The Average Tier
We’re about to reach the halfway point in our quest to score and rank every brewery from Sooke and Gibsons to Chilliwack and Pemberton.
It’s important to remember that “average” in this tier really means “median”
which somebody who deals with stats should know better: yes, for each of these breweries there are around an equal number of others in the region better or worse, though chances are you’ll have a good time at all of them.
But different places are good for different reasons, so let’s get going.
#68: Red Truck (31.14 Points)
Good for: Going to a concert at a brewery
Red Truck is veritably ancient in the Vancouver brewery scene, and as one of the first purveyors of affordable, delivered, not-undrinkable kegs, for a generation of Vancouverites Red Truck was likely the first keg they tapped.
Their space on the fringes of Mount Pleasant comes with a coherent, consistent gimmick: the red truck. They’ve fashioned their style after a truck stop with tasty, greasy food and unpretentious, purposeful design (though a little too heavy on the hightop-only tables) . At the same time, they’ve put a lot of sweat into making it a space that can host events, like mini car shows and outdoor live music.
Knowing that there’s just going to be some neat stuff potentially happening is a pretty good draw, especially since it makes up the slack in their beers, which are good if uninspired. You’ll be pleased to enjoy it at a wedding or an Earl’s/Joey’s/Cactus Club/etc. but it’s failed to distinguish itself beyond “reliable”, an unintentional ode to their iconic 1946 Dodge truck. Even the adventurous offerings, like the blackberry bourbon ale, seem market-tested to the hilt to ensure a wide of audience as possible.
Of course, why change what works? Whether for brunch or dinner, the food won’t disappoint, and their large selection of brews on tap will leave everyone happy to have beer that suits their palate.
They have a strong brand, produce at capacity, are easy to find, create a dependable product, and have loyal clientele.
It’s a verifiable success story over a generation, no matter how excited or not you are for the core product.
#67: Silver Valley (31.38 Points)
Location: Maple Ridge
Good for: Trading cards about your beer
Definitely the only brewery in the region with a framed Audioslave poster as a point of pride, Silver Valley (which started in 2018) has a unique energy that makes them stand out a bit what can be more standardized options coming from many of the newer breweries.
Some of that comes through in the visuals — little trading cards served with your beer that break down what they’re about in a detailed way. Some of it comes from the pulsating colours on the cans. And some of it comes from the actual beers they serve.
In an era where sours and east coast IPAs were all the rage, Silver Valley focused on darker beers as their strength, and we quite enjoyed their Broken Label Wee Heavy Scotch, Ryenosaur Porter, and Dark Necessities coffee stout.
The beers are heavy on the flavour and not all of them hit, but they’re memorable and would likely be in our personal rotations if we happened to live in the Fraser Valley. The space itself is a tad small and and stifling, yet the owners have worked hard to make it a unique space, and a worthy place to visit.
#66: Patina (31.50 Points)
Location: Port Coquitlam
Good for: Leaving with a buzz and a food coma
The only brewery in Metro Vancouver owned by a town’s former mayor
these things are interesting to justin if not to you, Patina decided to aggressively stake out a brand of serving southern-style barbecue with beer in the middle of Port Coquitlam, and have succeeded: the location and brewpub focus means it quickly developed an audience, and the beer itself is good enough.
That’s not to slam what’s available! There’s a diverse but accessible taplist, with a gin saison, guava hefeweizen, marzen and black lager among the choices. The Thai Lager has nice lime notes, and any place that does a marzen warms our heart.
Quality-wise, they’re fine: not interesting of deep enough that you would want to necessarily buy a six-pack, but plenty good while you chomp on some brisket or pulled pork.
Such places serve communities well, and Patina has executed their plan well, even if their focus isn’t on those of us who enjoy a place that’s all about the beer.
#65: Deep Cove (31.63 Points)
Location: North Vancouver
Good for: A great space to relax after the hike
We are right in the thick of Brewpub Junction, the glut of places in town that provide ever-so-slightly above average beer with good food and a nice experience, and you can only be so jazzed about that, you know?
