Last Updated : 27/10/07
HOP ‘TIL YOU DROP
by Mark Enderby
his year’s North America jaunt headed off to the Pacific North West. As ever it was a mixture of sightseeing, shopping, hopping and eating (with a small amount of railways thrown in). We spent 7 nights in Vancouver and 6 in Seattle. There had been thoughts of going to Portland, but given the opportunities available in the other 2 cities, this would clearly have been a city too far! Hopefully, there’ll be some useful info in the following even though this area is well documented.
As ever beerme.com provided accurate and up-to-date info on breweries and pubs.
Given our aversion to changing, we used the direct (and cheap) Transat flight to Vancouver – though we were subsequently consolidated to a flight that also stopped at Calgary. Transat is the Thos Cook of Canada so we didn’t expect much and, it was indeed bargain basement seating (A310) and food (with alcohol and headphones extra). However, it kept basically to time in both directions. The worst nightmare was at Manchester with a 45min check-in queue and another 45min queue for security. It was worth paying the extra for pre-allocated seats!
We stayed in the Quality Inn at False Creek (around £60) which was comfortable and within walking distance of the centre and all 5 central brewpubs. Transport is very good with an $8 travel pass covering the bus/trolleybus/Skytrain system (the latter being a standard rail metro on stilts) which allows the other Greater Vancouver brewpubs to be accessed. There is a good bus map but it’s not free.
There are also quite a few brewpubs on Vancouver Island which we didn’t attempt. It would require several days and a stay on the island to do these since a day trip wouldn’t give you time (though an expensive helicopter ride would maximise possibilities). Also the pubs in Whistler and Squamish were missed for similar reasons (and the fact that it pissed down for most of our stay). However, there is still plenty to go at without these – and we did come across some of the breweries in the city.
Beer prices tended to be in the $5-$6 range but several pubs (including the MJG group) used 20oz pints.
Anyway, here are the pubs and breweries we did try …
There are 3 brewpubs in downtown. 2 belong to the MJG group which has 5 pubs (including one in Whistler). These are pretty much US-style, but each has it’s separate character, brewer and brews (including specials and cask beers), though all have a standard Red Truck Ale and Lager. Yaletown is in the up-and-coming trendy district and has the usual mix of pale/red/lager/wheat/IPA with 1-2 specials and 1-2 cask beers. All the ones tried were very good (including Yippee IPA) and the hefeweisen got very good reviews (sorry Gazza). There is a big open restaurant area with excellent food and a large bar with the usual sport TV’s. Both had open air seating (when it’s not raining). Not far from Yaletown is Dix. This is opposite the sports arena and is much more of a bar with basic food. The special here was a very palatable Dark Mild alongside the IPA, pilsner and Red Truck beers. This was a good place to go and relax and listen to the blues music. The third brewpub is Steamworks which sits close by the station and Canada Place with views (when it’s not raining) to North Vancouver and the mountains. You can also watch shunting operations in the container train yard and tick Skytrains in the reversing loop! This is a cavernous US-style operation which has a bar area alongside the main eating and function areas. There is also an attached shop. Beer range covered IPA, pales, lager, porter, wheat and stout, alongside a couple of specials – including a wonderfully hoppy North by North West. A good place for food.
This popular tourist spot boasts 2 brewpubs and is adjacent to the Molson brewery (which might explain why the Island appeared to be untroubled by hops – or taste for that matter).
Granville Island brewery has a shop and a bar (open to 8pm) with regular brewery tours. Their beers are widely available in the trade. We tried the Pale Ale and Honey Lager (a style that is increasingly common) and both were devoid of taste (or hops for that matter). The other beers were basically variants of the lager/light beer styles.
Dockside Brewing is attached to the Granville Island pub. The (8) beer list here tends to the Germanic with lager variants, amber, wheat and pale ale. I tried 3 and was disappointed by all of them- a cardboard maltiness was common to all. However, this is a good place for quality, up-market food and a view over the creek.
