Ranking every brewery in Southwest British Columbia: Part 5

The Great Tier

Admittedly, it’s hard to care about every brewery in Greater Vancouver and Victoria.

There’s just so many. And there’s so many that do a perfectly fine job, but don’t excite us: it’s just so hard at this point to break into the market with something new or truly better than what’s already out there.

Our remaining 30 though? They excite us. Or bring back memories. Or are so dang competent that even if they don’t excite us, they compel us to come back every few months.

Your list of great breweries might look somewhat different than ours.

But we’re excited to share the places that have given us the most joy.

Part 1 (#114-#100)
Part 2 (#69-#99)
Part 3 (#51-68)
Part 4 (#50-31)

#30: Main Street (35.13 Points)

Location: Vancouver

Good for: The best backup plan for a beer in Vancouver

Quality: B-

Diversity/Innovation: B-

Experience: A-

Those that can’t do, teach. And those that can’t get into Brassneck, get into Main Street Brewing.

Main Street were one of the first breweries of Vancouver’s current Beeraissance. In 2012, when the city had yet to legalize tasting rooms, they they were developing a restaurant. Once the city finally opened the floodgates, Main Street threw out their plans and went full-steam ahead with a brewery.

The tasting room, inside in an industrial heritage building, has a gorgeous, spacious interior with 20-foot ceilings + exposed brick walls, and has the closest feeling to a German beer garden (with trees coming out of the tables), with the lyrical romanticism of strung twinkle lights.

They could serve swill and you’d still have a wonderful evening, which is why they were ranked 10th best experience.

Don’t worry though; they don’t serve swill: thanks to their spacious brewing capacity, Main Street makes pretty much everything, and while they’re no longer pushing like they did from their 20150-2017 heyday, pretty much everything is still good.

By Untappd’s count they’ve brewed 586 different beers over the years, and while their product no longer excites the beer community, they can still come out with a Gale Force Old Ale or a Smokeyboi Grodziskie that is worth your while.

They’re still devoted to cask beer more than most places, you can always get their pretty good pilsner and consistent Naked Fox IPA, and there’s generally a rotating mix of other options.

Main Street is a very good place to be, but the standards are arguably less good than most of the other breweries still on our list. And we confess to being disappointed that what was once a diverse list of comfort food has been replaced by mostly hot dogs. For a brewery in a walkable area, there seems to be little drive to improve to stop patrons from walking around the corner to somewhere else.

It’s a theme we’ve seen with a number of B.C. breweries that are around a decade old now: they’ve settled into being what they are, and selling what they know.

But it’s still plenty good, and we definitely won’t complain about the shorter lineups.

#T-28: Another Beer Co. (35.17 Points)

Location: New Westminster

Good for: Unique but good beers in a unique but good space

Quality: B-

Diversity/Innovation: B+

Experience: B

Located in an odd industrial area in New West across the train tracks that’s difficult to bike to and a 15 minute walk from the SkyTrain station, Another Beer Co. has flown somewhat under the radar since it opened three years ago.

Which is to say, if you haven’t gone yet, go.

It is hard to describe ABC’s deal in a single sentence: they’ve shown a passion for double and triple IPAs, and that’s probably the type of beer they’ve gotten the most buzz for. At the same time, like a lot of places they’ve gone lighter in the last year, with kölschs, pilsners and hefeweizens currently on the menu. There’s a clear commitment to experiment with things like a Champagne Sour Weisse or a Moodswing Coffee Sour.

We’ve gone three times, and while there’s been a couple of duds in our flights, we’ve enjoyed the diversity and have always found at least one thing we wish was distributed further afield.

The tasting room is not bad for a small space, with touches like a surprisingly beautiful washroom and TVs playing 1990s VCR tapes, but there’s not a ton of food in the area and it might be difficult to convince your less IPA-inclined friends to make a trek out, unless you’ve booked the arcade next door as part of your east Sapperton field trip.

But we encourage a visit. It’s a chance to be surprised and add another option to a list of relatively close breweries that are all very good.

#T-28: Lighthouse (35.17 Points)

Location: Victoria

Good for: Consistently good beers of all types

Quality: B+

Diversity/Innovation: B-

Experience: C+

Lighthouse makes really, really good beer. They produce a solid and dependable core line up of ales and lagers. Their winter seasonal, a vanilla stout, is absolutely heavenly to drink on a rainy west coast night. The coffee lager succeeds in the tricky task of combining the coffee flavour with a lighter beer. Standards like the Shipwreck IPA still hit the spot, while the newer Strawberry Rhubarb Wheat Ale is more subtle than you might think. It is never a challenge to find something worth drinking when visiting Lighthouse.

