Craft Beer Culinary Tour Highlights Gastown
Whenever I plan to visit a new city, if it isn’t in Saudi Arabia, I’m checking out the local craft beer scene online ahead of time to ensure I enjoy some of the local flavour. I know I’m not alone in that regard because If you visit Rate Beer and Beer Advocate, you’ll notice each has a section set up for the brews traveller. And with the rapid growth of craft brewing in North America, beer tourism is also on the rise.
Beer festivals, like the Great Canadian Beer Festival in Victoria and the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale in Pentiction, are obvious tourism boosts to those cities. Penticton, however, isn’t known as a beer town. Victoria, on the other hand, is well-regarded in craft beer drinker circles for its high per capita number of breweries, pubs, and brewpubs. The fact that I don’t see much of Victoria outside of those when I visit is a testament to the quality experience our provincial capital offers.
While Vancouver and beer don’t have quite the same association as with Portland, San Diego, or even Seattle, things are picking up. Our airport and major hotels still offer an embarrassingly poor indication of the beer brewed in BC. (Don’t you attract visitors by highlighting what is local, unique?) Nevertheless, it is getting easier to find a true craft brew around town, instead of being constantly faced with Granville Island and Okanagan Spring as the best choices of available draught.
If I were to pick a neighbourhood that currently offers the best opportunity for an all-around pleasurable dining experience with craft beer, I would gravitate towards Gastown. The Alibi Room, Steamworks, Six Acres, and The Irish Heather are obvious beer destinations. But now there’s an opportunity to combine learning some local history with good food and beer for a different experience of old Vancouver.
Gastown Craft Beer ‘n Bites Tour by Vancouver Food Tour is not a raucous pub crawl hitting up notorious watering holes, nor is it the visiting beer geek’s Cole Notes for the best of BC. It presents an informative snapshot of the evolving Vancouver beer culture that is ideally suited to both male and female craft beer novices, local and visitor alike.
We met our enthusiastic guide, Nicole Coetzee, near the entrance to Gastown, inside Waterfront Station. Our group of 10 was roughly 60/40 resident and visitor, two of the former having just moved to Vancouver from the US last month – an ideal introduction to the city.
Our first stop was Rogue Wetbar where we were presented with a delectable selection of R&B Sungod Wheat Ale with lobster macaroni & cheese, Driftwood Farmhand Ale with a Vietnamese taco, and Driftwood Fat Tug IPA with Rogue’s award-winning chili. The choices offered a good range of flavours, nicely illustrating how to pair food with lighter- to bolder-tasting beers.
Next up, we made our way down Water Street to Pourhouse. (Good photo op at the Steam Clock if it’s cold, dark, and you have a good camera with a steady hand.) Pourhouse is best known for its pre-Prohibition cocktails. However, this is a good example of how a better dining establishment should offer quality across the board. Too many restaurants in Vancouver seem to think that when it comes to beer, a different set of rules apply than how they approach food and wine. Here, we enjoyed Driftwood White Bark Ale, Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale, and Crannóg Back Hand of God Stout with Devils on Horseback and Scotch Eggs.
Our third location was the new Clough Club, named after Gastown’s alcoholic, one-armed lamplighter and jailer. The Gastown bohemian cocktail tavern is yet another example of a non-beer focused establishment that still offers good beer. What’s different here is that we got to sample what may become the next Vancouver cocktail trend – beer cocktails. Making our way to the Clough Club’s intimate back room, we sampled their Orange Hop-sicle, made with Driftwood Fat Tug IPA, along with chili-braised marinated beef empanadas.
The final stop on our Gastown Craft Beer ‘n Bites Tour is Bitter – to beer what the Heather Hospitality Group’s Salt is to wine. From Clough Club, we wander down the sketchy-looking Blood Alley to Carrall Street, turn right, then at Hastings, beside the notorious Pigeon Park, see how the old rail right-of-way shaved a corner off the lot at 16 West Hastings.
In the door and it’s over to the dark side. That is, with the sea salted chocolate terrine we have for dessert, three dark beers are served to compare pairings. The lightest is Phillips Dr. Funk Dunkel, a clean-tasting, dark lager. Unibroue’s Belgian-style Maudite ups the body and alcohol, offering a more complex interplay of malt and spice. R&B’s Milk Stout is the most full-bodied of the three and a treat, as the style is rarely found in Vancouver. This one is exclusively brewed for Bitter.
For most, this would conclude a fine foray into craft beer, food pairing, and the history of Gastown. But if you were to offer Nicole a drink from Bitter’s varied beer menu, I’m sure you could entice her to linger longer, chatting about that most sociable of beverages, beer!
Gastown Craft Beer ‘n Bites Tour
Weekdays 6-9 pm, weekend 5-8 pm
Price: $80 per person (HST included)
Minimum: 4 guests
Maximum: 12 guests