When visiting the recently opened Shaketown Brewing Co. in North Vancouver’s burgeoning Brewery District, you’ll want to bring a healthy appetite for the beers on tap, and a healthy skepticism for the historical facts written on the walls.
The craft brewery opened to visitors in March after a long, slow dance with construction and COVID-19 regulations, and it has been brisk business ever since as people check out the latest addition to North Vancouver's thriving craft beer scene. Shaketown’s commercial space on East Esplanade – within a one-block radius of more than half a dozen other breweries, cideries and distilleries – features an intriguing selection of craft beers, open and airy communal seating, and a bank of windows that open up on a lovely waterfront view.
The space also features a wall filled with fascinating historical facts and figures, all building on the existence of a long-forgotten area of North Vancouver that was known as Shaketown due to the local economy, which revolved around turning cedar trees into shakes for siding or roofing.
Shaketown was a real nickname for a real location in North Vancouver – up around where Lynn Valley Road meets Mountain Highway – but that’s where Shaketown Brewing's historical truth ends and the tall tales begin.
Ryan Scholz, the brewery's co-founder and driving force, happened on some historical references to Shaketown when he was brainstorming ideas for the brewery and fell in love with the name. He then hired a marketing firm to come up with some branding ideas, and they came back with an entire Shaketown world complete with fascinating characters, tragic events – who can forget the Great Horse Panic of 1939! – and kooky entrepreneurs.
It was all wild, and all completely fabricated. And to Scholz, who wanted the brewery to have a fun community feel, it was perfect.
“I was blown away,” he said. “We wanted to have one foot in reality and one foot in this sort of fantasy world. We just went for it.”
He had one slight concern, though – would there be any blowback due to all the blatant B.S. they were spreading as historical data. To ease his mind, he checked in with the good folks at the North Vancouver Museum and Archives to make sure his plan was OK.
“They laughed,” said Scholz. “They gave me their blessing, and the rest is sort of history.”
Fake history, in fact.
But what’s not fake is that Shaketown is producing some pretty unique beers, thanks to the expertise of head brewer and co-founder David Varga, who partnered with Scholz and third co-founder and head of sales Rohan Karnick to get Shaketown off the ground. Scholz scooped up Varga not long after he left his job with Vancouver's 33 Acres Brewing Co., and Scholz said he couldn’t believe his good fortune at catching such a talent.
“He’s one of the best brewers in the province,” said Scholz.
Shaketown’s core beer list features their versions of industry standards like a wheat beer, IPA, and pilsner, but offers some unique brews that pack a flavourful punch while coming in at a lower-than-normal alcohol content.
There’s a very vintage-tasting Golden Ale that clocks in at four per cent, an Itty Bitty IPA at 3.5 per cent, and a Leichtbier that comes in at three per cent. Varga said it’s those two “low-gravity” beers, the Itty Bitty IPA and the Leichtbier, that he is most proud of because of the degree of difficulty involved in packing a lot of flavour into a low alcohol beer.
“Everybody likes that Leichtbier,” he said. “It weirds them out … they see a three per cent lager and they’re thinking Coors Light or Bud Light or something like that, and then they try it and you can almost see the gears going in their head.”
Those beers, particularly the Leichtbier, have earned them some street cred in the craft beer world, added Scholz.
“It’s tough to make a good tasting, low alcohol lager,” he said. “You can't just throw a bunch of hops in there – it's got to be the process of the beer that shines through. … All of the beer nerds and beer geeks respect that beer because they know how hard it is to make. And that's all in the process – we don't put any rice or any corn in it, it's just malt and the traditional beer ingredients.”
And speaking of beer aficionados, Scholz said he’s thrilled to find a commercial space in the centre of the City of North Vancouver’s Brewery District, with other spots such as Beere Brewing, House of Funk, La Cerveceria Astilleros and North Point Brewing just steps away.
“We think the more the merrier, because people come down and they just go down and hop around and just work their way down the line,” he said. “It's perfect.”
Shaketown features an open concept space with long communal tables, offering vibes that should be a perfect fit for a world emerging from a pandemic, Scholz said.
“Our whole idea is leaving with more friends than you came in with,” he said. “That sense of community, I think it’s what the world is missing right now.” There are also plans in the works for a patio space with waterfront views, as well as in-house entertainment.
Shaketown Brewing Co. is open 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, noon to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. If you visit, remember to bring a grain of salt, not for the beer, but for what’s written on the walls.