Not to mention, they’re a business that emphasizes its community roots and values, partners with all types of worthy organizations, and after 20 years of operation, is still trying new things, even if it may not capture the attention of most Vancouverites.

When we reviewed them four years ago, their tasting room was literally a corner of their office with tasters provided in plastic shot glasses.

As a result, our reviewers felt the the visitor experience was underwhelming — or, put another way, literally the least enjoyable of any brewery in southwestern B.C. — and with experience counting for 20 per cent of the score, awesome beer could only compensate so much, placing them in the middle of the pack overall.

They’ve since developed a serviceable tasting room, and now their score better reflects where they should sit in the pantheon of regional breweries.

It still may be too small, and too lacking in extra amenities that would make you want to stick around — but now it’s a place you can go and enjoy a flight of their great offerings without feeling like an intruder.

#27: Farmhouse (35.2 Points)

Location: Chilliwack

Good for: The best brewpub in the region

Quality: B

Diversity/Innovation: B-

Experience: B+

It’s not that brewpubs inherently make worse beer than standard breweries; it’s just that most of the time the split focus creates an inherent tension between priorities which gets revealed with weaknesses in some facet of their overall operation.

Not at Farmhouse. There’s very good food, and very good beer.

One should start with the beer, since that’s the focus of this journey and the reason Farmhouse sticks out like it does: there’s an across the board emphasis on the craft of craft brewing, with nearby hops and other local ingredients providing a clear freshness.

We’re not going to claim it’s the best beer we’ve had by any stretch, but it’s very solid, with flavour-heavy options like a Pineapple Sour With Sabro Hops sitting next to approachable golden ales and honey lagers with ease.

And it’s available in a giant barn on a farm, with tons of space inside or outside with the wide scope of the Fraser Valley all there for viewing. There are brewery standards of pizza and pretzels, and also calzones and meatballs. The space feels a little overly considered, but when it’s this pleasant one can’t carp too much.

Farmhouse fits that sweet spot of being a place you can visit for food or for beer, with your relatives for lunch or friends for an evening out.

The only serious drawback is its distance from most people in the Lower Mainland — though chances are in a decade you’ll be looking for property you can actually afford, and scouting the area east of Langley.

So get some scouting in now.

#26: Coast Mountain (35.29 Points)

Location: Whistler

Good for: A sneaky great detour from a typical Whistler trip

Quality: B+

Diversity/Innovation: C+

Experience: B-

In 2016, Coast Mountain opened in the same industrial area to the west of Whistler’s town centre that Whistler Brewing Company has occupied for the last decade, since it moved operations back from Kamloops.

(“Wait, Whistler Brewing was made in Kamloops?” Yes, but there’s no time for that!)

Never mind: Coast Mountain quickly went from the new kids on the block to the best kids on the block. If you’re looking for the best brewery in Whistler, you want to be here.

When you step inside their tiny but adorable tasting room, designed to be the inside of a Whistler chalet, you’ll be embraced by the warmth of their staff and delirious by the taste and depth of their beer (though beware the lack of food and general loud vibes).

Coast Mountain centres itself, like a lot of places in the last few years, on IPAs and sours, which currently make up 6 of 10 spots on their taplist. They’re succeeded in making all around good beers — consider their Surveyor IPA, which not only captures a perfect balance of bitterness, but the smell and flavour to complement a perfect Pacific Northwest style. Or their Juice Box Sour Wit, tart and orangey without having too much acidity. A 4% First Aid Kit Pomegranate Sour, while not currently on the menu, has been a favourite all the times we’ve visited as well.

At the same time, there’s enough less aggressive styles for on tap — even if the Kolsch or Valley Trail Pale Ale don’t grab your attention as much, nearly everything is very competent, and that’s more than good enough for us.

Regrettably for us, their focus has remained in the Whistler area, and finding Coast Mountain in Metro Vancouver is rare.

All the more reason to take advantage while you’re up there.

#25: Parallel 49 (35.33 Points)

Location: Vancouver

Good for: A safe starter brewery for your friends out of town

Quality: B-

Diversity/Innovation: B+

Experience: B-

Hot take: Parallel 49 is fine.

