Victoria Brewery was situated on Government Street but she was fed her raw materials from the harbour. That's the best excuse we can come up with for including her in Victoria Harbour History!

Victoria Brewery was situated on Government Street but she was fed her raw materials from the harbour. That’s the best excuse we can come up with for including her in Victoria Harbour History! BC Archive D-05450

Victoria’s harbour has a history of Canadian brewing firsts. William Steinberger became Victoria’s first commercial brewer when he established the Victoria Brewery in 1858.  Like a great many other entrepreneurs, Steinberger had come to Victoria in search of his fortune in gold.  Steinberger recognized he could profit from his German brewing experience brought his brewing experience and, leaving his gold panning dreams behind, established VB.

Steinberger set up his brewery, in a small log building, at the nearby Swan Lake, where he also grew his own hops. So began the long history of the Victoria Brewery and brewing industry on Vancouver Island. He sourced his grain through in the Puget Sound Agricultural Company at Craigflower Farm. Puget Sound Agricultural was happy to find a new customer as The Empire was involved in the Crimean war, leaving them a large surplus of grain once destined for Russia.

Though beer of any sort was a enthusiastically welcomed in Victoria, Swan Lake water, rich in forest tanins, was not an ideal ingredient. After a year, Steinberger partnered with Chris Oschner and built a new, larger facility at Discovery and Government Streets, switiching its water source to Spring Ridge.

In 1860 Steinberger sold his shares in VB to Charles Owen and Charles Gowen. By 1866, Gowen, who was also in the saloon business, was the sole owner of the enterprise.  Gowen sold the brewery that same year to three new brewers, John Vogel, Jacob Loerz, and John Himmen who ran the brewery for another four years.

The brewery changed hands again in 1870 when it was purchased by Ludwig Erb and Joseph Loewen.  Both were from Germany. Loewen, like so many others, had arrived in Victoria via the San Francisco gold fields. Erb was a practical brewer who had attended brewing college in Belgium, and brought with him the knowledge that would make Victoria Brewery prosper.  Thus began the Island’s “longest and arguably most successful brewing partnership” (Evans 1991, 28).

One of the major factors in the success of the Victoria Brewery was it’s contract to supply the imperial forces at Victoria with ale. In 1886 VB was producing 150,000 gallons of ale and porter annually. The greater part of which was consumed in Victoria, while the rest was exported to the mainland and further the east.

In 1891 VB was incorporated as Victoria Brewing and Ice Company Limited, with Erb and Loewen as provisional trustees along with Andrew Hienrich. The old brewing facility was demolished and a new one built.

In 1893, Victoria Brewing and Ice merged with the Phoenix Brewery to form the Victoria-Phoenix Brewing Company Limited.  The trustees were now Joseph Loewen, William Parsons Sayward, Charles Gowen, William Wilson, and Frank Stillman Barnard. The two companies combined made it possible to compete with the many other breweries that had sprung up, mainly the aggressive Union Brewery.  The newly formed company used the new building on Government Street and slowly phased out the Phoenix facility that stood at Yates and Blanshard. The original VB building was finally torn down in 1982.

Canadian brewing firsts

In 1984, one hundred and twenty six years after Steinberger established the first brewery on Canada’s west coast, Spinnakers Brewpub on the Middle Harbour became Canada’s first in-house liquor manufacturing facility. Spinnakers ultimately paved the way for brewpubs, wineries and more recently, craft distilleries with attached licensed premises to exist across the country.