breweries often look for a niche. When it opened in 2015, Dogwood was the only brewery in a 5km radius. It’s still the only brewery in a 5km radius. It’s let them carve out a niche that otherwise might not exist.
The brewery is unambitious, but that’s not an insult. There’s no bad beer (the sweet ones are their best), the space is sufficiently comfortable (wood, lots of natural light, basic board games), the staff are sincere with a Portlandy energy, and one of our rankers loves their coconut chai.
There was lots of consensus about where it ranked, which is a bad trend when it’s just ok and no one loves it. Seven years in, it has hardly grown over that time and appears content to be a neighbourhood brewery: a nobly simple ambition.
Its claim to fame is embracing the organic angle, though that’s hardly brought many accolades and it’s a very minor slice of the market (admittedly, not something that resonated with our reviewers, but may be fundamental to some).
Southeast Vancouver: continue to rejoice at having a brewery! Everyone else: as you were.
#88: Central City (28.92 Points)
Good for: Having a classic West Coast IPA
“Real talk: it’s not 2012 anymore, and there are many places with better beer, move innovative offerings, and more interesting tasting rooms than Central City.”
We wrote that in 2017, and in 2022 it’s even more true and more painful to say.
Which is too bad, because in decade after it was founded, it grew steadily on a count of good beer, nice variety and branding was clever and consistent. If you started becoming a craft beer fan at the same time as 90% of people, that might seem standard, but in the early 21st century was a revelation.
And that Red Racer IPA! That, friends, was a great balanced west coast IPA then, and is still good IPA now, even with 300 variations available to you.
But put away those happy, hazy memories. Head out to the cluster of breweries around Main, or Hastings, or take the Evergreen Line to Port Moody’s brewery block. Then compare.
There’s been no evolution, and all the signs of a brewery content to mass produce stuff and Christmasy novelty beers that gets picked up by longtime fans and ignored by others.
Nitpicking? Perhaps, especially because their Red Racer is still very drinkable, and there’s still a good assortment of stuff on tap.
But the degree to which they’ve fallen out of the conversation of great breweries is indicative of a place that has become the generic big business that places like Central City used to be contrasted against a decade ago.
#T-86: Sooke Brewing (29.0 Points)
Good for: A nice break when you’re in Sooke
At first glance, Sooke Brewing feels like the sort of operation you would see in any mid-sized community these days: a spot right in the centre of the community, all standard modern design and nice wooden framing, eight straightforward options on tap.
And … well, that’s pretty much what Sooke delivers. While we admit some surprise at it getting three medals in this year’s Canadian Brewing Awards (including a gold for Barleywine), the beers were competent, with the oatmeal stout being quite tasty. The beers on tap veer towards the basic, but there’s just enough variation and they’ll throw in a strong golden ale or brut to keep things interesting.
There are places like Sooke Brewing in towns across the province now, and that’s not shade — even if it not’s necessarily worth a day trip unto itself.
#T-86: Pemberton (29.0 Points)
Good for: A nice break when you’re in Pemberton
We didn’t plan for a tie here, but we were pleasantly delighted to see a brewery opened in 2017 named for its community on the edge of Greater Victoria with a brewery that opened in 2018 named for its community on the edge of the South Coast.
There are differences between them: while Sooke has a polished look, Pemberton’s brewery is a little more ramshackle in an industrial park, which may be better or worse depending on your perspective. Sooke tends towards traditional accessible beers, while Pemberton has an orange cinnamon sour and a raspberry chocolate porter.
Both fill a community need without making things that people outside the community need to rush to find, but that’s okay. It’s good that different towns can have different templates for their neighbourhood pub.
#85: Mission Springs (29.2 Points)
Good for: Going into your grandparents’ attic and discovering a brewpub
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have beers in your grandpa’s attic? Do you live in a part of the Fraser Valley where the Lougheed Highway is incredibly important to your daily life? If you answered “Yes!” to either of these questions, you should go visit Mission Springs.
