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The Hopbine

Pubbing Around BC

Spinnakers is completely open again after the “Black Wednesday” fire of November 23. The reopening of the upstairs pub drew dozens of fans who packed the pub on Friday, February 17. In the poster advertising the reopening, owner Paul Hadfield, posing presidentially, proclaims, “We built a wall. It’s time for it to come down and welcome people back in.” The wall in question was built at the top of the stairs so the restaurant patrons downstairs didn’t get covered in construction dust. The offending fireplace is gone, and the room is much larger and brighter.

John Rowling

Good British Columbia Pubs

A few noteworthy taphouses bear bringing to readers’ attention again. In Victoria, the Garrick’s Head has 50 taps, mostly from British Columbia but with some imports, and the same owners have another 50 taps at The Churchill, next door.

My favourite Victoria pub is The Drake, on Pandora Avenue. It has 30 taps and an ever-changing, interesting and eclectic selection of U.S. and Canadian beers. Owner Mike Spence loves sour beers, so if that’s what you are interested in, this is the place for you. Spinnakers and The Moon Under Water brewpubs also have interesting guest beers.

In Vancouver, there’s quite a variety of good alehouses. The first was the Alibi Room, brainchild of Nigel Springthorpe, and it has remained the best. Springthorpe became a craft beer fanatic and decided to bring as many beers as possible under one roof. He has always had a cask of real ale on a beer engine, and these days he regularly has three. The number of taps has grown steadily and is now over 50.

Other good Vancouver tap houses are St. Augustine’s and Tap & Barrel (three locations, each with about two dozen beers and a similar number of wines on tap). If you are looking for bottled Belgian imports, then BierCraft (three locations) is the place to go; it has dozens, plus quite a few U.S. and Canadian beers.

Outside of the two big urban centres, most pubs have a small selection of BC craft beers. One of the best is The Lion’s Head in Robson (just outside Castlegar, near Nelson), with 12 taps from all over BC. Co-owner Carly Hadfield wrote their motto, “Converting Bud drinkers since 2009.” It was a tough slog at first, but combining good beer with a smokehouse has paid off.

Island Beer Festival

The sixth annual Island Beer Festival, held February 25, was once again held at Distrikt, the basement nightclub at the Strathcona Hotel in Victoria. The festival featured 17 Vancouver Island breweries and three cideries this year. I really like this festival, because it is an opportunity to focus on local breweries and their beers. So many festivals try to impress by having beers from all over, and one runs around trying not to miss the best of the best. At this one, attendees can focus on the familiar. Although 98 percent of the crowd are regulars at the Strath, we are all there to see what is new in February and get a preview of what beers are coming down the pipe for the summer.

Many of the brewers brought something special to dazzle the attendees (and their fellow brewers) with. Phillips was pouring its full-flavoured Space Goat Oat Pale Ale, dry-hopped to give it a great tropical aroma. Phillips also had its pilsner, made with in-house malted barley, and the amazing Hammer Oak-Aged Imperial Stout.

Riot Brewing of Chemainus (80 kilometres north of Victoria), open only three months, brought some great beers. Especially popular was Junk Punch IPA. This beer definitely had  the stamp of head brewer Fabian (“Fab”) Specht, being hopped with Mosaic, Cascade and “‘Dr. Rudi. Specht comes most -recently from Central City Brewing, and before that he was at Howe Sound Brewing and Sailor Hagar’s Brew Pub.

You can always rely on Vancouver’s Parallel 49 Brewing to try something out of the ordinary. This year it was Mystic Skull #5, a spicy lager brewed with cumin, ancho chilies, cinnamon and cocoa nibs. The beer was fermented with a Mexican yeast, but it finished up mostly as a cumin bomb!

One of the beers I had forgotten about was Hoyne Brewing’s Hard Rain. This is a delicious dry-hopped double IPA made with Mosaic, Mandarina, Zythos and about half a dozen other hop varieties!

Other great IPAs were Graffiti IPA by the new Parkside Brewery in Port Moody; Punch Bowl Grapefruit IPA by Russell Brewing; and the prize-winning Flagship IPA by Steamworks. If l had to pick a favourite, though, it would be Talisman West Coast Pale Ale by Vancouver’s Strange Fellows Brewing.

