Vancouver’s Cycle City Tours, a bike tour operator for the past three and a half years, has just started offering a brewery bike tour, pairing a fun bike ride around the city with a few of the city’s newest craft breweries.
Nick Anderson and Matt Oliver were our guides for our tour last weekend. While Nick has lots of information to impart on all things beer, Matt shares his love of local history, sprinkling bits of our city’s illustrious (and not so illustrious) past as we roll through the streets of Vancouver.
We start our tour at Spokes Cycle Rentals on the corner of Georgia and Denman, where bikes can be rented (an option for this tour at $25) for six hours. If you’re too tired to bring the bike back after the tour, the nice guys at City Cycle will return it for you, so that you can explore the area once the tour is finished.
Good to know before you book:
– Tour includes three breweries, sampling three, 3-oz. beers at each stop while touring the facilities.
– This is not a pub crawl; during the tour, a total of about a pint’s worth of beer is offered.
– If you are unable to safely continue on the tour, a taxi voucher will be provided.
– Bring your own bike, or select a rental when you book your tour.
During our tour, we stopped several times to enjoy city vistas while learning about Vancouver’s Prohibition and Gassy Jack eras. In 1857, Gassy Jack, ever the entrepreneur, challenged some local builders: I’ll let you drink as much as you want if you let me open a saloon. With their help, Jack’s saloon was built in one day; Vancouver grew up around his saloon.
Prohibition lasted for five years in Vancouver. Never mind about missing out on the booze though—you could get a special prescription by simply visiting a doctor. In one month alone, 4,000 of these ‘booze prescriptions’ were written up!
In 1925, Prohibition was repealed, but drinking changed a lot after that time. Instead of saloons, there were now beer parlours; many of their remains can still be seen on East Hastings, including the Hotel Empress, Balmoral Hotel, and Regency Hotel. It wasn’t until the 1940’s that women could finally drink in a parlour but only when chaperoned by a man. Parlours lacked music, ambiance, and the imbibing of any other liquor—it was all about beer.
Postmark focuses on sessionable beers. These light, refreshing beers are small-batched produced and due to their low alcohol levels, several can be enjoyed in one sitting. We were served brunch here courtesy of adjacent Belgard Kitchen. We shared plates of salmon Gravlax hash, Swedish pancakes with a delightful rhubarb compote, Belgard maple bourbon pork belly bacon in maple caramel, and poached eggs.
Behind the wine barrels, Nick described the process of beer brewing to our group. We sampled four taster beers here: Lager, lemon zest raspberry Hefeweizen, Red IPA, and Stout. I liked the nice caramel finish on the IPA; Postmark is going for a malt-forward IPA with this one.
Fresh is an understatement: Growlers here are often tapped straight from the conditioning tank.
Other beer 101 questions were answered, everything from “What is a hop?” to the origins of India Pale Ale (IPA).
We were soon off and cycling through Strathcona, Vancouver’s oldest ‘hood, where we learned that homes here were originally both larger and fancier. In 1923, zoning was introduced, making the neighbourhood more industrial. This in turn made the area poor, as banks were hesitant to lend people money to approve homes where the possibility of having a car dealership open right next door existed. This type of zoning incidentally extended right through to Granville Island.
Flat and hilly, some Strathcona homes even have a bridge leading to their doors. Union Street was sketchy with a seedy brothel reputation; the city didn’t want the street’s name associate with the unions, later changing parts of Union Street to Adanac—Canada spelled backwards.
Our second beer stop is at Bomber Brewing. Located at the intersection of two major bike routes, Mosaic and Adanac, Bomber’s a perfect pit stop for enjoying their craft beers!
Mosaic hops are used a lot here, in honour of the bike route crossroads.
We learned from brewery tour manager Heather Ohlin that alpha acids are released when boiled for awhile, causing an explosion that makes beer develop a skunking quality when light hits it. Cans cannot be light-struck: this is the major reason why Bomber only produces canned beers, believing that the product will arrive at its destination as close to its original form as possible. Canning line technology is a bit more complicated and costly, but worth it.
Don Farion and Dean Mallel (owners of Biercraft) wanted to start a brewery; five years ago, Don joined the Vancouver Bombers hockey team, which is how the brewery got its name. They took possession of the building in October 2013; Bomber’s Pilsner built up the brewery. While you’re there, get some air pumped into your tires!
Bomber also has a barreling program for producing barley wines. This hearty winter brew will likely see a February 2015 release to commemorate Bomber’s one year anniversary. As beer sits in a bourbon or whiskey barrel, a nice smokey flavour is imparted while wine barrels will give the beers some of the nice oak and remnant wine flavours.
One-off batches in Jack Daniels barrels are also in the works. This VERY compact, well-utilized space is filled with casks, kegs, canning equipment, and forklift.
East Van is their primary market and it’s hard enough to fill supply in that area, let alone the city. Through the brewery’s loyal following, an unofficial beer park has developed outside its doors, with people lining up to get their growlers filled. Bomber will receive three new fermenters next month, and hope to expand slowly over the next couple of years.
In the mood to enjoy at the bar? Pretzels made at nearby Swiss Bakery make a perfect pairing.
We sampled a Czech-style Pilsner with a hop finish, an ESB imparting toffee notes and utilizing chocolate malts, and an IPA using Centennial and Amarillo hops (clocking in at 65 IBUs). The IPA has a West coast citrusy taste and pairs well with BBQ.
Nick then mentioned that the human threshold for IBU taste is about 90 to 100. Beyond that, beer IPUs are hard to distinguish—the beer will just taste bitter.
Eight-week old Main Street Brewery is housed in a former old 1913 brewery near Brewery Creek (great photos on that link!), an old beer brewing neighbourhood used to draw water for the breweries housed here at the time. Although the business only lasted until 1920, it retained its license until the mid-50’s. Licenses were highly sought after; beer was occasionally brewed onsite, then dumped down the drain just to keep the license!
We tried a palette of Main Street Pilsner, Brown Ale (incorporating eight different hop sorts, including Cascade), and Sessional IPA (using Jasmine tea that goes into the second fermentation).
The Original Mission style building took up two city blocks, according to Main Street Brewery owner Nigel Pike, who led our group on a short behind-the-scenes tour of the brewery.
Main Street Brewing specializes in hand-drawn casks, test-batching products before release. You can get growlers filled here too, although presently, their cask beers are not available for growler filling. Stay for a sandwich (two sorts offered daily), cheese and bacon quesadilla, meat and cheese plate, roasted garlic hummus, or beef jerky, and enjoy the light-filled, high-ceiling interior space.
This is where we ended our tour, after an afternoon of stories and sampling. I greatly enjoyed this tour for the wealth of history imparted coupled with some great bike route discoveries around town!
On the company’s website: “We are a boutique tour company and focus on small groups and individuals. We ride bikes because its fun and the best way to see the city. We travel at a relaxed pace to take in the sights, sounds, and smells of the city, but cover a lot of ground to really experience the variety and diversity that exists in the city. Most of all, we have a GREAT TIME!”
I couldn’t agree more! There are four brewery tours left this season: August 9 and 23, and September 6 and 20, and cost $69 plus tax.
I was a guest of Cycle City Tours for the purpose of writing this feature.