at Alibi Room
When the Alibi Room first dipped its toes into the beer bar concept, I was immediately impressed. It wasn’t that they were offering a massive selection of beer, and the serious beer hunter certainly wasn’t going to find any whales on offer. What impressed me was that they were clearly going out of their way to bring in beer that was otherwise unavailable in Vancouver.
In those days, thanks to Canada’s arcane laws governing beer distribution, it was nearly impossible for an establishment to simply bring in whatever product it wanted without a prohibitive amount of paperwork. The Alibi Room, run by Nigel Springthorpe and his partners, had found a way to offer unique beer without all the fuss, sourcing beer from small breweries throughout British Columbia and bringing it to Vancouver themselves. As someone who knew exactly what we could get in the city at that time, I took note of this the minute I first laid eyes on Alibi’s tap handles, of which there were all of 14 at the time – give or take; it’s all a bit fuzzy now.
It wasn’t the quality of the beer, it was the dedication that they took to get unique products onto their taps, at a time when absolutely nobody else in the was willing to lift a finger in the service of craft beer. Today, when finding great beer on every corner is easy, it seems hard to imagine what true beer hunting was like. And yet, the Alibi Room in those early days was actually willing to do the hunting for you!
Tucked into a quiet corner of the city where the lively Gastown historic district blends into seedier parts, the Alibi Room looks completely unchanged from the days when it established itself as Vancouver’s first bona fide beer bar. The upstairs room is still warm brick and wood. The kitchen still hidden to the side of the entrance. The windows behind the bar still reveal everything from passing trains to snow-capped mountains that turn pink in the sunset. What has changed is the number of taps, which now count well past fifty.
The space exudes warm familiarity, the product of not just years of continuity of ownership, but also of front of house staff. Yet far from coming across as dated, or past its prime, the Alibi seems to step into a new prime every year – they have created the kind of timelessness that appeals on your first visit, or your hundred-and-first.
It’s still Vancouver’s leading beer bar, too. The tap list features the latest hit beers from the latest hit breweries, to the point where it is actually difficult to find too many “classic” beers there, unless the permanent handle for Storm Brewing’s Imperial Flanders Sour counts. (And yet, it’s not a ticker joint, or at least it doesn’t feel like it.) But among the constantly rotating handles there are always a few comfort beers, a pale lager or a bitter from Springthorpe’s Brassneck Brewing.
Or, as on my most recent visit, Blackstone Porter from Driftwood Brewing. One of the Flagship dark ales of British Columbia, Blackstone offers something that the endless taps of hazy IPAs and fruited beers do not – the sublime simplicity of a well-made porter.
Layers of black malt, well-balanced hop bitterness, and a satisfying richness are all hallmarks of Blackstone Porter, and it’s precisely that sort of comfort that matches the casual and lively atmosphere the Alibi Room has cultivated ever since it first opened.
Sometimes it seems like there are few beers around like Blackstone anymore. Where some beers launched in the earlier part of the last decade have become dated, Blackstone actually seems better for its years of service, and brings the unsuspecting drinker back to a different era of craft beer. I was actually a bit embarrassed that I hadn’t had it in a while, and I would encourage anybody visiting British Columbia to seek it out, and anybody elsewhere to find their nearest classic porter.
Flagship beers were chosen by the individual writers with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.