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?
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?
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.
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.
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:
Tasting Rooms: Vancouver
Tourism Options: Vancouver
Craft Beer Pubs: Tie
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.