Powell River Weekend

For the third year in a row, Carol and I travelled to Powell River for a great weekend of beer with beer fanatics. We were with our daughter, Margaret, and friends Chris and Glen Stusek. Once again the weather was spectacular, with new snow on Vancouver Island’s mountains making a beautiful backdrop for the drive to the ferry. Powell River is located on the mainland coast about 170 kilometres north of Vancouver.

From Victoria, we drove north to Courtenay and had a quick beer at Gladstone Brewing before going to lunch at The White Whale restaurant. The fact that we knew head chef Aaron Rail from the days when he was in the kitchen at Spinnakers in Victoria meant that we knew we were in for a great meal. The White Whale also has a great selection of British Columbia’s craft beers on tap to go with Chef Aaron’s cooking.

The hour and a half ferry ride to Powell River gave us lots of time to enjoy the outstanding views of the snow-peaked Coast Mountains. Powell River is on the slopes of a mountain, so every house has a great view of the ocean. Once again we stayed at the historic Old Courthouse Inn, a heritage building in the old part of Powell River.

We had time for a quick beer with Paddy Treavor (president of the Powell River branch of CAMRA BC) in the tasting room at Townsite Brewing, and then it was off to the sixth annual Brewmasters Dinner. This four-course dinner hosted by Townsite was held at the Rainbow Room at the Rodmay Heritage Hotel. This year, the folks at Townsite Brewing had invited chef Naomi Salmond of the Shinglemill Pub and Bistro to prepare all four courses with her students. Salmond was chef at II Caminetto di Umberto for a while, working with Vancouver top chef Umberto Menghi.

To go with the heritage of the hotel, all of the food was prepared as 1800s cuisine, with duck as the main ingredient. The first course was a beautiful duck terrine served with fig cranberry mincemeat, which, defying conventional wisdom, was paired with Townsite’s Perfect Storm Oatmeal Stout (fabulous!). Next was duck confit tortellini filled with goat cheese, Swiss chard and Parmigiano Reggiano. This was matched with Gladstone Brewing’s bottle-conditioned Belgian Single. This beer was a collaboration between Cedric Dauchot of Townsite Brewing and Tak Guenette of Gladstone Brewing, and it was brewed with Goldings and Saaz hops.

The main course was roasted duck breast with sour cherry jus, balsamic onion tarte Tatin and local beet puree, paired with Steamworks Brewing’s head brewer Julia Hanlon’s Winter White Stout. The final course was poached pears. Sounds simple enough, but Chef Naomi had poached the pears in a beer and pear sauce and then served them with scorched bitter caramel and buttermilk creme anglaise. Brewmaster Parker Reid from the new Field House Brewing (in east Abbotsford) brought his Salted Black Porter to go with the pears. Essentially, this beer is a Baltic porter (6.5% ABV) brewed with traditional Dutch droppies (salty black liquorice), making a lovely ending to the evening.


Don’t forget to book your tickets for the Celebrator Alaska Brews Cruise, August 18-25, 2017. As always, we will be hosting the Brews Cruisers in Victoria, this year on Thursday, August 24, for a bus tour of British Columbia’s Craft Beer Capital! And, if you want to try the best of British Columbia (and the rest of Canada), come to the 25th annual Great Canadian Beer Festival on September 8-9. Tickets sale July 22 at or:

The Drake Eatery
517 Pandora Ave. Victoria, BC
Phone: 250-590-9075

Alibi Room
157 Alexander St. Vancouver, BC
Phone: 604-623-3383

John and Carol Rowling have been testing and tasting the British Columbia beer scene for 25 years. They can be reached at moc.liamgobfsctd@gnilwor.nhoj.dna.lorac.


John Rowling

John has been writing about beer for over a quarter century. Read John's column 'Pubbing Around BC' in Celebrator magazine, and his column 'The Hopbine' in What's Brewing. Along with his wife Carol, John is a founding member of CAMRA BC.

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