While the lower mainland may be the epicentre of the recent explosion of BC’s craft beer industry, as any beer-loving Victorian would tell you, Victoria is the real craft beer capital of BC (and probably Canada for that matter). When most Vancouverites were happily pounding cans of Kokanee and Pacific Pils, the sophisticates across the Straight were sipping on pints of English ale at legendary brewpubs like Spinnakers and Swans. And while the range of top craft beer-focused pubs and eateries is a little more limited here compared to what you’ll find in Vancouver, with a few recent additions to the scene, Victoria now offers some really top spots. Here are my five favourites for your ranking consideration…
The Drake | 517 Pandora Avenue | drakeeatery.com
Considering the storied history of Victoria’s craft beer scene, The Drake is a relative newcomer, but man have they raised the bar! With a fantastic tap list featuring Breakside Wanderlust, Brassneck One Trick Pony, and Dieu de Ciel Peche Mortel, plus a warm room complete with exposed brick walls, high ceilings, and some great beer kitsch (think vintage bottles Cascade Pale Ale and Molson Canadian ads from the 50’s), the whole package is pretty awesome. Throw in some wicked snacks (the Two Rivers duck salami toasts and the kimchi and green apple grilled cheese are favourites), and The Drake is definitely my top room in Victoria; a perfect spot to while away the afternoon with a few flights or to settle into a solid evening.
The Guild | 1250 Wharf Street | theguildfreehouse.ca
Easily the most upscale, design-driven room on the list, this craft beer-focused eatery has a fantastic menu (the beer braised beef chuck with Belgian endive and Stilton gratin is brilliant, and the beer and cheese sausage with hazelnut brown butter and watercress mash could be the best beer/sausage combo I’ve ever had), but it’s The Guild’s beer list that really shines. Dageraad Sri Lanka, the Commons Urban Farmhouse Ale, and even Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck Kasteel Rouge are all on offer. A perfect spot for a few tulips and nibbles by the window or a long quiet dinner in a nook at the back.
Smiths Pub | 777 Courtney St, Victoria | thesmithspub.com
A cozy little room that manages to celebrate Victoria’s connection to dear old Albion without being too formulaic (the dated official portrait of a young Lizzy and bulldog statue are a nice touch), Smith’s has a modest but solid tap list featuring Four Winds’ Juxtapose Brett IPA, Townsite’s Little Red Sour, and Powell Street’s Old Jalopy Pale Ale. A great spot for some tasty pub food (the lamb burger gets top marks) and, as a bonus, it just so happens to be located underneath Argyle Attic, Victoria’s top whiskey bar.
The Garrick’s Head Pub |1140 Government St | garrickshead.com
Like its neighbour The Churchill, The Garrick’s Head has an extensive list of local offerings, with at least four from each of Phillips, Vancouver Island, Lighthouse, and Driftwood. The rotating tap offers some nice options from further afield (think Green Flash IPA, Maui Doppelbock, or Moody Ales IPA). Downside (or upside depending on how your tastes): lots of big TVs behind the bar. So definitely not the refuge you’ll find at some of the other names on this list, but a great place to watch the game and grab a pint or two. Pro tip: A table by the fireplace at the back of the room with a pint of Category 12 CDA is a great way to get a flavour of the pre-renovation vibe of this iconic pub.
The Churchill | 1140 Government St | thechurchill.ca
A dark narrow room, and a bit of a hidden refuge off of Bastion Square, the Churchill has an extensive list of local offerings, and a few choice picks from further field. For me, you can never go wrong with a pint of Herminator on a rainy afternoon, so I’ll gladly oblige. Some really nice whiskeys and bourbons, too (if you’re like me and boilermakers just happen to do the trick for you).
Honourable mentions go to Christies, where a weeknight pint of Crannog’s Back Hand of God Stout and a Yorkshire pudding are always a sure bet; to The Beagle, a bustling North American style English pub that’s a real neighbourhood hangout; and to The Bent Mast, a cavernous old Victorian house with some good local beer and (as the story goes) a few resident paranormal inhabitants. Oh, and Victoria’s plethora of brewpubs and taprooms – can’t forget those! Did we miss your top spot for great beer in Victoria? Let us know via @scoutmagazine.