This is the fourth feature in the Hops Among Friends series. This series is designed to introduce you to the people that make up the craft beer scene on the BC Ale Trail.
My last Hops Among Friends interview was with Gary Lohin from Central City Brewers + Distillers. Gary recommended I speak with David Varga from 33 Acres Brewing Co. Established in 2013, 33 Acres is located in the Mount Pleasant area of Vancouver and is on the Vancouver Ale Trail.
David Varga has been a part of the vibrant BC Craft Beer scene for over 20 years and it was a real honour to chat with him.
KL: How did you get into the craft brewing industry?
DV: I was taking a microbiology program at UBC in the early 90’s, and in one of my courses, I had a prof that taught fermentation technology. At one point during the course, that prof was making a home-brewed beer, and he invited us to check it out. Home brewing wasn’t that popular then, so it definitely piqued my interest as a possible occupation. I did a bit of home brewing during school and made some fairly palatable beers.
While everyone else was going to med school, I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do for my career. When I graduated I started working at Whistler Brewing. I started out brewing right away and I was there for a couple of years. Then I moved back to my hometown of Kelowna and worked at Tree Brewing for a short stint. Then I worked in a series of brewpubs; one in Calgary and then others with the Mark James Group. The owner of 33 Acres is Josh Michnik. Josh’s Dad, Brian is golf buddies with Gerry Hieter, founder of the Great Canadian Beer Festival, who got Josh and Brian interested in good craft beer. When Josh decided to open 33 Acres, he was looking for a brewer to join the team. Over some beers, more than five years ago, I decided to go for it and joined the team.
KL: What do you love most about craft beer?
DV: These days I’m seriously impressed with the skill level of the new brewers. They have so much passion and confidence in their skill set and they learn techniques so quickly. For example, Kylo from Four Winds Brewing, who started out as a home brewer and the brewers at Backcountry Brewing and Beere Brewing impress me. They are making tremendous beers. Also, Ryan from Luppolo Brewing makes some really solid beers.
KL: What is your favourite beer style?
DV: Hmmm. That’s pretty hard to say. My go-to beers include really well-made pilsners. I also enjoy a well made Kölsch or pale ale. These are the kinds of beer I like to have when I’m hanging out with my friends. I like a nice sessionable beer such as an IPA, a Citrus IPA or a West Coast IPA. I like clean IPAs with an emphasis on citrus.
KL: You are known for brewing stylistically amazing beers. Tell me more about your philosophy here.
DV: I think a lot of it came about when I started brewing. I looked at the beers that I like. I thought about what I need to do to make them. When you work in brewpubs, you are making the house beers and the seasonal beers. When I first started, the craft beer scene was pretty young and a lot of beers were pretty similar. There was not a lot of diversity. So to try different beers, you had to try beers from Belgium and the US. I tried a lot of bad beers. But then so many of them blew my mind, so I tried to figure out how to make those beers. For me, I think beer provides memory triggers. When I drink this beer it reminds me of a beer hall in Germany. I like to show respect and gratitude to those beers that paved the way. I know that in 10 years when I drink that same beer, it will take me back to the same moment. It’s about upholding the tradition and honouring the legacy of what they created.
KL: What are some of your favourite craft beers going into summer?
DV: Living in Vancouver, I like trying the beers in my neighbourhood. Some of my favourites right now would be the Guardian White IPA from Strange Fellows Brewing. Go Easy Pale Ale from Beere Brewing. The Dreamboat IPA from Parkside is a really good NE style IPA. I was surprised at how nice it is. The Jerkface 9000 from Parallel 49 is a nice wheat ale style. I enjoy the Vancouver Special IPA from R&B Brewing. It’s so nice to see them thriving. I also enjoy the Saison from Luppolo. The Four Winds Sour Weisse is a terrific beer. When I tried that, it was the first time I met Kylo. A few of my other mainstays are the Main Street Pilsner, Red Truck Pilsner and Red Racer India Red Ale. And also I have to say our 33 Acres of Echo. It’s an ISA style. I’m really happy with it. I think it’s a great summer beer.
KL: What do you love about the place where you live?
DV: I live in North Van. It has some similarities to my hometown of Kelowna. I find that people have similar personalities. There’s a bit of isolation living in North Van. With the two bridges, it takes a bit more effort to get back and forth to North Van, so that makes it a bit of a quieter lifestyle, which I like. We also have great hiking and mountain biking trails in the area.
