West Coast Journey: Coal Harbour Brewing

So just to summarize our quick trip to Vancouver so far, over three or four hours we’d visited Bridge, a 9-month old 4-hL nano-brewery in a new commercial building in North Vancouver started up by a married couple with no brewing experience whatsoever; Storm, a wily 18-year veteran of the craft beer wars, its large  32-hL system  hand-welded and hand-wielded by its founder and only employee, James Walton; Parallel 49, a one-year-old 25-hL “showcase brewery” with a staff of 25, its sleek facade and large sampling bar/lounge designed to draw customers to the brewery; and 5-month-old Powell Street, a tiny 3.5-hL nano-brewery with a Canadian Brewing Award for Beer of the Year already to their credit.

Our final brewery stop in Vancouver was Coal Harbour Brewing, which turned out to be just a few steps down the street from Powell Street Brewery.

(There are a number of places called Coal Harbour in Canada, including a town on Vancouver Island and a village in Nunavut. There is also a Cole Harbour in Nova Scotia. However, this brewery is named for a nearby spot on the shore of Burrard Inlet that, during the steamship era, was used as a coal depot. But I digress…)

Coal Harbour Brewing

Coal Harbour Brewing: what you see is what you get

Coal Harbour, which opened about the same time as nearby Parallel 49, is also a 25-hL brewery, but unlike its stylish neighbour, Coal Harbour was definitely not designed as a showcase brewery. Rather than a new commercial building, it is located a concrete warehouse, its main entrance a roll-up delivery door.

Coal Harbour brewery

Coal Harbour’s 25-hL system: Brewmaster Ethan Allured checks the gravity on his latest batch.

The door was rolled up, and walking through it, I found myself in the brewhouse, chatting with Coal Harbour’s new brewmaster, Ethan Allured, as he transferred the latest 25-hL batch of wort from the mash/ lauter tun to the kettle.

Ethan grew up in the Pacific Northwest and while at university, he homebrewed (or, more accurately, residence-brewed) in between chemistry classes. As it does to many homebrewers in that part of the world, brewing became the main focus of his life, so he moved to the brewing program at UC Davis. After graduation, he worked for a large multinational brewer for some time before moving back into the world of craft beer by becoming Coal Harbour’s brewmaster.

Fermnter vessels

A few of the many 100-hL FVs. The only way these would fit under the low ceiling was to remove the cones.

He was the only one on duty, and in the middle of a lauter, but he still took a few minutes to show me around. Like all of the other Vancouver breweries I visited, Coal Harbour appears to be selling beer as fast as it can be brewed, and had a large farm of 100-hL (quad batch) fermenters to facilitate this. The interesting thing about these fermenters was that due to the low ceiling, standard conical-cylindrical fermenters wouldn’t fit in the warehouse, so the bottom cones were removed and replaced with shallow dish bottoms. Ethan admitted that this did create problems with yeast cropping — the huge advantage that cones have is that when you go to remove the yeast from the fermenter, the pressure of the beer on top of the yeast forces all of the yeast out of the bottom of the cone. In a fermenter with a dish-shaped bottom, the pressure of the beer on top of the yeast only forces out the yeast right above the valve, which complicates the job of cropping enough yeast to put into your next batch.

Canning mahchine

Canning machine fills five at a time.

I was also intrigued to see a canning machine. This is still relatively rare in the craft-beer world, and I wish we could have spent more time examining it, since I came away with a number of questions. For one thing, it appeared to fill five cans at a time, which seems to be an odd number. (I would have thought that the machine would be set up for six cans at a time.) Coal Harbour also, unusually, markets their cans in an 8-pack.

(Update: Brewmaster Ethan Allured contacted me to say that only five cans are filled at a time to prevent a back-up at the can seamer. A backlog of cans could mean the filled cans would be sitting open too long, possibly resulting in oxygen take-up. See Comments below for his exact reply.)

8-pack of 311 Helles Lager

8-pack of 311 Helles Lager fastened with new-style solid plastic disc tops — recyclable, less lethal to birds.

Coal Harbour uses a new plastic top to hold the cans together — this is not only recyclable, but also prevents the tragic deaths of wild birds who can get their heads caught in discarded plastic 6-pack rings used by most soda and beer producers.

One of the beers that Coal Harbour markets in cans is their 311 Helles Lager, an interesting choice for a part of the world so focussed on hoppy beers in 650 mL bottles. In keeping on the road less travelled, Coal Harbour also makes a rye ale and a Vienna lager.

Yes they make an IPA; Coal Harbour doesn’t have a sampling bar, but I did leave clutching a bottle of their IPA, a gift from Ethan. (No, I didn’t have any room left in my suitcase, so I drank it. It was excellent.)

And that was all the time we had for Vancouver, since we had to catch our ferry back to Vancouver Island. (Next stop: some breweries in Victoria.)

We didn’t have an opportunity to visit the other eight craft breweries and brewpubs in Vancouver, but with another eight scheduled to open by the end of 2013, I think it’s a safe bet that we will be back in Vancouver soon.

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8 Comments on “West Coast Journey: Coal Harbour Brewing”


  1. I have a feeling that Parallel 49 is now much larger than the number you quoted. See photos in this post.
    http://mikescraftbeer.com/2013/04/10/east-van-brew-crawl-yvrbeertweetup-vancouver/

    • Alan Brown Says:

      I was aware that they have just taken delivery of more FVs, raising their fermenting capacity well past 1,000 hL (100,000 L). My reference to 25 hL is the size of their mash tun i.e. the knockout volume of a single batch of wort. Has this also increased with new equipment (or has a second mash tun been installed)?

  2. Ethan Says:

    Thanks for the writeup! In regards to the can filler, I believe that it fills 5 at a time instead of six purely as a timing issue with only having one seamer. 6 cans could lead to a backlog of cans before the seamer, risking foaming below fill specifications as well as O2 pickup before a filled can receives a lid. I would have to double check with the manufacturer (Cask) to be sure, but it is the only reason I’ve been able to suss out.

    Cheers,

    Ethan Allured
    Head Brewer
    Coal Harbour Brewing Co.

  3. Brad Stunt Says:

    Great Post! However I am curious about the 8pack carriers you refer to in the picture…. How are they better than the industry standard plastic rings, which are photo-degradable when exposed to UV sunlight over a certain period of time? It would seem that birds would have no chance of escaping the 8pack carriers in this picture??


    • Huge difference. The 8 pack holders have solid tops. This stops a bird from getting it stuck around their necks or tangled any other way as the old style allow.

    • Alan Brown Says:

      If you look at an old carrier, it is (usually) 6 large rings 55mm/2in in diameter, large enough for inquisitive birds to stick their heads through. The birds get entangled and either asphyxiate or starve to death. The new carriers have two rows of solid plastic disks joined by solid plastic tabs. The two rows are joined in the centre by a small ring about the diameter of a quarter, too small for a bird to stick its head through.

    • Canageek Says:

      Also: While plastics photodegrade, typically they don’t break down all the way, at least not in a reasonable timeframe. Now, I don’t know about the specific plastics used in the old style rings, but most plastics wind up in landfills (Where they stop breaking down due to the pressure and lack of light, oxygen and similar), or somerwhere like the Pacific Gyre, where they very, very, slowly breakdown, and in the meantime clog the ocean with billions and billions of bits of plastic. There is even a region of the ocean now known as the ‘great pacific garbage patch’


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