However, let’s consider Deep Cove (which weirdly isn’t actually in Deep Cove) as its own entity, beginning with the beer selection: a decent selection of ales, IPAs and lagers, with rotating options — such as the Grapefruit Radler IPA or Chocolate Coconut Porter — that are significantly more interesting than the standbys.
(They also have a fairly regular tea saison, but that proved, um, divisive with our group)
And it comes with a kitchen that is quite good: all things considered, the food at Deep Cove is about as tasty as you’ll get at a Metro Vancouver brewery, with a style best described as “comfort foods done classy.” And with a distillery on site as well, there is, cliché as it sounds, something for everyone in your group to enjoy, hops evangelist or not.
Unfortunately, the room itself is a bit nondescript and location is a bit out of the way from many of the other North Van breweries that have opened up in recent years. In short, while solid across the board, there’s something inessential about Deep Cove that makes it hard to justify the trip out, unless there’s one beer that you really like, which we haven’t found yet.
#64: Herald Street (31.67 Points)
Good for: Some of the most complex beers on the Island
Herald Street Brew Works was keenly anticipated when it opened in late 2020, due to both its long gestation period and being (along with Whistle Buoy) the first entries to downtown Victoria’s brewery scene in many, many years.
And that interest has been validated: Herald Street quickly gained a good reputation among beer fans, and its slightly ramshackle place with lots of old-timey knickknacks is a fun space to spend an evening for both friends and young families.
So why just a middle-of-the-pack assessment?
Well, let’s take a look at their current tap list: there’s a berliner weisse, an ESB, a cold IPA, a black IPA, a double IPA, and…a session IPA.
Yes, this is a brewery that wishes it could stay 2017 forever, with offerings that are interesting, yet veer towards the hoppy and heavy much of the time. Which is good if that’s what you’re after! But that, combined with regular “it’s our first year in operation and a couple of our beers didn’t quite hit” meant that we couldn’t fully fall in love with Herald Street, despite an obvious commitment to making good, complex beers.
There are good bones here though, and being less than 18 months old, there’s still plenty of time to reach that next gear, and perhaps pivot ever so slightly in focus.
Regardless, we’ll be there.
#63: Fraser Mills (32.00 Points)
Location: Port Moody
Good for: Mixing up your stale Port Moody crawl routine
When you think about Port Moody breweries, you don’t think about Fraser Mills.
Part of that is because is because it’s the only one not on Murray Street, part of it is because it opened last (in 2020), and part of it is due to its energy: while the older places all feel very “prestigious craft brewery in an industrial area”, Fraser Mills feels like “the one brewery in a town of 15,000 people, which also doubles as the main watering hole for normies”. When we visited, the demographic seemed a little older, the beers seemed a bit more straightforward, and there was a guy with a guitar playing Wonderwall.
But that isn’t to besmirch what Fraser Mills does! For one, they do their own cider and mead, and while we don’t rank either, it’s a nice option to have available. There are usually 10-15 beers on tap that check most of the boxes, though there’s a definite focus on lighter options, and none of them particularly stood out.
When compared with the other options in Port Moody, Fraser Mills definitely suffers — unless you’re hoping for both mead and IPAs in your flight — but it’s a worthy addition the city’s beer scene, and one that is worth a detour on your Murray Street loop at least once.
#62: Hoyne (32.05 Points)
Good for: Those 3-4 beers you’ve loved forever
*Rolls up sleeves*
Hoyne has an outstanding reputation in Victoria: founded in 2011 by Sean Hoyne, who spent years and years cutting his teeth at Canoe and Swans brewpubs, the brewery quickly became renowned for its Dark Matter, a somewhat malty, somewhat toasty dark ale that can be found pretty much everywhere (and finished in 3rd place in some guy’s bc beer bracket a couple years ago).
