Sampling the Moody brews on a British Columbia 'beer train'
Los Angeles Times
It’s a sun-dappled weekday morning and I’m trundling east from Vancouver on the SkyTrain transit line’s shiny new Evergreen Extension. Flashing past wooded parks and sprawling shopping malls, I’m heading for an unlikely craft beer hotspot in the small suburban city of Port Moody.
When I moved from Britain to British Columbia in the 1990s, transit train lines were limited and good libations were hard to come by. Since then, the SkyTrain network has unfurled itself across the region and new microbreweries have frothed-up faster than a fresh-poured kolsch.
Vancouver is crowded with these ale-makers, of course. But SkyTrain’s 2016-opened Evergreen Extension has become an unofficial ‘beer train’ linking to four intriguing Port Moody alternatives. An hour away (with platform change at Commercial-Broadway Station), they line Moody’s Murray Street like a row of oversized bar taps.
On my journey, shoppers and day-tripping beer nuts like me dominate the air-conditioned, cream-and-yellow SkyTrain cars. Briefly stopping at stations that sound like they have their own stories to tell – Rupert, Holdom, Burquitlam – the glass towers of big city Vancouver soon fade as forested mountain ridges rise alongside.
By the time the doors swish open at Moody Centre Station, Burrard Inlet has been winking between the trees for several minutes. The vast waterway that also fringes Vancouver has its inland rump here. One of the reasons pioneer-era Port Moody was founded, it also factors into a murky old railway tale I found out about later.
But first, it’s almost noon and it’s time to wet my whistle.
Crossing a bridge towards the inlet, I’m on Murray Street within five minutes, finding a line of low-rise, smudge-gray buildings housing auto shops and cleaning businesses. Nestled between them like fresh-budded hops are the microbrewery tasting rooms. In a straight line and mere steps apart, it’s the easiest bar crawl route I’ve ever seen.
Not that a linear approach is required. Lured by its Labrador-themed signs, I start at Yellow Dog Brewing, joining a gaggle of drinkers on mustard-colored metal stools at its long, glossy-wood bar. Bare concrete floors and fiberboard panels suggest it was built overnight but this 2014-opened microbrewery was Murray Street’s first.
Chatty server Marni tells me about Chase – the beloved family pet the brewery was named for – while slotting my four-glass tasting flight into a dog bone-shaped paddle. And after I verbally wag my tail about the smoothly hopped Play Dead IPA, she points out the arrival of Yellow Dog’s bearded owner Mike Coghill.
“One of the big things my wife and I missed when we moved here from Vancouver was the microbrewery scene,” Coghill tells me when I mention my fondness for his IPA and ask why he opened in Port Moody of all places. “But building this place was definitely a leap of faith – we didn’t know if anyone here cared about craft beer.”
Luckily, demand quickly bubbled up. And with production surging, the idea for a homegrown Moody microbrewery scene suddenly made sense. “The four breweries here are all quite different but we work together as much as possible – we’re too small not to be supporting each other,” Coghill explains.
A few doors away, 2016-opened Parkside Brewery echoes the fraternal feeling, according to head brewer Vern Lambourne, former beermeister at Granville Island Brewing’s downtown Vancouver operation. Parkside’s handsome, rec-room-style bar includes retro-look fridges, mint-green neon signs and a popular shuffleboard table. But the deck’s parasol picnic tables are the main lure on sunny days.
Slurping my tasting flight – in a paddle shaped like a G.I. Joe-scaled park bench – I discover a love for the copper-colored Dusk Pale Ale and hazy, subtly fruited Fuzzy Wuzzy Peach IPA. There are typically seven or so year-round, seasonal and cask Parkside beers available, Lambourne tells me from behind the bar, plus two guest quaffs from other favored B.C. breweries – Persephone and Four Winds on my visit.
“The SkyTrain has definitely encouraged more Vancouver drinkers to come out here and give us a try,” he muses. “But they often seem surprised that we have good beer in the ‘burbs – people sometimes get a bit fixated on Vancouver’s microbreweries.”
It’s not the first time the locals have had to deal with a Vancouver fixation. Taking a breather from the beer, I nip across the road from Parkside to Port Moody Station Museum, housed in a handsomely gabled historic railway station building.
Alongside its beaver taxidermy and nostalgic general store counter, I find grainy photos and information panels on the early days of the pioneer-era community – and how it was chosen in 1879 as the western terminus of the mighty Canadian Pacific Railway (CP), then rapidly laying tracks from the east and linking the nation.