Mission Springs is a log cabin of colossal proportions. Normally, this would not bear mentioning, but it is stunningly vast. And every single square inch of that space is covered with kitsch, Americana, and musical memorabilia. When the earthquake comes, this place will be the largest concentration of deaths by falling commemorative ceramic mugs.
Their selection of beers is broad. Those beers are all drinkable. They are fine. They do not generally distinguish themselves, but have the occasional creative output (the Lemon Ginger Radler and malt Cookies & Cream struck our fancy) that you might be amused by.
On a mission for beers in Mission? Look no further than Mission Springs.
Is it worth the trip on its own right? No, not really.
But if you’re passing by and need a bite to eat and a brew, by all means stop by, especially if you’re a sucker for kitsch – this brewery is bound to put a (Mission) Spring in your step.
(We’re already sorry about that pun.)
#84: Streetcar (29.22 Points)
Location: North Vancouver
Good for: Being annoyed the flight holders don’t look like streetcars
Streetcar is one of those places that suffers from coming somewhat late to the market: had it opened in 2014 it could have carved a very big niche for itself, but coming in 2019 it’s not quite good or distinctive enough to stand out, and therefore quickly became Just Another North Van Brewery.
But! That’s not to say there aren’t things worth celebrating, particularly if you’re a fan of sour beers: their smoothie and popsicle sours could be considered trend chasing, but they’re still fun. A 3% peach radler sticks out as well, the numbered magnets in the flight holders are amusing, and the hidden garage vibe of the tasting room is a nice contrast to the overly planned feel of many newer places.
It’s not an essential brewery, and we’re still grousing that the holders are in the shape of boats and not streetcars. That shouldn’t stop you from determining where Streetcar stands in your own personal North Shore brewery rankings though.
#83: Vancouver Island Brewing (28.5 Points)
Good for: Being nostalgic in an unnostalgic place
Four years ago, we wrote the rebranding of this longtime Island mainstay under new ownership was a mistake, that sidelining favourites like Piper’s Pale Ale and well-known seasonals like the Hermannator Ice Bock made them lose their distinctiveness, and that “almost a year on from the overhaul, none of those new directions appear to have been for the better.”
To their credit, Vancouver Island Brewing listened, brought back Piper’s and Hermannator, and tried a bunch of new offerings to wash away the initial feeling of their rebrand.
As a result, they’ve gained more than four points from our previous ranking, one of the biggest jumps we’ve seen. The grapefruit gose and beachcomber hefeweizen were complimented last summer by our Victoria raters, and the tasting room, while still concrete heavy, is a little more filled in.
In a word, perfectly adequate and on an upward trend. Even if it’s hard to place it higher than many other places in Victoria.
#T-81: Whistler (29.5 Points)
Good for: Enjoying the 4 beers you’ve seen displayed forever
Whistler Brewing is another long-standing brewery that has seemingly stayed in place for years while dozens of other B.C. outlets have either improved or emerged. It feels like the Joey’s of breweries — a safe bet from humble roots which has leaned into its brand with nothing really to captivate.
Of course, some people really like Joey’s. And having the cachet of Whistler and being one of the oldest breweries in B.C. warrants you widespread recognition and distribution. Unfortunately, the brand isn’t about experimentation, innovation, or local flavours.
The Valley Trail Chestnut Ale is interesting, though ultimately another overly sweet dark beer, but was notable years ago and nothing has been since, though the Grapefruit Ale and Pineapple Express Wheat Ale remain good, crushable beers.
And Whistler also has a perfectly fine space: very Whistler-y, with a lot of wood and some local kitsch. But it makes you feel like it could be more — particularly with their deep pockets — which aligns with the rest of the brewery: a place that isn’t bad, but disappoints because of the resources you know it has, yet fails to leverage.