Around the flagship Dark Matter, a strong roster developed: the Summer Haze Honey Hefe, a Voltage Espresso Stout, the Appleton ESB and a Vienna Amber, among others. Talk to someone from the Island, and Hoyne often gets mentioned with Phillips and Driftwood as elite breweries that evolved around the same time and are a cut above the rest.
Well, they’re wrong.
Hoyne makes a good product and has one iconic, well-distributed dark ale. But that’s not enough to be “great” within the context of British Columbia, or even Victoria itself.
There are two main reasons for this. The first is that they’re not really cranking out interesting new beers on a regular basis. Hoyne has its mainstays, most of which have been in place for over six years, and they don’t really deviate from that. Unlike most breweries in the region, they opted against the trend of developing unique saisons, sours or northeast IPAs, which would be fine if they were experimenting on a regular basis or had one or two annual seasonals that got our tongues wagging.
Second, tasting rooms matter. You can argue whether they matter as much as we value them (20 per cent), yet they’re the front door for over 100 breweries across British Columbia now, and Hoyne’s is very bare bones, with nowhere to stand and not a washroom to be found.
None of this is to disparage what Hoyne does: they had a plan, executed it well, and the beer is good. If “is the beer good?” was the only thing that mattered to us, it would rank 3rd in Victoria and 18th for all of southwestern B.C.
That’s very good, and if you love Hoyne, all the power to you. But what was groundbreaking in 2013 isn’t in 2022, and so right in the middle of our rankings it sits.
#61: Bridge (32.08 Points)
Location: North Vancouver
Good for: A solid mix of standards across many styles
Bridge is a reminder that one should never write off a brewery upon first impression — but that breweries can slowly fall as much as they can slowly rise.
When they opened in 2012, they were still very much a work in progress, in a small unremarkable location, and were quickly forgotten amongst the rush of openings along Main and Hastings streets in Vancouver.
But surely, steadily, Bridge (not to be confused with Ridge, or Big Ridge, though lord knows we did), improved their offerings, moved to a quirkier location in North Van, upped their distribution, and created a stable of beers that were both unique and good: from Bourbon Blood Orange to Lemon Gin Saison, it produced bold flavours, but also standard IPAs (Side Cut) and Kolschs (Wunderbar) worth picking up in a liquor store, later adding a low calorie suite of options in their PrimeTime brand to get a wider audience
So what happened to go from tied for 11th in our original ranking down to here?
Part of it Bridge may hit a lot of single and doubles, but we’re still waiting for the home run beer that diehards can shove in front of the masses and say “YOU SEE?!? CONVERT! CONVERT!” like a responsible adult does.
More importantly, after a few years of growth, they quickly settled into a comfortable mid-aged groove … which is a nice way of saying that they’ve stalled, while other breweries in the region surged (Field House, Twin Sails, Superflux, etc.), or continued to innovate (Brassneck, Strange Fellows, Dageraad, etc.
And that’s not to mention a tasting space is small and garage-esque as you can get outside of Storm Brewing, new patio notwithstanding.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Brewing is ultimately a business just like anything else, and once you have a consistent product, it’s hard to keep your foot on the gas pedal.
It does mean however that a place, over time, can become just another solid brewery, in a place that now has a sea of them.
#60: R&B (32.13 Points)
Good for: Some of the best pizza and vibes in the city
At the same time, there are other longstanding breweries that we’ve grown to like more!
There was never a problem with R&B’s fantastic space: with a thoughtful design, very relaxed ambience and accommodating space, it was always a fun place to hang out in, with excellent pizzas to make it an option for dinner as well. It won the BC Ale Trail’s award for Best Brewery Experience last year for a reason.
But for a while, R&B’s actual beers disappointed in its blandness, doing all of the styles without being particularly great at any of them.
However, as time has gone on, we’ve noted a clear improvement.
Offerings like their berliner weisses (including a Pina Colada Sour) and their Night Train coffee lager have really pleased us. Old standards like the Vancouver Special IPA seem a bit more consistent. And having a few less options on tap (10-15 now, instead of the 15-20 of the past) has seemed to help what appeared to be a quantity-over-quality issue previously.
