It’s always strange to me how close Victoria, British Columbia, is, yet how far away it feels when you’re there. All it takes is a quick boat or float-plane ride to get there and, all of a sudden, you’re in a foreign land enjoying poutine, Mr. Big bars and Canadian craft beers you can’t get south of the border.
Because of exchange rates and import taxes, most Canadian craft beer isn’t available in America. So it always makes for a fun surprise to parachute into a major metro area in British Columbia, pick up a beer guide and start plotting your ale trail.
On a recent trip to Victoria to celebrate my 15th wedding anniversary, my wife was gracious enough to grant me one day to everything beer. I hadn’t been to Victoria in ages and was pleased to find a bunch of craft breweries in town and a few out of town to visit.
Here’s a look at our itinerary and thoughts on each brewery:
Phillips Brewing & Malting
We jumped in a water taxi on the waterfront and took it up to Chinatown near this quirky, fun brewery on Government Street. Started in Matt Phillips’ windowless apartment, Phillips Brewing & Malting is now one of the largest breweries in Victoria.
We settled into a table and ordered a taster flight of a few flagship beers, its Short Wave Pale Ale and Amnesia Double IPA, and two new beers, a Rice IPA and a Fire Smoked Ale. The flagships were solid, but the experimental stuff was really good. There was a lot of depth to the flavor of the smoked ale and the rice IPA had a nice astringency and dryness on the finish.
Phillips not only sells craft beer, but also spirits and sodas. The ambiance of Phillips was the best of the trip. They have a separate shop to buy boxes and singles of their beer and sodas, plus T-shirts and other merchandise emblazoned with colorful logos.
We headed north on Government Street to this brewery located in a large building in an industrial-park setting. Vancouver Island Brewing is a stalwart of the Victoria craft beer scene. Think what Scuttlebutt Brewing means to Everett.
We told the two gentlemen behind the bar to pour us a few of their favorites and walked around the small tasting room, checking out the pictures of beers with the brewery’s old branding. The brewery began in 1984 and moved to its current location 12 years later. It’s easy to find its Islander Lager or Faller Northwest Pale Ale on taplists throughout British Columbia.
The brewery’s Twisted Stalk Blackberry Helles and its subtle blackberry flavor was perfect for the hot summer weather and its hazy IPA, Broken Islands, was good if not great.
Ready for more beer, we headed deeper into the industrial bowels of Victoria to reach Hoyne Brewing. Hoyne’s tasting room is really just a merch shop with a couple of stools. Make sure to bring cash so you can get a taster flight of its most popular beers.
Known for its Dark Matter ale and Summer Haze Honey Hefe, Hoyne sells nearly all of its beer off-site and is ubiquitous in bars and bottleshops around town. I bought a four-pack of 22-ounce bottles in the tasting room, and we headed out.
If there’s an official beer of Victoria, it’s Driftwood’s Fat Tug IPA. If you even remotely ask for a recommendation from a waitress at a restaurant or bar, nearly every one pushes Fat Tug.
The brewery itself has a tasting room more akin to Hoyne than Phillips. It’s intimate and welcoming. A bearded gentleman behind the small bar started pouring us samples (like Hoyne, no pints here) as soon as we entered.
Fat Tug is fine, but I really enjoyed the brewery’s other IPA, Raised By Wolves. Brewed with Ekuanot hops, it’s a beautifully bitter beer that lingers on the palate. I also really enjoyed the Naughty Hildegaard, a PNW-inspired ESB that showcases Mosaic hops.
We didn’t get to this brewery, which is about 45 minutes west of Victoria, but we did try its Bonfire Blonde Ale with dinner at the Sooke Harbour House Hotel & Restaurant. It was a clean blonde ale that was perfect with the salmon we ordered.
On our way out of town, up the Saanich Peninsula, we stopped at this brewery in a strip mall along Keating Cross Road about 20 minutes north of Victoria. With glasses shaped like beakers, Category 12 revels in the science of beer. In line with that, the beer list on its website lists a number of experimental beers brewed with wild yeasts, coffee and more.
We ordered a taster flight of four of its dozen beers on tap. The standout beers were the brewery’s Wild IPA and Insubordinate Session IPA. Unlike some other wild yeast IPAs, Category 12’s is brewed with Saccharomyces Trois wild yeast, and is a nice balance of tart and bitter. Insubordinate had a lot of hop flavor packed into a small package (4.5 percent ABV).
Also on this week’s taster tray:
Apple Jacks Saison, Middleton Brewing: The newest beer in the brewery’s Cereal Killers series, this saison was brewed with Apple Jacks cereal. Available on tap at the brewery and Toggle’s Bottleshop.
Ricer X Pilsner, Dreadnought Brewing: A wild rice lager made with jasmine, wild rice and quinoa and brewed using old-world techniques. Available on tap at the brewery.
Sham Pain, Whitewall Brewing: Made with Azacca and Motueka hops and pilsner malts and red wheat malt, this dry IPA has no residual sugar and is highly carbonated. Available on tap at the brewery.
Belge Noir, Double Bluff Brewing: A black Belgian-style beer made with Belgian yeast and sweet orange peel, giving it caramel, chocolate and roasted flavors. Available on tap at the brewery.
A great guide to British Columbia craft beer is made by The Growler. To purchase The Growler’s B.C. Craft Beer Guide, visit www.thegrowler.ca.
Raised By Wolves
Driftwood Brewery, Victoria, B.C.
Stats: 7 percent ABV
Available: On tap at the brewery and 22-ounce bottles in bottleshops around Victoria, B.C.
From the brewery: Featuring one of the new wave of hop breeds accentuating the fruit-forward characteristics of North American native hops, Ekuanot is yet another answer to brewers craving distinctly North American hops. Paired with intensely fruity, previously named Brett Trois (actually it is wild Saccharomyces), this beer delivers layers of mango, melon and papaya.