If you get a bus up to Grouse Mountain (as we did, though the cable car wasn’t running as the base station was in cloud), you can stop off at another MJG operation – Taylor’s Crossing. This is targeted at locals and had a more down-to-earth feel. We were there on a Sunday afternoon which was $7 for a 12” pizza time. No IPA here, but the stout was excellent. Cask beer is available on Friday evenings.
Close to the seabus terminal is Hagar’s brewpub. This modern bar has good views (rain permitting) over the city and while not brewing anymore has it’s beers produced by Howe Sound of Squamish. A good IPA was had. The pub sports 5 handpulls and apparently produced cask beer when it brewed. However, it looked as if the pumps have now been converted for keg dispense. Boddies and Stella are available for the homesick ;-)
3 brewpubs are close by Skytrain stations. Champs and Marine in Burnaby weren’t tried, but we did go to Central City in Surrey, conveniently situated in a mall and university. This pub had a good selection of beers including 2 excellent IPAs and was well worth the visit.
Surry also has Big Ridge (MJG again) but this is a further bus ride from the Skytrain).
Most bars were a disappointment. As ever our attempts to find decent blues music dragged up only crap beers – the few we tried included Sleeman Okanagan Spring, Molsons Rickard Honey Lager and a “special” house lager … all totally forgettable.
Foggs and Sudds (a widespread chain) on Robson Street promised a wide range of beers but only had Granville Island Pale on draught. However they did have bottles of Phillip’s Original IPA from Vancouver Island which was excellent.
The best bet seems to be the Railway Club on Seymour and Dunsmuir. This upstairs bar has a railway running around the picture rail and a Merseyside Transport bus stop sign! Beers included Phillips IPA, a special ESB from Central City, beers from Russells and R&B (both Vancouver micros) and also 2 beers from Calgary’s Big Rock brewery. Not sure what the club bit is about … there was a visitors book but you could just walk in.
I picked up another 2 breweries in various restaurants – Vancouver Dark Lager and Storm Scottish Ale – so it’s worth keeping an eye open.
The only other Greater Vancouver brewpub is Big River in Richmond which is a significant 2-bus journey so wasn’t tried.
In the end we chose to hire a car for the journey down to Seattle. The majority of trains had been replaced by buses due to programmed maintenance of the Cascades Talgo stock (made worse by it’s total withdrawal due to the discovery of fatigue cracks in August). The remaining train pair does not operate at particularly convenient times). The bonus was that the car gave us more flexibility to try some more brewpubs. The drive down can be accomplished by a chain of islands down the Puget Sound which avoids the tedium of the Interstate.
Washington State has 90+ breweries and brewpubs so finding them is like shooting fish in a barrel! There are at least 8 on the trip down (and you could take the Richmond brewpub in as well). We just did the one at LaConner – a small tourist town on the way to Whidbey Island. The second on the island, at Oak Harbour, Flyers didn’t look too promising and by the time we’d taken the ferry to Mukilteo, we were keen to get to our hotel in Seattle.
We stayed at the Silver Cloud, Broadway. Another comfortable hotel within walking distance of 2 brewpubs. It also had the benefits of 3 micros in the bar (if you could find it open) and room service.
PS We were just too early for the Pig Parade!
The public transport service (busses and trolleys) was less frequent but still cheap - $5 day pass (cheaper on weekends). However, given how brewpubs are spread out and most service travel to downtown, can make journeys complex. We couldn’t pin down a sensible bus map. The bus tunnel under the city had recently reopened after fitting out for the upcoming light rail (2008/9?). A more comprehensive light rail is under discussion but awaits the outcome of a much-debated vote. The commuter Sounder rail service is, like many US ones, purely a one-way at the beginning and end of the working day and hence useless for the casual traveller.
Beer prices of $4-$5 for 16oz pints seem very reasonable at the current exchange rate.
Anyway to the breweries. There were too many to do a comprehensive survey, so we concentrated on those within easy reach.
Gordon Biersch was sat on the 4th floor of a mall, but otherwise just like every other GB in the US.
