Why you can’t get that beer here (and why that’s a good thing)

Victoria, BC’s capital city, is also the capital of BC’s craft beer movement. Home to the Great Canadian Beer Festival, Canada’s oldest beer fest, and Spinnakers, Canada’s first brewpub, the movement has been brewing in our little city for nearly four decades. We’re about to welcome Herald Street Brew Works, our 17th craft brewery to the fold, but even since its humble beginnings, it’s been clear that craft beer has an avid audience in Victoria. 

The great news is that the audience is getting bigger, not just in our city, but in the province as a whole. Craft breweries are opening up in small communities across BC, creating the same type of craft beer culture that we’ve been lucky enough to imbibe in for a while now.

The state of BC’s craft beer industry

Craft beer in British Columbia has become quite the phenomenon in the last two decades. According to the BC Craft Brewers Guild, a “craft beer” is defined as being produced in BC at an annual quantity of less than 200,000 hectolitres (hL) in a brewery that is at least 51% BC-owned. Small-scale breweries, also known as “microbreweries,” usually produce up to 15,000hL. With more breweries focused on small batches of quality craft beer opening up, the phenomenon is evolving.

BC currently has around 180 craft breweries and the number ticks upward with every passing season. Organizations like CAMRA BC, the BC Craft Brewers Guild, and the BC Ale Trail, to name a few, have also established themselves and grown in support of craft beer’s proliferation. The BC Ale Trail, a marketing project that promotes craft beer-focused tourism, has recently launched its very own app that gives users points when they check in at a participating brewery which can then be redeemed for special rewards. Other businesses that produce brewing ingredients, manufacture brewing equipment, or make use of brewing byproducts like spent grains have been able to develop on the periphery of the industry too.

Victoria and Vancouver showcase what craft beer can achieve, given a few decades to work with. In both urban centres dozens of craft breweries are open, sometimes even side by side like they are on Brewers Row in Port Moody where four breweries operate within a span of three blocks. These businesses have become allies in the craft beer movement instead of competitors.

In smaller, more remote communities where the amount of consumers is much more limited and access to larger markets is more challenging, the opening of a craft brewery has had similar results. Consumers in both urban centres and rural communities are able to enjoy top quality beer right where it’s made, supporting what are often hyperlocal businesses.

Oversaturation in the market?

With more craft breweries opening across BC, it’s reasonable to expect that the market could become oversaturated with quality craft beer (the horror!). However, the rise of the craft beer industry has made it a prime example of how focusing on local sourcing, production, and limited distribution can actually be better for everyone involved.

With “locavore” culture becoming more prevalent in the purchasing habits of consumers, as well as the production processes of businesses, growth becomes an interesting question for most small-business owners. As more people prefer to eat, drink, and shop local, a mutually beneficial relationship is developing between craft beer producers and consumers and it’s a relationship that should be paid particular attention to.

The distribution dilemma

A problem for many small breweries comes in the form of distribution. Reaching a larger consumer market is important when aiming for growth in sales, but a larger market in an already large province comes with its own challenges.

The starting costs of a brewery are high and rigid rules and regulations make finding or constructing a suitable location expensive as well. Add tapping into established distribution channels on top of that and it’s easy to see why most small breweries shy away from distributing beyond their immediate vicinity.

While this might be much to the consumer’s chagrin when leaving a tap takeover event with the thought “Dang, I wish I could get more of that beer here…”, it turns out not focusing on wider distribution is actually better for everyone involved. It reduces the environmental impact of greater production and emissions created from shipping products far distances. It also means that consumers need to visit a brewery to sample its brews, drinking them while they’re at their freshest, best quality, while also contributing to tourism revenue by spending their money at a local business with local employees and perhaps staying at a local hotel and checking out other nearby attractions.

Craft beer works for its community

A new craft brewery opening in any community is exciting, but the first or second in a small town is especially impactful as the brewery’s tasting room takes on the role of a new community gathering space. Becoming a hotspot for locals and visitors alike, as well as an ideal events venue for local groups and organizations, the opportunity for further economic stimulation in the form of business partnerships develops as well.

