West Coast Journey: Bridge Brewing

As I mentioned in my previous post, the Vancouver craft beer scene is exploding.

This just demands some personal exploration, so a few days after driving westward across Vancouver Island to visit Tofino Brewing, Elaine and I travelled in the other direction, taking the eastbound ferry from the Island to Vancouver and booking a room at a B&B in the city of North Vancouver.


View of Vancouver from North Van

(The city of Vancouver proper is separated from North Vancouver — “North Van” to locals — by a piece of the ocean, Burrard Inlet. To reach Vancouver from the North Shore, you must cross the inlet via one of two long bridges. Try to avoid doing this during rush hour unless you enjoy sitting in a motionless car. But I digress…)

I am by nature drawn to nano-breweries. Beer doesn’t have a long shelf-life at the best of times; centuries ago, before refrigeration and railways made transportation of beer possible, you drank beer that was made within a few miles of your home. For household consumption, wives were responsible for brewing the ale served with every meal. For a social evening out, you went down to your local tavern and drank the beer made right there. Beer was local, unfiltered and meant to be drunk fresh. Every brewery was a nano-brewery.

Of course there are advantages to refrigeration and modern transportation, and I would never dream of giving up the ability to head down to my local liquor store and buy German, British and Australian beer. However, to me, nano-breweries and their strong connection to the local population are a pleasant reminder of simpler times.

Since we were staying in North Van, it made sense to visit a nearby nano-brewery on the North Shore, the brand-spankin’ new Bridge Brewing.

Bridge Brewing

Bridge Brewing: small, bright, modern, a little hard to find.

It’s pretty obvious where the name came from–the brewery is just down the road from the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Bridge (one of those two aforementioned bridges from traffic hell). That doesn’t automatically make the brewery easy to find, however: although it’s in a nice, new modern commercial building, that structure is tucked behind another nice, new modern commercial building. It took a few minutes of exploration and head-scratching before we finally discovered it.

Although we arrived outside of the brewery’s normal hours, the door was open and we were lucky enough to catch Director of Consumption Leigh Stratton, who was busy loading kegs into her car for delivery to a local bar. Leigh and her husband Jason started up Bridge Brewing only nine months ago as Vancouver’s first nano-brewery.

Many (most?) craft breweries are started by home brewers aspiring to join the big leagues. In contrast, although both Jason and Leigh enjoyed craft beer, neither had any background in home brewing. Instead, they took the unusual step of bringing in a consultant to teach them how to make beer. Leigh and Jason then took on a partner with no brewing experience and trained him to be the brewer.

Bridge Brewing.

Everything in one room. (Two older fermenters are hidden behind the two new FVs.)

Like Tofino Brewing, Bridge fits everything into one room — their brewhouse,  fermenters, and a small sampling bar are all shoehorned into just 930 square feet of space.

The sampling bar features a dedicated growler filler. (When you fill a growler by simply pouring beer into it, you add air as the beer swirls and splashes around in the bottle. This is bad bad bad —  oxygen is a beer killer and reduces the effective life of the growler to a day or two at the most. A growler filler evacuates the air inside the growler and replaces it with beer-friendly CO2, then gently adds the beer, forcing the CO2 out as the growler fills. With much less oxygen in the beer, the shelf life of the growler is greatly extended.)

It being a sampling bar, Leigh poured me a sample of Bridge’s North Shore Pale Ale, which I enjoyed as she took me on a tour. That basically involved standing in the middle of the room and turning around as she described their operation.

Bridge brewhouse

Nano-brewhouse: two 2-hL mash/lauter tuns (smaller vessels), two kettles, all sitting on a propane-fired stove.

Each of their 4-hectolitre (400-litre) batches is made by mashing into two 200-litre mash/lauter tuns sitting on direct-fire propane burners. The wort is then transferred to two kettles, also direct-fired, then transferred to one of their four fermenters. (They started with two 8-hL fermenters, each capable of holding a double batch; however, high demand immediately called for an expansion of volume, and they quickly added a 16-hL and a 24-hL FV, capable of holding a quadruple- and sextuple-batch respectively.)

With the increase in fermentation space, Bridge expects to produce 800 hL by the end of their first 12 months. That may sound minuscule, but actually represents 200 batches of beer in their first year, a respectable number for any start-up brewery.

Since this is the Pacific Northwest, it’s not surprising that Bridge’s main beer, North Shore, is a 5.5% abv northwest-style pale ale. The nose is nicely citrussy, with floral hints, the body medium, with a pleasant malt & caramel taste. Although it possesses only 27 IBUs–fairly moderate for this part of the world–that’s enough to impart a pleasingly crisp and dry finish. All in all, a very good beer to have in the fridge. Bridge packages some of this in 650 mL bottles for sale in a few liquor stores, and some in kegs for a few bars, but a lot of it is sold to locals who bring in growlers to be refilled.

They are also about to add Hopilano IPA to their year-round label stable — again, almost a required product for this part of the world. (The word “Hopilano” is wordplay on the nearby Capilano River.) Bridge also makes a rotating series of seasonal beers — this summer will feature a kölsch.

Like several other West Coast breweries we toured, Bridge does not filter their beers. While this probably shortens the beer’s shelf-life a bit, the upside is the retention of more flavour, aroma and protein.

Bridge also prides itself on its eco-friendly processes. The brewery does not have a hot liquor tank that constantly keeps water hot for brewing and cleaning; instead they rely on a tankless water heater to flash-heat cold water, instantly producing hot water on an as-needed basis. Almost all waste products and packaging are recycled, composted or reused, even to the point of washing and reusing growler caps. About the only items that end up in the garbage are foil hop bags.

Bridge is obviously putting a lot of work into connecting with the local community. They have a modern website, and their Twitter feed (@bridgebrewcrew) reads more like a conversation with the neighbours than a promotional tool. A couple of days after we visited, they sponsored their first annual North Shore 10K Growler, a 10,000-metre run that started and finished at the brewery. However, it was not your ordinary 10K: each participant who ran the entire distance carrying two growlers of water — that’s almost 5 kilos (10 lbs) of extra weight hanging at the end of your arms — won two free growlers of pale ale each week for a month.

(That is a very generous offer by a tiny brewery. Twenty-four runners successfully took up this challenge — at just over 15 L of free beer per person, that is a community freebie of 360 L of beer, almost an entire batch. On top of this, I’m sure there were a few free pints consumed at the brewery following the race as well.)

With the strong demand for their product, a small eco-footprint and a good local presence, Bridge Brewing seems to be another well-thought-out business plan. I will be very interested in watching their growth over the next couple of years.

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3 Comments on “West Coast Journey: Bridge Brewing”

  1. Did they offer any explanation of how we ended up with Bridge Brewing on both sides of the country (http://bridgebeer.ca/ in Halifax), both with an eco bent? The Halifax one is aiming for zero emissions.

    • Alan Brown Says:

      I was totally unaware of the East Coast version. Maybe Niagara College Teaching Brewery could bring the two together for a mid-Canada collaboration — bridge the gap between the two, so to speak.

  2. Beer Me BC Says:

    Great writeup of an awesome North Vancouver brewery! It has been great to see their growth over the past year!

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