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Crafting Local Beer

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Paddy Treavor is a beer advocate and self-proclaimed “hophead.” A fixture of the craft beer community, he has worked for Storm Brewing and is known as the voice behind VanEast Beer Blog, which chronicles the political side of craft brewing. We met up in a café in his neighbourhood, Commercial Drive.

Q: How would you define craft beer?

A: For me, craft breweries push limits and create new styles. They are about the passion and ingredients that go into the beers and about trying to push people’s ideas about what beer is.  A craft India Pale Ale (IPA) isn’t just an IPA—it is a challenge to make you think about it. What is art? How do you define art? Is a velvet Elvis painting art, or is it not? That’s where I lay it with the passion and the skill. I don’t care about the size of a brewery, and I don’t care about how many bottles they put out. It has little reflection on the product they produce. The product can still be dynamite. Some small breweries are crappy, so they’re not necessarily craft breweries because they are small. That’s the difference to me.

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Q: Why is craft brewing doing so well in Vancouver?

A: I think one of the reasons it’s working here in Vancouver is because we are on the west coast, and it started sort of in San Diego, moved its way up to San Francisco, then to Portland and Seattle, and started to leech over the border. The brewers here, who were making some decent beer, were losing shelf space and tap space and panache here. We needed to step it up. I think our proximity to those cities down there helped a lot. And I also think the foodie culture here really, really pushed it because food and beer just go together. People who appreciate food will appreciate craft beer, and they’ll appreciate a good bottle of wine, and a cigar, and a single malt scotch, and that kind of idea. I think the underlying foodie culture here brought people over to, “let’s experience this, let’s taste it.” I think it was a combination of a perfect storm.  Vancouver was ready for more than Molson Canadian and Labatt. There was a small core group here that was really supportive and now I think it’s just a sexy thing to do now, to drink craft beer. Younger people are starting to drink it. People who aren’t necessarily in the core group are really discovering it. Again, places like this don’t even have any crappy beer on tap. St. Augustine’s has forty taps. It’s a west coast kind of thing.

Q:  Do you think Vancouver can have a beer tourism industry like Portland?

A: I think we’ve outdone Portland in a lot of ways. The IPAs being made up here right now, I’d put them up against any in the world. The beer industry isn’t a six-pack of Molson Canadian, or a house party or a barbeque anymore. It’s becoming sophisticated.  In Vancouver, it’s starting now. Whether we get to that point, I don’t think we can right now. It’ll be more food driven than brewery driven because it’s so difficult to get a brewery in Vancouver.  Victoria, to a certain extent, already has two, and Victoria probably lends itself better because it’s small.  But downtown Vancouver? You can’t have a brewery in downtown Vancouver. You can have a brewpub, but it’s next to impossible to get that liquor primary license.  I just think laws need to change and the brewers need to start pushing. If the government wanted to get on board, like they do with the wine industry, and give them the same breaks that they get, then it would come. If you had told me five years ago we were going to be where we are today, I would think you were crazy.  No way I thought places like Cactus Club would be serving craft beers. It’s very surprising. Even the Donnelly Group has gone pretty “craft brewy” and they are about as corporate as you get in Vancouver. It’ll be a little different from Portland because we won’t have the density. We’ll have the quality. You can go down to Portland ten times and find a different place every time. You come up here two or three times and you’ll find the major beer places pretty quickly.

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Q: What is your favourite local craft beer?

A: I would take a Driftwood’s Fat Tug anywhere in the world, and I’d put it against anything in a blind taste test. It’s one of the best.

Q: And your favourite places to grab a beer?

A: Probably St. Augustine’s. I live two hundred metres away from there. Having said that though, if the Alibi Room was two hundred metres away, I’d probably be splitting my time. Tap&Barrel is becoming one of my favourites.  I think that the people up here need to stop putting Portland beers up on a pedestal and realize that it’s happening right here in their backyard, maybe better.

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2013 Pacific Rim Cover, "Impossible Choices" Cover Story. Image of Marilou Tuzon.

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