#T-81: Old Yale (29.50 Points)
Good for: Enjoying the 4 beers you’ve seen displayed forever — but in Chilliwack
Head towards Chilliwack, ditch the highway, come across a small industrial area surrounded by farmland, and you’ll find Old Yale. The Fraser Valley institution can be found in cans at liquor stores throughout the region, its bright colours sticking out in many a liquor store, but it’s harder to find elsewhere.
Which is probably because its beer is just sort of there.
Which isn’t to say its bad! Old Yale does plenty of Acceptable Stuff, from its Screaming Banshee Irish Cream Stout to its Knotty Blonde Ale to a variety of porters: drinkable beers that are good for cans and somewhere between five and six per cent in ABV.
Yet there’s nothing about their output that’s absolutely necessary to seek out, their tap lineup has traditionally heavily on porters and stouts (even in the summertime) and their tasting room is very cookie-cutter, which is disappointing for a place so out of the way.
That’s not to say there aren’t interesting things from time to time — at this writing, they currently have a hibiscus rose ale and pineapple sour on tap — but Old Yale is like many breweries that are decades old: content in what they do, consistent in their output, and with a market reach that discourages huge evolutions as time goes on. They’re opening a new space in Abbotsford soon, and we hope that gives them a new spark.
But go in with the right expectations, and there’s certainly enough to enjoy.
#80: Tinhouse (29.25 Points)
Location: Port Coquitlam
Good for: The best of the PoCo business park brews
Sometimes the proprietor of this website likes something a lot more (or a lot less) than his friends, but sometimes friendship is going along with what your friends believe, and Tinhouse is one of those times.
One of the many breweries in business park areas that popped up in the Tri-Cities after the Port Moody boom, Tinhouse bills itself as “brewing drinkable beers”, and has a nice mix of IPAs, farmhouse ales and saisons, lagers and wheat beers in its core rotation. A latte stout was well balanced, and it’s a place that knows what it’s doing.
Unfortunately, our scores suffered from a tasting room that was far too cavernous and cold to inspire feeling, and a tap list that had a minimal amount of things the two times we came to visit.
All of which is to say, it’s a fine addition to the Tri-Cities lineup of breweries, and it’s entirely possible we visited on the wrong two days. New mocha brown ales and kriek sours show there’s a lot going on, even if their reputation isn’t in the top tier yet.
But for now, here Tinhouse lies.
#79: Farm Country (29.63 Points)
Good for: Having Red Truck vibes 80km from Red Truck
Welcome to the Langley portion of our journey!
There are now eight breweries in this part of the region (we’ve ranked the seven that qualified), an impressive feat for an area that only had two just a few years ago.
Even more impressively, there’s isn’t a dud in the list: all seven our top-80 breweries, and all have something going for them.
Farm Country, to our mind, is the least essential of them due to a lack of complexity in what we tasted on our trips there. It’s clearly going for a fun 50s barnyard jamboree energy, and it largely succeeds. At the same time, the aesthetic feels somewhat put upon for a place opened in 2019, and darn if we can’t remember a notable beverage we had, even though they were all crisp.
Which well could be a sign that we need to head back: our visits were when Farm Country was in its first year, the tap list appears to have expanded to 12-15 things on tap, and there’s history in this market of places improving in their 2nd or 3rd year.
And even if it’s at the bottom of the Langley list, it’s still a worthy addition to your crawl (or, given the size of the region, a chauffeured loop).
#78: Wildeye (29.75 Points)
Location: North Vancouver
Good for: A nice reward at the end of the North Shore Spirit Trail
Hey, it’s another brewery that opened in 2019 in a suburban Metro Vancouver area that’s exploding with options, and managed to persevere during the pandemic while attempting to cater to both beer nerds and more casual drinkers who want a decent meal!
(It’s like trends have emerged!)
Wildeye has been pumping out plenty of beers during its three years of operation, recently trending towards the fruit-n’-sour combos generally en vogue, but they also are well known for a Czech Pilsner and Dark Lager.