It’s still not *amazing* beer, but it doesn’t need to be when you have such a good tasting room. And given the number of people heading to Mt. Pleasant for a beer every weekend, it’s a spin of the wheel as to which place you’ll be able to get into anyway. You need not be disappointed if R&B is the one you spend your time in.
#59: Mariner (32.20 Points)
Good for: Sours and Coquitlam residents
Opened around the same time as the Evergreen Line, the owners of Mariner doubled down on catering to the suburban residents of Coquitlam by opening up along the highway rather than near a SkyTrain station.
Is the beer good enough or the space fun enough to attract people outside Coquitlam to make the commute? If you like a blueberry sour or a strawberry rhubarb sour or a cranberry gin mint sour or okay, you get the picture: sours are their passion (with four of the current ten offerings on the tap list) and they’re full of fun taste without feeling too artificial.
But if you don’t like the notion of a blueberry sour, then you might consider yourself the trip: we found the IPA merely passable, their string of low alcoholic “I can’t believe it’s not beer” line lacked any real flavour.
Still though, it’s an enjoyable room (the coloured walls create a cozy atmosphere) and they’re still continuing to try different things all the time, which is always heartening to see for a place now open for five years.
That it might not be quite good enough to justify the hike from the SkyTrain station shouldn’t dissuade you from a visit should the opportunity arise, assuming your taste buds enjoy tartness.
#58: Britannia (32.23 Points)
Good for: Fancy brewpub feelings
Britannia Brewing exudes charm in a way that few other breweries in B.C. do. It manages to calmly draw you in, let you relax in a bright and cosy space, have a lovely conversation, and stay just long enough to realize how middle of the row their beer offerings are.
Open since 2016, Britannia’s main location is directly across the street from the Steveston fisherman’s wharf and wholeheartedly embraces that. Building on the location, the beer list is perfectly on theme with nautical names like “Wave Crusader” XPA and “Ashore” rye porter.
The most noteworthy is the “Sirens” chai saison, notable simply for being a chai-flavoured beer. The various spice notes are interesting at first taste, but quickly overwhelm the rest of the beer’s flavour. While some enjoyed it, others found it a watery, confusing mess.
Indeed, with multiple rye beers, an XPA, and a blueberry beer all regularly brewed in their Richmond facility a few kilometres to the east, the rest of the tap list is intriguing but on the smaller side, never poor in quality, but none of them particularly hitting the mark.
Britannia is also a full-service restaurant, focusing on local high-quality ingredients. We enjoyed the food on the whole, but more detailed analysis of that would be better left to a restaurant review. What can certainly be said is that it is one of the only breweries in the region that can actually justify table service as a feature and not as something people felt the need to add to widen their audience.
When we visited Britannia, the take-away from everyone was that it’s a very nice place to be if you happen to be in Steveston (or Ladner, where they now have a new location), especially in on a sunny summer day on their ample patio.
One person we spoke with mentioned moving back to Richmond to raise a family after living in Yaletown for years, which really speaks to the vibe that Britannia is creating. It helps that Steveston is a family-friendly area, genuine and bright (and the best neighbourhood in Metro Vancouver, according to one man’s weird conceptual bracket).
Which makes Britannia a good market for them, where the beer can be appreciated, but ultimately secondary to the experience.
#57: Howl (32.25 Points)
Location: North Saanich
Good for: Wild flavours in a farmer’s market setting
What if Storm Brewing was like 15% less weird, but in Victoria and next to both a farm and an airport?
It’s slightly too reductive to describe Howl this way, but that’s the essential elevator pitch: an experimental place that is very flavour heavy and is enjoyable so long as you don’t question exactly how much craft is in the craft of the brew they are brewing.
Which isn’t to say the beer is bad! In our experience, it’s often been quite good! There’s nowhere in the area that would try a Carrot Saison, and yet that is what it tasted like: a floral saison with strong notes of, um, carrot.