Perfect examples of the impact that a craft brewery has on a small community can be found all over the province – take Chemainus, Cumberland, Port Alberni, Powell River, or Prince Rupert, to name a handful. Each town is home to one craft brewery at the moment. Since opening in their small communities, populations ranging between approximately 3,000 and 18,000, locals have rallied around these businesses to help them take off in what are often trying economic environments. Many of these places were built around extraction industries, with pulp mills or mines being the main employers. As these industries have slowed, closed down, or automated, the communities around them have been affected too.

But craft breweries add more than just new jobs and quality beer to a place. They add a deeper level of education about beer that encourages a different mindset towards how products get made, sold, and enjoyed. Being able to engage with a brewery’s owner, the brewer, and/or the server as they teach you about their beer styles, their particular history in the community and industry, and their own personal brand becomes a much more lasting experience for patrons.

Get a taste of the movement at GCBF

Victoria has been an influential player in the evolution of craft beer culture in BC. Its history and ties to the movement’s earliest beginnings make it an amazing place to familiarise oneself with what craft beer has to offer. If you’re looking for a taste, all of these things – history, locavore culture, and great Canadian craft beer – can be enjoyed at the Great Canadian Beer Festival.

And if you can’t make it out to that, check out one of the seventeen (and counting!) BC Ale Trails for inspiration and start exploring the hometowns of community-focused craft breweries to get your fill.

Partner Profile: Specific Mechanical

Specific Mechanical Systems Ltd. (SpecMec) has been designing, manufacturing, and maintaining advanced brewing systems since 1984. The Victoria-based company focuses on crafting high quality breweries, distilleries, and custom metal fabrication for other industries, including pharmaceuticals and oil and gas.

Founded by two tradesmen – a welder and a machinist – the pair worked initially as contractors for a few of Victoria’s first breweries, doing maintenance and light fabrication work where needed. As the brewing industry experienced growth, the company expanded its capabilities, focusing on the manufacture of new equipment for new breweries. The company has grown to a team to over eighty-five members  and now manufactures brewing systems well over 100bbl in size.

Known for their extensive experience and customer service-focused approach, SpecMec has manufactured over 1,000 quality handcrafted systems for customers around the world. 

With the craft beer industry’s growth, we’ve grown significantly as well. Our reach is global. We’ve built systems for Asian, South American, and European customers, but our primary markets are Canada and the United States.” -Chad MacIsaac, Sales & Marketing Manager at Specific Mechanical

About 10 years ago, SpecMec began manufacturing systems for the emerging craft spirits industry, specializing in copper welding. SpecMec also invested in the development of systems automation, maintaining a staff of several automation engineers. The shop is certified by The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), permitting their certified welders to build comprehensive high pressure systems for industries such as dairy, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, and more. The company is moving into the cannabis extraction market as its next frontier.

Collaborating directly with clients to design, build, and install systems that are customized to a project’s requirements and needs, SpecMec offers onsite installs and commissioning for larger systems and remote support for smaller ones. 

When it became obvious that we needed a new brewhouse, we wanted to ensure that we would be able to not only maintain the beer quality and consistency that we were used to, but also use the opportunity to reduce the carbon footprint of our brewhouse. We were thrilled with how Specific Mechanical Systems was able to accommodate these requests and build us a brewery that incorporated heat recovery, a mash press and hot side centrifuge – and do it all on a very short timeline.” -Matt Phillips, Founder and Owner of Phillips Brewing & Malting Co.

With a team of highly skilled tradespersons and a compliment of mechanical and automation engineers, Specific Mechanical Systems is able to design, build, install, and help maintain breweries and distilleries, both small and large and manual or fully automated, for customers worldwide.

To learn more about SpecMec and their services, visit their website!

