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!