An ice cold pint is the perfect way to experience Victoria
This mile-long loop around Victoria's Upper Harbour features four brewpubs, and, if you're really up for a party, five local craft breweries nearby
I recently moved back to Victoria after a decade away and some old friends threw me a great welcome back party—they took me out on what one of them had dubbed "the Beer Mile."
This mile-long loop (1.6 kilometres just doesn’t roll off the tongue so we’ll discard metric usage for now) around the Upper Harbour uses the city’s fabled Blue Bridge as a starting and finishing point, and features four distinct brewpubs whose origins span three decades of the modern craft brewing movement in Canada.
Pint #1: Canoe Brewpub
Image: Flickr / Sonya
Begin a counter-clockwise route at the Canoe Brewpub (450 Swift St.), nestled in a beautiful spot right down on the water below the Blue Bridge. It's the perfect place to debate the relative merits of replacing or refurbishing that historic structure over a pint or two of beer.
Canoe opened in 1996 in a beautifully converted heritage edifice, the brick-clad City Lights Building (built in 1894), which originally housed coal-fired generators that powered the city’s streetlights. Following a $6-million heritage restoration, it now boasts dramatic vaulted ceilings and exposed beams, as well as one of the city’s best waterfront patios for soaking in the rays.
Pint #2: Moon Under Water
The Victoria Harbour Ferry comes every 20 to 30 minutes in spring and winter, and even more frequently in the summer. (Image: Joe Wiebe)
There is a Victoria Harbour Ferry stop right outside the Canoe—a $5 ride will not only get you to your next stop on the Beer Mile, but it will also give you a unique perspective on Victoria's industrial waterfront, where new housing and retail developments are blossoming among shipyards, cement factories and other traditional businesses.
Call ahead of time (250-514-9794) to request a boat to take you one stop north to Point Ellice Historic House, just beyond the Point Ellice Bridge (which locals just call the Bay Street Bridge). From there it’s a short walk to the newest member of Victoria’s brewpub club, the Moon Under Water (350 Bay St.), which opened in 2010.
Named after the fictional ideal pub in a George Orwell essay, the Moon Under Water features a range of craft beers made on-site along with a food menu that includes some British pub-inspired options. Owners Don and Bonnie Bradley wanted to keep their beers at 4% ABV or lower—more along the lines of what you’d find in a typical British pub—rather than up at the 6% to 7% level many craft beers generally attain. The beers are still flavourful and satisfying but they won’t slow you down on the next leg of the Beer Mile.
Pint #3: Spinnakers
Heading west across the Point Ellice Bridge, you now have to complete the longest leg of this quest for beer: about half a mile following Bay Street to Catherine Street and then down to the shore of the Inner Harbour.
There you will find Spinnakers, which was Canada’s first modern-day brewpub when it opened in 1984. The original architect, Paul Hadfield, stuck around to become the Publican and he is still in charge today—in fact, his daughter Kala is a brewer there now, too.
Spinnakers calls itself a gastro brewpub and the food is just as good as the beer—it’s split into two levels with a pub upstairs (where children are not allowed) and a full-service restaurant (for all ages) downstairs. The same food and beer is available on both levels, as are the amazing views of the Inner Harbour where ferries to Washington State come and go and float planes take off and land throughout the day. The brewpub also has very comfortable guesthouses right next door.
Pint #4: Swans
You’re on the home stretch now. The final leg of the Victoria Beer Mile is a 10-minute walk (hopefully not quite a stumble yet) back downtown along the Songhees Walkway. Across the Blue Bridge is Swans (506 Pandora Ave), which opened in 1989 in a heritage building that was once a grain warehouse.
The main room has a soaring, tall ceiling with thick wooden beams and incredible artwork from founder Michael C. Williams’ exceptional collection. When he passed away in 2000, Williams willed the entire operation to the University of Victoria, which has faithfully maintained his high standards ever since. Swans also offers hotel rooms upstairs along with its tasty array of lagers and ales.
Nearby Craft Breweries
If you want to stretch the beer mile out over a couple of days, stay at Swans or Spinnakers and visit the five excellent craft breweries nearby. Some offer tours/tastings and growler sales, and you can also look for their products on tap in local restaurants and pubs, or in bottle form in liquor stores around the city.