The Amazing Victoria Brewery Tour
While I was in university I lived on Wark Street. The building was not the nicest but it was inexpensive and the view it had looking west towards the Sooke Hills was amazing. One of my favourite things about living there was that being only four blocks to the east of the Vancouver Island Brewery and on a bit of a rise meant that when they were boiling the wort the smell would carry right into the apartment. Back then, there were a couple of small brewpubs, but really only the one craft brewery and Vancouver Island Brewery was it.
The latter half of the 1990’s was the beginning of what has become an astounding beer revolution, not just in Victoria, but across North America. That said, given our city’s size I think we have one of the most rich and long lived beer cultures that you will find on the continent. A further bonus is that due to the compact nature of the city, a large number of the breweries are within just a short walk of each other. If we were in Europe or even in Oregon, the breweries of Victoria would be one of the main tourist attractions, however, for some reason we have decided to leave it a little more hidden than it deserves.
Now I know that the list and walk I have here does not include every brewery in the city; I have included just a certain list that fits within a somewhat linear walk along a specific corridor. It leaves off the historical Spinnakers Brewpub, that can be argued really is the birthplace of the craft brewery movement in Victoria and even Canada. It certainly doesn’t cover off ones out on the Peninsula or on the Westshore, because well they are just too far…
The other thing about this walking guide is that I in no way think that you could make your way along its entire length in one go tasting as you went safely. Perhaps it is a two day walk or maybe just have tastings at half the venues along the way. No matter what when you go on a brewery tour or a wine tour you need to use common sense. With that said, here we go.
The Great Victoria Brewery Walking Tour
To begin the walk you need to get yourself to the corner of Garbally Road and Bridge Street at the northern edge of the Rock Bay neighbourhood (at least as I define Victoria). If you are wanting to have something to eat before getting down to the walk, you could have brunch at Glo Pub which has a brunch on the weekend starting at 10am. You may want some food in your stomach before getting to the first locale. Either way be at the starting point for noon on a Saturday or 3pm on a weekday (I have put the opening times for each place there so you can plan accordingly).
Wednesday to Friday 3pm to 10pm, Saturday Noon to 10pm, Sunday Noon to 8pm, Monday and Tuesday Closed
The Ile Sauvage Brewery is the newest brewery on this list though surely not the newest in Victoria by the time you are reading as there seems to be a new one every other week. They have moved into the space formerly housing one of the Prima Strada Pizzerias. It looks like a light industrial building from the outside but once you enter the tasting room there is a modern bar and the rest of the room holds numerous wooden kegs of their unique take on beer.
This brewery is for now producing mainly “Belgian-style wild ales and sour beers”. I have tried a couple of them and they are truly unique in my experience of beers. I am having the Apricot Golden Sour as I write this and it is one of the most varied beers I have tried. Sour, fruity, but really no sweetness. It is delicious.
When you sit down you can order a flight of beers to be able to try a range of their options and then you can settle in for a favourite in a bigger glass. They also have a number of their beers available to purchase in big 946ml cans in a fridge next to the bar.
When you have had a good selection of choices at Ile Sauvage you will head back out to Bridge Street, turn right and head down the hill. Make sure you take an opportunity to enjoy the view of downtown as you go down the road. As you get to the bottom of the hill you will see a number of the murals that seem to be appearing across Rock Bay (there are some even more amazing ones off the trail about a block to the west of this point). Past the City Works Yard you will start to see a number of windows covered with beer ads and that means you have reached the next stop.
Monday to Saturday 11am to 6pm, Sunday Closed
Now I don’t want to sway anyone’s opinion, but I really like Hoyne. Their pilsner is my go-to pint when I am out at local pubs. The entrance to their store is right by the “Fresh Beer Here” sign on the sidewalk. They do not have a full tasting room and bar like Ile Sauvage, but you can try some samples and get some beer to go if you want. Popping in here for growler fill is a regular Friday afternoon task for many people in the city.
They are also no brewery tours here but it is a no nonsense brewery that makes amazing beer so, you don’t really want to get in the way of that do you?
When you step back outside, you are going to go right and then turn up Hillside Avenue and walk just to the next building up the hill. You will know where to enter when you see the giant tank dressed up like a Russian rocket. You have arrived at Driftwood Brewery.
Monday to Saturday 11am to 6pm, Sunday Closed
Driftwood has been around since 2008 in the same location but they keep making their brewery bigger and bigger. I can remember my first time trying their Fat Tug IPA. That is not a beer to mess with, it is a seriously strong ale. You just have to be careful with it. Some of their other ales are a little more forgiving and still delicious. Like Hoyne, there is no tasting room or brewery tours here but you can certainly have a sample of what is on tap and take something home for later from here. I know that you will want to come back and try some more of their options. Driftwood, also like Hoyne has a significant presence in restaurants locally and in Vancouver. While there is no physical tour, I highly recommend the virtual tour on their website, it is totally fun to move around their operation.
When you step back out to the sidewalk you will turn right and walk up the hill to Turner Street and then turn left. When you get to Bay Street you will want to turn right and part way along the next block you will come to the Moon Brewery and Pub.
Sunday 11:30am to 8pm, Monday to Thursday and Saturday 11:30am to 11pm, Friday 11:30am to midnight
The Moon Brewery & Pub originally opened as the Moon Under the Water Brewpub which was a reference to the article by George Orwell describing the perfect pub which was written in 1946. At some point over the last few years since it opened they have changed to just the Moon Brewery & Pub which is not quite as unique but likely a little less obscure and understandable to people (I prefer the old name…). That said, no matter what name they use this is a great place and a good point on the walk to have a little something to eat. The food here is always delicious, especially their hot wings.
