Thursday, May 30, 2013

Trip Report: Victoria, British Columbia

I recently took a trip to Victoria, BC where I was invited to give a talk at the 11th Annual Canadian Brewing Awards.


Thanks to a delayed flight out of New York, I missed my connection in Toronto and arrived much later in Victoria than expected so I wasn't able to make the welcome reception at Vancouver Island Brewery. Instead, I had no choice but to drink a Molson Canadian on the plane. But I did get to try Vancouver Island's Hermann's Dark Lager on a pub crawl the next night. It was a pleasantly malty beer with a subtle hop profile.

After the first day's seminars were over, there was a "Brewers BBQ" at Phillips Brewing Company. Earlier in the day, Phillips hosted the Great Canadian Collaboration where all of the brewers were invited to join in a collaborative brew using ingredients that they brought with them (local honey, locally grown and malted barley, locally grown wheat, etc.). The beer selection was limited (2 taps and a small selection of bottles) but the drafts were dispensed from an amazing carnivalesque truck outfitted with taps.


Then it was off to a pub crawl of local bars around Victoria. The first stop - and for me, only stop - was Garrick's Head Pub which has been around since 1867. They had large selection of local ("brewed within 2 km of the pub") and regional (Vancouver and other parts of BC) beers. The selection was so good that, when some of us heard that the next stop had fewer taps and was more expensive, we decided to stay there for the rest of the evening. Aside from the aforementioned Hermann's Dark Lager, I also tried something billed as Beer Thirst Odin Freya's Gold. Since it was on the Vancouver side of the tap list, I assumed that it was a BC beer, but it turns out that Beer Thirst is an importer/agent based in Vancouver and Odin is actually a brewery from California. It was a solid k├Âlsch beer but I was more enamored of the carved wooden dragon tap handle (which I forgot to take a photo of. Blame it on the beers!) I also enjoyed 2 local beers: Driftwood Brewery's Crooked Coast Alt and Hoyne Dark Matter, described to me as "not really a brown ale, not really a stout". It was most like a hoppy, roasty porter.

The bartenders were extremely helpful and very patient, even on a busy Friday night, indulging my many questions since I was unfamiliar with any of the breweries. A bit of culture shock to me was seeing the bar start to empty out around 11pm. When I left around midnight to walk back to the hotel, there was hardly anyone on the streets. Downtown, on a Friday night. Not the same as the East Village on a Friday.

Legislative Building on a quiet Friday night

Thanks for the ride!
The next day I had some free time to walk around the city and also do some "research". Victoria is very small and compact but it's built around a large, meandering harbor so they have small water taxis that ferry you across and around, cutting down on walking time.



Canoe Brewpub

After a very filling lunch of seafood poutine and a grilled oyster tacones at Red Fish Blue Fish, located in a shipping container on a pier, I made my way to the Canoe Brewpub located in an airy brick building right on the Inner Harbor. I had a sampler of their 6 beers currently on tap. The Red Canoe Lager, 5.2% was a malty Czech Pils with crisp bitterness. Siren's Song Pale Ale, 5%, was very hoppy throughout, in both aroma and flavor. River Rock Bitter, 5.2% was less hoppy than the Pale Ale and was nicely balanced with a solid malt base; this one was probably my favorite of the bunch. Beaver Brown Ale, 5.4% didn't have much aroma but did have a roasty, coffee-like flavor. Their Belgian Dubbel, 5.6%, was their seasonal selection. It was fruity and estery but not particularly balanced. It also had an odd hint of tartness and a thin body. Definitely my least favorite of their beers.


Then it was a walk around to the other side of the harbor and a visit to Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub. This was a late stop that I missed on the pub crawl the night before so I wanted to check it out. I did a sampler of 4 of their beers:
Spinnakers
ESB (on cask), 5.2%. Hopped with Horizon and East Kent Goldings, the cask version (the ESB is also available as a regular draft) is dry-hopped with Hallertau. It was malty and smooth, with a soft bitterness in the finish. Northwest Ale, 6.2% is brewed with Northwest hops and the menu said it was "assertively hoppy" with 85 IBUs. I can agree with their description; it was most definitely hoppy, with notes of Northwestern hops (I was told that Americans call it the Pacific Northwest while Canadians understand that when one says "Northwest", it's obvious that the Pacific is being referred to). There was a solid malt underneath all of the hops but those hops developed catty aromas as the beer warmed. The Lion's Head Cascadia Dark, 6.5%, was dark brown in color with a malty flavor with lightly roasted notes and a hoppy finish. Jameson's Scottish Ale, 6.4%, was brewed in honor of the Jameson's clan of local tea, coffee, and spice merchants who arrived in Victoria in 1889. This malty beer had a touch of graininess and the menu said that it had "a touch of peat on the finish" which I found to be very, very subtle.
Beer sampler at Spinnakers
The view from Spinnakers' upstairs deck


Overall, I enjoyed most of the beers that I tried during my stay but nothing really blew me away. It seemed like most breweries had a fairly standard line up of beers that were often solidly brewed but not outstanding. That said, Victoria has a thriving brewing scene and I wasn't able to get to all of the breweries or try beers from all of them. I think that a longer return visit will be required because Bob really wants to try that seafood poutine.


"Seal" you later!

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