Bitter Tasting Room
For those who remain unconvinced that craft beer is the new wine, head to Bitter Tasting Room, Gastown’s newest addition, for an education and an awakening. The latest venture from the Heather Hospitality Group, the masterminds behind such Gastown staples as Salt, Judas Goat and the Irish Heather, Bitter is attempting to do for beer and sausages what Salt has done for wine and cheese. The cozy West Hastings street spot occupies a storefront that had remained vacant for years and was a butcher shop in a former life. With a deep respect and reverence for the neighbourhood’s rich history, Bitter’s front window is outfitted with a photo mural depicting an early 20th century Hastings and Carrall street scene and many original fixtures have been restored, including the tile floors. But the space is clearly a shrine to beer. You are greeted as soon as you walk in the door by a large poster of Rodney Graham’s A Glass of Beer exhibition and Bitter’s west wall is made up of backlit, glass-front refrigerators where they store, and display, their seemingly endless supply of bottles.
Bitter’s selection of beer is eclectic and innovative. With an emphasis on bottles over draught, though they do have eight rotating taps, Bitter’s bottle menu is lengthier and more comprehensive than many of the wine lists you encounter at nice restaurants. With an inspired mix of offerings from some of BC’s best independent breweries and noteworthy European and American varieties, Bitter’s beer selection rivals Six Acres for the best in the city. What also distinguishes Bitter is their emphasis on large bottles and growlers, one measuring as much as 1.5 litres that will set you back $45, to encourage sharing and to make the experience of consuming beer more reminiscent of wine drinking. If you are indecisive like us, Bitter also offers a rotating selection of “flights” – three beer samples served in wine glasses that are linked by a common theme – that alleviates the stress of having to pick one beer from their extensive menu. The food offerings are designed to be shared and feature items that pair well with beer: soft pretzels served with mustard, spiced nuts and a Welsh rarebit so rich that it made us weak in the knees were among the highlights. Beer-phobes beware, Bitter currently only has one red and one white wine selection available and all cocktails are beer-based. Yet if there is any place that could make a beer believer out of the staunchest resister it is Bitter, where beer drinking and appreciation has been elevated to an art form.