Billed as the “best beer town” in Canada, Vancouver’s beer scene has exploded in the past few years. For a taste of what’s on tap, you’ll need to head to one of the city’s dozens of breweries.
A long history of loving beer
While many of Vancouver’s trendiest breweries only popped up in the past decade, the city’s fondness for bubbly brews predates its incorporation as a city. William Steinberger, said to be BC’s first brewer, opened Lucky Lager in 1858. By the 1880s, a handful of breweries – including Red Star Brewery, Landsdowne Brewery, and Mainland Brewery – had sprung up along the aptly-named “Brewery Creek”, serving thirsty forestry workers powered by water from the nearby creek. By the time Charles Gottfried Doering established the Vancouver Brewery in 1889 and later merged with other successful breweries like Red Star, beer had become the largest local industry, with overseas export routes also opening up.
Craft beer breweries first arrived in Vancouver in the 1980s, though they were slow to take off due to stifling age-old liquor laws. Then, a decade ago, authorities lifted the bylaw that only allowed breweries to operate tasting rooms selling a single 12-ounce glass per customer, per night. A new generation of craft beermakers started setting up shop, raising the number of craft brewers from 10 in 2005 to over 45 in 2022. It revolutionized drinking culture in Vancouver, encouraging a more positive approach that favours quality over quantity. These craft breweries are a far cry from traditional boozers, they’re family-friendly establishments that offer beers in tasting rooms, usually with table service. As well as pints, most breweries serve food and sell retail from their shop floors too.
Where to find Vancouver’s best breweries
Today, Vancouver is home to the highest concentration of breweries in Canada, with artisan ale-makers sprinkled across the metropolis, from Granville Island to Gastown. Brewery Creek is still a pilgrimage site for beer lovers, who hotfoot here for everything from traditional West Coast pale ales to experimental lagers. East Van, which has earned the moniker “Yeast Van” is another popular destination for beer drinkers, home to around 20 microbreweries, most of which have popped up in the past few years. Outside the city centre, Shipyards Brewery District in North Vancouver’s suburbs is becoming popular with upstart brewers, and there are dozens of award-winning breweries to explore in the Eastern suburbs of Port Moody, New Westminster and the Fraser Valley too.
Must visit breweries in Vancouver
Set in the heart of Brewery Creek, 33 Acres Brewing Company is sleek and chic, with a minimalist aesthetic and brightly-lit tasting rooms. There are between five and eight beers on offer, available in 12oz, 16oz and 24oz glasses, as well as bottles and cans. Popular beers include the beautifully hopped 33 Acres of Ocean, the fruity Belgian 33 Acres of Euphoria and the bitter-fresh 33 Acres of Nirvana. They also offer a wide range of snacks, charcuterie, lunches and brunches to keep hangovers at bay. There’s often live music at the weekends too.
Main Street Brewing is just a short stroll from here. Opened in 2015, the brewery has become a fixture on most Vancouver beer crawls. That’s partly down to its convenient location in the centre of Brewery Creek, but largely due to the quality of the beer. The team puts a creative spin on classic English beers, with a minimum of four mainstays on tap daily and four hand-pulled experimental casks. The 1913 industrial building has retained much of its character too, with high rough wooden ceilings, concrete floors and a filing station for regulars to fill up their growlers. There’s also an excellent, albeit small, menu of sausages , pretzels, nachos and “funwiches” available.
Over on Granary Island, Granville Island Brewing is widely considered to be the first craft brewery in the whole of Canada. It opened in 1984 and was subsequently acquired by the brewing giant Molson in 2009, but it hasn’t lost any of its personality in transit. Interiors have stayed true to the neighbourhood’s industrial roots, complete with timber posts, exposed pipes and long communal tables. Try the “Taproom Series”, special one-off brews only available at this location at specific times of the year.
Red Truck Beer claims to be “the freshest beer on four wheel”, using just four ingredients, with no pasteurization, preservatives or shortcuts. Owned in 2015, the gleaming 34,000-square-foot brewery is decked out with towering tanks, a red truck suspended from the ceiling and dozens of bottling and canning lines. Come summer, the crowds flock here for the Truck Stop Concert Series, which features an impressive roster of musicians, from country music stars to DJs.
Callister Brewing is the first co-working, collaborative brewery in Canada. Designed to help brewers start their businesses by making equipment and commercial facilities more accessible, Callister has invited ten different brewing teams to brew and sell their beers since they opened their doors in 2015. Beers on tap include an amber ale, Irish stout, wheat IPA and a zesty grapefruit IPA. The team also creates their own craft sodas, made with unique flavours like Raspberry Earl Grey and Hibiscus Lemonade.
A little far off the main thoroughfare for most tourists, Parallel 49 Brewing Company is popular with locals looking to kick back over a lazy lunch or dinner. This 117-seat brewery offers more than 15 rotating taps, all sporting creative names and equally creative flavours. The Salty Scot, for instance, is a sea salted caramel Scotch ale, which sounds good enough to eat. There’s a food truck permanently parked up outside too, which serves up mouthwatering light bites like jalapeno cheddar pretzels, salt and pepper wings and bacon and blue cheese burgers.
Steamworks is a steam-generated brewery, and the only one of its kind in the whole of Canada. Beloved for crisp, clear and refreshing lagers, they’ve also won awards for some of their more creative concoctions, such as the pumpkin ale. The brewery is set in a sprawling warehouse with multi-level seating and a menu of pizzas, pastas and traditional pub dishes. The views overlooking Vancouver Harbour are second-to-none too.
So passionate about brews are the Vancouverites, that they’ve even got a 10-day festival dedicated to the stuff. Taking place at the beginning of June every year, Vancouver Craft Beer Week is Canada’s biggest celebration of craft beer and craft beer culture, offering over 150 craft beer and cider tastings from the city’s best breweries and capping off with the VCBW Festival in False Creek.