Paris is the City of Lights. New York is “the city that never sleeps.”
Victoria? It’s the City of Beers.
Home to Canada’s first brew pub, Spinnakers, which opened in 1984, Victoria is a city of pubs and many, many beers. The night-club scene is woeful and sad, but the pub scene? Bottoms up, buddy.
Better than that, it’s the microbrew capital of Canada, loaded with brewpubs and breweries of all sizes.
Last week, a friend from Vancouver popped by my place, and we opened an assortment of made-on-the-Islands goodness, from Vancouver Island Brewing’s “Hermannator” and Phillips Blue Buck to Salt Spring Island’s Fireside Ale. He commented how a lot of the draft beer served in big-city Vancouver pubs now comes from Vancouver Island.
And why not? It’s a small city, but the beer ain’t small on taste, or low on skilled makers.
Phillips has come on strong in Vancouver, for one. Back when the 2010 Olympics hit Vancity, I remember some reports claiming Matt Lauer of NBC’s news crew fell hard and deep for Phillips’ Blue Buck Ale. Why wouldn’t he? In the three years since, it’s become a mainstay both on and off the Island, loved for its almost-perfect balance of hops, malts, and awesomeness.
Fact is, any way you pour it, Victoria is a beer haven, offering everything from culinary festivals revolving around beer, The Great Canadian Beer Festival, right through to brewpubs featuring year-round great farm-to-plate food offerings that showcase both beer and beer-drinkers as having great taste.
In a walkable distance from the downtown core of Victoria are at least eight beer-swilling havens any beer-loving fan should explore over time.
For breweries making beer you can buy in better beer shops, or on their premises (including growler-filling), beer fans can check out the big and the small, including (in no particular order):
- Vancouver Island Brewery: Home of Hermann’s Dark, Piper’s Pale Ale, Spyhopper, Stormwatcher, and others
- Phillips Beer: Makers of Dr. Funk’s Dunkel, Hop Circle IPA, Blue Buck Ale, Longboat Chocolate Porter, and so much more
- Hoyne Brewing: Makers of Summer Haze Honey Hefe, Big Bock, Dark Matter, Devil’s Dream IPA, and, yes… more!
- Lighthouse Brewing Co.: Makers of Switchback IPA, Keeper’s Stout, Race Rocks Ale, Beacon IPA, but, wait, there’s more!
- Driftwood Brewery: Makers of White Bark Ale, Farmhand Ale, Crooked Coast Altbier, Fat Tug IPA, and naturally, more
There’s at least one beer I love made by each brewery, for all occasions. All have fantastic variety boosted by seasonal offerings. It’s a beautiful thing being able to drink such quality malty offerings just a hop away home.
The breweries keep bankers’ hours, and only on select days of the week in some cases, so they’re a daytime deal and you’re best to check before you visit. Do tasting tours by bike, breaking up your day in between with shops or errands, or maybe kayaking on the Gorge to get from Esquimalt to Downtown Vic for pints at Canoe, with a stagger over to Phillips, or vice versa.
But the local-beer love doesn’t stop there.
After hours (or during the day… you gotta eat, after all), the brewpubs in Vic are fantastic.
Victoria set the standard for brewpubs in Canada when they opened the country’s first, Spinnakers, who are a do-it-themself gastropub making everything from truffles to pastries, and who have a bed-and-breakfast on site as well.
But they’re not alone. There’s Canoe Brewpub, Moon Under Water, and Swan’s. (Personally, not a fan of Swan’s, having had terrible service and average food in the past, and the Urbanspooners seem to agree. Moon Under Water is yet to be experienced by yours truly, but Canoe and Spinnakers do not disappoint.)
Beyond the brewpubs offering their own beers, many of which can be bought in bottles, there are a number of great pubs in town, including the likes of the recently expanded Garrick’s Head Pub, which has been a public house ever since 1867.
This really is a beer-lover’s paradise, and I strongly encourage beer fans to consider making a pilgrimmage to Victoria. Play outside and have some beers in between. This is Canada’s playground, with the mildest climate in the country, and all that extra play time really does make one thirsty for hoppy, malty goodness.
It took moving to Victoria to help me get my love back for beer after years of being a wine fan, and I’d like to thank the City of Beers for that.
Between cycling to breweries for big growlers of fresh beer and trying bottled microbrews with great homecooking, or sneaking an illegal beer for enjoying while I catch a sunset down Dallas Road, I feel like appreciating a cold beer is a part of being at home in Victoria.
It’s a growing contributor in the local economy, and the fine crafters of beers are getting more confident about offering unique brews.
For those reasons, and many more, I plan to do in-depth looks at each microbrewery, and likely the brewpubs too, over the spring, summer, and fall, and you’ll see me often reporting on what I think about the seasonal beers up for grab from each.
I’ll even have beer-drinking activity tours I’ll design and share with you. Because: Beer!
Drink local. When you’re the microbrew capital of the country, it just makes sense.