The thing about becoming the omnipresent brewery, the brewery with display signs outside every liquor store, the brewery that makes so much and distributes so much that you can buy a Jerkface 9000 in Taiwan or a Salty Scot in Australia, is that you become easy to mock: the ubiquitous monolith that’s more macro than charming.

And that was before the multiple allegations of mistreatment from 2020 that cemented their decline in reputation for many.

They’ve since provided regular updates on their efforts to grow and make amends, and we can only note their progress and focus our judgement on their beer.

And the beer is fine. Sometimes pretty good. For nearly all tastes, there are two or three beers from Parallel 49 almost guaranteed to get into your regular rotation, such is their commitment to make virtually every style in the book. You’ll get that when you’ve been at things for a decade and have the resources to ensure anything made public has had ample quality control. Have a large party of Millennials and Boomers, people who like double IPAs and people who like pilsners, and anyone in between, and Parallel 49 is a good starting point.

So they can still churn out new award winning stuff like a Smoked Salted Gose, while their basic lager (Craft Lager), straight ahead brown ale (Old Boy) and summer standard Tricycle Radler are seen far and wide. In 2018 we wrote “we always get the sense they don’t put quite the same amount of perfectionism into the what’s inside the bottle as they do for the labels on them,” but at this point there’s a mechanical sameness to the entire brand.

And frankly, the tasting room is symbolic of both their strengths and weaknesses. There’s an airport-style electronic display of 30-plus(!) beers you can get at anyone time, but they’re all in the same colour and indistinguishable.

Still, above average beer combined with a huge selection and world-class marketing will get you far, as Parallel 49 has ably demonstrated.

The scope and accomplishments are easy to be impressed by. We just wished we felt the same way about the actual beer.

#24: Old Abbey (35.38 Points)

Location: Abbotsford

Good for: A review you can be angry at

Quality: B-

Diversity/Innovation: B+

Experience: B-

We turn our gaze down the congestion choked stretch of Highway 1 towards the Fraser Highway connector, and the ash-heap of what was, and the nest from which the phoenix rose anew, Old Abbey Brewing.

Located in the western reaches of Abbotsford, Old Abbey Brewing occupied a cavernous space in an industrial complex that had been outfitted with purple pleather barstools, and a complement of beers to match their unorthodox design choices. The curtains were purple. The couches were purple. The draanks were purple too. However, herein lies the problem — their grasp exceeds their reach, as least when it comes to the promises made by their aesthetics. If you’re going to design your brewery along the theme “pimp-purple castle”, you’d better make your beer great. They don’t.

With around 20 beers on tap at anytime, it can be an adventure of the gustatory senses that ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. There’s only so much time you want to spend sipping suds ladled from the beermaking equivalent of Willy Wonka’s wacky waterway.

Two beers bear special mention. Purple Draank, a beer inspired by the off-label use of codeine-laced cough syrup, lived up to the name and taste. If you like fruit beers (specifically raspberry and blueberry) that are just a little too fruit beer, you’d have enjoyed this beer.

The other was the beet beer. It tasted like beets, but in a very intriguing way. Said one reviewer “I don’t know that I like this, but I know that I want more of it.” This type of innovation should never be discouraged. If future owners can nail down that recipe, people might be sipping beet beers on patios up and down the TransCan.

This should not be read as to discourage their ambition, or to denigrate their skills wholesale. One reviewer in particular raved about their experimentations with rye beers (their RyePA especially), an underused grain in the local scene. Similarly, they nailed their coffee blonde.

On the whole however, they produced too many beers that were just really bad. Old Abbey might have hit your sweet spot (especially if you like your beers sweet), but for your standard ales or a satisfying porter for your average consumer, they failed to deliver far too often.

So why are we ranking it this high? “Because one person really liked it” is essentially the reason, and our rankings are the democracy of a small self-selected group. There’s a lot here, and it’s a memorable experience at the very least.

Approach knowing it could be divisive, and you’ll have at the very least an intriguing time. And at least one of our reviewers will pour one out for Old Abbey and their beet beer. After all, Purple (Draank) makes the noblest shroud.

#23: Bakery (35.43 Points)

Location: Port Moody

Good for: The most eclectic and experimental of the Moody options

Quality: B

Diversity/Innovation: B

Experience: B-

When you decide to become the fifth brewery on a street that already has four, all of which have distinctive brands and fans established over many years, you best be good if you want to survive.

