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On-foot Beer Crawling in East Van

Los Angeles Times

It’s a rainy afternoon in East Vancouver and I’m guzzling a beer that’s as dark as the storm-laden sky. It’s not my first visit to Off the Rail Brewing but today’s Nut Brown Ale is sliding down faster than a rapid rivulet of condensation on an ice-cold window.


This isn’t the only tasting room worth braving the tempest for here. With around 20 microbreweries – many less than five years old – B.C.’s biggest city is arguably Canada’s craft beer capital. And it’s this East Van (‘Yeast Van’ to the locals) brewery district that offers many of the best toast-worthy producers.


Radiating from its busy East Hastings Street backbone, at least half a dozen old industrial units have been reclaimed as microbreweries here, with more due in 2016. Most offer tasting rooms that double as mini neighbourhood bars. And since they’re just blocks apart, on-foot beer crawling couldn’t be easier.


Adanac Street’s Off the Rail is the launching point for many. “These are all beers I like – otherwise we wouldn’t be making them,” brewer Steve Forsyth tells me when I sidle up to the bar. Former owner of Vancouver’s beloved Railway Club pub, he opened here in early 2015.


On my visit – alongside two other rain-soaked drinkers gently steaming in the white-walled little room – the chalkboard offers seven regular beers and eight small batch seasonals. After some enthusiastic sampling – a citrusy IPA and a nicely-malted ESB – the silky Nut Brown wins my order.


Back outside, I run across the street to Bomber Brewing, a windowless bolt hole with two shelves of board games and a counter with a large jar of pickled eggs. Perusing the bottles of Choqlette Porter in a takeout fridge, I opt instead for the malty ESB and crisp, German-style Marzen. Chatting to the server, I also make a mental note to return for the about-to-be-released Old Fat Heater Winter Ale.


Back in the relentless rain, I speed walk north to Callister Brewing. Opened in August 2015, it’s an unusual operation. Cooperatively sharing its facilities between four nano-breweries, its ever-changing menu – two new beers are added while I’m at the counter – invites adventurous sampling. I try a Machine Ales’ IPA with a grapefruity hop kick as well as two English-style cask ales – Inky Blinky Stout recommended.


Tasting rooms like these are helping revitalize this blue-collar, rough-around-the-edges East Van area. But while the attendant arrival of hip stores and eateries – Red Wagon Restaurant is recommended if you suddenly need a hangover cure – has also stoked debates about gentrification, there are few arguments against the newly improved beer scene.


The progress is exemplified by Powell Street Craft Brewery, which opened in a gabled storefront in the neighbourhood in late 2012. Within months, its Old Jalopy Pale Ale had unexpectedly won Beer of the Year at the Canadian Brewing Awards. To meet surging demand, they quickly had to relocate to larger premises a couple of blocks away.


Among the eight taps I find on my visit – the new tasting room is at least three times larger than the old one – Amarillo Sour and Dive Bomb Porter tickle my curious taste buds. But the dark, doom-laden weather calls for something much more fortifying.


Like a dry-fruit-packed liquid Christmas pudding, the velvety Dunkelweizen is anointed as my favourite beer of the day. But as a round of hailstones raps insistently at the windows, staying for another suddenly seems like a good idea. When the rain breaks a few minutes later, though, I make a run for it.


Powell Street’s hastily vacated original site didn’t go to waste. In 2015, the space was claimed by new kids on the block, Doan’s Craft Brewing. Ducking inside, I find a rec room vibe with a communal table, vintage video game terminal and funky art on the walls. But it’s not just about looking hip: sipping their delightful American Rye Stout, it’s easy to see why it won a 2015 B.C. Beer Award.


With the grey light fading from the sky for the day, there’s just time for one final stop.


A three-minute stroll away, Parallel 49 Brewing is arguably the most commercially successful Yeast Van brewery, its cartoon-labeled bottles found in liquor stores throughout the region. Sliding onto a stool at the long counter, small samples of Nitro Coffee Porter and Salty Scot Caramel Scotch Ale hit the spot. But it’s hard to resist the warming embrace of a large glass of Ugly Sweater Milk Stout. And with the night descending outside, I settle in and order another.

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