It is not exactly news to most people in the Pacific Northwest that Victoria, British Columbia makes for a great weekend getaway. It is only a couple hours away from Seattle but it feels like an entirely different country. Yes, I recognize that it is in fact a different country, but what I mean is that there is something continental about Victoria—a European vibe that is uncommon for a city on the western edge of North America.
Many people think of lace doilies and hand-painted china teacups when they think of Victoria, but those days are all but gone. Sure, you can still enjoy high tea at the Empress Hotel, but Victoria is otherwise a hip and vibrant city with a rapidly growing craft beer scene to prove it.
Recently we paid a visit to Victoria. We spent the first day attending the Great Canadian Beer Festival, to which we will dedicate another post. We spent the second day discovering Victoria by foot. In other words, we went beer trekking. That adventure is the focus of this story. As we discovered firsthand that –like the rest of Canada– Victoria is enjoying the benefits of the craft beer revolution.
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There are a number of different transportation options and countless lodging options for your Victoria getaway. Take the Victoria Clipper from Seattle, as we opted to do, or consider the Black Ball Ferry from Port Angeles. If you want to save time and enjoy a special treat, consider flying on Kenmore Air. Our recommendation is that you check with Clipper Vacations and consider one of their package deals.
Victoria Beer Trekking
We stepped aboard the harbor taxi (H2O Taxi) and quickly tried to strike up a conversation with the pilot. I described the dark, narrow critter we saw running along the shore, darting between and over the rocks before disappearing beneath a nearby dock. Our boat’s pilot was a friendly enough sort of fellow, but he was obviously a man of few words. “It was a mink,” he said curtly, not as if he was bothered but as if it was difficult to push words through his thick mustache. “You’re lucky. I don’t see those very often. Once, twice a year.”
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The pilot seemed certain about the mink. He was equally unsure when I told him where we wanted to disembark and why, convinced we had been misguided. “There’s nothing up there,” he said without mincing words or belaboring the point. We knew that he was wrong and that he obviously was not a craft beer enthusiast.
We thanked him as we stepped off the small boat and onto the dock. Heading up the trail, it was a bit like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. We were surprised to discover that the path led to a proper English garden complete with people enjoying a sophisticated tea on the lawn. As we hiked unceremoniously through their lunch they didn’t even notice us, maintaining sharp focus on their conversations, confections and small sandwiches.
We discovered our way through the neatly groomed garden and around the historic mansion. The college-aged kid at the entrance seemed startled but not at all bothered that we were exiting without having ever entered.
Across the parking lot, we stepped out into the street and suddenly found a new appreciation of our pilot’s misgivings. Like the historic Point Ellice House, from which we had just exited, beer trekkers seemed out of place here. This was a gritty, industrial part of town: the kind of place you expect to find an auto-wrecking yard but not a brewery. Serenaded by the screech and clamor of a nearby metal-on-metal contraption, I pulled the water bottle out of my satchel, took a sip and passed it along. We checked the map and began walking.
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We found the brewery a few blocks away. In fact, there were three breweries within just a few blocks of each other. This was the northern border of our Victoria beer trek. From here, we would wander our way south and west into the heart of the city, visiting breweries and sampling the city’s wares along the way.
Being from Seattle, the lack of elevation gain was noticeable and welcomed. Victoria is an immensely easy city to navigate by foot. This beer trek was more like a series of easy strolls punctuated with beer and a short boat ride. In all, we walked about three miles and visited eight breweries. It was a great way to spend an afternoon experiencing Victoria.
A Foot Tour of Victoria’s Breweries
Starting from downtown Victoria, cross the Johnson Street Bridge headed west. Once across the bridge, follow the Songhees Walkway, hugging the northern shore of the harbor. Enjoy the one-mile stroll along the water and discovery Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub overlooking the harbor. This is a full-service brewpub and is a great place to enjoy brunch or lunch as you begin the day’s adventure. The view from the deck upstairs cannot be beat.
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From Spinnaker’s, backtrack on the Songhees Walkway, heading east about a quarter mile to the dock for the H2O Taxi. Wait on the dock and trust that a boat will come along shortly. When the H2O Taxi arrives, tell your pilot that you want to go to Point Ellice (pronounced “Point Ellis”). For just a few dollars, you get a boat ride, the invigorating smell of the sea air, and a view of this beautiful city from the water.
