The thing that was perhaps most surprising about the quest to visit and rank every* brewery in Southwest British Columbia was how unsurprising the Top 10 ended up being.
(For an explanation of the geography used for this distinction and the caveats on which places were included, click here to go to the start of this project)
After going to 114 breweries over six years, and after three hours of haggling over our final scores, yelling whether the place we initially put at 63rd should in fact be ranked 57th — yes, we’re very cool — we saw our initial draft of the top 10, and went “yep, those are the 10.”
The fact is, at this point in B.C.’s brewery evolution, the best places to get a beer are pretty well known. The combination of provincial and national awards, local buzz, and years of being widely available in many bars or liquor stores has mostly eliminated the notion of hidden gems.
If you’re someone who enjoys the local craft brewery scene as much as we collectively do, you might swap out a couple of the choices on our list. And you’ll almost certainly have a somewhat different order than us.
But these are very much the best of the best. Consider the top 10 a celebration of the array of wonderful choices we have in this little pocket of earth. Consider it a definitive, scientific declaration of what exactly is the number one brewery in the land. Or consider it another overrated list on the Internet.
Either way, we hope you enjoy the guide.
Part 1: #114-100
Part 2: #99-69
Part 3: #68-51
Part 4: #50-31
Part 5: #30-11
#10: Yellow Dog (37.6 Points)
Location: Port Moody
Good for: Fantastic core beers, fantastic patio
The ubiquity of Yellow Dog is well deserved.
From the first brewery on Port Moody’s Brewery Row in 2014 — with a teeny-tiny tasting room with scrawly signs and a slightly timid lineup — to a behemoth found in liquor stores across the province with one of the biggest tasting rooms and patios in the province, Yellow Dog has achieved, step by step, what so many breweries set out to achieve.
And Yellow Dog achieved it on the back of a series of home runs right out of the gate: their Play Dead IPA, Chase My Tale Pale Ale, Shake A Paw Smoked Porter and Chew Toy Coconut Porter all came out in 2014, and when sours and hazies became trendy a few years later, they brought in a Go Get It Ginger Lime Gose and High Five Hazy IPA.
It’s a core roster that’s accessible and interesting, well-balanced and flexible for any month of the year.
And that’s where they’ve sort of stayed for the last five years.
Maybe it’s because of commercial pressures, maybe it’s because the owners have focused on building up similarly excellent Neighbourhood Brewing in Penticton, maybe it’s because of an impulse to leave well enough alone, but Yellow Dog is the most set in its ways of all the Murray Street breweries at this point.
Which isn’t awful in the slightest when the basics are so good. But a look at their tap list as of this writing tells the story: seven locally made beers, six of which are more than five years old, all in the ale in the ale/porter/IPA groove Yellow Dog does so well. Sometimes there’s an experimental that’s enjoyable — last summer a Mango IPA was quite enjoyable — yet one gets the feeling Yellow Dog is very content with what they are now.
Still, it’s hard to fault a brewery for just continuing to do what works. Their standbys remain pack leaders, with nobody unable to top the perfectly warm, nutty, harmony of the now-canonical Chew Toy.
Maybe an old(er) dog doesn’t need too many new tricks, so long as they’re still loyal and always there for you. Yellow Dog remains a faithful companion, and one of the most reliable breweries in B.C.
#9: Dageraad (37.88 Points)
Good for: Best Belgians in B.C. and it’s not even close
The patron saint of brewers, St. Arnulf of Metz, was a man whose immortal exhortation “Don’t drink the water, drink beer” — while being less life-or-death than the days before sewage treatment — is still good advice for a good night out.
The good folks at Dageraad have taken their inspiration from early Belgian pioneers of the craft, taking cues from the styles developed over centuries by Trappist monks and other brewing enthusiasts of Wallonia and Flanders, and given them a distinctly West Coast spin.
