Posted tagged ‘. brewpub’

Back to Victoria: Craig Street Brewpub

July 3, 2015

Swan’s: still unvisited

After Elaine dragged me out of Phillips’ tasting room, I checked my list of breweries and brewpubs in Victoria that I hadn’t visited. Hey, only one brewpub remained: the venerable Swan’s Hotel.

Swan’s, a combination of boutique hotel and brewery, has been around since 1989. In years past, I had quaffed ale in their brewpub, but had never seen their brewing operation.

Alas, I never made it past the receptionist. Brewers are busy people, don’tcha know, they can’t just have anyone walk off the street and bother them. No, it really didn’t matter that I write a beer blog. Neither did I gain any traction by showing her my list with every name checked off except Swan’s.

So, Swan’s remains on my “to be visited” list. Guess I’ll have to call ahead and make an appointment next time I’m in town.


Only $350,000…? Hmmm.

(Update: Since my visit, another brewery has opened up in the Victoria area, the curiously named Category 12, apparently started up by a scientist who is turning his homebrewing hobby into a business. So now I have two places on my list.)


How can one visit Fisherman’s Wharf and not eat seafood?

It was still morning, and seemed a bit too early to head back to the Comox Valley, so we drove down to a part of the Inner Harbour called Fisherman’s Wharf. This part of the harbour is home (literally) to several dozen gaily painted floating houses. (“Floating houses”, not “houseboats” — apparently houseboats have their own engine for moving from place to place — these houses have to be towed from mooring to mooring.) We saw one for sale for only $350,000 (plus $970 per month in mooring fees, but interestingly, no property taxes, which makes sense since you’re floating on the ocean). For a brief moment, I imagined myself living down by the Inner Harbour. But there’s all of those pesky tourists (like us) gawking at your house every day and wondering out loud about living down by the Inner Harbour. Besides, was I ready to eat seafood every day?

Craig Street

Craig Street Brewpub, on Craig St.

With that in mind, we sat down and ate some seafood. Mmmm, maybe I could live like this.

And then it was time to head back up-Island. Of course there was a massive traffic stoppage at the narrow Malahat Pass — a multi-vehicle accident right at the summit of the pass had traffic stopped in both directions for over an hour. In fact it took so long to get over the pass that we decided to stop for some refreshments in Duncan, a small town just north of the Malahat.

pale ale

All hail Arbutus Pale Ale!

And where better to stop than Craig Street Brewpub, which predictably is located on Craig Street.

Constant readers of this blog will know that when I come across a well-made northwest pale ale, I rejoice. And at Craig Street, there was cause for rejoicing. All thoughts of traffic stoppages were erased by a pint of Arbutus Pale Ale, an unfiltered, aromatic gem. A small pizza and a sharing plate of panko-crusted crab cakes definitely left us gruntled.

(I’m assuming that since “disgruntled” means unhappy, “gruntled” must mean the opposite, right?)


Shiny brewhouse with a surprising amount of space

Unfortunately the Craig Street brewer was not at work when we were there, so all I could do was gaze through the window at the brewhouse, which seemed to be about 10 hL. Everything looked nice and shiny, and I was surprised at how much room the brewhouse and fermenters had. As I have mentioned before, often brewpub equipment is shoehorned into spaces so small, the brewer has to add “contortionist” to his or her resume in order to be hired.

120 kph

Check out the speed limit sign: 120!

But alas, we really had to get back to the Valley. As we hit the long straight stretches of the Island Highway north of Nanaimo, we got a pleasant surprise: the speed limit, which had been 110 km/hr (70 mph) the previous day, had been upgraded overnight to 120 km/hr (75 mph). Wheee!



Back to Victoria: Canoe Brewpub

June 9, 2015

O what a rogue and peasant slave am I! Not only have I neglected this blog as of late, but I realize, to my chagrin, that although I visited a number of breweries in Victoria almost a year ago, I still haven’t written a word about them.

So let’s set the Wayback Machine for last July. Elaine & I were again visiting relatives  in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. Despite the fact that the Valley is the third largest population centre on Vancouver Island, there were NO breweries in the area.

(Such is the incredible growth of craft beer in BC though, that since our visit, THREE breweries have opened in the Comox Valley: Cumberland Brewing, Forbidden Brewing and Gladstone Brewing. Gladstone actually just won a bronze medal for their porter at the Canadian Brewing Awards this past weekend. Definitely worth a visit this summer.)