Top Beer Picks from the GCBF 2019 Beer List

Perhaps you missed all the announcements about the upcoming Great Canadian Beer Fest that is happening next weekend. You might also have overlooked the part where there are over 90 breweries, more than 275 beers and the BC Ale Trail-er in attendance. Where does one start? Start by drooling over the beer list, which is searchable this year by style and description keywords. Still overwhelmed? Perhaps a few recommendations from notable local beer enthusiasts. 

John Rowling and Gerry Hieter.

Gerry Hieter, previous GCBF Chairman, what are you looking forward to trying this year? “Anyone who knows me also knows that I haven’t had a drink of beer at the GCBF since 2002 so the most important beer I try will be the first one, no doubt. Hopefully I won’t horrify the beer world when I say that my first beer will be from the first brewery I can get to once I arrive. After that, I will get more serious about what I sample. The first adventurous beer I try will be from Slackwater Brewing in Penticton, which is a new brewpub owned and operated by a friend of mine and well known beer guy, Liam Peyton. After that I am all over the Nova Scotia breweries and will hang around that pavilion for a bit before I soldier on.”

Perhaps the next logical person to ask for beer recommendations is John Rowling, past GCBF co-Chairman. “I’m excited to see what the new crew have come up with for this year’s GCBF. There’s everything for everyone. Personally, I’m going to start with an English-style pale ale from 9 Mile Legacy Brewing from Saskatchewan — something traditional to get me going. Also an early beer will be the Friday cask from Mount Arrowsmith (Parksville) – Blackberry Porter.”

“Also, I love Citra hops so next I’m going to search for beers brewed with those hops. Kind of an educational thing — can I really identify a particular hop? I’ll start with Ontario’s Bench Brewing’s Citra Grove Dry Hopped Sour because that’s the only hop in that beer. Then I’ll try some more complex hop bills, such as Blindman Brewing (Alberta) Dry hopped Kettle Sour #12 and Strathcona’s (Vancouver) Big Sexy Funk IPA. For a bigger taste challenge I’m going for Penticton’s Highway 97 Brewing’s Peated Scotch Ale, and finally, the very big Tatamagouche Brewing’s Toro – Bourbon barrel aged Quad with Brett.” Wow. That is a man with a plan!

If, like John, you love the Citra hop then head over to booth 42 and sample Annex Ale’s Pale Ale. Perhaps they will display the multiple medals this beer has won.

Matt Poirier.

Great beer minds think alike: Certified Cicerone and Monday Magazine beer columnist Matt Poirier is also excited about that big Tatamagouche beer. “This does not sound like a simple beer at all. The description, ABV, and expected flavours will likely make this a sipping, thinking beer that will get everyone talking.” He is also keen to try Big Spruce Brewing’s Cereal Killer Oatmeal Stout: “Between the name, and the fact that this brewery is coming all the way from Cape Breton Island, this stout has come too far not to be tried.”

Again, Matt will be lining up with John at the Mount Arrowsmith tent to taste the Friday cask. “By taking their Low Pressure Porter, already a favourite of mine, and adding the rich sweetness of late season blackberries, the description alone just makes me think of a rich chocolate cake with a berry coulis.”

Poirier has a solid strategy for the rest of his picks. “With nearly 300 beers available over two days, the only way to narrow things down is to have a system, and mine has three parts. First, I want to try some of the breweries that have come from a distance. Then, I’ll look at the casks, and finally, I take a look at the local breweries that have something exciting to try.”

Smithers Brewing.

Here are Matt Poirier’s other top beer picks:

Smithers Brewing Nitro Coffee Lager (5.1%): “Putting coffee in beer isn’t an easy task. Putting it in a lager is even harder. Putting that on a Nitro tap just adds to the degree of difficulty.”

Twin City Vanishing Act Pineapple Coconut Sour (5.4%): “Do you like pina coladas? Twin City has been absolutely crushing it with their beers, so the idea of a fun take on a classic cocktail (which isn’t the only one at the festival) should just add to the experience if the weather holds. Tiny umbrella not included.”