If you like Belgian beer, you should check out Dageraad. Their three standards, the Blonde, Amber, and Burnbarian, are all complex, delicious, and distinctively Belgian, the Blonde in particular becoming a favourite across the province for good reason.
At the same time, they show off their skills in their more limited releases — their Sri Lanka, a dubbel brewed with tamarind and kithul treacle, is one reviewer’s favourite beer, bar none. Their entropy series of barrel-aged experiments is always rich and interesting. Summer farmhouse ales like the Bright Side and Jumo sparkle and delight.
Dageraad’s beers are excellent, and over the years they’ve diversified their options so that they can no longer be pigeonholed as the “amazing if you like Belgians” brewery in town.
At the same time, it’s still not for everyone — by and large these are hoppy, complex and non-crushable. Which is good for a lot of people in a lot of occasions, but you’ll struggle to find, say, a beer for your softball game or BBQ. As a result, a couple people in our review group admired their ambitions without finding a beer they actually loved. Their tasting room, while improved, still suffers from a lack of space and smells from the surrounding industrial lands.
These are nitpicks in the grand scheme of things. Dageraad’s incredible attention to detail and perfection in crafting hard-to-make beers has always been evident, and we’re pleased to have them in our Top 10.
#8: Four Winds (38.0 Points)
Good for: Top tier standards and tacos
Quality: A to A+
God, Four Winds is great, and has been for a long time.
Disliking the Delta brewery is impossible: it exudes outstanding, unpretentious craftsmanship at every turn, even with their labels.
The family-owned company opened in 2013, and by 2015 was named brewery of the year FOR ALL OF CANADA, and then followed it up in 2016 by winning beer of the year FOR ALL OF CANADA, justifiably, for their Nectarous dry-hopped sour ale that has the perfect mix of tartness and depth.
Christ, even their mushroom tacos are great.
Such is the dominance of Four Winds in B.C. that when the
weird guy trapped in his own brand proprietor of this website did a province-wide beer bracket last year, three of the eight quarterfinalists came from Four Winds: the previously mentioned Nectarous, west coast IPA Juxtapose (a funkier and more floral rival to Fat Tug for west coast dominance) and La Maison, a crushable farmhouse saison. Clean crisp beers between 4 to 7%, relatively unhoppy except when hops are very much called for, hitting all the basics well: it’s what Four Winds has done year after year, to great effect.
Everyone can agree that Four Winds is very good — its lowest score among our reviewers was 35.5, the third highest bottom score of any brewery on our list. However, its high score from any reviewer was 40.5, eclipsed by 12 other breweries.
Put another way, everyone really likes Four Winds, but it no longer provokes unadulterated love. Maybe that’s due to — like a lot of breweries approaching a decade in operation — a tap list that is heavy on things we’ve had many times, a new witbier and the 2020 Greg IPA the only relatively new thing on the menu as of this writing. The newer options that come out now are still very good, but often similar to past accomplishments, the yearly Melange and Ponoma being prime examples.
There’s also the matter of the tasting room: nondescript to the point of being unmemorable. Hidden in a hard-to-reach industrial part of Delta, it closes at 8pm every day, practically inaccessible to anyone without a car, anyone responsibly desiring more than one pint, or anyone who isn’t going to bike or bus for at least an hour.
A long in the works new headquarters in Southlands provides the promise of a bigger more interesting space and perhaps a greater capacity to try new things.
Regardless, Four Winds is great, they know they’re great, we know they’re great, and they’re going to keep on being methodically great for a long time.
#7: Strange Fellows (38.7 Points)
Good for: Best lower-alcohol options and a funky space
Strange Fellows has an intense vision that drives everything: the look of the tasting room, the types of beers they create, what beers are on tap.
It’s all tied to a feeling of the woods — the space is both serene and alive, the beer styles are familiar, though the takes are unique to their Clark Street location. A Strange Fellows beer has a particular flavour, and a good one at that.
