By TRACY SHERLOCK, Vancouver Sun

The craft beer industry is growing rapidly in B.C., with more than 64 breweries already operating, new ones popping up all over and at least two large production plants being built.

Meanwhile, sales at larger breweries are falling as people’s tastes shift from mass-market beer to the more diverse selection of flavours offered in craft beers.

The new Tap & Barrel in Olympic Village has 24 B.C. craft beer taps and one beer engine dispenser. The restaurant’s owner Daniel Frankel decided to offer only B.C. beers on tap to provide a showcase for local products.

“We have such good products here in B.C. that we wanted to celebrate that,” Frankel said. The selection will change regularly, and every Tuesday a new cask is tapped with a proprietary beer made just for Tap & Barrel that will be served only for one week.

Vancouver’s Lundy Dale fell in love with craft beer about 12 years ago. She decided to do something to promote the industry and she is now president of CAMRA BC (the Campaign for Real Ale, a consumer-based organization that promotes craft beer), the Director of B.C. Craft Beer Month, a certified cicerone (like a sommelier for beer), and an organizer of Barley’s Angels, a group for women interested in craft beer.

“The beer is so incredibly good tasting, and you know you are getting a good product,” Dale said. “The brew masters are artists — they love what they are doing and they’re passionate about it.”

Craft brewers have doubled production in North America since 2003, while import beer’s market share has tripled. By comparison, lager beers — the core offering of the major breweries — have been experiencing a multi-year decline, BMO found in a report last week.

Frankel said the upswing in popularity of craft beer is because people are becoming “connoisseurs of quality.

“I think people are a lot more educated and that value today is less on price point, and more on quality,” Frankel said, adding that people also want to support local businesses and the local economy.

Sales figures from the BC Liquor Distribution Branch show that breweries with annual production up to 160,000 hectolitres (100 litres) had growth of 14.81 per cent in sales in litres, and 15.80 per cent in sales dollars in June 2012 compared to June 2011. Meanwhile, breweries with more production saw sales in retail dollars fall by 1.83 per cent in the same period and sales in litres fall by 1.70 per cent.

People are buying more craft beer in the liquor stores now, more restaurants have started selling craft beer and more people are falling in love with the flavours, Dale said.

Iain Hill, brewmaster at the Mark James Group, operator of three brewery restautrants in the Lower Mainland, called it a “second renaissance” of craft beer, saying that the industry started about 15 to 20 years ago in B.C., and has surged again in the past five years.

Craft beer is getting to be so popular that some breweries are reaching capacity.

Dale said one example is Crannog Ales, an organic ale producer in Sorrento on the shores of Shuswap Lake, that is making beer at full capacity.

“They [breweries] have never had that before,” Dale said. “At R & B Brewing Company, (where Dale works as an office manager) we can’t keep up with the demand. Places like Joeys and Earls are all of a sudden phoning and wanting to bring in our beers.”

Frankel said Tap & Barrel is selling 50 litres every day of Seedspitter Watermelon Wit beer, made in Vancouver by Parallel 49 Brewing.

“I know they’re having a trouble keeping up with production to meet the demand,” Frankel said. “Some of the breweries are getting a little tapped out right now.”

Gary Lohin, brewmaster at Central City Brewers and Distillers, maker of Red Racer Beers, is experiencing similar problems meeting demand for his products.

“The last year in B.C. has gone crazy,” Lohin said. “Most restaurants are now selling craft beer.”

Because of the increasing demand for his beer, Lohin and his business partners are building a $20-million, 70,000-square-foot production facility in Surrey, where he hopes to produce not only more beer, but also to brew more creative beers.

“I have so many recipes that I can’t brew because our hands are tied here,” he says of his existing space on 102nd Avenue in Surrey, which he has outgrown since opening in 2003.

“In the last four to five months we’ve had quite a few breweries opening up,” Dale said, listing Coal Harbour and Parallel 49 among the newcomers.

Mark James and Red Truck Brewing are opening a new 20,000-square-foot brewery on First Avenue east of Main Street that should be producing beer by fall 2013.

Last month, the Vancouver Courier reported that the owners of The Cascade Room, Habit Lounge, The Union and El Camino plan to open a restaurant and a 6,000-square-foot brewery for its Main Street Pilsner just off Main Street on East Seventh and that Nigel Springthorpe, co-owner of the Alibi Room, and brewer Conrad Gmoser, who worked at Steamworks for more than 15 years, plan to open The Brassneck Brewery on Main near Sixth.

One of the reasons for craft beer’s growth might be that there are so many different flavours and varieties. Before she started working at R & B, Dale worked in liquor stores, sourcing and recommending the best beers. She says everyone’s palate is different, but that there is usually a beer to suite all tastes.

“When it comes to beer, you have a choice between malty, which is sweeter, and hoppy, which is bitter,” Dale said. The options range from sweet caramel to chocolate coffee to a crisp grapefruit citrus flavour, she said. “I want to try everything,” she said.

Dale said a new trend in the industry is nano breweries — very small breweries, one step up from home brewers.

“They will just do one or two brews and you have to show up with your own container and fill it up,” Dale said.

North Vancouver’s Bridge Brewing normally brews just one beer: North Shore Pale. Founder Jason Stratton and partner Patrick Doré sold out of that product for two weeks earlier in the summer, and are now selling a seasonal offering, Endless Summer Pale Ale.

Stratton said most of the brewery’s sales are done at the brewery, with people filling up 1.89-litre growlers on Friday and Saturday afternoons. Frankie’s Italian Kitchen also serves Bridge Brewing beer, and the partners hope to supply more restaurants in the future.

“Even though we are fairly new to the market, we have received incredible support from the community and we anticipate that this relationship will continue to grow with beer lovers across the Lower Mainland,” Stratton said in an email. “Brewing beer is our passion and we hope to share it with like minded beer aficionados in the community. To this end, we will consider all sales opportunities that help put our product in pint glasses.”

October is Craft Beer Month in B.C., which Dale said is a celebration that will include collaboration beers, special release beers and parties.

“There are still a lot of people who don’t know that B.C. has some of the best craft beer brewers in the country,” Dale said. “People are beginning to realize that the craft beer scene is going crazy. It’s really exciting.”

tsherlock@vancouversun.com