The Best of Beer: Vancouver’s Top 5 Local Microbrews

As loyal beer drinkers know, this weekend the largest beer festival of the year is in town.   Boasting more than 200 different brews from 30 vendors, Nando’s Canada Cup of Beer kicks off today at 4 p.m. at Matthews Field, next to Thunderbird Stadium at UBC.  Festivities continue tomorrow from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.  For info on tickets, check out their website.

In honor of the festival, I’ve brought in a special guest to provide some expert insight into the top microbrews made in and around Vancouver.  John Lee is the author of Drinking Vancouver, a comprehensive guide to more than 100 watering holes in the city, with detailed descriptions of beers, bar food and atmosphere.  Apart from his credentials as a writer for Lonely Planet guidebooks, John is also an enthusiastic drinker who has traveled the world in search of the perfect pint. His Top 5 list is the result of years’ worth of hard research and many late nights in Vancouver’s pubs and clubs, I’m sure.

Just a note for the true beer fanatics out there:  This list does not include beers made at brew pubs.  Nor are all of the selections strictly from Vancouver – Some are from the Fraser Valley and further afield.  And finally, as sophisticated a tippler as John may be, beer is an inherently subjective topic.  If you’ve got a favorite microbrew, please let us know by leaving a comment below. Thirsty Vancouverites everywhere will be very grateful.

John Lee of Drinking Vancouver’s Top 5 Local Microbrews (with tasting notes)

1) Central City Brewing’s Red Racer ESB: Mildly hoppy and malty, this copper-coloured brew slides down extremely easily. Perhaps a little too easily.

2) Tree Brewing’s Hop Head: Does exactly what a great IPA should – makes your eyes pop from their sockets in hoppy delight.

3) Old Yale Brewing’s Old Yale Pale Ale: All the way from Chilliwack, this smooth, perfectly rounded brew makes smiling and drinking a surprisingly easy exercise.

4) Gulf Islands Brewing’s Heatherdale Ale: Great beer doesn’t have to pack a punch. This aromatic, heather-infused brew from Salt Spring is subtle, complex and seductive.


5) Crannóg Ales’ Back Hand of God Stout: When winter finally comes back – or maybe just on a rainy summer day – the rich, java-esque aroma of this velvet brew is all the fortification you need.

Thanks to John for helping out with this post.  His book Drinking Vancouver is an invaluable resource for beer, wine and cocktail drinkers alike and can be found at and other outlets.   And if you think he missed the mark, or just have your own favorites to add, please leave a comment below.

Remy Scalza

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13 Responses to The Best of Beer: Vancouver’s Top 5 Local Microbrews

  1. KristenWehlow

    As a fairly new arrival to Vancouver, I have recently discovered the Red Racer range and I have to say it’s definitely my first choice when it comes to beer!

    I like the pale ale, but all are very tasty.

  2. No Red Racer IPA?

  3. Ahh . . . Lots of Red Racer fans out there. I think a few of Red Racer’s brews could have made the list . . . we just wanted to give the other guys a chance, too.

    If anyone from Red Racer is reading, any exciting new beers in the works?


  4. All good choices. It certainly beats the selection you find on the “Georgia Straight’s” Golden Plate Awards. Nevertheless, coming up with favourites is hard. As you pointed out, taste is a subjective thing. Do you go populist, which means limiting the choices to American-style lager, amber, cream ale, pale ale, and wheat beers? Or do you go with what a beer judge would choose, which would include a barley wine that very few people here have even heard of, much less tried?

    CAMRA Vancouver, with their annual CAMRA Vancouver Awards (, has broken the choice down to regular (available all the time) and seasonal. Inevitably, members will choose an IPA or stout as their favourite regular beer. Seasonals tend towards the winter warmers — Imperial stouts, pumpkin ales, Belgian-style tripels, Doppelbocks, and Scotch ales — as opposed to summer beers — Hefeweizen, wheat beers, and pilsners. The top three breweries are now Central City, Driftwood, and Phillips. I think the reason for this is that they tend towards trying to lead the market than following it.

    As the craft beer culture develops in Vancouver, I suspect that choosing the top five beers will become even harder since it will give the brewers a greater impetus to brew more interesting beers and more obscure styles.

  5. Rick – Thanks again for sharing some solid information. I hadn’t heard of CAMRA and I’d bet it’s new to a lot of readers, as well. I’m interested to see what some of their more unconventional seasonal picks are. I’ll be sure to forward your comments on to John Lee, the beer fanatic who made the selections for the post.


  6. No worries, Remy.

    CAMRA Vancouver has been around since 2003. I was President until February and we were slowly getting the word out, building up our weekly newsletter subscriber list. Those who like craft beer should join to make it a greater force for consumer advocacy.

    BTW, I know John Lee. You made a good choice with having him as your guest. He has sufficiently punished his liver.



  7. P.S. I’m hosting a beer pairing event tomorrow — Beer That’s Balilicious:

    One of my feature beers is Granville Island’s seasonal Ginger Beer. It’s excellent with Indonesian food.


  8. Pingback: Drinking in the Pacific Northwest: Vancouver’s top microbrews | Independent Journalism

  9. Ry

    There should be a list of what you tasted.

    Which of these is a true microbrew? I’d say maybe 3/5.

    This is totally an advertisement… Red Racer ESB is brand new.


    • Thanks for the input, Ry. The list is subjective, but it’s not an advertisement in any way.

      Which microbrews would you suggest?

  10. @Ry
    This is a list of John Lee’s top five local microbrews out of what I would imagine to be all the local ones available. When you write a book called “Drinking Vancouver,” it gives you an opportunity to, well, drink a lot.

    What’s your definition of a “microbrew?” What two wouldn’t you include?

    Actually, Red Racer ESB isn’t really brand new. It’s been available at Central City Brewing since 2004 ( and on draught in better pubs around town since last year. It’s new only in the can.

  11. Oost

    great post!

    driftwood brewery (victoria) should be on this list, or I should say that it likely will be in the future.

    their southern-belgian style farmhouse ale is excellent, and their belgian-style wit called white bark is very smooth and perfect for summer.

    it should be noted that tree brewing sued a US brewery, green flash brewing, to prevent green flash’s similarly-named product into BC. as a consumer that likes choice, i won’t forgive tree brewing for this especially because green flash makes far superior beers than tree brewing.

    • When it comes to Tree Hop Head 45, one can’t help but compare it to Green Flash Hop Head Red, the beer in question. It fails to measure.