There’s a lot of energy to Wildeye and a pretty big space that has been quite full when we’ve visited, and if anything we might argue there is too much energy in too many different directions: there are lots of rotating beers AND cocktails AND fancy hot dogs AND tacos AND pizzas AND look, all of that is nice, but we can’t help but think a little tighter focus would benefit them.
As it is, it’s another good neighbourhood watering hole (and dinner place), with room to grow.
#77: Stanley Park (29.83 Points)
Good for: A nice reward at the end of fun park times
the beer is meh but the space is great
#76: Five Roads (29.88 Points)
Good for: IPA and pizza time
Another Langley brewery, Five Roads is okay we’ll talk a little bit more about Stanley Park Brewing.
Which is weird to do in a way, because for years Stanley Park was more than an inauthentic brand with tons of advertising money but precious little history, owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, the largest beer company in the world.
A craft brewery, it really isn’t.
But it has a lovely space in Stanley Park now, with brewing that happens on site, and is well associated with this market, so let’s quickly assess on its own merits.
It’s a wonderful old renovated building in the heart of the city’s best park, which means it’s regularly packed, but if you’re able to get in it’s a great time, with plenty of interesting seating both indoors and outdoors, and serviceable food as well.
The beers are…well, mostly watery and samey, but they’re all passable, and there’s a lot of them. It’s heavy on accessible ales, but there’s a decent piney IPA in the Trail Hopper.
Nothing is worth bringing a six-pack home or filling a growler, but everyone will get something they’re fine with and you’ll spend more time in an amazing park.
Even if it’s sacrilegious to consider them a craft brewery.
#76: Five Roads (29.88 Points)
Good for: IPA and pizza time
Another Langley brewery, Five Roads has found itself in the similar realm as neighbours Farm Country and Smugglers Trail in providing both serviceable beer and food options that won’t intimidate but probably won’t wow anyone either.
On the food side, particularly attention must be paid to the elevated pizza options (love a good Funghi!) and burritos, relatively rare to find in breweries out here.
On the beer side, it tends to be a standard 12-taps-with-decent-reach type of place, but we found their Galaxy Viking IPA to hit a good sweet spot of being strong and fruity without overpowering. And after a very IPA heavy beginning, they’ve been expanding their ambitions, and you can currently find an altbier, schwarzbier, mexican lager and lemongrass gose available.
Regrettably, that evolution happened since we last visited. All the more reason to come back and see if the quality has increased with the variety.
#75: White Rock Beach (30.13 Points)
Location: White Rock
Good for: Committing to a gimmick
For as many breweries as Metro Vancouver now has, it’s surprising that so few of them really lean into a gimmick.
Okay, maybe it’s not so surprising, given that brewers are super-serious about the craft in this city, and trying something different than a nice selection of IPAs and ales, complemented by wooden tables and minimalist but warm walls, is enough to be avant-garde.
Yes, there can be a sameness to the drinking experience in this region
if you have the dumb idea of going to all 114 in a few years, which is why a trip to White Rock Beach Beer is so delightful: they lean into the beach gimmick hard, and pull if off.
The chairs, walls and decor in the cozy tap room all evoke “small oceanside tourist town from the 60s,” which a) is cute as heck b) what White Rock’s entire deal is. If you’re the type of Vancouver person who makes a trip there once a year to enjoy the boardwalk and small shops, it fits in perfectly with the day.
Of course, none of this would particularly matter if the beer was bad, but that isn’t the case. Their two main offerings, a grapefruit-tinged pale ale (West Beach Fruit) and a caramel-tinged American brown ale (East Beach Nut), are quite pleasant: clean and straightforward, but with just enough subtlety that we can still remember enjoying them months later.
The problem? Those two beers are half the options: they rotate through a small batch of seasonal and monthlies, but you’re only going to grab 2-4 beers on any occasion, none of which are particularly daring.
At the same time, sometimes a place with a couple good beers and a great atmosphere is all you need to have a good time.
Most of the time, actually.
#74: 33 Acres (30.65 Points)
Good for: Feeling like you have taste
“33 Acres is a brewery that could have been a location in that episode of Black Mirror where oppressively picturesque social media destroys Bryce Dallas Howard’s life.
