So the boyf and I made it to Vancouver in one piece with a minimum of fuss… the only downside to our flight across the globe was one single bottle of Mussel Inn Captain Cooker breaking in my very empty luggage. It doused literally everything I brought in beer. Thankfully there’s a laundry in the hotel and I managed to find a single brand of sensitive clothing detergent, so I had clean, non-itchy clothes the next day, even if I didn’t have that luxury for the first day in the big city. We will carry the bottles in David’s bag from here on out – it’s smaller AND he’s brought more clothes with him than I have, meaning more padding.
We’re enjoying Vancouver so far, even though the city is FAR smaller people-wise and traffic-wise than we expected. Admittedly, we arrived on a Sunday and then Monday was a public holiday, but it does seem pretty empty for a big city – very roomy footpaths, enough space on the roads to do some j-walking without the fear of being run over.
There are a few things that have REALLY got on my nerves so far though…
- The light switches. To turn them on, you have to flick them upwards, the complete opposite way to what I have done for my entire 27 years of life. I have no idea how flicking a switch up is logically normal in any way, shape, or form, and I get it wrong EVERY time.
- The toilets. They are all filled to about a third with water while empty. A THIRD. They then fill almost to the brim while they’re flushing, as if its blocked and about to overflow. I could totally forgive this, if it weren’t for all the blimmin’ environmental messages in EVERY bathroom: “Help us help the environment by using only one sheet of hand towel to dry your hands”… “this toilet paper is made from recycled paper. Please use conservatively”…. how about you don’t fill your toilets with so much water???? How’s that for being environmentally friendly?
- People just aren’t that polite here. I think it’ll take a while to get used to this. Most people don’t use the words please, thank-you or excuse me, The boyf says I just need to demand things and expect it to be done, but it’s just not in my nature. You’re ignored by every worker in the restaurants and bars except for your “server”, and even then you’re made to feel like everything you ask or say to the server is a nuisance. We’ve begun to hear “excuse me” a wee bit, but generally only once the person has already barged passed us and knocked us in the process. I have a feeling it might be because we’re foreign, so it’s assumed we don’t understand tips, therefore they treat us badly. I feel very sad if that’s how they treat everyone, I get better service EVERY DAY in NZ, even if all they’re doing is giving me a takeaway coffee.
Phew! Now I’ve got that off my chest, I can talk about all the fun we’ve been having!
I know this sounds ridiculous, but probably the most exciting thing I think we’ve done in Canada is vote. Yesterday morning was the first day we could vote in Vancouver, and David and I navigated our way to the Consulate-General’s office this morning to do our democratic duty. It’s the only place that has an actual voting booth where we’re visiting (according to the electoral office website), so we decided to get it done early.
Of course once I’d posed outside the consulate-General’s office I realised I had no idea who I was planning to give my party vote to – as usual – so I let the boyf go first, and then there was an uncomfortably long time while I stood behind the voting booth and contemplated which box to tick… but now I’ve voted and I feel great! Even if I’m not so sure I ticked the right box.
We’ve also done a few non-beer-y things (which is a self-imposed rule on our holiday) including the H.R MacMillan Space Centre and planetarium (David’s choice, but uber fun anyway) and the Capilano Swing Bridge attraction in North Vancouver, where we encountered some wildlife and got weak knees from the heights
But of course, we’re here for the beer! Unfortunately, or perhaps comfortingly, the beer in Vancouver does not appear to be all that exciting compared with New Zealand beer. There’s a lot of good beer, a lot of familiar-tasting beer, and the odd great, even brilliant, beer.
We arrived on a Sunday afternoon, and by the time we’d got through customs, made it to our hotel, showered, and discovered my beer-soaked clothing, we got to our first bar at about 5pm local time. We are staying in Yaletown, so it was just a short, tired walk to Yaletown Brewing Company, which has a brewery attached. A couple of the beers we really wanted to try were not available, but we had a range of wheat and pale ales that were all good and well-brewed, but a bit ordinary, in that we could get something very similar – probably better – at any beer bar in Wellington.
We then walked down to Prohibition Tasting Room, where there were five beers on tap – we shared a tasting paddle and then had a glass each, but everything was very amateur – full of crystal and specialty malts, way too sweet and sugary and a touch worty. It was a bit of a disappointing first experience with beer in Vancouver (don’t get me wrong, we only had one or two poor beers, but we have better beers every day back home), but thankfully we’ve had some real standouts over the past couple of days.
Tuesday was raining in Vancouver, but still we decided we’d do a lot of walking. This, in hindsight, was perhaps a bad idea (lots of blisters today), but we finally made it to Granville Island where we had an amazing lunch, though not beers, at the Dockside Brewery restaurant. We then made our way to the Granville Island Brewery, which appears to be available EVERYWHERE in Vancouver. We were a little concerned that they might be a bit like Monteith’s or Mac’s – everywhere but not good examples of style – but we were pleasantly surprised to find almost all of the beers were very good, if not amazing.
Their IPA is still the best IPA I’ve tried while here – great example of a fruity, hop-forward American IPA. In fact, the only thing that’s come close is a Southern IPA from Steamworks which they say is completely hopped with NZ hops, primarily Wai-iti. It was a glass of sweaty, lemony deliciousness (a bit too sweaty for ONLY NZ hops if you ask me).
Yesterday we made it back to Gastown, and tried the beer at Postmark Brewery, which is the city’s newest brewery at two-and-a-half-months old. They had six beers available, all very good, and the Saisonella at 4.2% ABV was the standout. A dry, lemony, herby saison-style beer, only fresher, crisper and lighter. The perfect sunny day beer.
