The Growler turns two this coming Monday, birthed the day I published my first weekly column for Westender.
A lot has changed in the beer world since then. The local industry has grown rapidly. The quality has improved drastically. The beers styles have grown more sophisticated. Hundreds of breweries across North America have set up shop. A few have closed or have been bought out by Big Beer (the heathens!).
A lot’s happened at The Growler camp as well. We’ve gone from a mere newspaper column to a quarterly rag that some of you really love, and some of you really hate. We’ve won a provincial magazine award. We’ve been picked up by national magazine distribution network that made us available in retail chains, including Chapters. This all pleases me to no end.
Best of all, we have a legion of readers who’ve embraced and supported our work from the start. Thank you all.
But alas, I’m leaving my post at The Growler for at least six months to take care of my daughter. Robert Mangelsdorf, the venerable Westender editor, will take over for me. He’s as passionate and knowledgeable a beer fan, and as savvy a journalist, as you can hope for in a beer writer.
To mark the occasion, and to kick off BC Craft Beer Month, I’ve compiled this list of what I think are the 10 best breweries operating in BC right now. This list is not meant to discredit or discount the dozens of other breweries doing excellent work, nor can it take into account the dozen others that have recently opened or will open over the next six months.
Instead, these are 10 breweries that I’ve connected with on a visceral, emotional and fundamentally human level. The people behind these breweries hit all the stops, with lively tasting rooms, innovative branding and design, friendly and approachable staff, and a commitment to authentic creative expression through craft brewing.
Above all, the brewers here make the best beer in the province, no question.
I’ve heard people say Driftwood’s not as “relevant” as they were five or six years ago, but who cares about that? Reliability and quality are far more important, and Driftwood consistently delivers on both counts. Their core beers are all must-haves, with a roster of seasonal releases that are just as good.
P49 catches so much shit. Or they did anyway, after a period of rapid growth and tap-line domination. All that negativity has dissipated though, it seems, along with the excessive hype surrounding the brewery. And now we can gaze upon P49 for what it truly is – an inventive brewery with a dependable lineup of core beers, bat-shit marketing and a predictably unpredictable roster of small batch and one-off releases.
Kamloop’s only craft brewery (unless you count Noble Pig Brewpub) isn’t as well known as it should be. It’s a shame – the quality, versatility and overall awesomeness of David Beardsell’s beers demand appraisal by the province at large.
More than any other brewery on this list, C12 feels the most like a family business. It’s charming as all heck. Its output is also wildly creative, from the spirited branding right down to the innovative, impeccable recipes of science-nerd brewmaster/co-founder Mike Kuzyk.
Steel & Oak does everything right. The beer’s consistent, tasty and approachable. The aesthetic is dialed in – the merch is beautiful. The tasting room has the homespun community feel that a business can’t really manufacture. It’s born out of something honest. S&O is a fine example of what happens when a small group of creative, determined and sensible millennials start a business. Am I saying that S&O is a voice of a generation? Sure. I’ll say that.
Not only had Townsite spearheaded a small-business renaissance in Powell River, it’s done so by releasing one classic beer after another. Even if you don’t like the taste of it, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that it’s poorly executed. Our only complaint is that its one-offs aren’t frequent enough.
I’ll admit it: I’m not big fans of 33A’s tasting room. I know, I know, it’s beautifully designed and super popular, etc. But that’s part of our problem with it – it’s usually packed and feels more than any other brewery I’ve visited like a “scene”.
But that’s also what makes it such a special place in Vancouver – there’s a community of people that have rallied around that space. That’s an impressive feat, though not exactly surprising, since the beer has improved without bounds, annihilating any notions that 33A might be all style and no substance. You don’t land World Beer Awards without having some idea how make great beer.
Brassneck is the don of BC breweries. It’s not the oldest, or the most popular country-wide, there’s something about it…it’s a room and aesthetic that exudes a special kind of beery wisdom, an East Van cool and charm. Nigel Springthorpe and Conrad Gmoser together have set the standard for what a Canadian brewery and tasting room should be. They’re gracious hosts and purveyors of some of the finest and most varied selection of beers around.
Strange Fellows has everything going for it – great branding, lively tasting room, friendly staff – but Iain Hill is the not-so-secret weapon. He’s been brewing a long time, and, with that experience, he’s created a lineup of inventive beers that’s slightly off-style enough to keep beer geeks the world over compelled, while tasty enough to make regular customers out of moderate beer drinkers. That’s no small feat.
You don’t win Canadian Brewery of the Year for nothing. Four Winds is the Radiohead of BC breweries – a critical and consumer favourite that’s consistently exceeding expectations with new releases that are known to cause some level of hysteria among its fans. And, not gonna lie, the tasting room has the best chicken taco in the Lower Mainland. Trust.
Photo by Jonny Healy @jonnyotherwise
So there’s our Top 10, what’s yours? Let us know. @TheGrowlerBC