YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

A Taste of Travel

In Victoria, Hip Hops Spots

Brewing talents are becoming fully ingrained in British Columbia's capital city.

April 14, 2002|MARGO PFEIFF

VICTORIA, Canada — Tea has always been this city's trademark brew. Afternoon tea, where a cuppa involves choosing from a roll call of plantations in Darjeeling, Ceylon and Kenya, is the equivalent of Miller Time in this staid provincial capital.

Then, one drizzly West Coast afternoon, I wandered into Spinnakers Brewpub, where a glass of malty India Pale Ale made me sit up and pay attention. A chaser of Jameson's Scotch Ale confirmed my suspicion that there was more abrew in Victoria than tea leaves: beer, another fine British tradition.

Spinnakers, it turns out, is only one stop on a hoppy route through this southern Vancouver Island city. Victoria's two microbreweries--the Vancouver Island Brewing Co. and the Lighthouse Brewing Co.--and its four brew pubs now produce some of the best beers in British Columbia.

Victoria's brews are well known in Canada's beer-loving community, as is the fact that Victoria boasts one of the most vibrant beer cultures of any city in the country. Each November the Great Canadian Beer Festival is held in Victoria. (It's Nov. 22 and 23 this year; for information, see But the brews are not available outside the province and usually can't be sampled outside local brew pubs.

I came to British Columbia last October for a friend's wedding and stayed at Amethyst Inn at Regents Park, a lovely restored Victorian mansion that has been converted to a B&B. The inn is in a residential neighborhood a five-minute drive from the city center, near seaside Beaconsfield Park. When I heard about Victoria's "ale trail," I decided to stay an extra day to combine two of my favorite pastimes: hiking and beer tasting.

Hiking might seem an extreme word for traipsing the paved sidewalks of Government and Pandora streets, but by the time you're on your way to the fourth brew pub of the afternoon--they have a combined offering of about 20 ales, lagers and stouts--walking anywhere in a straight line feels like a trek of Himalayan proportions.

I could have taken a guided, half-day Ale Trail Tour by bus, which includes visits to two more-distant microbreweries and meeting brew masters elsewhere on Vancouver Island as well as the downtown brew pubs. But because all four brew pubs are within easy walking distance of one another in the heart of the city, I decided to go it alone in sensible shoes.

Walking beneath hanging flower baskets and past faux Beefeaters, the stately, ivy-covered Empress Hotel and shops filled with Haida Indian art, I crossed a short bridge on the harbor and started my brew pub crawl at Spinnakers, perhaps the best known of Victoria's pubs.

It was early afternoon, and the pub and restaurant were still busy with couples and families finishing lunch. The interior was bright with sunlight streaming through picture windows, a cross between West Coast cheeriness and the coziness of a British pub. I chose a table outside on the balcony and watched sailboats heading out in a stiff breeze and the arrival of the hydrofoil from downtown Vancouver.

When Paul Hadfield opened it in 1984, Spinnakers was not only at the forefront of Victoria's artisan beer scene, but it was also Canada's first licensed brew pub since Prohibition. Hadfield had to fight against Victorian liquor licensing regulations and a provincial government that sided with a disapproving consortium of national beer corporations. He triumphed, and his brew pub, set on the waterfront overlooking Victoria Harbor in an old public house, has been expanding ever since.

The taproom is a self-serve bar, where you order beer and food from a cashier and pick it up when your number is called. Spinnakers features West Coast fare for lunch and dinner and a selection of half a dozen ales, delivered daily, that are "pulled" with tall porcelain and brass handles that line the bar.

The selection of beers changes frequently, with the seasons and at the whim of the brew master. They range from light lagers to malty ales and dark stouts. I sampled an India Pale Ale with my fish-and-chips lunch and finished with delicious, rich and chocolaty Tsarist Imperial Stout for dessert.

In the more formal restaurant downstairs, chef Sean Brennan experiments in cooking with beer, and brewery products pop up all over the menu, from sourdough bread made with Hefeweizen, a golden, unfiltered German-style wheat beer, to curries based on Scotch ales, handmade "beer cheese" sprayed with Spinnakers wheat beer before aging and "hop eggs Benedict."

The spent grains from beer making are trucked to an organic farm, where they are used as feed for organically raised Highland beef cattle and turkeys, which then appear back on Spinnakers' menu.

Los Angeles Times Articles