Home to Canada's oldest surviving brewpub, Victoria has long had a well-deserved reputation as a beer town. Politicians and bureaucrats may sip martinis in swank watering holes adjacent to the legislature, but stray into the heart of downtown and it will be pints, bottles of ale and lager you'll spy.
Or at least, that's the way it used to be. Lately, however, British Columbia's capital city is developing into one of Western Canada's top cocktail destinations.
Cheap and cheerful
As much as the city’s drinks scene may be changing, it is still home to several near-iconic beer destinations, such as Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub.
The third brewpub to open in Canada and the oldest survivor of those early years of craft-brewing, Spinnakers has been quenching the thirst of Victorians for almost 30 years. Along the way it has both evolved and expanded – giving a new meaning to the term B&B, patrons can now take a beer to their bed in one of the on-site guest rooms – but at its heart remains the brewery.
While the pub has recently begun serving guest beers from other Victoria brewers, as well as the occasional mainland wayfarer, the house-brewed ales are still the way to go here, and nothing speaks to Spinnakers’s storied history quite like Mitchell’s ESB, a mildly nutty and highly quaffable Extra Special Bitter that has remained a mainstay since Day One. 308 Catherine St.; spinnakers.com
When the Hotel Rialto opened downtown in the summer of 2009, the intent was to do more than merely add to the city’s luxe lodgings while restoring a landmark, century-old building. It was also to breathe some life into Victoria’s largely conservative bar scene.
To that end, Veneto, the Rialto’s main-floor bar and restaurant, features a sleekly designed space conducive equally to dining and drinking, and one of the city’s premier cocktail menus, including a number of potations that may have you rethinking cocktail convention. Before getting spirituous, however, the wise imbiber will first sip on a flute of prosecco, served the true Venetian way, from a draft tap! 1450 Douglas St.; venetodining.com
Last night indulgence
Sure, you’ve had a martini before, probably on more than a single occasion. But have you ever been served a nitrogen-cooled martini? You will be at the city’s newest back-alley boîte, Little Jumbo.
Opened by Shawn Soole, former lead mixologist at the Fairmont Empress Hotel, Little Jumbo is as much a stylish, low-lit and charmingly engaging bar as it is Soole’s personal playground, where he gets to toy with all manner of cocktail-crafting ingredients and techniques. Hence, I enjoyed a martini made with locally produced Victoria Gin and a millilitre-precise dilution and a bath in quick-cooling liquid nitrogen. The result is every bit as ideal as you might expect. 506 Fort St., littlejumbo.ca
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