Brazen Hall Brewing Jarpur Amber Ale (4.9%): “I’ve heard amazing things about Brazen Hall, so the opportunity to have them here is one not to pass up. This may not jump out as something different, but the ability to brew an enjoyable amber ale is usually a sign of a good brewery overall.”

Torque Brewing Witty Belgian (4.7%): “A nice Belgian Wit on a hot summer day just hits the spot, and this 2019 CBAC Gold Medal winning beer has to be doing something right.”

Moon Under Water Year VII Wheat Wine Cask (11.9%, Friday Only): “This beer, released around GCBF every year, has become almost a tradition to have under the lights of Royal Athletic Park. Warm, rich, and full of depth, it’s a great choice once it starts to get a bit chilly.”

Sooke Oceanside Brewery Strubarb Strawberry Rhubarb Golden Ale Cask (5.0%, Saturday Only): “I like pie, and I like beer, so the idea of a bright fruity pie beer in cask form just makes me want to dive in.”

Parallel 49 Brewing Cosmic Slop (6.8%): “Once you get over the name, this beer sounds so complex, and just piques my curious side. Here’s hoping the name isn’t an apt descriptor of the beer.”

Ian Lloyd.

What are my choices? I thought you would never ask. I am a fan of low alcohol and heritage beer styles. I plan on sampling the Pour Les Mineurs from Container Brewing, at 3.2% ABV. Crannog Ales is back after a few years’ absence, and I must try their red currant ale. Can’t say that I have ever tried a Haskap berry sour, so off to Booth 42 to present my token to Saskatchewan’s Nokomis Craft Ales. Contrary to John, I will be visiting Booth 69 and Tatamagouche Brewing for two beers below the 3.5% ABV range. A Berliner Weisse with Enigma hops? Sign me up. The last on my list is Winterlong Brewing from the Yukon. Last year their Spruce IPA was my favourite. Looking forward to trying their mixed yeast, hop-forward saison.

Whatever beers you try, just remember to sample responsibly and plan for a safe trip home. Hint, hint, use your provided BC Transit pass. Visiting the many food trucks might be helpful. Did someone say “Taco Justice and L’Authentique poutine at the same venue?”

Partner Profile: CAMRA

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) was formed in 1971 in St. Albans, the United Kingdom in an effort to reinvigorate a slowing brewing culture. Since then, membership of this independent, voluntary consumer organization has reached nearly 200,000. 

In British Columbia, the society was first incorporated in 1985 under the British Columbia Society Act. There are three local branches: South Okanagan (est. in 2015), Vancouver (est. in 2001), and Victoria. Our very own CAMRA Victoria branch has been operating since 1990, thanks to a contingent of British expats. 

Phil Cottrell was a fan of English beer and put a note in several home brew stores regarding forming a branch of CAMRA in 1990. A few of us met in April 1990 at Spinnakers and formed a society along the lines of the UK CAMRA. Phil was elected secretary, and I became president. 

We put the word out and, in May, about a dozen of us met at Swans. In June, we had our first brewery tour at Vancouver Island Brewing and about 60 people showed up. That summer, we held a BBQ and decided to formally incorporate as a BC society. It was a largely educational group at first because we really didn’t know much about beer and brewing – we just knew that we liked craft beer a lot more than the bland stuff produced by the mega breweries. -John Rowling, CAMRA BC’s founding president

With a mission to “act as champion of the consumer in relation to the BC and Canadian beer and alcoholic beverage industry”, the non-profit society works to achieve a number of things. Beyond maintaining consumer rights and promoting quality, choice, and value for money, the organization also aims to support the public house as a focus of community life. They campaign and seek to educate consumers to have a greater appreciation for traditional styles of beer made using traditional ingredients and produced in a traditional way. 

Strong supporters of the craft beer movement, CAMRA BC promotes the production and consumption of “real ale”, defined as beer that is allowed to condition in the barrel or bottle and has not been filtered, pasteurized, or pressurized. The society advocates for responsible enjoyment of simple, yet great quality beer and cider throughout the province. 

