1601 Main Street, Vancouver

Pub #5: CRAFT Beer Market

Last week, I crawled into Brassneck Brewery. This week: CRAFT Beer Market in Olympic Village, in the old Salt Building at 1st & Manitoba.

First thing you notice: CRAFT is huuuuuuge. With its lovely, high ceilings and giant wood beams and trusses, it looks like the massive warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

How do they fill it every night? Packed with happy carousers (all aged 25-59, I checked), CRAFT has the boisterous atmosphere of a street bazaar in Arabian Nights. You half-expect to see snake charmers, harem tents, and little old men selling rugs, monkey paws, and gremlins. During Happy Hour, I hear there’s a section in the back where you can gamble on a mongoose fighting a cobra. True fact.

My buddy Dennis Heaton and I came looking for exotic trouble and foreign beers. He’s executive producer and showrunner on MOTIVE on CTV. Each episode starts with a murder then the detectives must figure out the killer’s motive.

I tried applying the same deductive reasoning to CRAFT.

'They offer over 100 draft beers… but no bottles or growlers. Why, young Dennis? What’s their motive, man?' I asked.

'Shut up and order, Hegan,' he said, 'We’ve got a steep hill of beer to climb.'

CRAFT boasts ‘Canada's largest selection of draft beer’ and they’re not making it up. Instead of wasting precious drinking time reading all 100 beer descriptions, do this: throw your keys on the menu. Whatever your house key points at, that’s your next beer.  

My key landed on Stiegl Goldbrau ($9.25), an organic, golden-hued Austrian beauty made from ‘pristine spring water’ and a favourite of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Stiegl Goldbrau tastes 500 times better than Bud or PBR. A perfect opener on a blazing hot Vancouver summer night when the forests are all on fire.

Dennis’ key landed on a German-style Pilsner, Egill Skallagrimsson Bríó ($9.25). It won gold at the 2012 World Beer Cup, and the way Dennis describes it, Bríó tastes like you’re trudging alone through a howling blizzard in the Arctic. You’re near death and about to give up and fall face down in the freezing, swirling snow. But suddenly you see an empty shack. You stumble to it, open the door, find a roaring fire in the fireplace, and someone’s left you a pipe and a 6-course meal. 

CRAFT service is excellent and everybody’s named Rachel. Our Rachel has to be one of the best servers in Vancouver. Patient, knowledgeable, and friendly but not ‘Hi, welcome to The Keg, I’m your new lifelong roommate’ friendly. She was in charge of a thousand tables yet effortlessly memorized our increasingly sloppy orders (Dennis suspects her memory trick was a little something called ‘sobriety’).

We ordered Baja Fish Tacos ($16) and the Fast Food Sushi because why wouldn’t you? This ingenious $12 creation is made up of tiny cheeseburgers and fries, wrapped in bacon and presented sushi style, 4 to a plate, with jalapeno cream cheese & BBQ dips. Delicious.

Dennis threw his keys down again and was rewarded with a quaffable Creemore Springs Bohemian-style pilsner ($6.25). My key toss fetched me a delicious blonde ale, La Chouffe ($9.25). Sweet, spicy, and effervescent, this Belgian beer tastes like the joy and promise of the summer solstice. The glass has a happy wee cartoon gnome on it. He’s so bent and stoop-shouldered, you want to feed his spine some milk.

Third beers: Dennis pounded Delirium Tremens ($9.25), an 8.5% Belgian ale touted as ‘the best beer in the world’. I tossed back a Deschutes Black Butte Porter ($9.25) that tasted like… like…

Listen, I could wax rhapsodically about our life-changing beers #3-6 but I have zero recollection. Oh, they tasted great, I’m sure, and no doubt made me a better man. But mostly I remember being swept up in the convivial CRAFT atmosphere. The sun was setting, the mountain-facing windows were aglow, and suddenly the chaps next to us became our new best friends.

Secrets were shared. Promises made. Blood pacts formed. Then we agreed to bail each other out, 24/7, for the rest of our lives.

That’s a fine night out at any pub in the world.

But in standoffish Vancouver where it’s hard to meet new people, CRAFT stands alone. It’s that rare contradiction: a big room where you can stretch out and be yourself, yet an intimate space where you can befriend a stranger and (maybe, just maybe) agree to trade murders.

My next & final stop: Dubh Linn Gate’s new Main Street, Vancouver location!

CRAFT Beer Market
85 West 1st Ave
Salt Building, Olympic Village
Vancouver, BC   V5Y 0C4

604.709.BEER (2337)