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2021-09-06

Voting for 2021 #BCAleTrail Best Brewery Experience Award


As a foreign worker who has been in the country only for half a year, there is nothing much to say about the ongoing Canadian federal election campaign. But don't worry, we have yet another voting opportunity: 2021 BC Ale Trail Best Brewery Experience Award.

One of the key drivers that brings me to British Columbia is its outstanding craft brewing culture. Although the activities are limited due to the COVID restrictions, I have been still able to explore many local breweries since I came to Canada in this February. So far, I'm really satisfied in this regard and have a strong impression that I made the right decision. Fortunately and unfortunately, 95% of the visits were solo though.

More importantly, I recently enjoy not only visiting breweries & grabbing a pint but also learning their story behind the scene through BC Ale Trail (though I'm not a fan of their mobile app's user experience), Cascadian Beer Podcast, and Pacific Beer Chat. Here, the Best Brewery Experience Award seems to be a great opportunity for me to look back on my journey on the BC Ale Trails and plan for the next adventure to dive deeper into them.

My votes for BC Best Brewery Experience Award

To decide a brewery I cast a vote for, I first listed all the places I've ever visited and rated them based on my own criteria described later. Ultimately, I chose the following breweries:

Category #Visited/#Candidates (Visited rate) Voted
Thompson / Okanagan 0/34 (0%) -
Kootenays 0/15 (0%) -
Greater Victoria 10/22 (45%) Herald Street Brew Works – Victoria
Vancouver Island 2/22 (9%) White Sails Brewing – Nanaimo
Cariboo / Northern BC 0/13 (0%) -
Tri-Cities 6/12 (50%) Parkside Brewery – Port Moody
Fraser Valley 2/24 (8.3%) Barnside Brewing Co – Delta
Greater Vancouver 38/42 (90%) Black Kettle Brewing – North Vancouver
Whistler / Squamish / Sunshine Coast 0/18 (0%) -

Beers from Herald Street Brew Works and Parkside Brewery perfectly matched my tastes, which are desired to be refreshing, dry, and lightly hoppy while showing some uniqueness. Plus, both of them have a fabulous open indoor seating area that allows you to have a closer look at beer tanks.

herald-street-brewHazy Oat Lager from Herald Street Brew Works is the most memorable beer in 2021 so far.

Speaking of seating space, Barnside Brewing in Delta has a nice quiet patio surrounded by fields. The place had a really peaceful atmosphere that made me relax, and it's definitely ideal for deeply enjoying good beers.

deltaOn the way to Barnside Brewing in Delta's quiet area.

Meanwhile, White Sails Brewing and Black Kettle Brewing serve not only high-quality beers but surprisingly tasty food options. White Sails did a great job collaborating with local food suppliers in the cute town of Nanaimo, and Black Kettle's onion rings and burger were some of the best in my life1. Of course, both locations offer cozy and spacious seating areas just like the others.

black-kettleBest onion rings ever at Black Kettle Brewing.

Scoring breweries

Throughout the review process, I gave three scores to the breweries in the $[1, 5]$ range, for their beer $S_{\mathrm{beer}}$, food $S_{\mathrm{food}}$, and space $S_{\mathrm{space}}$.

  1. Not good
  2. So so
  3. Average
  4. Good
  5. Superb

5 is rare, and it means I felt "Wow" after the first sip, bite, and/or look. Note that $S_{\mathrm{food}}$ could be undefined if I didn't eat anything there. It should also be noted that $S_{\mathrm{space}}$ is highly impacted by the pandemic situation; I choose a patio seat when available, and safety (e.g., not too loud, spacious enough, sufficient ventilation, distance to another table) is always critical in case of indoor seating.

Eventually, for each brewery, the scores are aggregated by the following formula to rank:

where $\bold{1}_{\mathrm{revisit}}$ gives an extra point to the ones that I already visited multiple times or strongly want to revisit in the near future thanks to the positive overall experience.

You can check the final scores on a spreadsheet: 2021 Best Brewery Experience Award - Google Sheets. I simply picked the highest-scored brewery from each region and voted for them as summarized above.

To be fair, the results are largely biased by my own tastes and personal/external situation (e.g., how much I drank on the same day, mental/physical condition, COVID restriction when I was there, weather, and temperature), and hence the scores aren't trustable enough; if I went to the same place on a different day, their score could differ. Moreover, the breweries in my neighborhood have more opportunities to be visited so they can accumulate a positive impression.

Last but not least, although they were not at the top in their region, I'd like to highlight several notable brewery experience:

  • Spinnakers Brewpub in Victoria offers a great selection of tasty food, seasonal beers, and bayside patio seating. Their local seafood sampler was amazing.
  • Stuffed dates I ate at Strathcona Beer Company in Vancouver were surprisingly good and paired nicely with their beers.
  • House of Funk Brewing in North Vancouver is my go-to place not only for beer but for curated high-quality coffee beans. The beer taps are rotating frequently with some experimental or collaboration beers, and they always give me an opportunity to try something new.

What's next?

I won't regularly record my brewery experience (e.g., at Untapped, Google Maps reviews, social networks) because I'd like to (1) focus on the particular moment at a physical location, (2) purposely leave a "reason" to come back, and (3) enjoy how the experience/impression changes next time. That said, the voting experience reminds me of many positive and negative experiences I have almost forgotten, and I'm now motivated to more proactively explore the BC Ale Trails.

On one hand, it'd be great if I could travel more freely and visit unexplored regions once the restrictions are lifted. At the same time, I'm interested in doing a second visit at as many breweries as possible, so that I can try something different and make my scores more accurate.

Every Friday night, I literally spend an hour on the internet to plan which brewery to go to in an upcoming weekend. The good news here is there is no "goal" on the BC Ale Trails, and new breweries are continuously opening as time goes. Thus, it's going to be my lifetime hobby (as long as I'm healthy), and I want to keep thinking how I can deeply engage with the industry and community by any means.

1. Onion rings, burgers, and calamari fries are my favorite food options when I go to a brew pub. Try Stanley Park Brewing and The Gull Bar and Kitchen if you are in Vancouver and have the same preference; they served the best calamari and burger in my life, respectively.

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  Author: Takuya Kitazawa

Takuya Kitazawa is a product developer, minimalistic traveler, ultralight hiker & runner, and craft beer enthusiast. Throughout my career, I have practically worked as a full-stack software engineer, OSS developer, technical evangelist, sales engineer, data scientist, machine learning engineer, and product manager.

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Opinions are my own and do not represent the views of organizations I am/was belonging to.

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