Their attention to detail is obvious, broad, and impressive. The tasting room is tall and narrow with dim lighting and high, thin windows that immediately impress that their space is intended to be a temple … but the idol-like masks of animals and occult characters staring down when you enter clarify that the religion is mysticism. The light is perfectly even, the stools are higher-end and more comfortable than usual, and the glass-enclosed views of the production facility makes clear where the magic happens, while obscuring the process and emphasizing that it’s inaccessible to outsiders.
Okay, you liked the space, we get it. What about the damn beers, you ask?
Well, they’re also conventional though with a skewed take (with a focus on interesting yeast cultures), much like the space. Brewmaster and co-owner Iain Hill, who cut his teeth at Yaletown Brewing (while also making beers on the side for the Alibi Room), doesn’t veer into gimmicks or overly flavoured options, yet with taste profiles different and exemplary. The Jongleur Belgian Wit is the best in the city to our tastes, the Talisman an incredibly dependable light yet interesting pale ale, while the Reynard Oud Bruin continues to be a deep barrelled joy year after year.
They do lighter beers best, in a variety of styles (we haven’t mentioned the 4.5% Blackmail Northwest Stout yet, but it’s also a standout!) so if that’s your jam, you’ll love it. Their beers are intentionally distinct from each other, though nothing is off the rails — what they give up in innovation or creativity, they make up for in execution.
We ranked them 2nd four years ago, and their small dip, similar to Four Winds, only reflects the fact that they’re mostly drawing with the same crayons they’ve been using for the last decade — intriguing though those crayons may be — while a few newer places pushed a little bit more. Add in a taplist with less than ten options and a fairly basic food list, and by the smallest of margins there’s a new champion among the whopping FOURTEEN BREWERIES in the Commercial/Hastings East Van cluster.
There’s no shame in that when you’re this good though. Get their beer, and visit their shrine to brewing tasty, strange stuff.
#6: Superflux (38.75 Points)
Good for: Every IPA you could ask for
Quality: A to A+
After years of operating as a vagabond brewery, with word of new releases being shared in excited hushed tones, expectations were high when Superflux finally opened in late 2020 with their own bona fide space.
Those expectations were met.
Saying “Superflux is known for their IPAs” is like saying “Paul McCartney is known for being part of The Beatles”. Yes, Superflux does some fun flavour-first stuff that has nothing to do with hops. And McCartney also wrote Ram. But you’re still cheering with 50,000 boomers for Hey Jude and Helter Skelter, and you’re still heading to Superflux for Colour & Shape, Easy Tiger, Happyness, and other variations on their dry-hopped, often citra-focused, full meal IPAs.
They’re all outstanding (though they’ve never really topped Colour & Shape to our eyes), they’re all different enough, and they crank through a large number of new beers every quarter, meaning you can have a new experience each time you go.
Add in the fact they’ve made their tasting space roomy and atmospheric — with a good patio to boot — along with a decent food, anchored by gourmet hot dogs (available in vegan/vegetarian as well), and a trip to Superflux is a dynamite time, with some of the best beers you’ll have in British Columbia, guaranteed.
Assuming you like IPAs.
If you don’t hew to the craft beer stereotype, you will find … options. Pretty decent options! At current writing, there’s a sodaesque Fountainbier that is fruit-based, a “smoothie sour” Creamery that is fruit-based, a heavier smoothie reductively named Heavy Fruit that is fruit-based, and uh oh i see it now.
All of these are really good (if fairly sweet), and we’re also suckers for their 11.5% Indulgeousness stout. If you prefer simpler, less hoppy beers that taste closer to beers you remember from a decade ago though, Superflux is not all that interested in you. There’s a couple of competent lagers and pale ales are on the menu, but it’s definitely not what they’re about.
Which is fine! Not all breweries need to be for everyone. Superflux is the best in the neighbourhood and if it isn’t already part of your IPA mix, we have questions.
