It’s not a stretch to say that Canada’s craft beer revolution started in Victoria, British Columbia. Mere months after lawmakers made brewpubs legal in 1984, Spinnakers opened on the shores of Victoria’s Inner Harbor, becoming the nation’s first brewpub — and in 1996, Vancouver Island Brewing opened the first production brewery in downtown Victoria in more than a decade.
It might lack the name recognition of its beer-crazy cousins in Seattle and Vancouver, but after 35 years, Victoria boasts a thriving craft beer scene. The city’s oldest craft breweries remain key contributors to the scene at large, while younger upstarts have developed some of British Columbia’s best, most popular beers. But perhaps the surest sign that craft beer has taken over the city is the fact that Victoria even has its own ale trail.
While this is by no means a guide to all of Victoria’s breweries — the historic Vancouver Island Brewing still churns out high-quality beers 35 years after opening, and Category 12 Brewing offers a fun mix of Belgian-inspired beers and barrel-aged sours, for instance — but consider this a primer for exploring the past, present and future of Victoria’s growing craft beer culture.
Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub & Guesthouses
No trip to Victoria is complete without a stop at Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub & Guesthouses. Spinnakers opened in May of 1984, just months after Canadian lawmakers made it legal to run a brewpub. More than three decades later, the country’s oldest brewpub remains the beating heart of a larger brewing scene.
Visitors will find nearly 30 house-brewed beers on tap at any given time, with a tap list that runs the gamut of styles — including an English-style IPA, an oyster stout, a raspberry lager and more. Yet the beer is just one of the many attractions at Spinnakers. Weary travelers can stay the night in a nine-room guesthouse, dine in a harborside restaurant, or snack on house-made chocolate truffles after dinner.
Inside and out, Canoe Brewpub might deliver the best views on Vancouver Island.
Canoe’s home building was originally built in 1894 to house coal-powered electric generators that powered Victoria’s street lights. Some 125 years later, the brewpub’s chic interior features a mash-up of exposed brick and stylish wood beams. Outside, Canoe hosts a large patio with sweeping views of Victoria’s Upper Harbor, and some of the city’s best sunset views.
Canoe’s lineup of balanced beers offers a fine excuse to indulge in those views. Popular selections include a dry-hopped pale ale, helles and a rotating cast of European-inspired seasonal beers, including a marzen, maibock and witbier.
Moon Brewery & Pub
Moon Brewery & Pub prides itself on delivering a craft beer experience unavailable anywhere else on Vancouver Island. Most of its house-brewed ales and lagers clock in at less than 6% ABV. (When’s the last time you saw that in the IPA-obsessed Pacific Northwest?)It’s not that Moon doesn’t brew an IPA every now and again, but its tap list leans heavily on low-alcohol, English-style ales with a West Coast twist. For example, Moon’s session lager sports notes of orange peel, and its oatmeal session stout offers a mix of chocolate, caramel and subtle plum flavors.
Spend any amount of time in Victoria, and at least one eager local will implore you to order Driftwood Brewery’s Fat Tug IPA.
Fat Tug, introduced in 2010, quickly became Driftwood’s flagship ale and remains one of the best-loved, most popular beers in all of British Columbia, nearly a decade later. (It’s easy to see why: The hop-forward yet well-balanced IPA sports notes of citrus and pine, appealing to hopheads and casual beer drinkers alike.)
Beyond Fat Tug, Driftwood’s lineup features of a mix of popular, easy-drinking styles. Its regular tap list includes a Canadian pale ale, a saison, a witbier, and a North German Pilsner. With an eye toward low-ABV beers, most of Driftwood’s ales and lagers clock in at 5% ABV or less.
Phillips Brewing & Malting Co.
The story of how Matt Phillips launched his eponymous brewery has become the stuff of legend in the British Columbia brewing scene. Phillips applied for loans and financing through every bank or credit union he could find, only to be rejected at every turn. Determined to follow his dream, Phillips applied for myriad credit cards, maxing out each to fund his nascent brewery.
Phillips Brewing opened in 2001, and has since become one of the province’s most celebrated breweries. Its Blue Buck pale ale is among the most popular beers in all of British Columbia and is a staple in restaurants and bars throughout Victoria. Phillips opened a malting facility in 2015, becoming one of the only breweries in Canada to malt its own barley.