Shadowed by the observation deck seemingly hovering a dozen stories above, Steam Works Brewing Company anchors one end of Vancouver's Gastown District. The narrow outdoor patio first greets customers, offering a great view across the active waterway. Although crowded among the towering buildings of downtown, the patio still offers good afternoon sun. A CD sound system provides Rock & Roll tunes and basic patio furniture offers enough comfort to enjoy the beers and the sidewalk vistas.
Allegedly seating 500, the two story building contains multiple rooms, each offering their own atmosphere. The upper level full bar welcomes patrons with a beautiful mahogany bar featuring a selection of beers, each matched to a unique tap handle of artistic iron work created by Slightly Bent. Two TVs without closed-captioning look down on the bar and the merchandise cabinet containing T-shirts and sweaters. A half level down is a cozy non-smoking lounge with pool tables and comfortable furniture. The dining area is elegantly decorated with upholstered booths, and lacquered solid wood tables and chairs. Subdued lighting illuminates tapestries, paintings and flowers that adorn the room, with massive wooden beams rising from the mosaic tiled floors, stretching to the 13 foot ceiling of painted ducting and vents. Downstairs is more seating adjacent to another bar along with two pooltables where the brewhouse is visible through the second-hand cigarette smoke.
The downstairs bar features yet more impressive tap handles on the two 3-tap ceramic towers. Behind the bar stands the Newlands System brewhouse with its shiny copper vessels. Past the open kitchen at the far end of the room, the stainless steel conditioning tanks are visible across the open dining area. The menu centers around local and imported seafood ranging from $9 to $17, with standouts including seafood crêpe, grilled certified Angus sirloin, grilled lamb tenderloin, and baby-backed ribs. Starters run $4 to $8 and include steamed mussels, calamari, oysters, BC salmon and beet soup. Pastas range from $11 to $13 and include chicken penne, linguini and pan-fried tiger prawns. Wood-fired pizzas run $11 to $13. Homemade desserts include pie, cheesecake, chocolate pate and tiramisu and run $5 to $6.
The Cole Porter is an opaque brew with a sharp roasted character, creamy brown head, smooth mouthfeel, medium body and very dry finish. The Empress IPA, at 5.5 % abv, is a dark amber with a medium body, creamy mouthfeel, very smooth pale malty flavor that leads to a growing hop finish. The Signature Pale Ale, 5% abv, is also a dark amber color with a pronounced malty flavor, mellow hops (East Kent Golding), and a very clean malty dry finish. The Nirvana Nut Brown, 5%, is a clear dark brown color with a medium body, mellow malty flavors, smooth mouthfeel, and short dry finish from very subtle hops. The Harvest Gold, 5%, is a clear amber color with an even flavor balance of subdued malt and hops that finishes with a mellow hop note. The Lion's Gate Lager has a crisp hop character with a nice supporting pale malt under its creamy white head. The Cascadia Cream Ale shows a white head along with a creamy smooth body and smooth mouthfeel that complement a mellow hop character and soft pale malt flavor before finishing cleanly. The Dunkel Weizen is a hazy dark amber with a white head, clove aroma and flavor with a light, malty sweetness, even sweet/dry balance and slight chocolate character. The seasonal Blitzen is a clear dark amber color with a sweet maltiness, estery character, slightly syrupy mouthfeel and plenty of residual sweetness. A nice Belgian-style Trippel. The current guest tap is Tree Lager. Clear gold in color, the creamy head is well matched to the medium body, sharp hoppy flavor, creamy mouthfeel, and lingering hop finish. House sodas cost $2.75 and include Ripple Rock Rootbeer, Steamworks Cream Soda and Orange Creamsicle.
The impressive views of the outdoor beauty were equally matched indoors, with a staff that looked as if they had just walked out of a Vogue photo shoot. Whether for the food, drinks, people or the Sunday night X-Files parties, Steam Works warrants a visit by anyone with the opportunity.
Steam Works Brewing Company
375 Water Street
Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - May 1997 & December 2000
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