CAMRA BC operates using membership subscriptions, sales of merchandise and educational products, and proceeds from beer festivals. Membership is open to all individuals and is governed by an elected unpaid executive, chosen by members. Members are also able to show their valid CAMRA membership cards at partnering breweries, brewpubs, and liquor stores for special offers and discounts.

Visit CAMRA online!

Eats & Beats at the Beach Beer Menu Curated by Cascadia Liquor

Come down to Esquimalt Lagoon Saturday, June 20th for Eats & Beats at the Beach! We’ll be there with our Beer Truck in tow, serving up a wide selection of BC craft beer and a feature flight. With taps curated by Cascadia Liquor, everything pouring will also be available at Cascadia Liquor store locations, so be sure to use their tasting notes booklets to keep track of what you like!

Below is the full Beer Menu, expertly put together by Cascadia Liquor to give you the best BC craft beer experience at the beach.

LIGHT

  • V2V Black Hops Blonde Ale (4.7 %)
  • Driftwood Brewery Cry Me A River Gose (5 %)
  • Four Winds Brewing Vélo Hazy Pale Ale with Lemon & Salt (4.5%)
  • Vancouver Island Brewing Juan de Fuca Cerveza (4.8%)

REFRESHING

  • Fernie Brewing Campout Pale Ale (5.4%)
  • Cannery Brewing Drupaceous Apricot Wheat Ale (5.0%)
  • Hoyne Brewing Summer Haze Honey Hefeweizen (5.1%)

HOPPY/HAZY

  • Yellow Dog Brewing Chase My Tail Pale Ale (5.2%)
  • Category 12 Brewing Juicy Data Hazy IPA (6.1%)
  • Lighthouse Brewing Shipwreck IPA (6.5%)

SPECIALTY

  • Axe & Barrel Brewhouse Fruity Mother Pucker (4.0%)
  • Moon Under Water Brewpub Creepy Uncle Dunkel Dark Lager (5.4%)
  • Faculty Brewing 250 London Fog Tea-Infused Ale (5.1%)

CIDER

  • Merridale Ciderworks Mo’Moro (6%)
  • Tod Creek Craft Cider Tod Cider (6%)
  • Spinnakers Raspberry Rosé (6.5%)

NON-ALCOHOLIC

  • Cultured Kombucha Nettles & Petals

Great Canadian Beer Festival 2019 Breweries Announced

We are pleased to announce the attending breweries of this year’s Great Canadian Beer Festival. Featuring 90+ Canadian craft breweries from coast to coast, the 27th annual edition of Canada’s oldest beer festival will showcase more breweries than ever before, from every region of Canada, including the Maritimes, Québec, Ontario, Western Canada and Yukon, with more to be announced.

Have a look below for the full list, which is broken up by province. Any new breweries will be added once they are confirmed.

British Columbia

Yukon

Alberta

Saskatchewan

Manitoba

Ontario

Québec

Nova Scotia

Cider (BC)

Partner Profile: Draught WISE

Greg Plaxton was “trying to be a commercial pilot” when he met Shelly, his future wife. “A pilot’s life is a lonely one,” though, as he puts it, so when they got together and started a family, they also began brainstorming ideas for a business they could run together. Shelly was a Bar Manager with 17 years of experience working in the service industry, which led to the idea of starting a company that would help pubs, restaurants and breweries clean and manage their draught lines.

Draught lines need to be cleaned regularly or bacteria and mould can develop, as well as “beerstone,” a natural build-up of calcium and protein that can interfere with flow in the lines and generate off flavours in the beer. Most pubs and restaurants do clean their lines, but “unless you’re on a fixed schedule it’s easy to put it off,” Greg explains. “It inevitably gets neglected.” 

After Draught WISE opened in 2010, Douglas magazine named it one of Victoria’s Top 10 Businesses to Watch in 2011. Since then it has grown into a very successful operation — the Plaxtons now employ four people, and their services have expanded to include custom design and installation of draught systems. They set up most of the local breweries’ growler stations, and just finished adding 10 more taps at Garrick’s Head Pub, bringing the total there up to 65, along with the 50 taps next door at the Churchill. They are currently building a draught system for Whistle Buoy Brewing in Market Square, and are also working on a custom installation for Refuge Tap Room, which will be opening this summer.

