West Coast Journey: Powell Street Brewing

So far in East Vancouver, we had visited a 32-hL brewery with a staff of one (Storm Brewing), and a 25-hL brewery with a staff of two dozen (Parallel 49).

Powell Street Brewery

Powell Street Brewery: small but mighty

Our next stop was Powell Street Brewing, the first nano-brewery in Vancouver proper. (Technically, Bridge Brewing is across Burrard Inlet in the city of North Vancouver.) It proved to be very different from our previous two stops.

Situated next to several commercial buildings on, yes, Powell Street, Powell Street Brewery is in what appears to be a small house. Entering, we found ourself in a small, bright lounge/sampling bar. Pieces of local art lined the walls and the ubiquitous growler filler stood on a corner of the bar.

The young woman behind the bar introduced herself as Nicole Stefanopoulos. It turns out she is half of the Powell Street team — her husband, David Bowkett, is the brewmaster.

Lounge and sampling bar.

Lounge and sampling bar.

Nicole poured me some samples (yay!) as we chatted. The Old Jalopy Pale Ale was excellent (more about that later) and I was very charmed by the ginger & cardamom wit — enough spice to be lively, dry enough to make a pleasant patio thirst-quencher. Clearly David knows his stuff.

“Small batch” is a phrase often thrown around by craft breweries, but Powell Street brings a new meaning to the phrase — each batch is a minuscule 3.5 hL (350 litres). However, demand for their beer has been crazy since the moment they opened their doors: when we visited in early May, they had been open less than 20 weeks and they were already producing and selling as much beer as their business plan had envisioned in the third year of business.

Mashing in

David mashes into direct-fired 3.5-hL system. (Photo by Nicole Stefanopoulos, used with permission)

In addition to ever-changing seasonals such as the ginger & cardamom witbier, Powell Street produces three beers year round: the pale ale, an IPA (of course) and a porter.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to tour the brewhouse — Nicole was taking care of the shop (several customers arrived and left while we were chatting), and David wasn’t there, since he still has a full-time job as an architectural technologist. (Yes, he works full-time, brews and bottles on weekends, and he and Nicole spend their evenings delivering beer to licensees and liquor stores.)

Nicole mentioned that she gets calls all the time from restaurants and bars seeking their products, but she has to turn them down — Powell Street is already selling everything that David brews. However, help is on the way in the form of another fermenter that should be arriving soon.

In addition to kegs for licensees and 650 mL bottles for liquor stores, a lot of their beer is dispensed via growler refills for locals; Nicole has seen growlers get strapped to bikes and even a baby stroller.

Local art

Local art is for sale — the artist receives 100% of the money

I have mentioned before that I particularly like nano-breweries because of their bonds with the local community. In the case of Powell Street, the brewery also serves as a kind of local art gallery — the artwork we had admired as we entered was created by local artists and is actually for sale. When a piece sells, the brewery doesn’t take any commission; all of the money goes to the artist. It’s Powell Street’s way of being a part of the local arts community.

Powell Street expects to produce 200 hectolitres in their first year of operation — that is the equivalent of only ten batches at most of the other breweries in town. (Parallel 49 Brewery, with their high speed rotary filler, could bottle that much beer in less than a day.) Can nano-breweries, with their limited capacity, compete with their larger craft-brewing cousins? Perhaps not in volume sold, or number of licensees. But Powell Street makes it clear that even the small brewery can be mighty. Ten days after our visit, Powell Street won a gold medal at the Canadian Brewing Awards for their Old Jalopy Pale Ale — and then a few minutes later, Old Jalopy was also named Beer of the Year.


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3 Comments on “West Coast Journey: Powell Street Brewing”

  1. Barbara B Says:

    Love your review. Great job! Have shared it on the Facebook Page for http://www.iliveineastvan.com.

  2. Wow! There’s hope yet for the small guys. 😉

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