It was one of BC’s first craft breweries, and for most of its existence R&B Brewing Co. was expressly focused on making beer, not creating ambiance. They had a small shop where locals could refill growlers, but most of their energy went to brewing and distributing in East Vancouver.
In those days, co-founder Barry Benson explains, the law said you could either be a brewpub or a distributor, but you couldn’t be both. R&B opted for the micro-brewery designation so they could sell casks across the city, which meant for the first two decades there was nowhere for customers to sit down with a pint.
Eventually the laws changed, and with the energy from new owner Dave Fenn, R&B expanded into the furniture warehouse next door in 2015. In just a few short years the full tasting room, restaurant and patio established R&B as a popular community gathering space, and now they’ve been crowned the 2021 BC Ale Trail Best Brewery Experience Award Winner.
“We can’t say enough about the people who come through our doors and continue to support us,” Fenn says.
“We’re fortunate to have survived a pretty tumultuous year. It’s been gratifying to see community support for local neighbourhood places. It underlines the idea that restaurants, cafés and breweries are more than just a provider of food and beverage — they’re a place for people to gather and support one another.”
What’s in a name
The name R&B honours the brewery’s two founders: R for Rick Dellow and B for Barry Benson (Benson still works at the brewery today), but many people think it references music’s Rhythm and Blues.
“It fits us very well — we’re a music centred place — but it wasn’t by design,” Fenn says.
There’s a wall of recycled speakers lining one side of the taproom (many of them left over from Rick and Barry’s early days blasting tunes while they brewed), and DJs come in regularly to spin vinyl and mp3s. Live musicians including a piano player and acoustic acts often played at R&B before the pandemic, and Fenn hopes to bring that back soon.
“Pre-Covid it was a pretty packed room, so we’ve tried to operate conservatively to keep our staff and customers safe.”
Benson says the atmosphere created by staff and clientele is energetic and comfortable.
“We get to serve all sorts of people: regulars, mothers with their babies, construction workers, software developers and beer connoisseurs on tasting tours. There’s never any sort of tension in the tap room, it’s a very comfortable place. The staff — I wouldn’t call them staff, I’d call them family — they’re all keen to work here and have a great knowledge of beer.”
Dude Chilling Pale Ale
The speaker wall isn’t the only recycled material making R&B Brewing a one-of-a-kind brewery experience. Lighting is scrounged from local second-hand stores, the bar includes old piping and even the patio is made from materials recycled from a nearby construction site. Former Operations Manager Brent Cummings designed the space to highlight the features that make the neighbourhood special, and incorporated retro and vintage elements from other businesses on the block.
“It’s not just some black and white archival photos of the area, we filled the place with modern fun things that highlight the atmosphere and modern history of the area,” Fenn says.
One of those quirky pieces of recent history is Dude Chilling Pale Ale, named after a nearby park with a name you’d only find in Mount Pleasant. A few years ago a local artist put up a fake sign in reference to a sculpture in the park called Reclining Figure. Eventually the city adopted Dude Chilling Park as the official name, and R&B Brewing soon added Dude Chilling Pale Ale to their rotation. In fact, when the sculpture needed to be refurbished recently, R&B Brewing stepped up to help raise the necessary funds.
R&B Brewing was one of the first craft breweries in the province, established in 1997 well before the craft beer boom of the 2000s. In the decades since then dozens of breweries have popped up in the area, and Fenn welcomes the unique creations each brewer has on tap.
The neighbourhood actually has a long history with breweries spanning more than a century — in the 1880s a number of brewers harnessed the energy of Brewery Creek to mill grain, launching the first beer boom for the area. While those breweries (and the creek) had mostly vanished by the 1920s, rumour has it you can still find hops from those days growing in Mount Pleasant.
Keep it local, keep it fresh
When it comes to the food and drink menu, R&B’s philosophy is to keep it local, keep it simple, and keep it fresh. Fenn says they’re less concerned with increasing sales and distribution across the province, and more focused on keeping current and coming up with new things.
“For a fairly small brewery, we come up with two to three new releases every month,” he says.
Raven Cream Ale and Vancouver Special IPA are both award-winning mainstays, and pours like the Fuzzy Peach Sour and the Batch 4000 triple hopped double IPA keep more adventurous beer-lovers entertained.
“We use a similar concept for our dining options: it’s a small menu using local ingredients with daily specials to keep it fresh.”
The main focus is hand-crafted personal pizzas, but they also serve fresh salads and soups, house made pretzels and other pub grub.
Celebrating 25 years
Next year is R&B Brewing’s 25th anniversary, making it one of BC’s oldest continuously running craft breweries. Fenn says there are plans in the works for celebrations and events throughout 2022 to mark the occasion.
“It’s a pretty significant milestone for a craft brewery to reach.”
R&B Brewing is part of the Vancouver — Brewery Creek Ale Trail alongside other Mount Pleasant favourites like Electric Bicycle Brewing, Brassneck Brewery, 33 Acres Brewing and Main Street Brewing. Find R&B at 54 E 4th Ave. in Vancouver.