We had a quick word to the brewer on our way out – while the 1800-litre brewery is only a couple of months old, the brewer’s been brewing test batches since November last year. It’s taken 34 test batches, in fact, to create the six great beers on tap. Definitely one of our fave places.
We also headed on to the much-acclaimed Alibi Room, which, after twice finding it closed (seriously, there seems to be little beer-bar choice before 5pm in this part of town), we were excited to find was open and pretty quiet for 5.30pm on a weekday. It didn’t take long before it got busy and our server seemed to lose interest in us, but we managed nine 10-ounce glasses between us over a two-hour-period. The beer selection was pretty great – similar to that of the Lamplighter – which was amazing and one of only two Gastown beer bars open on Canada’s Labour Day – and it had my favourite beer of the trip so far, even if the experience fell a little short.
The boyf ordered a 13.5%ABV Storm Imperial SSSOUURRRR Flanders Red on tap (which was only $4.50CAD for about 300mls!!!) and it was sooooooo good. It didn’t smell or taste like 13.5%. It had caramel, subtle chocolate and brettanomyces aromas, and tasted of malt vinegar, tart lemon, dark berries, roast malt, with brett characters that do not overpower. There was a wonderful roast and brett bitter finish. It was not as sour as the name suggested, but boy was it good!
Hopefully there’ll be more where those beers came from while we’re on this side of the world!
THE BOYF’S BLOG
My first long haul flying experience wasn’t all that horrible. We had some great beer at the Auckland international departure lounge book store ($4 Mata IPA anyone??), I had way more leg room than anticipated and the in flight entertainment was good although presented on outdated hardware/software (no touch screen, & they had to reset every screen on the entire plane to get my frozen screen working again).
I managed a few hours sleep, and we arrived in Vancouver at 2pm feeling far perkier than I’m told I should.
After becoming accustomed to the draconian border/bio security of NZ & Aussie customs, I was a little taken aback with how easy it was to get in to Canada.
The entry declaration was maybe 6 questions and one applied to both Denise and I. We breezed through customs, got our passport stamps and grabbed our luggage. The bio security part consisted of handing our form to a guy on the way out, who didn’t even glance at it. That was easy.
Getting into the Vancouver CBD was a breeze, with automated driver-less trains departing a short walk from arrivals every 15 minutes.
Fourteen dollars and 35 minutes later we were at our hotel. That was easy.
Soon after that we were at our first brewery of the trip, and I’d come by my first few culture clashes:
- As Denise mentioned, the toilets are weirdly full of water. In their defense, they do do that swirly thing when flushed (hehe, do do). But every visit to the loo I get that ‘uh-oh the toilets backed up’ instinct when I see how full the bowl already is.
- The T.V. wants me to sue EVERYONE
- I nearly walked out in front of cars a couple of times crossing streets due to looking the wrong way. Right hand side driving is dangerous for us southern hemispherians.
- Canada needs to make its damn mind up whether its using imperial or metric units. Metres, and Km/hr on road signs but fluid ounces and gallons on all the menus! What the hell is a fluid ounce anyway? Sort it out Canadians.
- North American hospitality is incredibly different to kiwi hospo.
Our first stop was Yaletown Brewery in Yaletown (duh). As kiwis, our first instinct when we want a beer is to head to the bar, we did so.
We surveyed the taps, but were told the currently displayed lineup was not what was actually on tap (how hard is it to change a tap badge?), and we were handed a list of beers that were actually on tap.
Denise ordered an IPA, I ordered a cherry wheat beer (take THAT gender sterotypes!), but the IPA wasn’t actually on tap… Third time lucky, Denise got an Altbier.
We offered to set up a tab but because we wanted to sit on the patio, we had to pay for that round as the patio server would look after us on the patio. That… Wasn’t easy.
Once seated our server did a great job of keeping us fed and watered, and was tipped accordingly. I started to get an idea of how hospo works over here. The Yaletown beers were all decidedly average, but they had the most shallow mash tun I’ve ever seen.
Just down the road was Prohibition Brewery’s tasting room, where we sat at the bar. We weren’t sure whether that was okay, as it seemed to annoy the busy bartender. Eventually we were ordered a flight of their beers, followed by a pint of our favourite (the IPA was the best of a very ‘meh’ lineup).
I soon came to realise that the key to North American hospo is to expect everything.
Everything will be done for you. Don’t look for a seat, walk in and stand around – someone will seat you. Don’t look at the taps, someone will show you a list. Don’t bother the busy bartenders, order your beers when your server is ready. Don’t do anything for yourself.
With this knowledge in hand our subsequent visits to drinking establishments went far more smoothly. I actually started to like this more ‘guided’ approach to hospitality. And as Denise said above, thankfully the beer quality improved too.
My best experience was at Steamworks, where were seated at the bar as we just wanted drinks. The bartenders there were friendly and chatty, though still quite busy. They were happy to answer our geeky beer questions and even managed a conversation or two.
The Steamworks beers were all expertly brewed, with an NZ IPA standing out from the pack.
The Lamplighter was fun, I experienced my first ‘french dip’ sandwich and tasted my way through a few flights from their 50 taps.
Alibi Room easily had the best selection we’ve seen, though finding them open was a challenge. The staff knew what they were doing, and I kind of enjoyed the surly yet honest attitude of our server.
It was great to see some sours on tap, and as Denise mentioned, Storm’s 13.5% sour ale was genius. Their cask beers were well looked after and reminded me a lot of Townshend’s. I can see why Alibi Room is so popular with locals, I’d be there religiously if I was one.