After four years, Bakery is still here. Because it’s good.

It’s not the best for *everyone*, mind you: it’s doing the very 2018 thing of focusing heavily on fruits and sours, which means the majority of their offerings are very flavour-heavy. And their commitment to experimenting and regularly switching up their selection of 15-20 beers on tap also means not everything is going to hit.

The vast majority of things, however, do hit: some of us enjoyed the Spice Cookie Herbed Beer, others the Pink Salted Pink Guava Sour, others a Berliner Weisse with woodruff syrup.

On one hand, these are all the types of beers that are fun as part of a flight or a small flight, but might be less appealing in the form of a six-pack. On the other hand, their relatively lack of distribution means we haven’t had the opportunity to regularly enjoy Bakery beers outside their brewery.

And at the same time, they do offer cream ales and pale lagers as well. And their tasting space is cozy and lively without seeming as hectic and loud as some of the Murray Street choices.

In other words, it’s middle of the pack for Murray Street. Which makes it a great option overall.

#22: Driftwood (35.5 Points)

Location: Victoria

Good for: Having the most famous beer in the province

Quality: B+

Diversity/Innovation: C+

Experience: B-

Real talk: when was the last time Driftwood came out with a new beer that excited you?

No, not this year’s version of Singularity or Sartori Harvest, their great desert stout and wet hopped IPA, respectively.

The last brand new option that really lit the B.C. beer scene on fire. To our mind, you could make a case for the Oumuamua Milk Stout, four years ago.

Since then, the focus has mostly been on repeating hits laid out in the previous decade: Naughty Hildegard an outstanding ESB, Blackstone Porter and White Bark Witbier very good examples in their genres, Fat Tug the most ubiquitous (and, according to the masses, best) beer in the province.

We wrote in 2018 that “it this was 2012 or 2013, Driftwood would be the best brewery in the province. It isn’t anymore, because there are younger and hungrier outlets on the Lower Mainland, with slightly more diverse beers or slightly more offerings,” and that gap has only widened since.

But we come here to praise Ceasar, not just to slightly bury him: Driftwood is very easy to be taken for granted, just like the fact that their beers are easy to find and they come in a wide variety of styles, and all of this is good to celebrate. Their new location has great seating and fun artwork on the walls (though in an industrial area with not a lot of food options), and while they could print money by focusing solely on Fat Tug and their known seasonals, they still push out a new fares each year like a Sahti Finnish Farmhouse Ale or Ecentricity Wheat Wine worth checking out.

Still, Driftwood is a business through and through now, interested in making sure you can fun Fat Tugs is so many places that Seabus Memes will never get tired of using it.

It means the spark is gone, and perhaps we have them a bit too low because of that disappointment.

At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with being a very good brewery with things will continue to know, and continue to enjoy for likely decades to come.

#21: House of Funk (35.56 Points)

Location: North Vancouver

Good for: Amazing sours with amazing views

Quality: B-

Diversity/Innovation: B

Experience: B

House of Funk is striking in every way.

Its occult branding signifies it’s not trying to please everyone. Its ornate wooden tables and deep luxurious couches show a deep interest in an interesting visual experience (and that’s before bringing up the ridiculous views of Downtown Vancouver from the end of the North Van Shipyards District).

And its beers, with names like Apotheosis (a table bier) and Decoherence (a foeder IPA) show a similar “accept us for who we are energy” that is delightful if you’re on board with it.

And many of us were, and are: House of Funk was a top-10 brewery for four people in our group, each of us loving the bold flavours and eclectic options available. The funk juice is a rotating series of boozy booster juices in a can, the Ignis is a delicately smoked sour wheat ale that is hard to find an equivalent of in Vancouver, the Debauchery double milk imperial stout a dangerously smooth 10.5% choice on a winter day.

Sours and innovative flavours are what House of Funk is known for, but their Bootsy Farmhosue IPA won a Canadian Brewing Award last year, and their Vahalla wild pale ale is perfectly serviceable. What more could you ask for?

At least, that’s what half of us thought. The other half thought the tastes were overly aggressive — Storm Brewing without the charm and history — and lacking enough straightforward options to have a predictable good time. A “big mess” in the words of one, a place worthy of visiting, but not seen as great.

So, splitting the difference, it sits here, just out of the top 20, at the top of our North Shore rankings.

