It started with more than 160 beers from across the province, but Justin McElroy—CBC Vancouver’s famed ranker of all things—has whittled the list down to the top four beers in BC. Three of them are from Victoria.
Driftwood’s Fat Tug, Blue Buck, from Phillips, and Hoyne’s Dark Matter have all won their respective brackets and are down to the final round. Curiously—or perhaps predictably—all three beers are the core products of their respective breweries, have been around since the start of BC’s craft beer boom, and have attracted loyal followings in the meantime.
“This is cool to see that over here in Victoria we’re still doing so well in the public regard,” explains Joe Wiebe, the Victoria-based author of Craft Beer Revolution: The Insider’s Guide to BC Breweries. “It reflects the popular tastes, but it also reflects that these beers are still regarded as really really strong examples of their style.”
Fat Tug, a floral, bitter IPA, has been a staple for beer nerds for more than a decade; it won Beer of the Year nationally at the Canadian Brewing Awards in 2011. It was one of the original extra-hoppy beers on the BC scene and has never budged from its lofty perch. It’s a strong beer, at 7% alcohol.
Dark Matter, Hoyne’s most popular offering, doesn’t quite defy categorization despite the company’s claims to the contrary: it’s a black ale or a North American stout, though it won a Canadian Brewing Award in the brown ale category in 2016. The beer has attracted a number of imitators, like Phillips’s Black Magic, but remains the go-to dark beer on taps provincewide.
“It’s always a happy choice when someone hands it to you,” Wiebe says.
Even more so than the other two Victoria beers in the finals, Phillips’s Blue Buck is an absolute staple in bars and restaurants across BC. It’s a pale ale with a distinctively Northwest style and branding that’s instantly familiar to any beer drinker in BC.
“For many beer drinkers today, it was their introduction to craft beer,” explains Matt Lockhart, director of sales and marketing for Phillips Brewing and Malting Co. “We’re incredibly proud of it.”
Left out of the finals are some increasingly popular, smaller breweries that Wiebe feels were short-changed by McElroy’s bracket.
“In the last few years we’ve seen the arrival of some really exciting new breweries. Whistle Buoy for instance, which opened in Market Square last year, they’ve totally revitalized that space,” he says. “I think there was an Île Sauvage beer on the list earlier on; I was disappointed to not see them progress through.”
The bracket has attracted more than 100,000 votes—a testament to how passionate British Columbians are about their beer.
Wiebe’s own pick for winner is Fat Tug, which at the time of writing is beating out Dark Matter by a healthy margin in the voting. Nectarous by Four Winds, in its own bracket, is leading Blue Buck by a similar margin.