Pints at Spinnakers

The Beer Series: Part 1 of 5

With ten established breweries and more on the way, it's no secret that Victoria loves its beer, and that its beer is well-loved. The local industry didn't flourish overnight though: it was a long process to get where it is today.

The roots of the modern beer scene in Victoria can be traced back to 1984. It was this year that both the Vancouver Island Brewery and Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub - the first brewpub in Canada - opened their doors, forever changing the landscape of the beer industry on Vancouver Island. The days of having to choose between several bland, nearly-identical mass-produced lagers were gone, and many locals celebrated this change and the range of new beer styles that came with it. Then, in 1989, both Swans Brewpub and CANOE Brewpub opened their doors to cater to the growing market.

While the industry was beginning to take shape in Victoria, the growth wasn't without its challenges. The nineties were tough on craft breweries everywhere - thanks in part to the still-prevailing reluctance of the average consumer to experiment with different beers and strict government regulations - and it wasn't until the millennium that business began to really pick up. Work was done with the government, the business environment changed and new breweries began to emerge. The craft beer renaissance had truly begun.

Renaissance, meaning rebirth, is an appropriate word in this case. In the 19th century over a dozen breweries called Vancouver Island home, and only now are we beginning to return to those numbers. In the words of Vancouver Island Brewery General Manager Rob Ringma, this resurgence in craft beer on the Island is simply a "return to normalcy."

This "return to normalcy" is similar to what both Seattle and Portland experienced approximately 20 years ago. What is happening right now in Victoria and throughout much of B.C. and Canada is a reflection of how dynamic the beer market is in the United States and how ready the Canadian market is to embrace a similar dynamism at home.

A dynamic market means more breweries, more beers and more demanding consumers. Many local breweries understand the need to innovate their range of offerings and many are looking to experiment with more sour beers, more barrel-aged beers and different strains of hops and yeast. This increase in competition is a win-win for both the breweries and the customers: the breweries are forced to brew the very best beers they can and the consumer reaps the rewards.

It's this reason above all why Victoria's reputation as one of the best beer cities in Canada shows no signs of going away anytime soon, and if anything will continue to get even stronger. The golden age of beer in Victoria has begun.

A taster flight at CANOE