Well-located on Burrard Inlet, with easy Pacific Ocean access, the news triggered feverish investment in the tiny settlement – right up until CP announced a line extension to Vancouver a few months later. The history book I buy in the gift shop calls the decision “a bitter defeat” for Port Moody, whose hopes for becoming the biggest town in the west were shattered like a dropped beer glass.
At the time, locals likely drowned their sorrows with plenty of crazy-eyed boozing. But these days, the area’s drinking scene is far more relaxed. Especially, I discover, at near-windowless Moody Ales, which feels like a snug neighborhood bar where you could spend an entire afternoon nursing a pint or two over a loaner board game.
Overlooking the tall silvery tanks of a bustling beer-making operation, I sit at the small L-shaped bar and talk to the friendly, tattooed server. She offers tasting flight suggestions – I love the Hardy Brown Ale’s toasted malts and the Huge Citrus Hazy Pale’s fruity spikes – before collaring co-founder Adam Crandall for a chat.
The room’s relaxed, accessible feel, he says, translates to their beverages. “We launched with some very approachable beers that we knew craft beer first-timers would like. But once they trusted us, we introduced a few different ones to the mix.”
That included the Hardy Brown and a crisp-yet-malty Vienna Lager – both of which quickly gained a following – as well as some tasty smoked beers. “Not many people would have tried these when we first opened but now they’re really popular. It’s like drinking a really delicious sausage,” chuckles Crandall.
Reminding me that it’s times to eat, I stroll back over the bridge to St. Johns Street and dive into a deliciously gooey thin crust Boscaiola at Pizzeria Spacca Napoli, one of a handful of swish new restaurants that have recently opened in Port Moody alongside the city’s old mom-and-pop eateries. Fully fortified, I weave back towards my final stop.
Right next door to Yellow Dog, Twin Sails Brewing has a quirky tasting room lined with tall tables and a faux-brick wall covering that recalls small town taverns. It’s a sunny day, so the room’s garage-style front door is also wide open, facing a park across the street. Barely separated from the pungently yeasty beer tanks alongside, it’s a laid-back little bar – with an intriguing drinks roster.
The four small glasses I sample look, at first glance, all the same: cloudy and creamy orange in color. But the flavors are quite different. Twinkle-eyed, hipster-bearded co-owner Cody Allmin – who drops by for a chat when he spots my not-so-furtive note-taking – tells me the line-up has changed dramatically since he launched the brewery with twin brother Clay in 2015.
“We started with German-style beers but then moved on to progressive American-style IPAs. We were the first brewery in British Columbia to specialize in these hazy, unfiltered beers,” he says, as I sip a silky, super-hoppy Bachelor Pad and a lighter, delightfully citrusy Dat Juice – a Twin Sails’ bestseller.
But they’re not resting on their hops here. An ever-evolving line-up – they’re planning 15 stouts this fall – keeps the locals sated. And it inspires more Vancouverites to move past their favorite downtown microbreweries and hop the Evergreen line to Murray Street. “Vancouver has some great beers but Port Moody’s are better: some of the best beers in B.C. are being made here right now,’ says Allmin, with a cheeky grin.
If you go:
Buy a CAD$10 TransLink (www.translink.ca) transit DayPass from any SkyTrain station vending machine and you’ll be covered for your trip to and from Port Moody. Take SkyTrain’s Expo Line from any downtown station and transfer at Commercial-Broadway Station to the Millennium Line – be sure to board an Evergreen Extension train that’s heading for Lafarge-Lake Douglas Station. Alight at Moody Centre Station.
Yellow Dog Brewing (www.yellowdogbrew.com) is at 2817 Murray Street, Port Moody; 604-492-0191.
Parkside Brewery (www.theparksidebrewery.com) is at 2731 Murray Street, Port Moody; 604-492-2731.
Moody Ales (www.moodyales.com) is at 2601 Murray Street, Port Moody; 604-492-3911.
Twin Sails Brewing (www.twinsailsbrewing.com) is at 2821 Murray Street, Port Moody; 604-492-4234.
Port Moody Station Museum (www.portmoodymuseum.org) is at 2734 Murray Street, Port Moody; 604-939-1648.
Pizzeria Spacca Napoli (https://pizzeriaspaccanapoli.com) is at 2801 St. Johns Street, Port Moody; 604-939-5800.