Like Ile Sauvage, you can sit down here and order a flight of their current selection of beers they have on tap. When your food arrives, make sure you order a pint to go with it of whichever was your favourite. They are known for their German style beers as well as a number of sours again like Ile Sauvage. If you are looking for a fun evening, the music trivia nights are a well loved event for locals.
So hopefully you have had a little something else to eat, okay now you get a bit of a walk as it is about 700 metres to the next location, Vancouver Island Brewing Company. You will want to walk east along Bay Street until you get to Government Street. For some fun stops along the way, if you are into design the Gabriel Ross Furniture Store on the corner of Bay and Rock Bay Avenue is stunning both inside and out. If you are a frequent reader you may recognise the tiny park on the corner of Bay and Government as the Saddest Public Space in Victoria! As you walk down Government towards downtown, the first building you will come across is Vancouver Island Brewing.
Sunday to Thursday 11am to 6pm, Friday to Saturday 11am to 7pm
So this is one of the originals, according to their website, they started up in 1984, which would put them just behind the opening of Spinnakers Brewpub, though they were originally known as Island Pacific Brewing. When I moved to Victoria in 1995, the Pipers Pale Ale and Victoria Lager were really the only local craft beers you could buy when you were out, but they were good and people did buy them. By the time Lighthouse and Phillips were starting up, Vancouver Island was almost seen as the old-fashioned establishment beer to the new trendy start-ups, but they have shaken that image a little in the last few years, mostly because they aren’t the biggest any more with Phillips easily out-sizing them years ago.
For longtime islanders, having a glass of the Hermannator at Christmastime is an annual tradition. Many of their new beers are even more adventurous and follow many of the recent trends in beers with quite a few saison and even a gose. There is a nice tasting room right when you walk into the brewery and you can go on a tour of the brewery if you would like to here. You can even see those giant kettles that used to boil the smell of the mash into my old apartment. After a trying a couple of the options that they have on tap you will want to get back on Government Street and keep walking south. Once you cross Pembroke you are in Phillips Brewing territory. Almost this entire block is owned by Phillips and the various parts are used for different aspects of this beer empire.
Sunday to Wednesday Noon to 8pm, Thursday to Saturday Noon to 10pm
Phillips Brewing is the undoubted king of the local beer scene, it is huge and always coming out with new and exciting beers to try. It is also at the centre of the beer culture in the city, hosting massive music and food events. It wasn’t always that way. Matt Phillips, the owner, started out as a one man operation back in 2001.
I have my own disputed part of this beer history. When I was working as the Manager of a restaurant named Wickard’s in 2002 we decided to give Phillips beer a chance along with the Lighthouse beers we already had on tap. This would have been spring 2002, now somewhere around the same time the Garrick’s Head Pub also put Phillips on tap. So while I maintain that we were first, I am certain we were no less than second to put this brewery on our taps. While the Espresso Stout was not a huge sell over that summer, the Raspberry Wheat Ale was extremely popular.
On the corner of Bay and Discovery, Phillips has recently completed the construction of a huge tasting room. It is often bustling with locals and tourists but they will definitely have room for you. Just across the street from the tasting room was home to the Victoria-Phoenix Brewery which has been immortalised in the Phillips Phoenix Lager. The brewery building was actually a beautifully ornate building that for some reason the City allowed Labatt to tear down in 1982, just before the beginning of the beer revolution starting here.
After you have sampled a couple of the options at Phillips you can head back out to Government Street and continue south. Two blocks further along you will get to Herald Street where you will want to turn right. Go straight to the end of the street, crossing Store Street on your way and you will find yourself at the top of a set of stairs next to a large brick building. Before heading down the stairs make sure you take in the great view of the upper harbour from here.
Sunday to Wednesday 11:30am to 11pm, Thursday 11:30am to midnight, Friday & Saturday 11:30am to 1am
The brick building that houses the Canoe Brewpub is known as the City Lights building and it used to be a power generation building in the late 1800’s. I have more on it in my post on adaptive re-use here. When the brewpub first opened it was known as the Canoe Club Brewpub, at some point over the last twenty years the ‘club’ was dropped from the name. While the beer here is not perhaps as cutting edge as others in the city, it is solid drinkable beer. Some local beer greats like Sean Hoyne of Hoyne Brewing have worked here.
Like the Moon Brewpub, this a local hangout, especially on the weekend if you want to see some music and have a fun night of dancing all while drinking great beer. While you taste your flight here make sure you take in the amazing architecture of the place, it is likely the coolest restaurant space in Victoria. The food here is also great and the patio outside in the summer is perhaps one of the best ones along the water anywhere downtown.
Once you are done here, walk out to the left and head up Swift Street back to Store Street, cross the street and then head south but just one block to Swans Brewpub and Hotel.
Monday to Saturday 11am to 1am, Sunday 11am to midnight
Swans is another early home to the craft beer movement here in Victoria, opening in 1989. The beers here, like Canoe, are maybe not as adventurous as some of the other breweries but they are good and the cozy traditional feel of the pub makes having a beer here a great experience. The entire pub is going through a renovation right now so I have not seen how that transformation is changing the pub but will have to soon.
After you have dropped your last sip here you have made it through the beer walk.
If you are still wanting to try some more beer after Swans, just across the street is the Drake Pub which has one of the most eclectic and dynamic beer menus in the city. You are always certain to find something both unique and delicious to try here.
So let me know in the comments which place is your favourite? If it is not on the list let me know as well!