Clearly, your only option is to take the Seabus over, do a crawl around the many new breweries that have opened up in the last four years, and make up your own determination.

#20: Fuggles (35.67 Points)

Location: Richmond

Good for: Enjoying the six beers you’ve always enjoyed

Quality: B

Diversity/Innovation: C+

Experience: A-

What you think about Fuggles & the artist formerly known as Warlock depends primarily on four things:

1) Do you like beers that are either very hoppy, or not at all?
2) Are you fine with a brew whose taste has a bit of an scratch n’ sniff, artificial flavour to it?
3) Is a brewery where you can play an arcade machine with virtually every game made between 1975 to 1995 something that appeals to you?
4) Is a brewery where you the best four beers have been exactly the same since 2017 fine?

If the answer is yes to all three questions, you will love the heck out of Fuggles & Warlock. The Richmond brewery understands its demographic (people who enjoy either IPAs or low IBU, flavourable beers), and brands itself with a faux-steampunk style (formerly anime) that works well with their lack of craft beer pretension.

And it doesn’t hurt that the beer is tremendously tasty: their Strawberry Wit quickly became a ubiquitous fruit beer standard, and their Bean Me Up is probably the best expresso milk stout in the region. Yes, everyone does one or two sours these days — but their Kiwami Plum Sour is both unique and delivers as advertised. It’s a brewery that really only goes four beers deep, and yet there’s a reason you can find those four beers far and wide.

But, if you’re a stupid person (Justin, just because Fuggles was your favourite brewery, you can’t denigrate other people who didn’t like them as much) the type who like more balanced beers, ones a little less cartoony in packaging and taste, and doesn’t give a damn if you can play NHL ’94 while getting drunk on craft beer, then you might find Fuggles & Warlock slightly lacking.

And that’s understandable. After all, there’s very little new that is interesting on their taplist these days, and if you want something without sour or fruit in it your options will be definitely lacking.

For now, those that like Fuggles and Warlock will continue liking it a lot, whether from the comfort of their home, or while trying to avenge the Canucks’ loss in Game 7 some 28 years ago.

(Damn you, Lafayette)

#19: Persephone (35.73 Points)

Location: Persephone

Good for: The best of the farm-style breweries in the region

Quality: B-

Diversity/Innovation: B-

Experience: A-

The taproom at Persephone Brewing Co is a magical place.

It is housed in an Instagram-worthy red barn on a working farm not far from the Langdale ferry terminal on the Sunshine Coast. In the winter, the wood stove keeps the taproom toasty while the crokinole and cribbage boards occupy visitors. In the summer, guests spill outside to long, shady tables or recline on wooden benches dotting the surrounding garden and farm. The taproom cooler sells bombers and cans right alongside their own farm fresh eggs. Farm to Feast, the on-site food truck, serves up gourmet wood oven pizza alongside a rotating seasonal menu. In short, it’s no surprise that we ultimately ranked Persephone the 4th best brewery experience in all of southwestern B.C.

“But the beer!” you ask, and have no fear, the beer is good. If you have friends who are intimidated by the hop bombs seen in many places, Persephone will put them at ease. Interesting beer is important, yet so is having accessible options, and Persephone has those in spades.

In general, the Persephone tap list is dominated by ales and beers on the malty end of the spectrum. Their Black Lager, Hop Yard Red Ale, Goddess Golden Ale, and the house cider all stood out as top choices when we visited. Persephone will never be as beloved for their beer as they are for their brewery experience, but there are still new experiments every year — a Nitro Mocha Porter here, an ESB there — and we find in general they do darker beers much better than most.

Not to mention, it’s hard not to root for a brewery that offers visitors such a stellar experience and that is also so clearly invested in their community. Persephone is a certified B Corp, and initiatives such as their Kids in Ag Fund are a testament to the roots they’ve put down in Gibsons.

Overall, Persephone is a can’t miss destination when you’re on the Sunshine Coast and we’re looking forward to returning for their latest cask experiment and getting another slice of that tasty, tasty pizza.

#18: Storm (36.05 Points)

Location: Vancouver

Good for: Being grateful Storm still exists

Quality: B

Diversity/Innovation: A-

Experience: C+

Asking where Storm ranks as a brewery is like asking where Yellow Submarine ranks in the songs by The Beatles: you could be objective about it, but what would be the point?

