Granville Island Brewing
By YP Contributor

Major Success for Vancouver’s First Microbrewery

Mitch Taylor didn't know much about making beer. What he did know was that the product he drank on a visit to Europe was better than anything he could find in Canada. So in 1984 he opened Canada’s first modern microbrewery on Granville Island.

Despite the modest intent — produce quality, natural, unpasteurized beer in the German tradition — the challenges were legion. Struggling to find brewing equipment and German-style bottles in an era of stubbies. Battling bureaucracy in the process of inventing an entirely new liquor business category. Persuading drinkers to try something unfamiliar.

Still, Granville Island Brewing’s first product — Island Lager — was a hit. Turns out BCers were ready for more flavourful beer. In the following years, the company’s beer portfolio expanded and its popularity increased. So much so that the limitations of the facility on Granville Island meant that the bulk of production shifted to Kelowna, and then later the Molson brewery on Burrard Street when the company was purchased by Molson Coors in 2009.

Counter to what people might have thought, after we were purchased by Molson, I actually gained more freedom to play around with different styles and recipes. - Vern Lambourne, brewmaster

A Brewer’s Granville Island Playground

Through it all, however, the business has maintained its foothold on the island. “This is the heart and soul of Granville Island beer,” exclaims brewmaster Vern Lambourne, while gesturing around the original — albeit renovated — space underneath the Granville Street bridge. Today, it’s divided into a retail store, a tasting room, and a small-batch brewing facility. Or, more appropriately, Vern’s playground. “Counter to what people might have thought, after we were purchased by Molson, I actually gained more freedom to play around with different styles and recipes.” And you can see the results.

Every month or so, Vern brews a style in his limited release Black Notebook signature series — distinctive, craft brewed beers like Berliner Weisse, Potato Stout and Fresh Hop Extra Special Bitter (ESB). Most hops used in beer-making are dried and in pellet form, but for his ESB, Vern loads up his van in Chilliwack with freshly harvested hops that he brings straight back to Granville Island for immediate use.

On a rotating basis, the Black Notebook beers are available in 650 ml bottles in the retail store, alongside the year-round line up of Granville Island products, as well as wine and merchandise. The latest addition to the store is a growler filling station — for resealable 1 L and 1.89 L jugs — giving Vern a new outlet for batches that are too small even for bottling.

Keeping a Local Legacy Alive

In the tasting room next door, patrons can sample a range of beer on draught, with light fare food pairings. And finally, there are also tours for those who want the full, immersive brewery experience.

Much has changed for Granville Island Brewing since 1984, but Vern’s work on the island ensures its proud craft beer legacy is maintained. "Sure, it’d be nice to have a 150,000 hectolitre facility,” he says smiling at the thought of a bigger playground, “but really it wouldn’t make sense to move.” Of course, Vern has the benefit of a big brewery just up the road if he wants that. You can guess which one he prefers.

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