Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Central Victoria, BC

(Victoria, BC, Canada)

(Note:  Our first visit to Victoria, BC happened to land right smack in the middle of the city's 150th birthday.  Had I known that ahead of time, I might have tried to give this beer hike a little more of a historical slant, maybe working in some visits to old buildings or whatever.  It wasn't until we passed the celebration in Centennial Park that we realized something was up.  Happy birthday, Victoria!  Here's to 150 more.)

Every visitor takes this shot in Victoria.
Planning a UBH in and around central Victoria was easy.  My friends Merideth and Chris were there less than two months before me and I used their wanderings to create a skeleton of a route.  Central Victoria is pretty small, so it wasn't hard to fit most of the breweries into one good hike.  The thing I really grappled with, however, was what order to do them in.  Three breweries -- Phillips, Hoyne, and Vancouver Island -- close at 6pm on weekdays, so it can be a challenge to fit them all in:

Central Victoria UBH; less than 4 miles
Swans / Canoe / Spinnakers' / Hoyne / Vancouver Island Brewing / Phillips / Moon Under Water

View Central Victoria, BC UBH in a larger map

Sitting here now, three weeks later, I don't have one fucking clue why we didn't do this hike in the exact reverse order.  Seriously.  No idea.  It might have made more sense to begin at Phillips and head north and then west, ending up at Swans or Canoe.  That would have also put us close enough to our B&B that a final stop at the Beagle Pub for a nightcap would have made sense.  (We ended up doing that anyway.)  Maybe I was thinking that Hoyne doesn't open until 3pm or that Moon Under Water would be the best place to finish since it's open late and has a full kitchen.  But Swans, Canoe, and The Beagle all do too, so I don't really know what I was thinking.  Ah well...  I don't have any regrets.  It was a fun day.

1. Swans
We arrived at Swans or Buckerfield's Brewery -- whatever it is -- just before noon and checked out the menu.  I decided then to take a cue from the Beer Geeks and try to get taster trays wherever possible on this hike.  At Swans, it's called a "taster nest" and ours came with a tiny side of fresh fruit mounted on one of the glasses!  Not a bad bonus, eh? 

The British-style beers we got went down pretty easy -- a good, light start to a long day.  The Scotch Ale was very peaty, but unfortunately, they were out of their IPA, which I'd heard was good.  Our friendly beertender recommended we go next door to the retail store and grab a bomber, which we did.  (I gave it to our cat-sitter as a "thank you", though, so I never got to try it.)

2. Canoe Brewpub
After a quick stop at Chintz & Co. (God DAMN, they have a lot of stuff in that place!), we arrived at Canoe.  It's right on the water and has a spacious, elevated patio area, but knowing we'd be spending a lot of time outdoors today, we decided to sit inside at the bar.  We poked our heads inside the small brewery -- everything seemed in order -- and ordered up a taster tray and a snack.  (Canoe's food menu is worth the wait if you're planning on eating this early in the hike.)  Since everyone else was outside on the patio, the beertender was happy to have some company.  We had a nice chat about our planned route for the day and it was then that I noticed a weird trick of the light playing on my menu:

I can't say that any of Canoe's brews stood out to me, but they were all solid.  It's a place I'd definitely hang out at if I lived in Victoria.  The old building is beautifully decorated and has a nice sense of humor about itself.  I already mentioned the outdoor seating and central location.  The dirty chips (house potato chips, cheddar, bacon, scallions, pickled peppers, chive crème fraîche, all topped with brown ale braised beef) were amazing and the rest of the menu looked just as good.

Just outside the entrance to Canoe is the Swift Street landing for the Victoria Harbour Ferry boats and H2O Water Taxis (I'm still not clear on the difference -- they are painted differently, but they seem to cost the same and take you to the same places).

It didn't take long before one of these little beauties pulled up and we hopped aboard.  For $5 each we got a nice tour of the harbor and a ride to the Songhees dock and our next destination.

3.   Spinnakers'
Everyone goes here when they visit Victoria and it's easy to see why when you arrive.  Spinnakers' has been around for a while and it's not hard to feel at home when you get there.  There's a beautiful patio outside that faces the south, but again, we chose to grab a couple beers inside, chat up the bartender a bit, and throw some darts.  Rather than a taster tray, I opted for their once-a-year special brew, the Raspberry Ale.  I'm always curious about fruit beers because I've had some really tasty ones and some really shitty ones.  Spinnakers' is really fuckin good and I'm glad we arrived around the time they were serving it.  I even stayed for a second one (putting us behind schedule) and unfortunately, we left just before the 4pm daily cask offering.

Hey man, is this legal?

Even though Lighthouse Brewing is not too much farther northwest, we just didn't have the time to work in a visit.  (I'd sort of make up for it on Day 3.)  The next three stops (Hoyne, Phillips, and Vancouver Island Breweries) all closed at 6pm.  I was pretty sure we wouldn't be able to make it to all three and still be able relax and enjoy them, but we could certainly try.

