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The Ultimate Guide to Panama (Part 2): Coffee, Rum, Beaches

 

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In continuation from Part 1, and a repost of my original article in USA Today.

Here’s the ultimate list of where to eat, drink, play, and stay while enjoying Panama’s best coffees and rums.

ON THE COFFEE TRAIL

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Panama City

Because Panama’s best coffees are expensive and were, until now, marked for export only, the third wave coffee scene in the city remains nascent. Currently, only two noteworthy roasters with retail cafes operate around town.

Exterior of Bajareque in Casco Viejo

Exterior of Bajareque in Casco Viejo

Bajareque (multiple locations) Locals use the slang term “bajareque” to refer to the mist that shrouds the coffee trees in Boquete. Owned by Wilford Lamastus, son of Elida Estate producer (also Wilford Lamastus), the narrow flagship roastery and café in Casco showcases the family’s beans. Try a cup or buy a bag of Geisha from the famed El Burro Estate. On a hot day, grab one of the best pre-bottled cold brews you’ll ever drink. The coffee’s natural sweetness will convince you there’s sugar inside.

View from Cafe Unido into the American Trade hotel

View from Cafe Unido into the American Trade hotel

Café Unido (multiple locations) The second outlet of this local (and most prolific) coffee roaster is in the American Trade Hotel. They offer pour overs from a rotating selection of Panamanian producers, fermentation styles, and regions, and always have Geisha by the cup or as freshly roasted beans to take home.

Casa Sucre

Casa Sucre in Casco Viejo

Casa Sucre Coffeehouse Located on the ground floor of a renovated Spanish colonial home from 1873, the American owners of this airy café, have fostered personal relationships with specialty coffee growers including Cafe de la Luna, Bajareque, and Finca Lérida, to name a few. They focus on espresso-based drinks more than filter brewing methods.

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Bocas Town, Bocas Del Toro

Getting to Bocas requires a 4-hour drive from Boquete (or a short flight from Panama City.) The lure of the sea is strong, especially after residing in the cool mountains for a few days. The $20 bus service, run by Hola Panama, departs from downtown Boquete and shuttles back and forth daily between coast and hills.

The Coffee Shop, located in Bocas del Toro. Owned by the nephew Ernesto Velasquez, of Elida Estate owner Wilford Lamastus. PHOTO CREDIT: Ernesto Velasquez

The Coffee Shop in Bocas Town

The Coffee Shop Bocas This idyllic island sports Caribbean charm and a laidback lifestyle that’s infectious. People tend to show up and never leave. Such was the case for the nephew of Elida Estate owner Wilford Lamastus, Ernesto Velasquez. He has set up an outpost in the bohemian town with exclusive rights to sell his family’s coffee, naturally. Open daily, he offers different preparations from filtered brew to iced coffee. And there’s probably nowhere else in the world you can drink geisha from a tin shack by the beach.

Visiting a Coffee Farm

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Boquete

The easiest way to visit Boquete is to fly from Panama City to David on Copa or Air Panama, and then take a bus into the mountains. If you are staying at Finca Lérida, staff will collect you for the hour-long drive. Surprisingly, the town of Boquete offers few retail café opportunities to try great, local coffee (a major, missed opportunity). You need to head to the farms.

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Elida Estate World-renowned coffees from this property owned by the Lamastus family, can now be accessed by consumers in situ. Just two weeks ago did the family begin accepting tours, although anticipate a rustic experience, as expected from a working farm. They own two choice sites on steep hills skirting Baru Volcano, the highest area of the country, and grow Catuai, Typica, Bourbon, and the coveted Geisha. Tours last 2-3 hours, include a cupping, and the chance to buy coffees at the end. Book at local hotels or through Bajareque coffee shop in Panama City.

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Finca Lérida Not 200 meters from Elida, but a world away in experience, this farm specializes in coffee tourism, less so in export quality specialty coffee. Enjoy an informational walk through the coffee trees, followed by the processing center, and finish with a cup of joe in their café. Snag bags of beans for gifts in their store.

ON THE RUM TRAIL

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Panama City Cocktail Bars

Panama City’s drinking scene is on the cusp of a boom. For now, you’d call it burgeoning, but big names from New York hope to close a deal on a new spot imminently. In the meantime, the mood of the more sophisticated venues leans towards “yesteryear;” a nod to 1920s speakeasies born of American Prohibition coupled with the thriving social culture of Panama during that time.

Dining Room/Bar/Lobby at American Trade Hotel

Dining Room/Bar/Lobby at American Trade Hotel

American Trade Hotel Order a drink prepared with rum and fresh fruits in the breezy Lobby Bar. Restored details (tile floors, wainscoting), and a mix of modern and period furniture set to a soothing palette of cream and blue, summons the refined elegance of a bygone era.

Geronimo Bar in Panama City

Geronimo Bar in Panama City

Geronimo Designed to evoke a clandestine speakeasy, this bar behind an art gallery is not very well hidden. But you’ll forgive the concept flaw after sucking down a few cocktails imbued with Ron Abuelo, especially after joining one of the free salsa classes hosted on the gallery floor.

