Ed’s Note: I researched and wrote food, beer and travel stories in British Columbia when I lived in Tacoma WA in the mid-2000s. I was a card-carrying member of The Cannabis Buyers Club of Canada and visited Victoria regularly. Canadian cannabis tourism opportunities I envisioned then bud today. British Columbia’s royally quaint capital is directly and easily reachable via ferry from Seattle. A walkable city with double-decker buses that get you around, you can visit Terp City and Nuage vapor lounges and Victoria’s great gastro pubs without risking DUIs.
Sustainability and seasonality rule Victoria, where the art and science of food is a cut above pub grub.
BY ED MURRIETA
VICTORIA, British Columbia – A bartender asked where I’m from. I told him.
“You guys have a lot of great beers down there,” he said.
“Thank you,” I replied. “The food’s better up here.”
I wasn’t simply acting polite in this commonwealth capital better known for flowers than food. I was trying not to act like one of those Pacific Northwest Americans who get googly-eyed over Canada.
It was a rainy day in November. I’d just enjoyed a glowing bowl of carrot soup that parted the clouds.
“Prior to us, pub food was something floating in a jar on the bar,” said Paul Hadfield, publican of Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub. “We defined what pub food is in Victoria.”
There are four brewpubs in Victoria. Spinnakers, Canoe, Swans and Hugo’s cover great geography: British ales, Eastern European pilsners, Pacific Northwest hopmonsters and Asian-fusion wildcards.
Their culinary coordinates are closer to Napa Valley than brewers’ alley. While brewpubs elsewhere tout hopping rates that make their beers bitter, Victoria brewpubs tout local ingredients that make their menus better.
None more so than Spinnakers, where gastro is a six-letter word that means the art and science of food.
“We came here to be artisan brewers,” Hadfield said. “Rather than simply throw food at you, we said, ‘Let’s work with artisan producers. Let’s use traditional production methods. Let’s be ecologically conscious.’”
In terms you can taste, that means Spinnakers’ burgers are made from ultra-lean organic flesh of shaggy Highland cattle that eat grain from Spinnakers’ brewery. A local rancher picks up spent grain and delivers butchered beef.
Spinnakers’ fish and chips are also sustainable: Wild Pacific salmon and British Columbia halibut are dipped in batter made from yeast that’s dredged from hefeweisen barrels and beaten with whites of eggs from free-range Cowichan Valley chickens. They’re served with malt vinegar that Hadfield makes from Spinnakers’ Scottish ale in a shed he calls North America’s only micro-vinegar distillery. Mineral water from an aquifer on the property feeds Spinnakers’ beers.
Hadfield opened Spinnakers in 1984 “with a menu of about 10 items that 10 years later you’d find in every pub in town.”
In the late 1980s, Hadfield ferried between Victoria and Seattle, where he owned two Noggins brewpubs.
“Quite frankly, I got bored with it,” he said. “It was time to take the energy, come home and focus on one place.”
Spinnakers, Hadfield said, “is very different than it was 15 years ago because of that. When we saw the opportunity of differentiating ourselves again, we went the local route. Local was completely consistent with why we came here. We became that intermediary between the grower and the people who live in the condos down the street.”
Like the million-dollar condos lining the Outer Harbor route to Spinnakers’ West Victoria neighborhood, formerly “the wrong side of town,” Hadfield’s gastro vision bloomed.
“It’s not just slop-and-barrel food anymore,” said Dave Borradaile, manager of Hugo’s Brewpub and Lounge.
Benjamin Schottle’s green tea lager and ginger-ginseng cream ale are two indications Hugo’s is not a traditional brewpub. A disco ball and a DJ booth suggest “nightpub.” Hugo’s shares a menu and a kitchen with Sanuk, an Asian-fusion restaurant that Hugo’s owners launched in October, replacing a steakhouse that turned out pub grub.
Sanuk’s small and large plates include sugarcane-prawn lollipops; sweet and sour tofu; long beans with roasted apricot seeds; and Bangladeshi butter chicken.
“You can’t just pawn off a regular burger on people anymore,” said Borradaile, who previously managed Victoria’s five-star Brentwood Bay Lodge & Spa. “People expect better.”