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When you disembark, walk up the trail and through the garden at Point Ellice House. Go a half block north on Pleasant Street and turn right onto Hillside Avenue. Walk about two blocks east to Driftwood Brewing Company. The brewery was closed when we arrived and there were no signs that they were ever open to the public—it appeared to be a production-only facility. A note on the door suggested that Driftwood Brewing planned to open for tastings and growler fills in the near future.
Across the parking lot, on the corner of Hillside Avenue and Bridge Street, you will find Hoyne Brewing Company (samples and growler fills only). As we sampled the brewery’s excellent beers on a Saturday afternoon, a constant stream of customers toting growlers came through the door. The owner/brewer apparently spent many years brewing for one of Victoria’s other breweries before opening his own in January of 2012.
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Walk south on Bridge Street for two blocks and then turn right on Bay Street. Walk a block west on Bay Street and you will find Moon Under Water Brewpub. When we were there, we learned that the brewery recently changed hands. In fact, the switchover was so fresh that most of the beers we tasted were from the old brewer. Our favorite of the lot happened to be the one beer brewed by the new owner/brewer.
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From Moon Under Water, walk four blocks east on Bay Street and turn right on Government Street. Now you are headed back downtown. Less than a block down the street you will encounter Vancouver Island Brewing Company. You cannot miss it. This is the largest brewery you will visit on your Victoria beer adventure. You can enjoy samplers and get beer to go.
Following Government Street toward downtown, you will find Phillips Brewing just three blocks away. I hate picking favorites, but if I had to, this would be it. Not only are the beers outstanding, the vibe here is as quirky and cool as the label artwork for which Phillips Brewing enjoys some notoriety. We sampled some beers and watched thirsty Victorians fill growler after growler.
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You are basically back downtown at this point. Canoe Brewpub is located on the harbor shore at the end of Swift Street. This large brewpub has a decidedly urban vibe. The patio overlooks a private marina and at night you should expect a lively crowd of 20- and 30-somethings packing the bar for live music and dancing (Thursday – Saturday).
Just a couple blocks away at the intersection of Store Street and Pandora Avenue, Swans Brewpub sits beneath Swans Hotel on a bustling corner in the heart of the city. Do not expect to be drinking beer amidst fermentation tanks and brew kettles. In fact, you will hardly notice that it is a brewery at all. That is not a bad thing; it is just the fact of the matter. Swans’ beers have won their share of medals on the Canadian beer scene.
In addition to the breweries mentioned above, we did not visit Lighthouse Brewing, which is located just less than one mile northeast of Spinnakers.
If you are looking for a great place downtown to sample an assortment of beers from Victoria’s breweries, we recommend Garrick’s Head Pub near the corner of Government Street and View Street. Located below the Bedford Regency Hotel, the pub has been serving beer since 1867. They must be doing something right.
Tip of the hat to our friend the Urban Beer Hiker who gave us the idea and starting point for our trek. His post: http://www.urbanbeerhikes.com/2012/08/central-victoria-bc.html.
View Victoria Beer Trek in a larger map
Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub
308 Catherine Street
Victoria, BC V9A 3S8
Driftwood Brewing Company
Suite 102-450 Hillside Ave
Victoria, BC V8T 1Y7
Hoyne Brewing Company
101-2740 Bridge Street,
Victoria, BC V8T 5C5
(250) 590 5758
Moon Under Water Brewpub
350 Bay Street
Victoria, BC V8T 1P7
Vancouver Island Brewing
2330 Government Street
Victoria, BC V8T 5G5
2010 Government Street
Victoria, BC V8T 1H3
450 Swift Street
Victoria, BC V8W 1V4
Swans Brewpub and Hotel
506 Pandora Avenue
Victoria, BC V8W 1N6
Lighthouse Brewing Company
#2-836 Devonshire Rd
Victoria, BC V9A 4T4
Gerrick’s Head Pub
69 Bastion Square
Victoria, BC V8W 1Y2