Vancouver vs. Victoria — Craft Beer Capital Showdown

I consider myself a massive advocate for Vancouver’s craft beer scene, but at the same time I am not blinded by my unrelenting praise for the beer scene here. Just over 100 km southwest of Vancouver lies Victoria, a city of around 345,000 and some of the best beer to come out of British Columbia. Recently a Canadian television show praised Vancouver as “Canada’s craft beer capital.” This got me thinking, because I always thought Victoria is Canada’s craft beer capital — but that’s because I associate a craft beer capital to be the place where the best beer comes from. Others may argue it is where the most breweries are. So which is it?

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Quality: Hoyne Beer in Victoria

Quality vs Quantity
Yes, Vancouver’s scene is taking off like crazy — by the end of 2014 Metro Vancouver will have nearly 40 breweries. But while Vancouver may have the quantity of breweries, Victoria definitely has the quality nailed down — and in numbers.

Since Victoria’s craft beer scene evolved before Vancouver’s did, they have several mature breweries that have honed their style and attracted some of the country’s best brewers. So while Victoria may have less breweries, majority of them produce quality beer on par with Vancouver’s Parallel 49, Brassneck and Storm. Not many Vancouver breweries (currently) can say they brew beer as good as Driftwood, Phillips or Hoyne.

That being said, Vancouver’s scene is still new and learning to find itself. As more breweries mature, they’ll start to produce more varieties than just your average run-of-the-mill varieties. And with so many breweries opening up, how long will it take for the brewmasters to hone their craft to Victoria’s standards? And where will those standards be by the time that happens?

Bomber Brewing Tasting Room - Vancouver

Bomber Brewing Tasting Room – Vancouver

Tasting Rooms
This is where Vancouver currently has Victoria beat. Many of Vancouver’s breweries are equipped with tasting lounges. Victoria, on the other hand, is still full of breweries that came about before tasting rooms became the norm — although they beat Vancouver when growlers became the trend. They are also in spots where there is no room for them to grow their tasting room. Even if they wanted to, let’s not forget Victoria is still a small city — restaurants and pubs would lose some noticeable business if consumers went to the brewery to drink at length.

Phillips Brewery in Victoria throws great parites

Phillips Brewery in Victoria throws great parties

Tourism
Considering many of the best BC beers come from Victoria, it is very surprising there is no business that provides tours, such as a Victoria equivalent to Vancouver Brewery Tours. This could be that many of the breweries don’t have the tasting rooms to accommodate a mass tasting. So in this category, Vancouver would beat Victoria. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t brewery tours —  Vancouver Island Brewery is notorious for their tours. As far as events, Phillips Brewery in Victoria draws in the crowds with their “Backyard Weekender” parties — something Vancouver breweries only wish they could do.

Pubs
It’s hard to find a more decent craft beer experience than Vancouver’s Alibi Room. I asked The Thirsty Writer, a local beer blogger  (@thirstywriter), what is the Victoria equivalent of the Alibi Room? He responded that the closest thing to it would be the Garrick’s Head Pub, but matching the Alibi Room is nearly impossible. However, most pubs in Victoria have really decent craft beer on tap, which can’t be said for some Vancouver pubs (see examples here). Plus, even Victoria’s hockey arena has Lighthouse beer on tap. Watching hockey with decent craft beer is a luxury not available in Vancouver. And as far as Brewpubs go, Victoria has Vancouver schooled — I mean, there’s Spinnakers, Swan’s, Canoe, Moon Under Water, and Four Mile to provide good nosh and delicious brews.

So let’s recap:

Quality: Victoria
Quantity: Vancouver
Tasting Rooms: Vancouver
Tourism Options: Vancouver
Craft Beer Pubs: Tie
Brewpubs: Victoria

So how do you define the capital? Well, probably whatever dictates the scene. Victoria has been doing that for years — they’ve been putting out better beer and jumping on the trends faster than Vancouver. But are we seeing a shift? Yes, more breweries are opening up in Vancouver, but the question is will they all match the top breweries? With all of these openings there are bound to be weak craft breweries when all are compared. And with these new breweries, will the BC scene now be dictated by what happens in Vancouver? That will be the question to watch in the future.

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11 comments

  1. I don’t know about the best overall beer coming from Victoria anymore I would say tie at most. Parallel 49 and Central City Have been cleaning up each year in awards. Powell Street has been kicking but as well. I think even two years ago you could have said Victoria’s beer was better than Metro Vancouver’s but I personally find it harder to say now. Metro Vancouver Also has many brewpubs like Yaletown, Steamworks, Big Ridge, Central City and a few more coming.

    1. I think it’s a fascinating argument — thanks for commenting. I agree, we have some great Brewpubs out here, but the way the brewpubs are revered in Victoria by the locals is much different than here — but that might just be because it’s a different culture out there, smaller city.

      I wrote this to start the discussion. Because people on the Island would take exception to the notion of Vancouver being called “the craft beer capital of Canada”

      1. Hey New West gave up the Capital of BC. I am sure they can deal with bowing to Vancouver on the Craft Beer side. All jokes aside the scenes are very different for sure!

  2. While I’m a little out of touch when it comes to the ranking of craft beers, I would have to say I enjoy the atmosphere of the pubs and brew pubs in Victoria rather than Vancouver. The smaller city allows for better educated staff to help you make good choices and branch out. My favourite places are Canoe Club, Moon Under Water and Swan’s. A new place I was impressed with is The Guild. They have a huge selection of beer for Victoria (12 taps and 40 in bottle) that’s paired with British inspired eats. Delicious!

  3. VanBeerGuy · · Reply

    Does anyone know if Victoria’s bylaws are similar to Vancouver’s in now allowing the tasting room model? (ie. a la Brassneck, 33 acres)

    1. I’m not sure if they are similar, but I’ve heard that the breweries could apply for lounge licenses, but there is a lot of pressure from pubs and restaurants for breweries to not have tasting lounges. So, I don’t think that is similar to Vancouver at all — but like I said, that could be because Victoria is a much smaller city with a bunch of breweries.

  4. I tend to view Victoria as the Craft Beer Capital of BC. I’m an admittedly biased Vancouver Island guy, but that’s not my reasons for stating that. The two oldest breweries in BC are here (Spinnakers & VIB), the best BC beer festival is here (GCBF) and Driftwood’s seasonals are still the ‘holy grail’ for BC Craft Beer affictionatos (just whisper Sartori and watch them run).

    That said, it’s kind of like the Bend vs Hood River vs Portland arguement. The best beer in Oregon isn’t brewed in Portland, but they still consider there to be its Craft Beer Capital.

    While my vote for Victoria will be counted in the minority, I do know that if a second brewery opens in greater van that is on par with Four Winds, I will immediately change my vote. They are BC’s best brewery, no contest.

    1. I agree — as the breweries in Vancouver start to get better, I’m more and more rethinking this whole craft beer capital thing…

    2. Just reminding you Granville Island Brewing Is the same age as VIB and Spinnakers.

      1. While the original GIB was founded in 1984, it was sold to Molson-Coors in 2009. It wasn’t until 2012 when they reno’d the original brewpub and hired Vern that they started making a ‘craft’ product again.

  5. […] Exactly 1 year ago I wrote about how Vancouver and Victoria are currently battling it out for the title of Craft Beer Capital of Canada. (Have a look, it’s on this blog.) […]

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