Known as ‘Sidney by the Sea,’ the town is a popular tourist destination, especially in the spring and summer. Located a 45-minute drive out Highway 17 from downtown Victoria, at the northern end of the Saanich Peninsula, Sidney is just minutes away from the Victoria International Airport and the BC Ferries terminal at Swartz Bay.
A spirited welcome
We started our afternoon with a visit to Victoria Distillers , located in the heart of town, and just steps from the Sidney Waterfront Walkway. Although they’re not currently offering distillery tours, the retail space and tasting room is open Thursday through Sunday from 12 to 5 p.m.
Victoria Distillers is one of Canada’s oldest small-batch spirits companies, and the unique waterfront distillery features copper pot stills, producing a range of spirits – most notably their award-winning gins.
As big fans of their Empress 1908 Indigo Gin – inspired by the historic Fairmont Empress Hotel in downtown Victoria – my wife and I were excited to see if they had any new releases, and we weren’t disappointed.
As we entered the tasting room, adorned with an array of brightly coloured spirits, the friendly staff said they were indeed releasing a new gin that day!
The Empress 1908 Elderflower Rose Gin with its delicate rose hue, is a blend of nine floral botanicals, inspired by the many flowers that give Victoria the moniker ‘The Garden City.’ This combination produces a flavour and aroma that’s smooth, fresh and light, and as we sipped, we learned that the rose undertones of the colour comes from an infusion of black carrot.
Victoria Distillers also produces brandy, vodka and a chocolate liqueur called Cacao that’s made with fair trade Ecuadorian cacao nibs and husks, refined by Victoria’s Sirene Chocolate Makers. We finished our tasting tour of this unique Sidney attraction with sips of the sweet spirit before heading to our next stop, wondering about the potential medicinal properties of elderflowers.
Craft brews and artisan eats
A few blocks’ stroll from the Sidney waterfront we found Small Gods Brewing Co., a new, family-owned and operated brewery, perfectly suited for this quaint but evolving town.
We were welcomed by a bright, open space, alive with the sounds of laughter, conversation and children chattering. Designed to be inclusive and family-friendly, it was busy and quite loud, but the atmosphere was by no means oppressive.
Opened in August 2022, this unique brewery features an array of tasty craft brews and delicious artisan eats, all wrapped up with a literary twist.
“We wanted to fit within the fabric of the community,” says co-owner Chris Bjerrisgard. “There are more bookstores per capita in Sidney than anywhere else in Canada, and my wife is a writer with built-in industry connections, so it’s something we have a real passion and understanding for.”
Small Gods hosts monthly events, including author readings, literary trivia nights and a book club. The taproom boasts shelves stocked with books, an antique typewriter and games and books for kids.
“Small Gods is also intended to be a safe, inclusive community,” Bjerrisgaard says. “I’d been working my way up in the industry since 2009, but when I got laid off during COVID, I had time to sit back and assess things, and saw that there needed to be a reckoning in the industry in terms of inclusivity and acceptance. I realized that to make that happen, I needed to be an owner and a leader, and that was the catalyst that started it all.”
The first Sunday of each month is their Storyteller Series, an evening of readings from local and visiting writers. Tickets are only $5, and are available online and at the door.
“We had our first reading last month,” Bjerrisgaard says. “We released a pink guava hazy pale ale called Uncertain Kin at the same time, which went over really well.”
I was intrigued by their Sweet Thursday Gummy IPA, which Bjerrisgaard informed me “tastes like gummy bears and fuzzy peach candy due to the two kinds of hops we use.” He was right! The flavour was full-bodied but not overly sweet, and though I don’t normally choose this kind of brew, it was fantastic!
Although not much of a beer drinker, my wife enjoyed a tropical sour brew called The Girl from Everywhere, which was lighter than expected, so right up her alley.
The menu features snacks and sides like a hummus plate, antipasto, warm soft pretzel and salad, and mains like spaghetti and meatballs, mac and cheese and an assortment of sandwiches on bread baked fresh in-house.
“We reduce food waste by using our bread in different ways depending on freshness,” Bjerrisgaard says. “Once it’s no longer fresh enough for sandwiches, it goes into our meatballs. We also try to source our food as locally and sustainably as we can.”
We both enjoyed delicious sandwiches – I had the Classic Italian and my wife ordered The Geno – before exchanging waves with the friendly servers and heading back toward the waterfront to enjoy the sun.
The perfect way to walk off an afternoon of food and drink was a waterfront stroll along the Sidney Seaside Sculpture Walk. Many of the pieces are for sale, while others are public art commissioned by the town.
We finished our walk at the town’s iconic fisherman’s pier, where you can visit its fish market or try your luck casting a line or dropping a crab trap. Here we found the walk’s final sculpture, Old Man by the Sea, and a cheerful local couple told us his name is “Henry” and that people often leave flowers or a beer in his hand!
There was still so much more to see in this friendly seaside town, but this seemed like a wonderful way to wrap up the afternoon.
If You Go:
- Victoria Distillers is located at 9891 Seaport Pl.
- Small Gods Brewing Co. is located 9835 Third St.
- Find a map for a self-guided tour of the Seaside Sculpture Walk here.
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