Vancouver didn’t have a Happy Hour until 2014.
While the rest of North America enjoyed $3 beverages, Vancouverites long suffered through five o’clock postwork beers celebrated only in ceremony and not in price, unsatisfied patrons coughing up seven hard-earned loonies for a pint.
It wasn’t until the 2010 Olympics, after businesses were berated by tourism boards, visitors, and business owners, that the province began the arduous process of repealing the liquor laws that not only prevented happy hours, but also had impeded craft breweries from even opening. It was enough to earn the city the unfortunately just nickname No Fun City.
Since laws began changing in 2012, however, Vancouver has experienced a boom like no other in the region. In a relatively short period of time, the city has developed a base of highly refined, educated beer drinkers. Along with the city’s unparalleled natural wonders – you can hike in the snow at Cypress Mountain and take a dip at in the Pacific in one afternoon – the city’s beer scene has become a destination in itself.
No Fun City, no longer.
One of Vancouver’s earlier craft establishments, along with stylish neighbors 33 Acres Brewing Company, is Mount Pleasant’s Brassneck Brewery. Opened in 2013 by Nigel Springthorpe with master brewer Conrad Gmoser, the beers here are some of the most definitive brews in town.
“I mean, it’s noon somewhere,” Springthorpe dryly cracks, passing over a glass just as the clock just passes 12 p.m. The mellow lunchtime beer is one of a dozen on the board that day which is comprised of two house go-tos that are always on tap, as well as a continually changing roster of returning favorites and new players.
“We like to keep changing it, that’s what seems to be working for us,” Springthorpe explains. “A lot of people want to get the ‘Welcome Home’ beer and then for the second one want to try something new.”
One house beer is the definitive Passive Aggressive, a dry-hopped IPA with strong pine and a puckery bitter edge. It’s a fine introduction to Brassneck’s approach: a recognizable style, with accented eccentricity. That's a formula that makes all of Brassneck’s offerings continually interesting and unlike anywhere else.
“I think Brassneck, whenever we talked about it at the beginning, we wanted it to be a place where it's about what happens here,” Springthorpe says. “It’s not about blitzing Vancouver with our beers, it’s always been about doing something small, street-level retail that encouraged people to come here.”
Evolving with the scene in Vancouver, Brassneck’s been churning out interesting, trend-averse beers routinely, along the way coming up with cult favorites like the Hibiscus Wit; heightened with orange peel and coriander for a truly transformative experience.
The lounge, which serves just beer, cured meats and other snacks, is coupled with a growler filling station. None of Brassneck's beers are available in liquor stores, and there’s no plans to expand.
“We want to stay true to that idea that this place is about walking through the doors of the brewery, having a genuine, nice person serving your beer asking what's going on today,” Springthorpe says. “People get that feeling that they had a little social interaction, slowed down and tasted something.”
Faculty Brewing Co.
Just down the road from Brassneck is Faculty Brewing Company, which takes a rigorous academic approach to the beer making process. Opened in 2016, the brewery fully embraces open sourcing, publishing all of its recipes online as well as on bottles. All the formulas, from the popular Czech-style Pilsner, to a hazy hefeweizen brewed with peppermint tea, are available and tailored for homebrewing.
“Some people are like, ‘Are you serious? You’re sharing recipes? Aren't you afraid someone is going to steal it?’ That’s usually the first question I get asked,” Mauricio Lozano says. He's Faculty's co-owner along with his wife, Alicia Medina. As a professor, open source made perfect sense to Lozano for a city so new to brewing.
“It's not about copying it, it’s about building. That’s how scientific journals work, you publish your work so that more people can build on it,” he explains. “So, from there breweries become a great place for community, a place for people to meet.”
Lozano expands further on Faculty’s open policy, taking not only direction from head brewer Ingeborg Vijn, but also accepting recipes from homebrewers and adapting them for larger-scale production. As a result, Faculty’s beers are widely varied, each one unique and innovative, and always changing.
Bonus: take a bottle to-go and head down to Beer Island (ask around), a locals-only spot on the water made for secret beer drinking as the sun sets.
Strathcona Beer Company
Strathcona is Vancouver’s historic residential neighborhood made up of tree-lined streets and colorful heritage homes. On the edge of Strathcona, and the city’s quickly developing industrial district, is Strathcona Beer Company, a neon-stroked vibrant brewery and pizza place populated by hip skater boys and various other tattooed residents of the neighborhood. The main focus here is simple: European classics, served straight up. The styles here are derived by brewmaster Michael Nazarec and his son Nick, a biochemist.
“It’s such an educated beer culture in Vancouver, people are always looking for the next thing,” Michael says. “So you kind of have to be on your game, right out of the gate.”
Strathcona has the market cornered when it comes to the fresh and new. Along with its line of classics – a brown British IPA, a Belgian ale that comes in, what else, a 40 oz. size – the offering is updated with playful seasonal items where the company truly shines. For summer, bright and fun radlers including a tart Cherry and punchy Lemon Mandarin make the cut as the perfect beach buddy.
Even without a storefront location or bottles, Sunday Cider is a staple on tap throughout the city. Found in Vancouver’s best restaurants like Savio Volpe and Kin Kao, as well as favorite watering holes like Main Street’s The American and The Boxcar, the funky, tart and sharp cider made entirely with B.C. apples is worth seeking out.
First-time brewers Dane Brown, Clinton McDougall, and Patrick Connelly began with a decidedly non-DIY approach to Sunday Cider. McDougall enrolled at the Washington State University to study cider-making, and the group traveled throughout the states, including a pilgrimage to Reverend Nat's Hard Cider in Portland, Oregon to arrive at a well-researched, complex Northwest-style ferment.
“The idea of the company was just to make real cider out of apples that were grown here in B.C. because that’s something that not a lot of people were doing, and no one was doing it in Vancouver,” Brown says, who also co-owns the sausage shop Bestie in Chinatown with McDougall. “That was partly because of local laws, which are a bit boring to talk about, but we just decided to find a way to make it work under the current structure.” Using both champagne and wild yeasts, and apples from the Similkameen and Okanagan valleys, it's a funky drink with a strong effervescence and a dry, crabapple pucker.
For Brown, Sunday Cider is more than a beverage, it’s an opportunity to do something good for the city. “We're just real people, trying to figure out a puzzle of how to do something fun in a city that it’s a bit hard to do that in.”
Pint by pint, having fun keeps getting a easier in Vancouver.