Most of us adore both what they brew and what they represent — though we can fully understand the opposing case.

Founder James Walton is like a grungier version of the zany Doc Brown in his lab, trying strange experiments, often times blowing things up (one of us has regrets of buying a keg of “ginko-biloba brainpower enhancing IPA” a decade ago, and anybody who ever tried their pizza beer remembers how that turned out) while occasionally achieving wild successes.

And what successes! Storm did sours before pretty much anyone, and their Imperial Flanders Red Ale was a revelation when it debuted (though we know it’s become too inconsistent), the Vanilla Whiskey Stout is as flavourful as it is dangerously drinkable at 9%, and their Pineapple Pilsner has eliminated the need for anyone else to make a pineapple-based beer.

Their brewery itself is a throwback to the East Vancouver of the 90’s: a grungy industrial space used to brew beer, with retail clearly existing as an afterthought. Things will drip on you depending on where you stand. Sadly, the era of getting generous samples by donation has come to an end, but it’s been replaced by getting four cups of beer in lieu of a flight for flight-like prices.

If you read all this and thought “this seems like an incredibly scattershot place with questionable methods that is weird to grab a beer in,” you’d be right! And if you read this and thought “this is a great DIY business where I can get some tasty unique beers and get inspired about craft brewing,” you’d be right too!

But because we generally love Storm, we hope that their four mainstays get a refresh, that they update their Imperial Sour in some new barrels, that their brainstorms taste as good when you get it at a bar as when you get it from their brewery.

Storm was and is a venerable pioneer of the scene which is starting to get tired, and there are now many breweries in Metro Vancouver we can confidently say are better.

Even in 2022 we’d miss the heck out of it if it disappeared — to say nothing of the impact if it never existed at all.

#17: Ravens (36.05 Points)

Location: Abbotsford

Good for: Elevated fruit beers

Quality: B+

Diversity/Innovation: B-

Experience: B-

Calling something “overrated” or “underrated” is always a tricky proposition, because it presumes your understanding of how mass culture perceives a product is accurate, and not a construct you’ve artificially made up in order to shout your Very Important Opinion from the top of Take Mountain.

That being said: we’ve long found Ravens Brewing — one of the few Indigenous breweries in the province — is criminally underrated among the masses.

Perhaps it’s because of their no-frills, subdued labelling, or their longtime location in an awkward-to-reach industrial area of Abbotsford (they’re in the process of migrating to a more agricultural area in east Abbotsford), or their first known and oldest options (a dark mild, a pale ale, and a farmer’s ale) aren’t the type of things to get tongues wagging.

But the quality of their beer is undeniably consistent, and their fruit heavy-releases now — particularly the Corvus Lingonberry Lime and Mango Jalapeno Goses — might be the best in the Lower Mainland.

We don’t want to shortchange their flaws. Their distribution is still not exactly expansive, the number of taps available at their tasting room was limited.

Good beer can make up for a number of minor flaws, and Ravens is worth searching out. There’s a good chance if we continue writing these reviews, we’ll have to update the opening of this piece.

After all, you can’t be underrated once the secret is out.

#16: Trading Post (36.25 Points)

Location: Langley

Good for: A consistently solid beer throughout the Valley

Quality: B

Diversity/Innovation: B-

Experience: B+

Trading Post has in many ways become the Parallel 49 of the Fraser Valley — a ubiquitous brand that has become divisive as it has grown.

It didn’t generate a lot of hype in their first year, with an uneven lineup and single tasting room in a Langley business park. But they quickly grew to having separate locations in Fort Langley and Abbotsford, and their standards can now be seen found far and wide.

As the first brewery in Langley City, Trading Post didn’t have to fill a niche or follow a trend. They went for a creative and homey brewhouse feel reminiscent of other suburban standouts like New West’s Steel and Oak and Port Moody’s Twin Sails.

Unlike those two, Trading Post decided to move towards a more macro, corporate feel in their beers and brand, and we’ve heard from a number of people watching these rankings progress who believe there’s nothing to write home about.

However, we think of their beers as accessible and done well in a variety of styles: the Three Bears Breakfast Stout, Amber Ale, and S.M.A.S.H. Saison all were well-executed, and their tart Cranberry Ale goes right to the line of being too plucky without crossing it.