Mind you, that level of throwing things at the wall might be too much for some folks, but it was enjoyable for most of us. And if carrot saisons and blackberry elderflower ales are too much for you, well, there’s still a traditional Spruce Tip (aka “West Coast”) IPA and various pale ales available.
None of this is completely bold or exciting in 2022 — it’s a brewery that in many respects is carrying on the “throw stuff at the wall” tradition of older establishments.
But it’s still good fun, and the fact you can get a weirdly rural/farmer’s market vibe next to an airport (and just a 5 minute drive from the ferry) provides a fun addition to what at the end of the day is decently enjoyable beer.
Howl away, Howl. You’re plenty worth it.
#56: Bad Dog (32.28 Points)
Good for: Stumbling on a good pint in the middle of nowhere
Bad Dog is set in the garage and parking lot of a rural property in the middle of seemingly nowhere.
That’s pretty much the first, second and third most important thing to keep in mind about their entire operation.
So, yes, they have a goat and dogs that roam the premises. You will probably see a deer. It will feel not feel like a traditional craft brewery experience, until you experience the craft beer.
But when you do, you’ll be pleasantly surprised: they serve their beer — a perfectly acceptable selection of 12+ beers on tap — out of a takeaway window on their property. Everything we tried was quite pleasant, or interesting, and a couple of them were both (we were fans of the Space Walk fruit beer and the Kona’s Gone Coconuts red ale).
They’ve set up a row of picnic tables for you to have a makeshift picnic in the sun while enjoying some good beer, making friends with goats and deers and whatever other animal comes into your view.
It’s not the most amazing beer you’ve ever had, but it’s plenty good and in a most unique environment. Can you name me a better way to spend an afternoon in Sooke? I think not.
#55: Barnside (32.29 Points)
Good for: Heavier beers in a fun setting
Barnside has the energy of a place that, were it in the middle of Vancouver or Port Moody, would get plenty of attention and compliments.
It’s a big space, with plenty of vintage touches (including a giant map of Delta’s land-use structure around 1900), with a large patio area and plenty of spaces to view its large brewing vats.
For people living in and around Delta, it’s a great addition to the brewery scene and a great place to hangout for an afternoon or evening.
For the rest of us…look, Delta is far. If we’re going to one place, it’s going to be Four Winds. And while Barnside is good, it’s not amazing.
At least, depending who you are.
If you’re a dad who enjoys heavier beers, Barnside is a very above average brewery: there’s the Spiced Apple Brandy Milk Stout (11.2%), a Bourbon Imperial Oatmeal Stout (11.2%), a Maple Bourbon Imperial Oatmeal Stout (11.2%) and a Peaches & Cream Brandy Milk South (at, you guessed it, 11.2 per cent), along with more run of the mill options.
For everyone else, Barnside has nice options, but nothing worth a huge commute. Their IPAs and sours and ales are brewed perfectly well, and a good addition for those living south of the Fraser.
And there’s no need to add qualifications to any of that — it’s a good space, and a good brewery.
#54: La Cerveceria Astilleros (32.30 Points)
Location: North Vancouver
Good for: One great beer and one great view
One trick ponies are perfectly good so long as the trick and the pony are both solid. In the case of La Cerveceria Astilleros, both ring true.
In the case of the pony (which we’ll call “the brewery”), La Cerveceria Astilleros is an exquisitely designed space in the North Van industrial cluster of new breweries, with Majolica tile art and a great view of Vancouver. It’s committed to the Mexican theme, with margaritas and tacos also available.
And its one trick is a salted lime lager — the one thing from La Cerveceria Astilleros you’ll likely see on liquor store shelves, and for good reason. It gets right to the line of feeling too salty without going overboard, is nice and crisp, the pinnacle of flavoured beer, and an ideal summer option with no real competition for that particular style in the region.
The rest of the beers are mostly average, if we’re being honest: a mango kolsch that tastes too much like mango and not enough like kolsch, a tropical IPA that feels half done. And with only four to eight beers at any one time, your options may be lacking.
