In early spring of 2004, I had an opportunity to take a short trip to a Canadian city that I always wanted to visit: Victoria, British Columbia. Victoria is an absolutely beautiful city located on Vancouver Island in Canada's west coast; a city that feels like it is in bloom all year round. The city is situated in a wonderful natural setting with mountains, water and green plentiful.
Victoria is also a great city for brewpubs. Similar to another Canadian city on the other side of the country - Halifax - brewpubs thrive in Victoria. In spring 2004 there were four brewpubs in Victoria, all of which I visited.
The first brewpub visited, arguably the city's most famous, is Spinnakers, located at 308 Catherine Street. Spinnakers is Canada's first brewpub, having opened in 1984. This is a gorgeous, multi-level brewpub facing the inner harbour of Victoria, with a restaurant on the main floor and pub upstairs. Each level of the brewpub has two patios.
Spinnakers is an outstanding experience in every respect. Virtually every aspect of the establishment is excellent: the service, the food, the beer, the scenery. From virtually anywhere in the brewpub, you can overlook the inner harbour and see mountain ranges in the distance. To sit on their patio, enjoy a fine beer and take in the scenery is a very memorable experience.
From a beer perspective, Spinnakers has an ever-changing range of on-site produced products available. At the time of my visit, Spinnakers featured Doc Hadfield's Pale Ale, Mitchell's ESB and Spring Stout available on cask. On regular draught they featured Honey Pale, Pilsner, IPA and Swartz Beer. Often they have more beers available than this depending on the time of year. Definitely an interesting mix of varied beers available to try.
Spinnakers also has an on-site retail store, which offers their own bottled beers, rare micro brews from British Columbia and around the world, and wine and spirits. In-house malt vinegar and breads also available, as are local cheeses and fine chocolates. A topic for another day is off-sales, which are permitted at British Columbia brewpubs. This allows brewpubs to sell their products bottled on site for patrons to take home (this is not permitted in Ontario).
Spinnakers is also a guest house, with rooms available at their main brewpub location and in houses that they own just behind the brewpub. Staying at Spinnakers is an extra treat - they have large, spacious suites and full breakfast at the pub is included with your stay. To top off the already great experience at Spinnakers, from your suite you can order a pitcher of beer from the brewpub and having it personally delivered. Outstanding.
From Spinnakers, it is a 15 minute walk along the harbour shore to get to downtown Victoria. In downtown is where the city's three other brewpubs can be found.
After crossing the Johnson Street bridge and you have two options nearby. Just north of the bridge, facing the water is Canoe, located at 450 Swift Street.
Canoe is a large, spacious brewpub and restaurant in an old red-brick building. It is a multi-level establishment, with a bar area and restaurant, and a patio facing the water. The views from the patio are not spectacular, since this particular spot faces the bridge on one side, and an industrial area on the other. Regardless, it is a nice patio with lots of sunshine and a great place to enjoy a beer. Canoe has a great interior, with a post-and-beam design and lots of comfortable leather couches and seating.
Canoe has four regular house beers, with a rotating seasonal. Their regular beers are Red Canoe Lager, Siren's Song Pale Ale, River Rock Bitter and Beaver Brown Ale. Their seasonals include Oatmeal Stout (which was available when I visited), Honey Wheat, Copper Bock, Marzen, Maple Wheat and Hefeweizen. Their beers are also available for off-sales by the bottle or growler. They have a full menu with many imaginative selections.
A couple of minutes away lies Swan's, a well-known Victoria brewpub at 506 Pandora Street. Swan's is also a hotel, occupying a number of floors above the pub. Swan's bills itself as an "art hotel" and features works of art throughout the pub and the hotel as well. The pub section is quite spacious with a nice glassed-in patio and features a full food menu.
Swan's features a wide range of beers, including Buckerfield's Bitter, Swan's Oatmeal Stout, Appleton Brown Ale, Pandora Pale Ale, Arctic Ale, Old Towne Bavarian Lager, Raspberry Ale and Riley's Scotch Ale. Beers are also exclusively available at their on-site store.
Victoria's fourth brewpub is Hugo's, located at 625 Courtney Street in downtown. Hugo's is an interesting establishment, as they have separate restaurant and bar/nightclub sections, each serving their house beers.
Hugo's beer line includes Tsunami Pilsner, Bombshell Blonde Ale, Pale Moon Ale, Voodoo Porter and Super G Ginseng Cream Ale. Hugo's bar section features a long bar with numerous couches for comfortable seating. We visited the bar section during the day, but it seemed like a place that would get quite busy during the evening. We did not visit the restaurant section.
Overall, Victoria is one of the nicest cities I have been to in Canada, if not anywhere. Often I hear that Victoria is a place where Canadians would happily move to - and this is completely true. Victoria is a beautiful city with a gorgeous natural setting, friendly people and of course, four great brewpubs. It would be a nice life to be able to sit on Spinnakers' patio and enjoy their beers and the setting whenever you desire.