my notes from tuesday's beer column
on cbc radio one's on the coast with stephen quinn
(you can hear me wax poetic about craft beer every second tuesday at 5:50 p.m. - 88.1 in the lower mainland)
Is there such a thing as too many local breweries?
Is the Lower Mainland beer market hitting the saturation point - - or is more beer always better?
It's probably safe to say that 2013 was a banner year for craft beer in the in the Lower Mainland - - certainly a banner year for local breweries.
So what awaits Vancouver beer lovers in 2014?
5 breweries opened in the Lower Mainland in 2013, with GreenLeaf at Lonsdale Quay getting in just under the wire in late December. (33 Acres and Brassneck in Vancouver; Deep Cove in North Van; Four Winds in Delta; plus major expansions at Steamworks and Central City).
I have heard of 6 new breweries slated to open in Vancouver in 2014, plus one in Abbotsford. Bomber Brewing on the Adanac bike path in East Van looks set to be the first, hopefully opening later this month. (Dogwood, Main Street, as-yet-unnamed, Steel Toad and a community start-up in Vancouver, Surlie in Abbotsford)
Will they all survive and thrive? I think that as long as everyone opens up with a strong brand behind them and a focus on a niche market there will be room for them all. Judging by the line-ups at Brassneck and 33 Acres, two of the 2013 openings, the Main Street / Brewery Creek area alone hasn't even reached its saturation point yet. And of course quality is important. You have to brew quality beer, consistently, to stay in the market. If the new breweries are brewing quality beer, the people will drink it!
If we take a look at where the 2013 new breweries have positioned themselves, and where the 2014 are looking to position themselves, you can see that these are not breweries started by people trying to make a quick buck. They're in it for the long-haul and for the love of the beer. That alone speaks volumes to the probability that all will thrive and continue to make Vancouver a craft beer haven for the locals and a craft beer destination for tourists.
Each of the breweries has been able to open a tasting room, which gives people who live in the area the ability to sit down at their local brewery and try the product they're being asked to buy. Formerly only brewpubs could sell their beers on premise, and there are very few of those around. The ability to open a tasting room has been a huge boon to the new breweries. I don't think I can emphasize enough just how much of a difference it can make to open a new brewery with the ability to have a tasting room right off the bat: instant ability to offer your product for taste-testing; instant source of direct revenue; instant chance to invite the public into your brewery and show them who you are and what you're making; and when they like it, instant pride of the locals that you're their local brewery. It's a whole new world!
Secondly, there is something unique about each of the breweries:
Brassneck on Main Street doesn't bottle their beer, but they do have a sizeable list of regular beers, which they often brew with slightly different ingredients so every time you go there, you'll get a different beer. They also have three different sizes of growlers to take home with you. Being co-owned and operated by Nigel Springthorpe of Alibi Room repute doesn't hurt either.
33 acres, located just off Main Street, has gone with just a couple of regular beers including the only California common style beer in the City, and then offers a seasonal to round out their line-up. Their aesthetic also sets them apart. Stark white brewery and tasting room, simple lines and beautiful ceramic growlers.
Deep Cove in North Vancouver is a brewery and distillery with three staple beers available on tap and in bottles, plus seasonals and a vodka (so far). Deep Cove's brand is young and energetic, like the team behind it.
Four Winds is a family business on River Road in Delta whose claim to fame is their award-winning saison. They have a full line-up of beers, available on-site with 8 always on tap for tasters and around five for growler fills, and are now bottling their beers as well.
GreenLeaf only has 2 beers (stout and pale ale) available currently, but what they lack in variety they more than make up for in location, location, location. Right inside the Lonsdale Quay GreenLeaf has the advantage of being the only brewery nestled in with a public market - buy your fresh fish and your fresh beer in one stop. Or just grab a growler to take home on you way home from work. They have no plans to bottle, but they do have plans for a couple more beer styles to join their line-up, as well as seasonals, and to join forces with other businesses in the Quay to keep things hyper-local.
Of the planned 2014 breweries, my sources tell me Dogwood will feature organic beers, Main Street will be built around their pilsner and an as-yet-unnamed brewery will focus on low country styles (Belgium and the Netherlands) with a sour program right from the start - three niches not yet filled in the Lower Mainland.
I am optimistic that there is room in the market for more breweries in the Lower Mainland and look forward to the new breweries opening up elsewhere in the Province sending their brews down here for us to try as well. Eventually the market will hit its saturation point, but I believe we are still a ways off from that point. I'm still excited about every new brewery opening, and about every pub that changes its line-up to include craft beer. [Hint: so if you're opening one, invite me won't you?]
If you have not yet made a new year's resolution, or if you've already broken the ones you made, I suggest resolving to try more locally brewed craft beer this year. An easy resolution to keep, and one that supports your local economy - it's a win win!
And with that in mind, here are my beer picks for this week:
Brassneck - Passive Aggressive IPA
33 Acres - 33 Acres of Life (California Common)
Green Leaf - Stout
Deep Cove - Smooth Criminal Stout
Four Winds - Saison Brett if you can find it, otherwise their regular Saison will more than suffice