But go in for one beer, and one taco, and you’ll have one nice time.
#53: Swans (32.31 Points)
Good for: Soaking in old Victoria energy
Located next to Victoria’s Chinatown, Swans is a brewpub attached to a heritage hotel that overlooks the Inner Harbour, with all the lived-in quaintness you expect from Victoria. As a brewery, it’s one of the older options on the list, having been established in 1989.
But cast aside assumptions you have about being a stodgy brewpub with dated offerings: we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of beer at Swans, with a beer selection that often feels like they’re just throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks, in a good way
There’s a large tap list, 15-20 options most of the time, at least one of which will greatly please you. For one of us, it was the smoked Flammenbeer, for another, a double malt double IPA, for another, the Berry Ale — nothing to our tastes was amazing, but virtually everything was above replacement level, and you’ll get a different mix each time you visit.
Their food is also pretty decent, and there is a liquor store attached to it, which is never a bad thing. Swans is a place you imagine your “cool” aunt and uncle would go on a night out with their friends, which makes it quite a good time if you can let go of pretensions, belt out the words to “American Pie”, and drink a beer named after former Fernie MLA Tom Uphill.
#52: Steamworks (32.44 Points)
Good for: Bringing your parents somewhere while still enjoying the beer
t’s comforting to know that in this era of Peak Beer, Old Man Steamworks is still trucking along, their Flagship IPA still seen and enjoyed most everywhere.
The ubiquity of Flagship is earned: it’s a big fruity hoppy concoction that quickly got imitated locally at dozens of breweries, and when it was made spoke to the fact that, 21 years on, Steamworks could still surprise.
Those surprises don’t happen often though, because for the most part Steamworks is content to be what it is: a large-scale microbrewery in a beautiful setting appealing to a mass market with a dependable mix of drinkable beers.
Which isn’t to damn them with faint praise! Operating their flagship location across from the Waterfront SkyTrain line system, they have to sell a lot of beer to make their brewpub a financial success, and they do. While it’s not the most charming of oversized locations to drink a beer, you can always find a space to sit down and enjoy one of their many mainstays (Pilsner, Jasmine IPA, Kolsch, etc.), or one of their regular seasonals (White Winter Stout, Pumpkin Ale, Frambozen), which, if we’re being honest, tend to be much better.
It’s not exciting, and more likely a place you’ll go for an event or with your parents than on your own accord, but at this point Steamworks is a Vancouver institution. When you’re downtown and wondering who will have space or where is some pretty good beer, Steamworks answers in the affirmative.
#51: Faculty (32.45 Points)
Good for: Good commitment to a gimmick
Faculty was aptly named. There was a clinicality to their beers. A sterility to their space. What came across as charming Scandinavian-inspired minimalism to some evoked merely emptiness in others. Go figure — but then again, Ingmar Bergman films aren’t for everyone.
This fermentation outfit also brews kombucha (yes, yes, Vancouver, we know). Their kombucha was pretty good. The beers were generally acceptable, with one of our rankers having it in their top five. But for most, Faculty could best be expressed by an indifferent shrug; anticipation greeted their opening but they quickly settled into being Another East Side Brewery. Perhaps they took the theme implied by their name too far — their beers were far too reminiscent of academic writing: dry and dull, watery, palatable but entirely lacking in panache.
The profs at Faculty have a couple discoveries worth mentioning: their Minzeweizen, a beer made with peppermint tea, had a light bite but was eminently drinkable, and their Citra Pale Ale has the right amount of malt and citrus.
If you’re looking for a beer in the neighbourhood that reminds you of pleasant winters past, and you want someplace you can bring your dog inside, and you like ‘#brandz’ but think 33 Acres are too pretentious, and want a dependable rotation of mid-alcohol beers, Faculty is a good choice.
If not, it’s another brewery with steel and wood and nice branding and beers that has settled into a comfortable groove.