PREST: Craft Beer Week hits as North Vancouver becomes a bona fide brewery destination

From Bootleg Bunny to a full on boom, these are heady times for craft beer on the North Shore

“There’s someone here to see you.”

Few words cause more anxiety for a newspaper reporter. Not to stereotype, but the people who show up unannounced without phoning or emailing first usually fit into three categories: old, angry, and/or wackadoo. No offence, wackadoos.

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So when reporters hear that someone has come to see them, they immediately are on their guard. Is this someone with a binder full of “top secret” documents that are actually just old takeout menus, and am I going to need a crowbar to pry myself out of this conversation? Is it one of those sweet old ladies who comes in with all of my typos circled in red? Is this finally the reckoning, the person who is so incensed with something that I wrote that I’m about to catch a fist in the mouth, or, worse, a lawsuit?

“There’s someone here to see you,” came the call from the front desk. “She’s got beer.”

Never has a reporter sprinted so fast.

This, it turns out, was the opposite of a fist in the mouth. It was a gift in the mouth.

And it was, for me, the real start of the craft beer boom on the North Shore. It was 2013, and the woman at the door was Leigh Stratton of the newly opened Bridge Brewing Co. She was the company’s co-owner along with her husband Jason, but she billed herself, delightfully, as Bridge’s “director of consumption,” and she performed her duty admirably, flitting about the North Shore, placing beer on the doorsteps of friendly folks like some sort of bootleg Easter Bunny. In those days, Bridge worked out of a cramped garage space off Dollarton Highway, billing itself as Vancouver’s first “nanobrewery” – so small it hadn’t even made to the “micro” leagues yet. But boy, the beer was good.

And others popped up soon after. Deep Cove Brewers and Distillers opened around the same time, with a big, beautiful space and cool shiny equipment. Within a couple of years there were two more brewing companies, Black Kettle and Green Leaf, along with Hearthstone Brewing in the old Taylor’s Crossing space.

And with that, the revolution was launched, although the launching pad was built more than three decades earlier. Craft brewing godfather John Mitchell – who passed away at age 89 just this past June – founded Canada’s first craft brewery way back in 1982 right here on the North Shore, in Horseshoe Bay, using old dairy equipment to brew up 30 kegs a week of flavourful, British-style ale. About a decade later, venerable old Sailor Hagar’s opened a brewery next to their Lower Lonsdale pub, making it the first brew pub in the Lower Mainland.

Then, nothing. It wasn’t slow brew for the next 20 years, it was no brew. Until 2013, when a small change in liquor laws led to a huge explosion in local beer culture. That year, the provincial government announced that craft breweries could operate their own tasting rooms, a move that made the path to profitability much clearer for small brewing businesses.

The first fistful of North Shore breweries sprang up, and then ... a BOOM.

Beere Brewing showed up on Esplanade – led by the appropriately named Matt Beere – followed shortly after by House of Funk down the block and Streetcar up around the corner, creating an honest-to-goodness brewery district in Lower Lonsdale.     

Wildeye Brewing arrived on Main Street, a little tasty oasis on a stretch of road otherwise known mostly as the place you wait to get on the bridge. That makes nine, with a 10th, North Point Brewing, scheduled to open soon in the Shipyards District.

At one point I vowed to try all the North Shore beers and write about them in the paper, but it soon became very clear that there was no way my liver or belts or marriage could survive that load, and so I’ve resigned myself to just enjoying the ride and ordering North Shore whenever I see it on tap. For those waiting for the craft beer revolution to really hit – it’s here, and it’s glorious.

It will all be on display during the third annual Vancouver’s North Shore Craft Beer Week, kicking off tonight with a launch at the Pipe Shop. That event is sold out, but there’s a week’s worth of beer stuff going on around the North Shore.

Heady times indeed, and why not?

These are local products made by local people, all still united with the common goal not of beating each other but banding together to take a bigger and bigger chunk out of the multinational blah beers. It’s a feel-good story, and it feels even better after a pint or two.

So go on, show up unannounced. Everyone loves when you do that.

For a full list of the week's events, click here. Andy Prest is the sports editor for the North Shore News. His biweekly humour/lifestyle column appears here biweekly. aprest@nsnews.com

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