Hugo’s, customers, however, still expect beef burgers and ketchup, not Kashmiri lamb and minted yogurt.
“We know we need to get the pub food back,” Borradaile said.
Hugo’s is now augmenting Thai sausage noodle bowls, Mongolian lamb pizzas and Vietnamese beef dips with ground-beef burgers and fish and chips, plus “high-end” hot dogs custom-made by Victoria’s Choux Choux Charcuterie.
“We don’t particularly use [gastro] within our walls,” said Doug Mutch, general manager of Canoe Brewpub Marina and Restaurant, whose menus nonetheless give shoutouts to local produce, meat, cheese and ice cream purveyors.
“We’re still trying to work that out. We’re a brewpub. The kitchen’s in the middle. The service level and the look are more polished.”
Gastro or not, Canoe glows: large glass chandeliers soar above buffed pine floors in a brick building that was formerly Victoria’s power station. When the tap lines were being cleaned and the ale I’d ordered wasn’t available on draught, a server who knowledgably navigated Canoe’s beer list poured me a 22-ounce bottle for the price of a pint. Halfway through a bowl of curried carrot soup with apples and pears, sunshine doused the rain.
At Swans Brewpub, raspberry ale maple syrup brightened French toast on a dreary morning. Spanikopita with sun-dried tomatoes and artichokes buffeted the load of gold-medal beers I tasted mid-day. Live music lifted me into the evening. Of Victoria’s pubs, Swans feels the most traditional, even a touch touristy, with restored artisan decor, eclectic art, and a boutique hotel. The Canadian Brewing Awards named it brewpub of the year.
Swans plays culinary ugly duckling to its sister restaurant, the adjacent Wild Saffron Bistro, which lets a few gastro punches fly in a progressive West Coast menu.
When I interviewed Hadfield in October, fresh tomatoes were tapped out. He explained it was because there wasn’t enough daylight at the end of the season and “because we don’t buy Californian or Mexican tomatoes.”
“We’re just starting to come into the realization that we can’t buy local fresh tomatoes anymore this season,” Hadfield said. “So we cleared the plants and processed green tomatoes into chutney. We use tomato chutney to give the essence of tomato to the burger.”
Such seasonality, he said, “makes eating more fun. You take advantage of it when it’s here. You reminisce about it when it’s gone. You live in anticipation of when it’s going to come back. By March, when the new crop comes, I get excited. ‘Woo-hoo, let’s celebrate. We’ve got tomatoes again.’”
As for sustainability, it’s not just about food and earth — it’s about traditions and families.
“We wanted to harken back to that English concept of pub as a community living room,” said Hadfield, whose father delivered the local newspaper to the rambling house that Spinnakers inhabits. “It makes no sense that you can’t take your kids with you.”
Prior to remodeling Spinnakers from an adults-only pub into a family-friendly restaurant and pub, “We noticed that a lot of our patrons would disappear when they had kids,” said Hadfield, a father of two.
“When we opened the restaurant, we saw dad sitting at the bar on Saturday morning with his kid. Dad’s having a beer, kid’s having a root beer. At that point, the next generation takes ownership.”
Ed Murrieta: 253-597-8678
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SIDEBAR (E08): CRITIC’S TASTING NOTES
Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub & Guesthouse
304 Catherine St., Victoria; 1-877-838-2739, www.spinnakers.com
PUB FACTOR: Rambling waterfront house with a harbor view and a lot
cooking: microbrewery, pub, restaurant, bakery, malt vinegar distillery
and inn. The pub’s upstairs (19-and-over only). The all-ages restaurant
and tap room are downstairs.
FOOD: Beer-yeast-battered fish and chips rested like pillows on the
palate. Grilled halibut salad floated in a ring of English cucumber.
Beach oysters were Canadian kahunas: big, firm and fleshy, enlivened by
a splash of house-made barley wine malt vinegar. A burger made of
ultra-lean local Highland beef was bone dry. I don’t blame the kitchen;
Canadian health officials want their burger well done. Truffles-and-beer
and cheese-and-beer parings await.