KL: What do you love about the craft beer scene where you live?
DV: There is a ton of variety. The beers are very well made. It’s neat to watch the trends of the easier styles of beer. There really is something for everyone here. Things have really changed. There was a time when there were just four or five beers, and there wasn’t a lot of personality in the beer. Where I’m located, I love seeing people hanging out together and enjoying the beer. It’s not just people evaluating and writing about beers.
KL: If you had out-of-town company visiting your area for the first time, what hidden gems would you recommend for them?
DV: I like taking people out to eat. The cuisine scene in Vancouver is really, really good. Close to the brewery, there is a great Japanese restaurant, Zipang Provisions. They make the best chicken nuggets you’ll ever eat in your life. The sushi is also great. Bao Bei is a cocktail bar and they make really great Asian-influenced small plates. Jamjar does great Lebanese food. I love Mediterranean food. La Mezcaleria and La Taqueria do authentic tacos and burritos. On another note, Johnson Park, which is close to the brewery, is a great small park where people take their dogs. In the summer, people come and hang out on the hill and it has a terrific city and mountain view. I also think Deep Cove Village is pretty beautiful.
KL: What are your predictions for craft beer this summer?
DV: I think we’re going to see more kettle sours and more fruit beers than in the past. I think we’ll probably see a kettle sour fruit beer. I’ve only seen a few interpretations of this style, but I expect to see more this summer. I think we’ll also see some ISAs along the lines of the NE style; hazier with lower alcohol and big stone fruit, juicy characteristics.
KL: What are your favourite summer festivals, craft beer and otherwise?
DV: My favourite beer events are at the beginning and the end of the summer. Vancouver Craft Beer Week and the Great Canadian Beer Festival. These provide a great chance to try a bunch of beers and reconnect with so many people in the industry. Also, the Vancouver Folk Music Festival is pretty wicked. I enjoy that a lot.
KL: What’s your perfect summer beer and food pairing?
DV: Pilsner and a grilled sausage or brat. I like to keep it simple.
KL: The vision at 33 Acres Brewing was born out of enjoyment for the binding elements of life. The spirit of community sharing; Drink, food, conversation, space, and ideas. What is your favourite space to eat, drink, meet-up with friends and brainstorm?
DV: The Alibi Room. I’ve known Nigel for many years. This place has been pretty influential for the BC craft beer scene. You’ll find local brewers here and brewers from out of the region. It’s a great spot to try a bunch of beers and see what’s interesting. I enjoy brainstorming with my colleagues. Enjoying a beer together and asking, how do you think they made this?
KL: Tell me about something new you are brewing right now.
DV: We’re working on a new location, immediately next door to our current location. We’ll have two entirely different breweries, each with a different focus. The new brewery will focus more on seasonal beers. We are hoping to have it open this summer. Look for us on social media for updates.
KL: Why coffee at your brewery?
DV: Much like beer, coffee is a means to start a conversation. It’s great to see people having a business meeting here, whether they are meeting over coffee or beer. We make a pretty decent cup of coffee here.
KL: You recently won your second Silver medal for your 33 Acres of Euphoria in the Belgian-Style Tripel category at the World Beer Cup in Nashville. How did that feel?
DV: I’m still pretty surprised, but on the other hand, not surprised. I’ve got confidence that our brewing team brews great beers. But when your peers recognize it, it is pretty special. And when it happens twice, it really validates all of the hard work.
KL: Where do you want to travel to discover their craft beer scene and why?
DV: The US is making anything and everything. It’s mind blowing how far they have come. I’d love to be able to go to San Diego or Carolina or Nashville to see the different influences. I’d love to see the influence that whiskey and bourbon from Nashville have on their craft beers. Also, I’ve got some brewer friends in Europe and I’d love to go and let them take me to the best spots.
KL: Who else in the craft beer industry do you find interesting and why?
DV: Iain Hill from Strange Fellows Brewing. He used to be my boss at the Mark James Group. He hired me and helped get me in the door. He’s got a wealth of expertise in the craft beer industry. He loves his beer and really helps out so many breweries. He well deserves all the compliments that are out there about him.
Stay tuned for the next instalment of the Hops Among Friends blog series, where I chat with Iain from Strange Fellows Brewing. Until then, cheers!