Java the Hut

Java Junction, aka Java the Hut

Back in 2013, I had managed to visit about half of the breweries and brewpubs in Victoria. Given the lack of local beer near us, I managed to convince Elaine that we should head down to Victoria for a couple of days to see if we could visit the breweries I hadn’t seen yet.

Armed with espresso-based beverages from a small establishment we call Java the Hut, we started early and, aided by the 110 kilometre per hour speed limit, we made the pleasant drive down-Island. When we arrived, it was noon-ish, so what better way to start our visit than with lunch at CANOE Brewpub?

Canoe Brewpub

Canoe Brewpub

CANOE is housed in a 19th-century warehouse down by the harbour. On a warm summer day, with the sun shining down, people walking by on the wooden boardwalk, boats sailing past, and cold beer in front of you, this might be the best place in the city to have lunch. Actually it might be the best place in Canada to have lunch.

As if to emphasize this, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of brown fur beside us. Expecting to see someone’s dog out for a walk, I turned and realized a large sea otter was gamboling down the boardwalk less than six feet away. Before I could get my camera up for a shot, the otter slid into the water and disappeared.


No otter in sight

It certainly gave Elaine and I something to chat about while our drinks arrived. I had ordered an IPA, of course — this was the West Coast, after all, and who am I to swim against the tide? The IPA turned out to be very tasty, so I asked our server if it would be possible to speak with the brewer. No, apparently the brewer was not in today. But the assistant brewer was here, would I like to speak with her? Sure.

Now remember, I was currently sitting 3500 km (2200 mi) from the college. So imagine my surprise when a few minutes later one of our Brewmaster students, Hannah Lee, appeared at our table. Hannah was on her summer break between the first and second year of the program, and had chosen to come to Victoria to brew at CANOE. Not only was she brewing for them, she had designed the recipe for a saison that was currently on draft and in the warm summer sun, was selling like the proverbial hotcakes.

Hannah Lee

Hannah Lee in her domain, holding a glass of her saison.

Hannah offered to take me on a tour of the brewhouse, so I left Elaine to sit in the sun and watch out for large otters, and headed inside.

CANOE has a 20-hectolitre brewhouse, and like several other brewpubs in older buildings that I have seen, it is kind of shoehorned into a small space. Of course the less space the brewhouse takes, the more tables for paying customers you can fit in.

Hannah seemed to be having a good time working here, so after tasting some of her saison — I didn’t want to be rude, right? — I said goodbye and headed outside to finish lunch with Elaine.

Verdict: great beer, good food, world’s best patio.



West Coast Journey: Spinnaker’s Brewpub

June 24, 2013

After spending several hours walking from my Victoria hotel to four breweries and back again, I thought my day as a pedestrian was finished. However, as I arrived back at the hotel, I got a message from Elaine that shopping was taking longer than expected and she would be another hour.


Bakery in downtown Victoria has the craft brew vibe.

Another hour? Hmmm. A quick visit to the internet told me that I was a 20-minute walk from Spinnaker’s Gastro Brewpub. Twenty minutes there, twenty minutes to drink a pint, twenty minutes back, would be…. hey, exactly an hour.  The universe was displaying a synchronicity that I dared ignore only at my peril.

Back outside into the sun and down the street towards Victoria’s beautiful Inner Harbour. As I walked, I came across an amusing sidewalk sign outside a bakery that said much about how craft beer has entered B.C.’s culinary landscape: “White cheddar & beer muffins!”

I was so amused, I went inside and bought one. Who can resist the power of advertising?

Inner Harbour

Victoria’s Inner Harbour framed by the distant Olympic Mountains.

I reached the Inner Harbour and walked across the Johnson Street Bridge, a lift bridge built way back in 1924 that allows small boats access to the inner reaches of Victoria’s waterways. The view of the provincial legislature framed the white-capped peaks of Washington state’s distant Olympic Mountains tempted me to stop and gaze. However, the sun was hot and cold beer was calling so on I strolled.

Spinnaker's Gastro Brewpub, Victoria

Spinnaker’s Gastro Brewpub, Victoria

The internet proved to be right again — after twenty minutes, I was indeed standing outside the oldest brewpub in Canada,a friendly-looking place in a very pleasant upscale neighbourhood. When the hostess found out I was there for a pint, she suggested I head upstairs to the second-floor lounge, since they were just about to tap a special one-off cask of something called Choco-holic Porter to which Bailey’s Irish Cream had been added. Who could say no to that? I asked if I could speak, brewer to brewer, with someone regarding the brewhouse and she assured me she would try to find someone.