33 Acres is a brewery that sells $125 sweatshirts, ceramic growlers, gourmet ice cream and third-wave coffee.
33 Acres is a brewery made by and for design nerds, not beer nerds, and it really shows.
Spending time at 33 Acres feels like climbing inside an Instagram photo — it’s well-composed but cropped, crammed-in, lifeless and extremely predictable.
33 Acres is a great place to look back on having been at, but not a very good place to actually be at.
33 Acres makes the most overrated beer in the Lower Mainland.“
We wrote those words in 2017 to start our review of 33 Acres, and we have three points to make:
- Over the years, plenty of people told Justin how much they enjoyed this review, and we should clear up that it was another member of our ranking group, Laura Rodgers, who actually penned it.
- It’s weird to look back at what we published in early 2017 when pretty much nobody cared about what Justin ranked, and now consider the outsized expectations and worries some people have for them, and how what was punching up then could be considered punching down now.
- We stand by every word.
Okay, not every word. For one, 33 Acres is now, we feel, properly assessed in the market. It’s nowhere as ubiquitous in brewery listicles, few people fawn over it at this point, and folks have gotten wise to the fact that outside of the Sunshine and Darkness (which are pretty good!), the beers are unmemorable.
But an interesting thing has happened.
“This place doesn’t branch out to try anything more interesting than dark ales or citrus reds, despite obviously having the capacity to do so. They aren’t working to make established styles excellent, either. They appear to be putting very little thought into advancing their brewing, and it’s easy to see why: they don’t have to. Fans are already committed to the pitch-perfect, Kinfolk-ready branding, and 33 Acres knows it.”
We also wrote that, and a couple years later 33 Acres took over the space next door and opened up an EXP room that addresses many of those issues.
But we’re considering it a different place with a different score (as does Untappd and Google, in case you want to start an argument), which means 33 Acres, the OG brand, still sits relatively low on our list. Sorry not sorry.
Okay, back to the 2017 review.
“According to Tantalus Labs, an eco-friendly artisanal cannabis outfit with a design-focused blog (kindly fill in the appropriate square on your Vancouver Bingo board now), “the 33 Acres brand is anchored in a product-first mentality.”
No, we have no idea what this means either.”
#73: Bricklayer (30.8 Points)
Good for: Interesting beers in a funky building
It’s quite possible we might be sleeping on Bricklayer.
Opening in December 2020 (not the most opportune timing!), Bricklayer sits in a lovely 19th century building in the heart of downtown Chilliwack, filled with weird touches of brick everywhere.
It’s a cramped space but visually compelling, and with beer that is quite sure of itself for a fairly young operation.
The Moonage Daydream Hibiscus Lime pilsner wasn’t as busy as one would think, and while nothing was amazing, across the board everyone said they would consider getting a Bricklayer beer should the occasion arise again.
At the same time, the options are somewhat limited — a look at the current tap list reveals seven local options, five of which are ales or IPAs.
Still, a base is here, and which three separate breweries in Chilliwack within a couple blocks of each other, we can hope competition spurs greater heights in years to come.
#72: Callister (30.82 Points)
Good for: Lots of options in a fun space
The frustrating thing about Callister was that it was such a cool concept, in such a cool space, that one was angry when the beers didn’t hit the mark — which was often — because everything else was so appealing.
It was a tasting room that played host to multiple brewing outfits with several beers from each available for your drinking pleasure, all rotating over fairly quickly.
It was where local beer nerds could test their ability to brew, and hence when we went some beers were panned, and some wowed. Superflux Brewing (formerly Machine) and Boombox Brewing and Sundown got their start at Callister, making it the closest thing to the Fringe Festival, where you go in not knowing whether you would leave happy, content, or shaking your head.