#5: Field House (38.79 Points)
Good for: A constant mix of great flavourful beer
Field House is one of those places that kept hustling and pushing and innovating until we had no choice to acknowledge the best Fraser Valley brewery as in the elite tier with its Metro Vancouver cousins.
Truth be told, we might have been late to that reality: perhaps it was lingering annoyance over a social media presence that promotes #influencer #vibes over quality beer, or perhaps our first couple times visiting their cozy Abbotsford headquarters saw a minimal taplist heavy on the basics.
But the proof is in the output: over the past four or five years, Field House might have put out more new tasty brews than anyone else in the province.
Many of these, as is the style of the times, are fruited sours: there’s the Dark Sour (think berries) and the Gold Sour (think peaches), both 10% bombers that are very delicious but where you can very much not notice the 10% and perhaps suffer later as a result.
There’s the Whiskey Sour and the Dry-Hopped Pineapple Sour, the Cucumber Mojito Sour and the Tangerine Mango Creamsicle Sour, the Imperial Farmhouse Sour and the Raspberry Rhubarb Mint & Fennel Sour, the should we keep going? Is the picture clear?
At the same time, Field House also does — again, as is the style of the times — plenty of heavy IPAs: there’s the Hazy Orange Creamsicle IPA, the Dry-Hopped Hazy Sour Double IPA, the fine we won’t keep repeating stuff, suffice to say there’s also a lot of excellent heavier hopfests available.
However, a trip to Field House isn’t entirely focused on flavour explosions: standards like the lighter Sour Wheat Gose and subtle Salted Black Porter ensure there will be something for most everyone on the menu.
At this point in the rankings, one feels that any criticism can only be framed by the question “why are they not the best?”.
In the case of Field House, what we wrote in 2017 — “if you love wild ales/sours/gose, you’ll love Field House … but if that’s not your cup of tea, you’ll probably only like Field House” — still rings true. And we’re at the point where one of our reviewers merely liking a brewery instead of loving it can have a big impact on where it ends up.
Still, a tip of the hat to Field House. They’ve come a long way, and are still showing remarkable energy for a brewery now six years old.
They’re the highlight of a Fraser Valley crawl (at either their Abbotsford or Chilliwack stations), and will likely continue to be for a long time.
#4: 33 Acres EXP (39.13 Points)
Good for: Showing that 33 Acres is good, actually
Damn it all, 33 Acres showed us up.
Once upon a time, we wrote “33 Acres is a brewery made by and for design nerds, not beer nerds, and it really shows”, and “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.”
It was fun to write AND was accurate (or so strangers told us!) and we were smug in our belief that they would churn out 33 Acres Of Diluted Expectations for the rest of the time.
Then, in late 2018, they opened up an “Experimental Brewery” next door. It had the same stark white minimalism of their main space, but with a few more couches and a chiller vibe.
More importantly, the beer was different. And the beer was good.
With no need to hew to an established brand or be immediately commercially successful, it became clear 33 Acres was holding back on us. Among EXP’s initial offerings was a Fluffy Cloud Hazy IPA that accurately floated above the stronger notes associated with the genre, and an Orange Oat Pale Ale that tasted very much like that, and very little like anything else on the market at the time.
And they kept going throughout 2019 and 2020, with new beers every month that were worth checking out, making EXP the must-visit destination 33 Acres appeared on Instagram but never was in reality. The Mezcal Gose quickly became a smoky standout, while a series of hazy and double IPAs provided regular interest.
(They also made a special crypto beer with a company that appeared to immediately crater, but we all make mistakes)
For a good two years, 33 EXP was the ideal of a certain type of brewery, one constantly trying new things and having some fun, with beer that was interesting yet approachable, with some things that didn’t deserve to stick around but clearly made in the spirit of throwing ideas to a wall and seeing what stuck.
Sadly, this appears to have mostly stopped. Trips the last couple of months — after we finished our reviews — have seen a taplist that is now 50% offerings from the 33 Acres classic set, with a “best of” approach to much of the remaining 33 EXP offerings.