Rock Bottom was located in an office block and a typical US office block brewpub (it is part of a chain) but no IPA; the cask had just run out...
Pike is located in the basement of a shopping centre which was a little disconcerting. The beer was good however and included IPA, Trippel and Imperial Stout. The cask had also just run out (on both attempts). On the third attempt we found it was closed for a private function!
There are 2 useful bars in this area. The Elephant and Castle, despite its tacky exterior Englishness, had brews from Boundary Bay of Bellingham and Snoqualmie Falls. They host a regular “Pacific NW Brewers night”. The Taphouse on 6th and Vine claims 160 taps but wasn’t tried – a shame because the list on the web has a large number of PNW micros.
Our local was Elysian which produced some class beers as well as local and Belgian guests. Two IPAs did me – one of which was on cask for 2 out of 3 visits – and the Dragonstooth Imperial Stout (7.45%) was also top notch. This is located in a fairly studenty area but did good food.
Down the road is the Six Arms (one of the large McMenamins chain). This was a dark bar majoring on beer though it did have a rather musty food smell. The plant is tiny and the mash tun elaborately painted with a native mosaic. The IPA was rather young. There were a large number of taps so there may be guests but it was crowded and we didn’t stay.
Stix, by Lake Washington, had recently reopened. As the name suggests, this was a snooker hall, with a small comfortable lounge attached. The beer and range was good. This was on the new light rail so should be easier to get to in future.
Brouwers bar is a classic and should not be missed !!! 60 taps deliver PNW micros and Belgian ales plus bottles from all over. The Belgian selection was particularly hard to resist! (St Feuillen Triple for $299 anyone?). The UK selection included many vintages of Thos Hardy and Lees Harvest (the latter in an oak-aged version). I could almost forgive them for having Old Speckled Hen as the one UK draught ;-). Cask is available occasionally.
I managed beers from Dicks, Port Townsend, Pacific Rim, Walking Man, Water Street, Diamond Knot, Great Divide, Hales and Trumer (the latter Austrian brewery having set up in California).
It was difficult to drag ourselves away but managed to slot in another McMenimens – Doc Watsons – which had a similar beer range (and brewery) to the 6 Arms. The ESB had an abv of 4.64%. A poster was seen advertising a travelling Hopfest which appeared to be a roving beer festival in the Seattle suburbs.
Big Time is angled at the Students … a bar with basic food. Good range of beer with 2 excellent IPAs and a Porter on cask.
At first glance, the Jolly Roger Tap (brewery tap for Maritime Pacific) didn’t look too promising, being stuck out in an industrial area (and was dark and wet). However, it produced excellent beers (including 2 on cask and a dry-hopped pale) and interesting food. Definitely one not to miss.
OUT and ABOUT
We paid a visit to Snoqualmie Falls to see the Twin Peaks hotel. No sign of Agent Coop or Cherry Pie but did find the North West Railroad and Snoqualmie Brewery. This was basically a tap room slotted into the large industrial unit of a brewery. Good beer and basic food hit the spot. Cask is available every second Sunday. We were there on a Sunday – but not the right one. Another IPA hop hit done!
Seattle offers a wealth of opportunities but don’t miss Brouwers, Pike, Elysium, Big Time and Jolly Roger. There are a plethora of fests around (we just happened to miss them all) including cask, pumpkin, Octoberfests, fresh hop and the travelling fest … but there’s enough to go at without these. Another week was needed here – maybe a 3 weeker with Portland ?
A couple of useful things about the land border crossing from Canada -> US
1) You have to pay $6 for a visa (when you fly in, it’s included in the ticket price). The visa is valid for multiple entries over a period of months.
2) When you return to Canada, it is your responsibility to hand in the “Green Visa Waiver” stub to Canadian officials. If you don’t, there may be problems when next entering the US since they’ll reckon you are still in the country and have overstayed your welcome.
If you don’t (as we did) you can track down US Immigration at Vancouver airport to sort it out).