But since 2020, Callister has ended that part of their operation, now brewing solo. As such, this ranking is largely speculative on what it would be like to enjoy the Callister experience today — with their very diverse but often inconsistent beers, in a stunning tasting room where the art is funky and modern, the stools are fire engine red, and the ambience impresses.
It’s still a fascinating place with a fun history and an interesting selection. Whether it’s as essential for your Vancouver Brewing Experience now is another question.
#71: Spinnakers (30.88 Points)
Good for: Patios, pool, and variety
There might be no brewery in B.C. with a location as picturesque as Spinnakers. The brewpub fills up a sprawling 130-year old house overlooking Victoria’s inner harbour, with a space that always feels inviting whether you’re there for brunch with your parents or late-night drinks with friends. They run a great “hoppy hour” and the pub houses a lot more than just a brewery: they also run a B&B, produce a variety of ciders, vinegars, jellies, & artisan chocolates, and have an on-site bakery.
That, along with with its historic role as Canada’s first brewpub and a key milestone in B.C.’s craft beer evolution, gives it lots of warm fuzzies for any beer snob.
But as charming as all that, we’re here to talk about the beer, where the verdict is decidedly more mixed.
First, the good: for a brewery that’s been around as long as Spinnakers they remain incredibly prolific, typically offering 20+ of their own beers on tap at any given time. They make great hefeweizens, you usually can’t go wrong with core offerings like the lager, pale ale, or ISA, and a trip in the winter will have a completely different list of options than in the summer, no small feat.
Unfortunately, inconsistent quality can turn their wide variety of offerings into a double edged sword. Unless you have a deep knowledge of Spinnaker’s back catalogue, it’s entirely possible to order a flight of 4 and end up with 2-3 watery or off-tasting brews in the bunch . Toss in the fact that they don’t don’t have a dedicated tasting station and never seem to have enough table service staff to really walk you through their beer menu, and it all adds up to an uneven experience.
Which isn’t to say don’t go. Enjoy the atmosphere! Enjoy the pool table! Enjoy the history! Hopefully you enjoy the beers as well — but know there are several better options less than a 10 minute drive away.
#70: 3 Dogs (30.89 Points)
Location: White Rock
Good for: A nice mix of options
3 Dogs, not to be confused with Twa Dogs or Bad Dog or Yellow Dog, is now well ensconced as the main popular White Rock brewery, and recently moved to a slightly larger space that continues to work for the eclectic group of events they hold.
It’s also a large and eclectic tape list, with a rotating collection of different IPAs, ales and sours supplementing the Bayside Blonde Ale, Beach In Heat ginger radler (the highlight for multiple people), Double Dog Dare Double IPA and other standards that are seemingly always available.
With it comes a hearty group of appetizers, and while nothing any of this is unique or amazing, it’s all delivered well and a place has fully achieved the community vibe that a lot of breweries are striving to achieve these days.
#69: Smugglers Trail (30.93 Points)
Good for: A big and good suburban brewpub experience
While 3 Dogs is a place that encourages mingling and appetizers, Smugglers Trail is a more traditional brewpub encouraging sitting and meals.
But they’re both quite similar in cultivating the nearby community — in Smugglers Trail’s case, Langley’s Walnut Grove neighbourhood — and providing plenty of space and lots of perfectly acceptable beers for people to enjoy.
And in the case of Smugglers Trails, there are a lot of beers, usually around 14 to 18, with types ranging from Orion Poppyseed IPA to Invictus Dark Mild to Three Month Pilsner to a Hazy Triple IPA to okay we’re not going to mention all the beers, but there’s a lot of them, all ranging from okay to pretty good.
Such a description isn’t going to Smugglers Trail on anybody’s elite beer list or win many awards. But it’s a testament to the deepness of Southwest B.C.’s beer scene that there are so many of these type of establishments that have sprung up in mid-to-large communities in the last four years, all finding a market.
That there are dozens of places better than Smugglers and the other breweries in this section isn’t an indictment of them, but a reflection of just how good we collectively have it.
Next section: The Average Tier!
Categories: Brewery Rankings