Perhaps 33 EXP served its purpose, and the separate branding and space that compelled us to create a different ranking will now be subsumed into the broader 33 Acres Experience.
If so, we’ll be disappointed it didn’t last. But happy that 33 Acres proved us wrong.
#3: Île Sauvage (39.26 Points)
Good for: Every sour you could ask for
“Île Sauvage: It’s like Superflux, but sours instead of IPAs!”
That’s not all there is to the best brewery to hit Victoria in years, but it sort of captures the appeal: Île Sauvage has a clear purpose, does it better than anyone else, and if sours are your beer, there’s not really a competition as to what’s the best.
There are several nice things about Île Sauvage’s many tasty sours, from their vibrancy to the secondary notes of vanilla or sea salt or whatever additional ingredients they add to their many concoctions. For some in our group, the favourite was the Sitka (a unique spruce tip choice), for others the warm Raspberry Golden Sour, for others the Tropique. Virtually all of their sours are between 5-7%, and like Superflux, they’re different enough and brewing enough that you can head over every couple of months and have a brand new experience.
Where they get a bit of a leg up on Superflux (other than the fact that we might personally enjoy sours slightly more than IPAs) is a larger and more diverse taplist. At present writing, there are 19 options on their list, eight of which aren’t sours, all in different styles. In other words, ignore the entire brand on which the brewery is predicated, and you still have a perfectly acceptable taplist.
The best of the non-sours is the FC+ Stout, a coffee beer that is exceptionally roasty and malty — made with local beans from Bows & Arrows — but they’re all at least interesting and average to above average. Put another way, you could go with someone who doesn’t like sours to Île Sauvage, and we think they would enjoy themselves slightly more than taking someone who doesn’t like IPAs to Superflux.
Take away the sours, and you have still a decent brewery, but we acknowledge one that’s a little too focused on one style to be the best for everyone, in a tasting room area that’s fairly non-descript. And if one wanted to nitpick, the types of sours they make, while diverse, are not necessarily diverse in style — they tend to be short on weisse/gose/flanders/etc.
That being said, a place focusing on sour beers opened at the height of the sour beer craze. Not only did it impress, it completely stood out from the rest and reinvigorated an overworked product in the region.
Île Sauvage gets a tart and enjoyable bronze.
#2: Twin Sails (40.12 Points)
Location: Port Moody
Good for: King of anything they set their mind to
Quality: A to A+
The story of Twin Sails is well told by this point.
In their first year, the brewery owned by twin brothers focused on German-style beers, with a solid Pilsner/Roggenwizen/Marzen setlist, anchored by a standout Hefeweizen. No cute names, just a solid option on Murray Street sandwiched between Yellow Dog’s porters and IPAs and Moody Ales, well, ales.
The beers were a cut above average, yet between the small number of taps and somewhat generic tasting room, there wasn’t a lot to give Twin Sails a buzz.
Then things changed. And changed. And changed.
In late 2016 and early 2017, Twin Sails transitioned from German beers to IPAs. Dank IPAs. IPAs that (for some of us) remind you of smoking weed in your parent’s basement. IPAs that taste like the ground the hops are grown in.
Not content to merely conquer IPAs, in 2017 and 2018 they expanded further, with interesting flavour-forward takes on other beer styles. A saison made with crab = umami + sweet. An incredible stout they combined with ancho chilies, cinnamon and chocolate to form a “Flex Mex” 11% easy-drinking stout that had even the hardiest beer drinkers out on their butts.
Their weekly releases became a Saturday destination for Lower Mainland beer nerds. A few were duds. Some, in the course of literally one year (Dat Juice pale ale, Con Leche milk stout, Two Straws milkshake IPA) went from curiosity to standards across the region.
After a stratospheric rise, Twin Sails slowed down a little bit the last couple of years — as one would expect with a brewery beginning its middle era as a pandemic broke out — but they continue to put out interesting beers monthly. These days, those releases tend towards stouts and sours, yet they’ve built up such a roster over the years, with enough variations on their standards, that each trip to their tasting room can be a new experience.