The upstairs lounge at Spinnaker’s: cool, dim, play-off hockey on the TV. Very civilized.

The upstairs lounge proved to be a wonderfully dim and cool refuge, its only nod to the modern world a flat screen TV. That was actually okay by me, since it was showing play-off hockey, and this is Canada, eh? (And I must say, I have come to appreciate the 3-hour time difference between here and central Canada — it means that evening games in the east are only late afternoon games here , a very civilized reason to take off from work early and head to the pub.)

Within minutes a cool pint of cask-conditioned Choco-holic Porter was sitting in front of me. Wow: chocolate, followed by more chocolate, with a chocolate finish. Well worth the walk.

A few sips in, Tommie Grant appeared at my elbow. Tommie is one of the brewers here — he started as a cellarman, and worked his way into the brewhouse. I offered to buy him a pint, but Tommie was a busy man. With B.C.’s recent surge in craft beer, the brewers at Spinnaker’s don’t have a lot of spare time. As  busy as he was, Tommie did have time to fill me in on the system.

Back in 1984, you couldn’t get a small brewing system manufactured in these parts, so the 8-hectolitre brewhouse was actually shipped all the way from Jolly Olde England. Over the years, of course, there have been upgrades and additions — especially more fermenters — but the basic layout remains the same. The system is electrically heated, with four open fermentation tanks, seven conditioning tanks and a legion of secondary conditioning and serving tanks. True to the British tradition, the secondary tanks are in a serving cellar underneath the bar, from whence the beer is hand-pumped up to daylight via “beer engines” (the long-handled bar pumps you see in old episodes of All Creatures Great and Small). Because Spinnaker’s doesn’t filter their beers, they use über-flocculating varieties of yeast that quickly fall to the bottom of the fermenter when they are finished their appointed rounds.

For many years, you had to come to Spinnaker’s to drink their beer — and from my vantage point in the second-floor lounge, looking across the Inner Habour, why wouldn’t you want to come for a pint? My beer was so good, I was seriously considering heading outside and looking around the neighbourhood for a house to buy. However, for those who might not live close enough to drink there all there time, Spinnaker’s added a 650 mL bottling line several years ago, a growler filler, and even a canning line. Amazing.

Tommie looked busy, so I thanked him for his time, and asked the server for my bill — I could just make it back to the hotel by my 60-minute deadline if I walked at a brisk clip. While I was waiting for my bill, someone else appeared at my elbow and introduced himself — it was the owner, Paul Hadfield, who got this whole thing going back in 1984. We chatted about the upcoming Canadian Brewing Awards, which were happening right there in Victoria in a few days. It sounded like Spinnaker’s was going to be the centre of the beer universe for a couple of days. Paul departed for a moment, and quickly returned bearing a few samples of various ales that were currently on tap.  Although unfiltered British-style ales are what Spinnaker’s has specialized in for the past 28 years, they have added a Belgian tripel and a kölsch to their regular line-up, as well as a lower strength sessionable IPA, several American-style northwest ales, a couple of stouts (including the Choco-holic I had just finished), and a Cascadian dark ale.

About this time, someone else showed up at my elbow — Paul’s daughter Kara, who is a brewer at the pub. They both confirmed the impression I’d gotten from Tommie — with the boom in craft beer sales, Spinnaker’s small brewery was going pretty well all day and night, and was probably closing in on its theoretical full annual production. (In 2012, they brewed 2500 hL — that’s six batches per week every week of the year.)  As well as upgrading the packaging line, Paul is also planning to open a larger brewery somewhere on the Island in the next year or so.

As I chatted to Kara for a few minutes, Paul returned with a sample of their dry-hopped IPA — ambrosia of the gods, really.  I wept silent tears of joy. (I had long ago given up on the whole 60-minute deadline thing.)

Kara had to get back to work, but she had only just left when Paul introduced me to John Rowling, a regular contributor to Celebrator Beer News. We chatted for a few minutes about the explosion of craft beer in B.C., and how the focus had changed from Victoria to Vancouver in the past few years.

When I finally did head back to my hotel it was perhaps not at the brisk pace I had envisioned, nor with the steadiest of gaits.Although I was late for dinner, my only regret was that I hadn’t spent more time at Spinnaker’s during my visit to Victoria. Vancouver might be the engine driving the craft beer boom now, but I sense that this particular brewpub is still the heart and soul of the B.C. beer scene.

