On a recent trip to the United States, one of the things that I was amazed by was the sheer variety of beers available. From dingy punk-rock dive bars to the local pub, to hipster hangouts, there was one thing in common — they all carried a diverse range of craft beers.
Some had a half dozen taps, while one place – Toronado in San Franciso – had a beer menu that would rival any high-end restaurant’s wine selection, both in terms of variety and price. One bottle of beer was being sold for $120.
Long gone are the days Canadians could mock American beer.
The craft beer revolution that has swept the United States is slowing making it’s way up north. The BC Craft Brewers Guild counts close to 100 craft breweries in the province, including Revelstoke’s own Mt. Begbie Brewery. It’s far behind Oregon, which has more than 200 breweries, but B.C. has reached the point where almost every town has its own brewery, and many new ones are popping up in the Lower Mainland each year.
When Trevor Roberts arrived in Revelstoke last year after getting laid off from his job as an energy trader, he decided opening a bar specializing in craft beer was the way to set up in his new home.
“I wanted to do something on my own and create something for the community,” he told me last week. “I saw an opportunity for a little more of a niche, and I love beer.”
I met Roberts the morning of New Years Eve at the Craft Bierhaus, inside the former location of Benoit’s Wine bar at 107 Second Street East.
He stood behind the bar, while I took a seat in front. A line of two dozen taps, as well as assorted liquors was behind him. It was 11 a.m., so we held off on the alcohol — there would be time for that later.
Roberts was born in Calgary and graduated from the University of Calgary with a degree in finance. He became an energy trader, eventually managing a large portfolio for Glencore, a major international commodity trading firm. He was living in Texas when he was laid off. Instead of moving back home to Calgary, he packed up his snowboard and mountain bike and moved to Revelstoke.
“I wanted more balance in my life so I moved to a place where it was relatively inexpensive to survive on your own without a job for a period of time,” he said.
Roberts explored different job opportunities, including working for CP Rail and the mill, but eventually he decided to open his own restaurant and bar.
“I wanted to build a place I wanted to hang out, and it turns out other people like it too,” he said.
Roberts, along with numerous contractors, has given Benoit’s a significant facelift. A proper kitchen was installed, the walls were painted green and a new wood-slab bar was built. The layout of the space remains the same, with the bar in the middle and tables against the walls. The tables are large and designed for a communal atmosphere. You could show up as a large group and have one to yourself, or you can come with a friend and sit down with strangers.
“The restaurant is set up to be more of a communal environment with big tables,” Roberts said. “People are eating it up — share tables and you get to meet more people.”
Photo: The Craft Bierhaus has 19 beers, two ciders, two kombuchas and one coffee on tap.
The food menu consists of six different salads, a selection of mac & cheese, and a selection of appetizers and mains. There’s a quinoa slad with tomatoes, green onion, pecans, raisins and black beans; and the blackened shrimp salad, with mixed greens, pineapple, strawberries, mango, walnuts and raisins. My friend had good things to say about the kale salad, while Roberts said the kale Caesar salad was proving popular.
The centrepiece of the menu is the mac & cheese, which Roberts likened to a pizza menu. There’s eight varieties, and you can add to them. They go for about $8 for a personal size, and $11 for a regular.
The front page of the menu consists of a selection of entrees, including a vegetarian option and different meats. All the mains are under $20. Roberts said the menu will change depending on what’s fresh and in season. Sean Whalen, formerly of Emo’s, is the head chef.
“I’ve empowered the kitchen to do what they want for the front page,” said Roberts.
Of course, what brings people into the Craft Bierhaus will likely be the beer. The bar has 19 beers on tap, all priced at $6.50 per pint, though some premium beers come in smaller glasses. You can sample a beer for $2.50.
“I tried to come up with a good cross section representing the whole gamut of beer styles and flavours,” said Roberts. “What we’re going to do is each tap represents a particular style or flavour and we just rotate.”
I went to the Craft Bierhaus on Saturday to sample the beers, since this article wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t do so.
We tried a selection of IPAs – my favourite being the Breakside Wanderlust IPA – and a number of others. Highlights were the Salty Scott Scotch Ale by Parallel 49, a darker beer with a caramel finish; the Grinch American Strong Ale by Bridge Brewing, and the Ninkasi Brewing Dawn of the Red India Red Ale, which tasted like a mix of an IPA and a wheat beer.
I sampled the Breakside Passionfuit Sour, which Roberts said was his favourite, but — as he put it — it’s an acquired taste.
If beer is not your thing, you can try a kombucha, which the bar gets from Kootenay Kombucha in the Slocan Valley. You can get it with or without alcohol. There’s also two ciders on tap, a small wine list and your standard hard liquors.
They also have one tap with Stoke Roasted coffee.
“More than anything, this is all here because I want to stay in Revelstoke,” said Roberts. “I’ve invented a way for me to be involved in the community and stay within the community, because it’s awesome.”