Draught WISE also provides the gas used to push beer through draught lines, and supports places that have wine or cider on tap (the acidity in those beverages can be a challenge). They even help with residential installations — several BrewVIC members have benefited from their support in setting up draught systems for their homebrew.

Be sure to look for the Draught WISE seal at your favourite pub or restaurant to be sure that the beer you’re sipping is “brewery fresh.”

To learn more about Draught WISE and their services, head to their website!

Partner Profile: Refuge Tap Room

Victoria’s newest tap room slated to open this summer aims to be just that — a refuge — for the city’s craft beer lovers. It will be open late (until midnight Sunday to Thursday and 1:00 am on Fridays and Saturdays) and its location on Fort Street between Blanshard and Quadra will be a boon to folks who live in Fernwood, Fairfield and Oak Bay.

Tucked between Choux Choux Charcuterie and Dak, the location previously housed the Terroir Tea Salon. The cozy and comfortable room will have about 38 seats, but the hidden backyard patio promises to be a favourite spot for sipping beers on a warm summer evening. With plans for 32 taps (21 craft beer plus 5 cider and 6 wine), owner Darren Ainsley points out that “the taps-per-square-foot ratio is really high!” The beer list promises to be diverse and eclectic — he hopes to bring in beers from some Mainland breweries that don’t typically distribute to the Island.

Ainsley moved to Victoria from Vancouver last fall with the express purpose of starting his own business. He spent the last decade working for an engineering firm, although he pointed out that he often conducted “research” for this project by frequenting the city’s many breweries and taprooms. He also brings 17 years of bartending and management experience at various restaurants and pubs in Vancouver and the Kootenays.

Refuge Tap Room promises to be a haven for craft beverage lovers with no TVs to distract from a meaningful conversation over a flight of BC craft beers, cider or a glass of wine. Or perhaps you’d prefer to sample Vancouver Island spirits? Ainsley plans to offer spirit flights accompanied by local craft mixers as well.

The food menu will focus on snacks mainly sourced from local providers: marinated olives from the deli next door, cheesy breadsticks, cured meats, salty snacks, and maybe some charcuterie. Refuge will even be offering a scotch egg, developed with the head chef from Choux Choux Charcuterie next door.

Want to know the best part? Victoria Beer Society members will receive 10% off all BC Craft Beer purchases at Refuge Tap Room just by showing their card. And together we’ll be hosting an exclusive Preview Night for Victoria Beer Society members only right before opening. If you’re a member, keep your eyes peeled for an invitation soon. If you’re not a member, visit victoriabeersociety.com to sign up today!

Visit Refuge’s website to get up to date with their evolving tap list!

Great Canadian Beer Festival Returns

The Great Canadian Beer Festival will return to Royal Athletic Park in Victoria, BC, on Friday, September 6 and Saturday, September 7, 2019.

This year’s festival is the 27th annual GCBF — the first year under the new management of the Victoria Beer Society following the handover from the original founders who retired last fall.

“We are so excited to have this opportunity to put a fresh spin on Canada’s longest running craft beer festival,” says Joe Wiebe, a co-founder and spokesperson for the Victoria Beer Society. “The lineup of breweries will be better than ever, including many coming from across Canada.”

Up to 4,500 people are expected to attend this celebration of craft beer each day. This year’s festival will feature a diverse range of more than 60 craft breweries from British Columbia along with local cideries and food trucks. The BC Ale Trail-er will also be on-site serving a selection of beers from breweries that are unable to make the trip to Victoria. Expect an expanded array of breweries from across Canada to be announced in late June.

Discounted Early Bird Tickets for Victoria Beer Society members will go on sale Tuesday,
June 18. VBS members can purchase tickets before everyone else and receive a 25% discount on Single Day Friday & Saturday Tickets. Public on-sale begins Wednesday, July 3, including both Single Day Tickets along with new Friday & Saturday Weekend Passes.

