150 Years of BC Brewing
You may have heard that British Columbia turned 150 in 2008. Of course that’s just a gleam in the eye compared to Quebec City’s fourth centennial, so there wasn’t quite as much of a fanfare here, not that we could top Quebecers who are more cultured than we lotus eaters. One aspect of our anniversary that seemed to have been virtually overlooked, however, was that it also coincided with 150 years of brewing in BC.
I suppose the reason for this oversight is that it seems like we’ve only had 25 years of brewing history worth paying attention to. (After all, who bothers with Canadian brewing history outside of living memory except for the ultra beer geeks?) We took a wrong left at Albequerque with Prohibition and are only just beginning to find our way back after some 60 years. Think of the opportunity cost that represents!
Fortunately, with Greg Evans, Victoria has a knowledgeable beer historian who can relate beer’s beginnings on the Wet Coast. He reminded the good people of CAMRA Victoria and Spinnakers that a William Steinberger of Cologne, Germany, arrived in Fort Victoria in 1858, seeking his fortune in the Fraser River Gold Rush. Having previously worked in a brewery, however, he realized a fortune could be made making beer for thirsty gold seekers. Consequently, he established the Victoria Brewery near Swan Lake in Saanich, the first Canadian brewery west of the Great Lakes. Steinberger grew his own hops and he had a ready supply of barley available from the Puget Sound Agricultural Company. They had lost their Russian customers due to the outbreak of the Crimean War. Although Steinberger only brewed for two years, the Victoria Brewery established a strong enough foundation to build a lasting beer culture.
On November 22, CAMRA Victoria members, along with representatives of the German Canadian Cultural Society, gathered at Spinnakers to toast a century and a half of BC brewing. Brewmaster Rob Monk made a special Kölsch for an appropriate Steinberger salute. As Canada’s first brewpub, it was a fitting location to honour this pioneer. Perhaps in 25 years we’ll be better prepared and celebrate 175 years of B.eer C.ountry throughout the province.