Trestle Bridge on the Galloping Goose Trail

This leg of the hike was the longest, but it's easy.  After a short neighborhood stroll, we came to the Galloping Goose Trail and a pedestrian & bicycle only bridge that took us over the water, back to East Victoria.   The plan was to catch another boat at the Selkirk Dock (very near the east end of the trestle bridge) and take it a short way south to Ricemill, which is practically at the doorstep of Phillips Brewing.  When we got to Selkirk, though, there wasn't a ferry in sight.  With the sun definitely on it's way down, Mandy decided to take a little nap.  Even though we hadn't walked or drank all that much, the warm, quiet dock was irresistible.  I think the previous day's exploring was starting to catch up with us.

Mandy On Her Back As Usual 
Dozing By the Dock

I pronounced that we'd wait 15 minutes for a ferry to come.  If, not we'd adjust the route and walk.  After about 20 minutes, we gave up, got our asses off the dock and start walking.  (Of course, about five minutes later, I looked back and saw a boat finally approaching.  Typical.)

4. Hoyne Brewing
It turned out to be just over a half-mile to Hoyne Brewing.  There's some good urban landscape along the way as we were now definitely in Victoria's small, but weathered industrial district.  (Note:  Driftwood Brewing is very close, too, but they don't have a tasting room.  Definitely seek out the Fat Tug IPA if you're in town.)  When we got to Hoyne it was pretty quiet and we got to talk to the beertender a bit and have some samples.  We enjoyed hearing the story of Big Cock Bock and wished we could've grabbed a bottle or two to bring back to some deserving cocks back home.   (Surprise:  humorless government bureaucrats nixed the name and now it's simply called "Big Bock".)

It didn't take long for the atmosphere to shift, however, and I got to see what the Beer Geeks had written about:  before long, the small taproom was filled with people jockeying for position in line to get their growlers filled.  The 6pm deadline approached and we still had two more places to visit, so we bought some souvenirs and put it to the crowd:  which one we should hit first, Vancouver Island or Phillips?  The response was nearly unanimous:  Phillips.

When we walked by Vancouver Island Brewing on the way to Phillips, I checked my watch:  5:45pm.  It didn't look promising, but maybe on our way back toward Moon Under Water we'd peek in and see if anyone was still there and wanted do some drinking.

On the way to Phillips

5.  Phillips Brewing
We weren't at Phillips very long, but it was enough time to leave an impression.  It was easily the funkiest of the taprooms we visited -- I think more breweries need a giant blue moose head on the wall.  Our friendly bearded beertender was happy to give us samples and answer our questions, but we didn't want to dawdle.  It was just about quitting time for him and I'm sure he had an urban beer hike of his own to do.  My favorite Phillips beer:  Longboat Chocolate Porter.  Outrageously rich and smooth, it also barely tops 5% ABV, so I could see it being the perfect Christmas morning beer.  Also of note, the Raspberry Wheat -- obviously Canadians know their shit when it comes to Raspberries and beer.  This one was a little less tart than the one at Spinnakers' and every bit as tasty.  It's probably a good thing they were about to close or I would have been tempted to combine the Longboat and Raspberry for a Blackforest Ale.  (I was told that people come in and fill growlers with just that.)

From Phillips, we backtracked a bit past Vancouver Island Brewing (they were shut for the evening -- I think we just missed them) and then west on Bay St.  We were on our way to our last stop of the night, but not before looking around the local industrial area.

6.  Moon Under Water
By the time we arrived at Moon Under Water (the name is an homage to George Orwell's favorite pub) we were approaching the wall.  Luckily, all of the brews here are English-style session ales -- none over 5.2%.  It was a very quiet scene and we once again went with a taster tray.   With all the low-octane goodness, it wasn't any kind of struggle to finish it.  While the menu looked very good, we decided to just get a snack and save our dinner appetites for later.  (If it were any other time, I'd have gorged on a Moroccan chicken club or a homemade pot pie.)  As we were wrapping it up, the pub started to come alive.  Some sort of intramural sports team arrived and celebrated their latest victory -- or loss.  It was hard to tell.  They didn't seem particularly cheery or morose.  Maybe they were just having a practice...  Who can tell with Canadians?  (I'm just kidding.  I love Canadians.  Please don't send me hate mail.)  Anyway, I probably could have had one more before heading home, but we both sensed that it was probably time to catch a bus back to the Cook Street Village for some dinner and a nightcap at The Beagle.

Inside The Moon Under Water
Even though the hike wasn't even five miles and we weren't drunk, it was still a successful beer hike.  It's too bad we couldn't fit Lighthouse or Vancouver Island Breweries on this route, but I would make up for it the next day.  It turns out that we still had a bit of walking and drinking to do in Victoria.

Coming up:  part 3 in this riveting three-part adventure.  We'll explore the Parliament Building, the Empress Hotel, and most of the other bars we didn't make it to on days one and two, including Clive's.

Mandy at the bus stop

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