Discounted Early Bird Tickets (for Victoria Beer Society Members)

On Sale Tuesday, June 18th at 10am at victoriabeersociety.com

Friday September 6 – Single Day Ticket
$30.00 + Taxes & Fees (25% discount)

Saturday September 7 – Single Day Ticket
$30.00 + Taxes & Fees (25% discount)

Public On-Sale

On Sale Wednesday, July 3rd at 10am at ticketrocket.co

Friday Single Day Ticket
$40.00 + Taxes & Fees

Saturday Single Day Ticket
$40.00 + Taxes & Fees

Friday & Saturday Weekend Pass
$70.00 + Taxes & Fees

ABOUT THE VICTORIA BEER SOCIETY

With a focus on quality over quantity, the Victoria Beer Society is a membership-driven community of like-minded individuals who share a common passion for BC craft beer.

We believe the consumer wants not only choice, but also the opportunity to learn about what they consume.

As a card-carrying member of The Victoria Beer Society, members benefit from discounts on our year-round events schedule, merchandise and exclusive access to member only events. What’s more, they are showing their support for diverse craft beer selection and education.

Something’s Always Brewing in Rock Bay

The neighbourhood of Rock Bay has been home to many different industries over the years — there was even a popular residential neighbourhood there at one point — but for the past several years, it has been known as Victoria’s Brewery District. Depending on where you draw the border, you can count up to six breweries based there (including Phillips and Vancouver Island), but most Victorians probably reserve that distinction for the four breweries north of Bay Street. Of those, the first to open was Driftwood Brewery back in 2008, closely followed by the Moon Under Water Brewpub and Hoyne Brewing in 2011. Last year, Île Sauvage Brewing joined that original trio in Pizzeria Prima Strada’s old location on Bridge Street.

The reason why all these breweries are located there mainly has to do with zoning: as Victoria’s primary light industrial area, for a long time Rock Bay was one of the only parts of the city where production breweries could base themselves. (Spinnakers, Swans and Canoe, as brewpubs, had different zoning requirements.) More recently, that has changed a bit — two breweries are slated to open in downtown Victoria in the next year: Herald Street Brew Works (near Store Street on Herald) and Whistle Buoy Brewing at the bottom level of Market Square.

Officially part of the Burnside-Gorge neighbourhood, Rock Bay is named for a small bay located at the northeast end of the Upper Harbour that is now almost completely surrounded by industrial development, making it very difficult to visit or even catch a glimpse from the surrounding roads. Originally, the body of water was much larger than it is now, stretching all the way to Government Street and butting into present-day Bay Street, and it was fed by a creek running from swampy marshlands in Fernwood. From the 1920s to the 1950s, its edges were filled in to consolidate the roads and industrial businesses around it, which included a tannery, sawmills, a coal gasification plant, and a propane tank farm.

The Rock Bay Mash Up

Breweries often work together to produce special collaboration beers, but apart from planning the recipes ahead of time, the actual brewing of the beer occurs at one of the breweries with the other brewery just symbolically participating. The exception to that took place in 2014 when Driftwood and Hoyne, which share a parking lot, each brewed a batch of Baltic Porter with the same ingredients except for the yeast — Driftwood used an ale yeast and Hoyne used a lager strain. When the batches were ready, the breweries connected more than 60 metres of hoses together to pipe the Hoyne batch to merge with Driftwood’s in a big tank at Driftwood Brewery. They weren’t sure if there would be enough pressure to push the beer slightly uphill through all that distance from Hoyne to Driftwood, but it worked! The resulting Rock Bay Mash Up Baltic Porter (8% ABV) was released in 650-ml bottles by both breweries.

Since then, the parking lot has been home to a few different beer events, including the original Fresh to Death Fresh Hop Beer Festival we put on back in 2015. You remember that one, right? That was when the leftovers of a hurricane from Hawaii tore through Victoria. Sure, we needed raincoats, but it was still a great time!