Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Day in Vancouver B.C.

The City of Seattle has been doing quite the promotional push lately with their "2 Days in Seattle are 2 Days You Won't Soon Forget" advertisements. We even wrote about it. But what if you're already from Seattle? You already spend every day in Seattle, so where should you go for a weekend? And what if you're from Portland and already erratically spend 2 days in Seattle from time to time? The answer is clear; you head north and spend half of that time in Vancouver B.C.

Neither Josh nor I had spend much time in Vancouver aside from specific work- or event-related activities, so this would truly be our first chance to explore on our own. Even better, Josh's good friend Steve loaded us up with recommendations of places to hit up and Tourism BC gave us an amazing hotel recommendation. Here's how it went down.

I had driven up to Seattle the night before, so we were all set to head up on a beautiful Saturday morning via Josh's German-engineered mechanized chariot. What normally would have been a 2.5 hours or so drive ended up being a bit more due to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. I'd normally link to an event such as this and provide more information, but my blind hatred for tulips at this point prevents me from mentioning the word "tulip" without getting flashbacks of going 3mph on I-5. Event-related traffic aside, driving to Vancouver is a breeze. The border guards are also incredibly friendly, unless I suppose you're rooting against the Whitecaps (we weren't, Go Whitecaps!, eh).

Our first destination in Vancouver was to check in at the Coast Coal Harbour Hotel in downtown Vancouver. Well, that's after we circled the block a few times avoiding an active movie shoot taking place down the street. After valeting the chariot, we walked in to the lobby. It was hip, modern, and clean but comfortable at the same time. The customer service was impeccable, and most importantly, the desk agent pronounced my name correctly. Usually, it's Gorrrr...err...gran...uhh...buffalo? Not at the Coast Coal Harbour! The star of the show at the hotel, besides from the location, was the guest room. Featuring floor to ceiling wrap around windows and beds that were so comfortable that we had to eat cookies while laying in them, we felt like a million bucks (Canadian) in our room.

Once checked in, we decided to partake in an obligatory Tim Horton's run. For those of you who don't live near one of Tim Horton's limited US locations, think of it as Canada's version of Dunkin Donuts, but more of a national institution. Kind of like how if you're in the States for the first time, you should tame a bald eagle or buy a gun. Same thing in Canada, although way more delicious and far less dangerous. Our first run through their line, however, was met with peril. Josh and I learned two very important things for Americans traveling to Canada: 1. Tim Horton's doesn't take Visa (although it takes Master Card) and 2. Debit in Canada does not mean the same thing as it does in the US. In short, the Canadian debit system only works intra-providencial, meaning a BC debit card will only work in BC. This resulted in an necessary ATM run and after going through the line for a second time, mediocre, yet patriotic donuts and coffee were had.  Eh?

After a bit of wandering, we walked from our hotel along the gorgeous Coal Harbour shoreline towards Vancouver's Gastown district. Vancouver's oldest and potentially first neighborhood is now one of its trendiest; also interestingly named after one of Vancouver's founding residents, Gassy Jack. Most importantly for this publication, it's also home to Steamworks Brewing Company. Located in the heart of Gastown, Steamworks is immediately distinguishable by its ample outdoor seating, relaxed gastropub-esque atmosphere, and good times being had all around. Josh and I grabbed a seat in the downstairs restaurant and did what any online beverage journalist worth his salt would do; ordered one of almost everything they brew. OK, so maybe it was just a taster tray, but at the same time, look at this monster:

If this is a typical Canadian taster tray then we Americans have been seriously one-upped! What you're looking at are five on Steamworks' regular brews along with three seasonals. We took notes on all of them, but I'll highlight three for the sake of time.

Lion's Gate Lager - Of the array put in front of us, this was definitely the most surprising in terms of how much I enjoyed it. I'm really not a lager guy at all and more often than not I probably would have skipped this one, but it was unlike any lager I had ever tried. This one poured an almost amber color with big, malty hues of butterscotch. Much more complex than a typical lager and it even got a little bit sweeter as it warmed up. This may put off fans of traditional lagers, but it made a new fan out of me.

Empress IPA - Dry-hopped with hops from Mt. Hood, this IPA comes out actually quite muted compared to typical Northwest variants. Josh's guess is it sits somewhere in the 60 IBU range, which for him made it a perfect session beer. If you're a fan of most Northwest ambers, pick this one up and you won't be disappointed. Want something super hoppy? Their Double IPA is where you should look.

Coal Porter - Most surprising about this porter is that it doesn't or feel like a porter at all. My first question after looking at it is whether or was poured on nitro or not, but apparently it normally pours as if it was. Super creamy mouthfeel with a decent amount of white head combine to what most would equate with a milk stout. Other than the creaminess, it's malty and contains the typical notes of a porter.

All in all, Steamworks is an excellent place to hit up for good beer, great food, and watching three hockey games at the same time. Do yourself a favor to and go for the taster tray.

With eight little beers in us, it was time to do what any great Canadian citizen would do; go to a soccer match! Ok, so maybe soccer isn't quite as popular as hockey, but Vancouver is home to Major League Soccer's Vancouver Whitecaps FC. As fellow Cascadians (Go Timbers!), Josh and I thought it would be fun to round out the night by watching the Whitecaps take on FC Dallas in the brand new BC Place stadium. While the crowd wasn't nearly as rowdy as what we're used to in our respective cities (Go Timbers!), the match itself was thrilling and the crowd really got into it towards the end. For you beer fans, the picture is much bleaker. 99% of the vendors only carry Budweiser and I had never heard of the couple of micros we found. They also only come in little plastic cups, but on the bright side, the come with a Starbucks-esque top so you don't spill on your way to your seat or dump it on your face. Hooray safety! Vancouver ended up winning 1-0 and the closest thing we saw to a soccer riot was a drunk guy unsuccessfully kicking a road barrier (Go Timbers!).

With a full day of Vancouver under our belts and a night of restful slumber, it was time to head back home. A huge thank you goes out to Steve for his great dining suggestions, Tourism BC for information on lodging, and the Coast Coal Harbour hotel for such incredible hospitality and fantastic room service. Another shout out goes to the US border guards who have on file no less than 50,000 photos of Josh and I crossing into the country. USA! USA! USA!

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