We admit to missing some of their original standards: the dark mild ale’s well-structured body and notes of smooth caramel really won us over, the farmhouse ale (Dark Tart) and Brett IPA (What Cheer) were worth picking up as well, but none are in their rotation anymore. Yet trips in 2021 and 2020 felt much the same as 2017 — a cozy place with a bunch of worthwhile beers that we couldn’t find faults in.

Trading Post started out in a sea of nothing, and has weathered the competition they’ve faced as the Langley brewery scene exploded. For the moment, they’re still our favourite.

#15: Backcountry (36.58 Points)

Location: Squamish

Good for: Constantly interesting options

Quality: B+

Diversity/Innovation: C

Experience: A-

The sea was angry that day, my friends — like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli.

I got about fifty feet out and suddenly, the great beast appeared before me. I tell you, he was ten stories high if he was a foot. As if sensing my presence, he let out a great bellow. I said, “Easy, big fella!”

And then, as I watched him struggling, I realized that something was obstructing its breathing. From where I was standing, I could see directly into the eye of the great fish.

Jerry: Mammal.

George: Whatever.

Kramer: Well, what did you do next?

George: Well then, from out of nowhere, a huge tidal wave lifted me, tossed me like a cork, and I found myself right on top of him – face to face with the blowhole. I could barely see from the waves crashing down upon me, but I knew something was there. So I reached my hand in, felt around, and pulled out the obstruction.

[George dramatically reveals the obstruction to be a golf ball]

Kramer: [somewhat embarrassed] … What is that, a Titleist?

[George nods]

Kramer: A hole in one, huh?

Jerry: Well, the crowd most have gone wild!

George: Oh, yes they did, Jerry – they were all over me. It was like Rocky 1. Diane came up to me, threw her arms around me, and kissed me. We both had tears streaming down our faces. I never saw anyone so beautiful. It was at that moment I decided to tell her I was not a marine biologist!

Jerry: Wow! What’d she say?

George: She told me to go to hell, and I took the bus home.

(Top tier IPAs, pretty good sours, does everything else perfectly fine even if it’s all very predictable at this point, big inviting tasting room with great pizzas and a big tap list. Please stop the bit.)

#14: Studio (36.69 Points)

Location: Burnaby

Good for: Straightforward beers done with excellence

Quality: A-

Diversity/Innovation: B-

Experience: B

Studio Brewing won the 2021 Growlies for being the best new brewery in the province, and the hype is well deserved.

For a place that got started just a year ago, it’s outrageously competent in its creations: the Daisy Chain is one of the rare saisons that get the balance just right, the Concrete Overcoat Double Porter was luxurious in its feel, the Rolodex Pale Ale complex without being too complicated in our mouths.

Overall, the feel is similar to Brassneck or Strange Fellows, with fairly basic beers, done with a slight twist, but more importantly an elevated level of talent to bring forward the unique notes in each one. And in an era where so many places chased the trend of sours and fruits and east coast IPAs, it was refreshing to see Studio go against the grain and deliver on pale ales, stouts, and other less sexy styles — but making sure they were done well.

If we were judging solely on quality of our flights, we would have Studio in 8th place, a huge accomplishment for a brewery so young.

At the same time, when deciding where to go with a large group, there are other considerations. While Studio’s physical space is well-designed in the clean bright minimalist way many breweries strive for, it’s fairly generic at this point, and if there’s no food truck outside, nearby options are extremely limited. And while the beers are quite good, the tap list doesn’t change much at all — so far, Studio gives the feel of a place content to make 10 good beers without changing much up.

Those 10 beers are great though. And we’re very glad that new breweries can still open up in Metro Vancouver with the ability to surprise and carve a niche in a crowded market.

#13: Steel & Oak (36.78 Points)

Location: New Westminster

Good for: Being above average in everything

Quality: B+

Diversity/Innovation: B-

Experience: B

There’s a sort of earnest little brother feeling about Steel & Oak’s smallish New West tasting room. Like visiting someone’s student apartment, you’ll have to trek; it’s a moderate walk from the New West Skytrain station. The decor is predictable and stylish (white walls, big windows, bare wood) but lacks the hip chillness found in Vancouver versions. You get the sense that people have been playing the board games they put out. It’s warm, inviting, the type of place you could lazily spend two hours in.

This may be why the room flows over, and regulars line up out the door to buy off-sales, or cram around the tables. It could also be that Steel & Oak excels at producing consistently excellent beers.