West Coast Journey: Moon Under Water Brewpub

June 11, 2013

Early May in southern Ontario usually means warm breezy sunny days, while Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland of B.C. typically get pelted with cold winds and rain. However, the weather patterns of these two regions somehow got swapped this year — Ontario endured its coldest spring in many years, with snow and garden-killing frosts and what seemed to be endless weeks of rain, while southern B.C. basked in record-breaking summer-like weather.

I only mention this because I had spent most of the morning walking under the unexpectedly hot sun, travelling by Shank’s mare from my hotel in downtown Victoria to the industrial area where the Driftwood and Hoyne breweries are located. I had worked up a powerful thirst, and the official tour at Vancouver Island Brewery didn’t start for another hour or so; serendipitously, Jason Meyer of Driftwood had recommended that I stop in at a nearby brewpub.

Moon Under Water Brewpub

Moon Under Water Brewpub

So just as the sun rose over the yard arm (nautical parlance for “the bar is open”), I found myself outside the Moon Under Water Brewpub. (It takes its curious name from a 1946 essay, “The Moon Under Water” by George Orwell, in which he described ten attributes that defined the perfect pub. He himself admitted that even his own favourite local only met eight of the criteria.)

The pub shares a small commercial property with a beauty supply store, and is surrounded by similar-looking buildings that house various light industries; its view across the road is a gravel depot. All in all, perhaps not the ideal location for a craftbrew pub. However, the view inside is considerably more pleasant — cool and dim, with a lot of wood and copper. I tried to resist the siren song of cold beer, but step by step, against my will, I found myself drawn to the bar.

That last sentence is a complete and utter fiction. In fact I hustled across the room so fast, a breeze whistled in my wake.

Four beers

L to R: weizenbock, IPA, dunkel, pilsner

In short order, the bartender had set me up with samples of their four regular beers: a hazy hefeweizen, a rich nutty dunkel, a nice IPA and a crisp pilsner, all unfiltered. When I say “regular” beers, I mean “always on tap”, not “bland and mainstream” — there was nothing bland about these. The IPA was a get down and git ‘er done northwest IPA pulling about 60-70 IBUs. The other three were German styles, but each had a unique Pacific twist. The pilsner was more bitter than most and the citrus notes definitely came from some northwest hops such as Amarillo or Cascade. The hefeweizen had a typical spicy clove and banana nose, but there was also a hint of passionfruit, perhaps from some New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops. And the dunkel had a big rich sweet nuttiness that made it a meal in a glass. In fact I wasn’t going to have time for lunch before I skedaddled over to Vancouver Island Brewing for their 1 p.m. tour, so I chose a pint of the Creepy Uncle Dunkel, a proper barley sandwich to sustain me.


Gate to brewhouse, handcrafted by brewmaster’s step-father.

As the bartender poured my pint, I mentioned that it was curious to see a pub in Victoria, last bastion of the British Empire and heartland of the British ale style, serving so many German-style beers. It turns out that the brewmaster,  Clay Potter,  is a local boy who was yet another university student led astray by brewing. Despite earning a degree in genetics, Clay became as an assistant at a Victoria brewery. Eventually he headed off to earn an MSc in brewing at Heriot Watt University in Scotland, and while there, he and his new wife spent a lot of time visiting European bars and breweries. Back in B.C., he got a job at a local brewery but harboured a dream of opening his own place and putting a distinctive B.C. twist to the old German styles he had tasted in Europe. When a small Victoria brewpub with a German brewhouse came up for sale, Clay’s entire family joined the venture. (His mother is now the bookeeper, his wife is the hospitality manager, and his stepfather, owner of a metal shop, helped renovate the interior — the gate to the brewhouse is his work.)

Copper kettle

Kettle and whirlpool. I can see myself in the polished copper.

Unfortunately for me, Clay was not on the premises, but the bartender opened the gate to the brewing area and let me take a quick walk around to look at the very sweet copper-clad 10-hL system. Like Tofino Brewing, which also makes unfiltered beers, Moon Under Water has a dedicated whirlpool to remove as much trub as possible after the boil.

And I have to say, not trying to put a knock on other breweries, but this had to be the cleanest brewery I have ever seen. The floors were spotless. The equipment gleamed —  even the copper exterior of the kettle, which tarnishes notoriously fast. Amazing.

The quick tour over, it seemed like it was time for another pint. Alas, if I was going to get to my official tour at Vancouver Island Brewing on time, I would have to leave now. But I promise to return some day for another pint of Creepy Uncle.

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