BEER: Brewmaster Lon Laddel’s India pale ale has bite, but didn’t skin
my tongue like American-style IPAs. Imported pale and crystal malts made
English special bitter ale proper. Irish stout rushed straight across my
palate, no trace of that bitter trail that Guinness leaves behind. Look
for cranberry ale around Christmas.
Canoe Brewpub MARINA AND Restaurant
450 Swift St., Victoria, 1-250-361-1940, www.canoebrewpub.com
PUB FACTOR: Soaring glass chandeliers and towering wood beams in a grand
brick building that was formerly Victoria’s power station. The
adults-only pub is spacious and comfortable. Not a pool-and-darts pub,
but you can watch the game. Restaurant dining rooms are family-friendly.
FOOD: Curried carrot soup with apples and pears sounded like spicy baby
food but tasted like sunshine on a spoon. Herb-roasted chicken and gold
mashed potatoes glowed as well. Sashes of tarragon adorned coral-pink
mussels that sprang and surrendered to the bite. Panang seafood curry
was weak and jumbled, but every component of the brewmaster’s platter –
pate, salami, prosciutto, cheese, pickles, chutney and crackers –
harmonized with the beer sampler I’d ordered.
BEER: Brewermaster Sean Hoyne’s winter strong ale was a boozy blast;
sweet and hoppy notes punched like buff elves. Pale ale struck sweet,
receding notes. Czech Saaz hops flowed crisply through European-style
Hugo’s Brewpub and Lounge
625 Courtney St., Victoria; 1-250-920-4844
PUB FACTOR: There’s enough exposed brick and duct work to qualify as a
pub, but there’s a disco ball and a DJ booth to boot. Think of Hugo’s as
a nightpub. “We appeal to the 24 to 34 crowd. We don’t get the really
young clubbers who can appreciate good beers,” Dave Borradaile said.
FOOD: Most of the Asian-fusion menu from Hugo’s sister restaurant Sanuk
translated easily in my mind’s palate, but I couldn’t see myself
enjoying it to modern rap and ’80s hits . Vietnamese steak dip teased me
with a smattering of chilies, but tasted sweet, fatty and salty, like
hoisin pot roast with overdone au jus. I liked the black-pepper fries.
BEER: Brewermaster Benjamin Schottle says his influences are Eastern
European. Green tea lager and ginger-ginseng cream ale are pretty far
east. They’re far-out too. Gunpowder Green had a dry, strawlike tang of
tea. Super G Ginseng swung a complex hint of wood and wonder.
Swans Brewpub and Wild Saffron Bistro
506 Pandora Ave., Victoria; 1-800-668-7926, www.swanshotel.com
PUB FACTOR: Swans is the pub epitome: a centrally-located gathering,
eating, drinking and entertainment space. Kids welcomed in Swans covered
FOOD: Swans serves poutine. I preferred French toast with raspberry ale
maple syrup. The ale diluted the syrup, but the flavors were fat and
fresh. Pesto Benedict was a subtle eye-opener. Spanikopita sprang tartly
with artichokes, feta and yogurt sauce. For finer fare, the adjacent
Wild Saffron Bistro serves progressive West Coast meat and vegetarian
entrees in an art-splashed setting.
BEER: Andrew Tassey recently won four golds, two silvers and a bronze in
the Canadian Brewing Awards. Smooth and mild London-style brown ale,
hand-pulled at cellar temperature, was as dark as kidney pie.
Copper-colored bitter had memorably hoppy afterburn. Bavarian lager was
strong and clean. Raspberry ale was soft and round.
This article was originally published:
Sunday,December 17, 2006
Edition: SOUTH SOUND, Section: SOUNDLIFE, Page E01, Tacoma News Tribune
Victoria Cannabis Travel Planner
British Columbia’s royally quaint capital is directly and easily reachable via ferries from Vancouver and Seattle. A walkable city with double-decker buses that get you around, you can visit vapor lounges and Victoria’s great gastro pubs without risking DUIs.
There will be only one retail store in all of British Columbia when legalization begins Oct. 17. Online sales will be the only other option until more licenses are issued in the following weeks and months. Check back here for updates and more information on retail stores and online sales.
Check into a waterfront carriage house on the tranquil Portage Inlet.