Our reviewers marked it highly for quality, and had fulsome praise for the full lineup. Tasters particularly loved the Red Pilsner and Smoked Hefeweisen, which veers less campfire, more banana brulee.

But then there’s the Vibrancy Brett Beer, and the Smoked Honey Dopplebock, and the Simple Things Pilsner and Dark Lager, and on and on: regardless of the beer, it’s good on tap, it’s good in bottles, it’s good in your mouth, period. In our individual rankings, everyone scored Steel & Oak between 33.5 and 39.5 points — the second lowest standard deviation of any brewery, which spoke to its consistency and accessibility towards a wide variety of beer fans.

It’s never gotten quite the buzz of other breweries: it’s a little physically isolated from other places in deep New West, and while have a pretty good range — meeting our need to see for “something for everyone” — we’ve seen them play in the same sandbox of styles for quite a while now.

That said, they’re good in that sandbox, particularly with their darker beers. They’re now eight years old, and have are ubiquitous in private liquor stores across the province for a very good reason.

#12: Category 12 (37.21 Points)

Location: Central Saanich

Good for: Endless experimentation

Quality: A-

Diversity/Innovation: B

Experience: B-

You don’t have to develop a branding gimmick to succeed in B.C.’s ultra competitive beer scene (see: Four Winds), but it certainly helps one stick out on liquor stands and in the general conversation (see: why Powell doesn’t get talked about that much these days).

And Category 12 has perhaps a delightful gimmick: owner and head brewer Michael Kuzyk has a PhD in microbiology and biochemistry, his beer names and labels generally have a scientific allusion or two, and the beer styles can generally be described as “experimental takes on standard west coast styles.”

Of course, if your brand is “our beers are made by a super-scientist”, there’s a higher expectation of them being good, and thankfully Category 12’s are flavourful and interesting, but also with dedication to consistently high standards evident, a rare combination.

Because of that — and because they were the only “new” Greater Victoria brewery for a long time — they’ve developed a great reputation, with standards like their Excitation espresso stout, Disruption Black IPA, Unsanctioned Sasion, and various Belgian strong ales quickly making their mark on both sides of the Georgia Strait.

Some breweries start off strong and then settle into a predictable pattern: Category 12 added Juicy Data Hazy IPA as a solid part of their roster five years in, and more recently their 7.9% Raspberry Vanilla Sour has been making a mark. A new Category 12 creation still comes with anticipation and excitement when it cross the Georgia Strait.

Many of Category 12’s beers are very good, but it’s hard to point to one that is really amazing or truly indispensable. And its tasting room, while expanded, is still a straightforward space in a suburban strip mall.

Which is why Category 12 sits with this ironic ranking.

#11: Phillips (37.27 Points)

Location: Victoria

Good for: Continuing to push hard in middle age

Quality: B

Diversity/Innovation: B

Experience: B+

It would be easy for Phillips to rest on its laurels.

After two decades in operation, they have a massive brand, with beloved beers that have now existed literally for a generation, as terrifying as that is to contemplate.

In addition to the iconic Blue Buck — yes, it’s not objectively “great”, but it’s still a good malty ale to test the waters with your uncle who still swears by Lucky — there’s still a wide-ranging lineup of beers that run the gamut from fruit-infused seasonals to really hoppy IPAs, which you can find at pretty much every liquor store on the Island and beyond. When our reviewers were asked to name their favourite Phillips beer, the list included a sour, an ISA, a wit, and a DIPA, in addition to mainstays like the Longboat Chocolate Porter and Ginger Beer.

With such a solid lineup it would be easy for Phillips to get complacent, churn out the classics, and bring in the money.

Instead, they continue to put out new beers regularly, with some entering the Phillips pantheon: the Dino Sour series has been a successful move towards the juice box style sours now en vogue, and the pink lemonade one in particular hitting the artificial pulpiness of the style that really hits the mark.

In the past, the one big drawback was a tasting room a bit too compact to really enjoy. But they built a new one in 2018 that is sprawling and comfortable at the same time, with all sorts of fun artwork on the walls, and a stout list of 16 choices from old classics to new experimentals usually available to try.

And that’s not even mentioning their ability to branch into sodas, or gins, or concert series in their back yard: more than 20 years after they opened, Phillips is still not going into that good night.

Instead, it’s continuing to experiment and push with the energy of a company a quarter its age — and for that we are grateful.

Final step: the Top 10 breweries in Southwest British Columbia!

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