Victoria has been BC’s craft beer capital ever since Spinnakers, the first brewpub in Canada, opened in 1984. Prior to then, it was actually illegal in Canada to brew beer and serve it in the same building, but Spinnakers’ trailblazing founders managed to get those archaic laws changed just in time to help kick-start the craft beer revolution in British Columbia and Canada in general.
Today, Victoria is home to nine craft brewing operations—five breweries and four brewpubs—with most of them located in a mile-long loop around the picturesque city’s Upper Harbour. It’s easy to visit two or three in an afternoon or evening—or if you’re a real beer geek, you can tick them all off your list in one busy weekend or over a more leisurely stretch of three or four days. All nine places fill growlers, and Spinnakers and Swans brewpubs also offer accommodation options to make for complete craft beer vacations.
Spinnakers (308 Catherine Street) calls itself a Gastro Brewpub, and I love the food there as much as the beer. Upstairs is the original pub (where children are not allowed) and downstairs is a full-service restaurant (for all ages). The same menu is available on both levels, as are the incredible views of the Inner Harbour.
A 10-minute walk away along the Songhees Walkway to downtown is Swans Brewpub (506 Pandora Ave.), located across from the historic Blue Bridge—to be replaced with a new bridge in 2015. Founded in 1989, Swans fills the ground floor of a beautifully renovated building that was once a grain warehouse, with three floors of hotel rooms above. The pub and hotel rooms are all stocked with artwork from founder Michael C. Williams’ exceptional collection. He donated the entire complex to the University of Victoria upon his death in 2000.
Nearby is the Canoe Brewpub (450 Swift St.) in another amazing building, the brick-clad City Lights Building (built 1894), which originally housed coal-fired generators that powered the city’s streetlights. Following a $6-million heritage restoration in 1996, it offers dramatic vaulted ceilings and exposed beams, as well as one of the city’s best waterfront patios for soaking in the rays come summertime. The beer is great, too.
The final brewpub on the Victoria Beer Mile is not quite so easily accessible by foot, but there is an easy and fun solution: a $5 ride on the Victoria Harbour Ferry, which stops right outside Canoe. Call ahead of time (250 514-9794) to ask for a boat to take you one stop north to Point Ellice Historic House (built in 1861), just beyond the Bay Street Bridge. From there, the newest member of Victoria’s brewpub club, the Moon Under Water (350 Bay St.), which opened in 2010, is only a short walk away.
Named after the fictional ideal pub in a George Orwell essay, the Moon Under Water changed ownership in 2012 and now is being operated by an energetic young couple who inject great energy and enthusiasm into the operation, along with excellent beer.
If you want to stretch the beer mile out over a couple of days, stay at Swans or Spinnakers and visit some of the five excellent craft breweries nearby (listed below). Some offer tours and tastings, and all will fill your growler. Of course, you can also look for their products on tap in local restaurants and pubs, or in bottle/can form in liquor stores around the city.
Victoria’s Craft Breweries:
Driftwood Brewing (102-450 Hillside Avenue)
Hoyne Brewing (101-2740 Bridge Street)
Lighthouse Brewing (2-836 Devonshire Road)
Phillips Brewing (2010 Government Street)
Vancouver Island Brewery (2330 Government Street)
Breweries, Distilleries & Cideries in Victoria, BC