At one point, you could knock Twin Sails for focusing too much on dank, overpowering, peaty flavours that could leave a person hoping for something a bit more straightforward wanting. That’s been rectified in recent years — with cleaner sours and lagers making their way onto the rotation — though it’s still a place that definitely favours a certain palette.
In addition, Twin Sails is quite tight on space with their tasting room in the same room as their tanks. At night, the lighting is quite dim and creates a bit of a dark, dank, crowded feeling that only gets better by consuming more of their delicious beer.
It’s ultimately why they didn’t get our top spot. But the Twin Sails story will no doubt continue to interest and surprise us: after all, this month they brought back their Hefeweizen.
If a return to where they began marked the metaphorical end of their first journey, we can’t wait to see the sequel.
#1: Brassneck (41.62 Points)
Good for: Enjoying the best brewery in British Columbia
Reigning. Defending. And in all three of our attempts to rank every brewery in Southwest British Columbia, undefeated.
Brassneck is the best.
Or, perhaps more accurately, Brassneck is the top tier brewery that our group can most agree on.
Honestly, you could probably argue for anything in the Top 10, and we would say “yeah, you might have a point.” They’re all fantastic for different reasons, depending on your mood and group and how much you’re in the mood for a specific type of beer.
But Brassneck does more things to stand out to more people, with a mix of both consistency of quality and innovation of output, than anyone else.
That was the case in 2018. In our eyes, it’s still the case today.
The road to becoming the best was in one sense fairly simple: the co-owner of Vancouver’s best beer bar (Nigel Springthorpe of the Alibi Room) and the longtime brewmaster at Vancouver’s best brewpub (Conrad Gmoser of Steamworks) opened in 2013, pushed out an astonishing 20 beers in their first four months, and then Kept. Making. New. Good. Beers. month after month, limiting distribution from bars and not bottling, so that if you wanted to take it home, you had to lend them a visit.
It created an exclusivity that made planning a trip feel special. And if you do visit their tasting room, at what is arguably the most convenient location in the city (just two blocks north of Broadway and Main), you’ll have a wonderful time in the narrow wooden space, particularly if you manage to snag the secluded booth in the back.
Aside aside from their hopped pale ale (Passive Aggressive) which is seemingly always on the menu (not that we’re complaining), you’ll have your choice of a constantly changing mix of 8-12 unique beers, none of which are ever duds, and some, like the Changeling or the Magic Beans, are A+ beers for many of us, no questions asked.
At present on tap, there’s a West Coast IPA and a Hazy IPA, a farmhouse ale with Kveik Yeast and their mainstay saison, a Kölsch and a lager, two tart fruit beers, an export stout and a 11% imperial stout.
Next month, the list will look a bit different. There might be their Corn Lager or 4% Old Money mild available. Maybe it’ll be their Blacklight Altbier, or something completely brand new. Whatever the case, Brassneck will have impossible to pigeonhole beers appealing to all tastes, all done with care, in a space that’s a joy to hang out in.
We used to nitpick that they didn’t offer cans for sale; that’s since been rectified. We lamented a slightly one-dimensional tasting room experience; they’ve since created a unique group of appetizers from their sister restaurant Magnet that can stretch out your experience.
We used to say they relied a little heavily on tweaking various ales and saisons 10 degrees to the right or left; that’s…okay, that’s still a thing. But while other breweries pivoted in the last couple of years to focusing on pilsners and lagers and other basics, Brassneck was already there, doing it better than just about anyone.
With a lack of any real flaws, nobody put Brassneck outside their top five — there’s so much to like, and has so few weaknesses, and no other brewery in Metro Vancouver can say that.
At least, that’s our argument. And if you’ve made it all the way through this list, chances are you have your own.
We’ll raise a glass to that.
Categories: Brewery Rankings