By Brittany Tiplady
If you’re an avid craft-beer drinker on Canada’s West Coast, it’s likely that you’re well-acquainted with Strange Fellows Brewing. It’s a no-brainer liquor-store pick no matter the occasion or season, and most often, the highlight on a restaurant or bar’s tap list.
Strange Fellows burst into the Vancouver craft beer scene over four years ago, and has since become an industry cornerstone. Their East Vancouver tasting room is spacious and friendly, offering long communal tables ready to seat all walks of life, ages, and party sizes. For visitors, it’s also right next to the East Van Cross photo opp.
The beers at Strange Fellows are rooted in tradition and heavily influenced by co-owner Aaron Jonckheere’s Belgian lineage, embellished and brilliantly executed by co-owner and brewmaster Iaian Hill and his team of brewers.
While largely focused on Belgian styles, their beers are punctuated by “west coast ingenuity and seasonal ingredients,” and if you’re a funky, sour beer lover like myself, then you’ve come to the right place.
Take the Popinjay for example: this Strange Fellows staple is a juicy dry-hopped sour, that packs the right amount of punch. “Popinjay is a really awesome and cool beer. It really excites me. It has the combination of lots of fruity hopped character, but it’s sour as well. It’s what we call a quick sour,” explains Hill.
“It’s not a barrel-aged, special long term sour. But when you take those fruit hop characteristics, and you put it together with sourness, your brain says “fruit.’”
You see, the fellows over on Clark drive may be strange, but there’s a method to their madness and the result is quite delicious.
“You may feel a certain way about politics, or about using a microwave in your house, or having cable on your TV, and it might not align with how I feel but we can sit and have a beer and have an adult conversation about many different things, and maybe we come to a new understanding and we do that with a beer and it’s just a natural thing,” says Jonckheere over a glass of the latest Strange Fellows creation, Dr. Jackson, a dark saison with a punch of Dr. Pepper.
“So that’s what we do at Strange Fellows and that’s what Strange Fellows means to me: a place where we can all come, have a beer, and just be. We try to celebrate the eclectic nature of East Vancouver and the people that live here, and one of the ways to do that is to celebrate the strange. Why not celebrate some of the weirdness?”
Staying true to their namesake, Strange Fellows puts on a host of events each month to celebrate strange days from around the world. Next up this month is an event celebrating Carnival; a Belgian-style fete, with music, crepes, and of course, beer, in tow.
“We started doing the Strange Days [events] immediately after we opened, but over time we have really refined them, and they’ve definitely grown in popularity, depth and quality as we have spent time on them,” adds Jonckheere.
In February, Strange Fellows hosted a Setsubun-themed event (a Japanese holiday that celebrates beginning of spring in Japan), with karaoke and soybeans galore.
Adding to Strange Fellows’ unique nature is their onsite art gallery. Tucked around the far-left corner of the tasting room, the gallery is curated monthly by Corey Robinson and often becomes the centre piece for community art-focused events happening in the tasting room from time to time.
“That side of our business is really enjoyable; it’s a really great part of what we do at Strange Fellows,” Jonckheere says. “We’re also doing a Mid-Summer market now, with a farmer’s market out front and buskers, and some more workshops as well as a brewmasters dinner in the back. We want to become better at these community events that support and bring together local artists and artisans.”
When it comes to naming each the beers joining the Strange Fellows lineup, it’s a collaborative effort honed mainly by Christine Mulson and the brewers themselves.
“Iain’s life partner Christine, is kind of our everything. She does all the designs of our t-shirts and is a really incredible artist. She is really the person who brought all these things to life,” Jonckheere says.
“She comes up with the stories for the beers, and all of our images and branding is hand-done. She’s always creating new things and waiting for the right beer to come up. Once she’s got the story, the beer is made, and is passed down the creative line and the name and the story is paired with the beer that fits it best. Brewers are artistic people; they’re creators.”
The mandate at Strange Fellows is to produce beer in an environment “inspired by tradition and creativity, and [to] go beyond the ordinary to celebrate that which is strange and extraordinary” and as you can see, they stay true to their word.
“The beers that we make, are what the brewers love, like making, and are good at,” concludes Jonckheere. “The brewers here brew the way they brew, and it’s almost an extension of their personality.”
The Strange Fellows taproom (1345 Clark Drive) is open Monday-Sunday.
If you’re a beer aficionado, consider joining the coveted Strange Fellows Fellowship program. Members enjoy access to barrel-aged, vintage, limited release beers, a discount on growler fills, a t-shirt and tasting glass, and access to two private events.