Hooch in Casco

Hooch The most recent to open, Hooch also boasts the most ambitious mixology program focused solely on the art of the drink. The name references Prohibition Era booze, the theme of the bar set in a former motorcycle shop. Owners produce homemade syrups and bitters for a range of signature creations.

Visiting a Distillery

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Ron Abuelo in Pesé

Whether through an organized group or driving yourself independently, rum connoisseurs should not miss visiting the Ron Abuelo distillery. Uniquely for the country, they control 100 percent of their production process: from growing and hand-harvesting the sugarcane, to distilling and aging the spirits at their estate. Workers continue to transport a small percentage of cane to the distillery by ox and cart, which you’ll see on your visit, along with the full production process, from field to still.

After the tour, head into the tasting room for a guided explanation of each of their four core expressions, all of them dark and oak-aged. As an additional reward for making the trek, you’ll get to sample their recently released trio of cask-aged rums using oloroso sherry, cognac, and port barrels.

WHERE TO STAY

Panama City

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The American Trade Hotel Set in a landmark building, this Ace Hotel property repackages old colonial bones into a stylish, modern throwback. Ornate tile floors, high ceilings, and indoor trees, create a movie set atmosphere. Amenities include an excellent restaurant, coffee shop, and jazz club, plus small rooftop pool.

Boquete

Room at Finca Lerida, Boquete

Room at Finca Lerida, Boquete

Finca Lérida For a quintessential coffee farm experience, stay in one of the expansive rooms of this lush hotel. Nestled into the mountains, rambling gardens host a diversity of avian life, especially hummingbirds. Join a coffee tour in the morning, hike the hills in the afternoon, and dine on fresh potatoes and locally caught trout in the updated restaurant. They also brew a decent coffee-infused beer.

Palo Alto Inn, the bar at sunset, in Boquete

Palo Alto Inn, the bar at sunset, in Boquete

The Inn at Palo Alto Slightly closer to the action of downtown, but far enough removed to be tranquil, this small inn has tropical flower-filled grounds set alongside the river. Rooms are modest but colorful and roomy. Take coffee and fresh cooked breakfast on the patio and watch the sun rise over the valley.

Bocas del Toro

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The Hummingbird on Bluff Beach Recently opened by two entrepreneurs who fled the corporate world, this off-grid eco-lodge boasts stylish details with modern conveniences on a wild stretch of surfing beach. At breakfast, good coffee and ripe exotic fruits are precursor to tasty egg dishes. Lunch and dinner also available. At night, locals and guests mingle around the bar.

HotelBocasdelToro

Hotel Bocas del Toro Billing itself as a boutique property, this hotel located downtown on the waterfront suits visitors who prefer to be within walking (or stumbling) distance of the bustling nightlife scene. Décor is mariner-inspired with accents of teak and hardwood floors.

 

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The Ultimate Guide to Panama (Part 1): Coffee, Rum, Beaches

Isla Zapatilla, an Island off Bocas del Toro

Isla Zapatilla, an Island off Bocas del Toro

This article first appeared in USA Today Travel on June 1, 2016

The release of thousands of documents exposing secret offshore accounts of politicians and actors, recently rocketed Panama onto the global radar. But the country’s best assets are not the ones bankers are hiding, rather the ones bartenders and baristas are pouring.

Connoisseurs of booze and caffeine have known what the rest of the world is just discovering now: Panama produces some of the finest coffees and rums in the world, and both beverages have become increasingly easier to enjoy in the country.

Easier to enjoy in Panama, you wonder? Because of the high quality and cost of the raw materials, coffee growers and several rum brands have largely exported their goods to markets capable of appreciating them — and paying premium prices for them.

But the revival of Panama City is underway, especially in the historic Casco Viejo district. A UNESCO recognized site, this “new” capital of Panama founded in 1673 (the first Panama City founded in 1519, burned down in 1671), evokes a smaller, grittier Cartagena. Indeed, Panama and Colombia were once united.

Dining Room/Bar/Lobby at American Trade Hotel

Dining Room/Bar/Lobby at American Trade Hotel

Examples like the American Trade, a stunning Ace Hotel project spanning several restored buildings, testify to the gentrification of the historic quarter. Only two decades ago, building owners had all but abandoned the dilapidated, pastel-hued relics to squatters; on the opposite side of the peninsula, developers chased modern glass-and-steel dreams, instigating a high-rise building boom not unfairly compared to Miami’s.

Now that the city’s gaze has returned to its historical roots, local products have enjoyed increased appreciation. Both denizens and tourists who want to drink the country’s best coffees and booze, can visit my list of spots in Part 2 to do so.

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What makes Panamanian coffee so unique?

Volcán Barú, the highest mountain in Panama, soars heavenward near the western town of Boquete. On a clear day, hikers who tackle the grueling six-hour trek to the summit are rewarded with views of both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. Further down its steep, emerald-hued slopes, rich in volcanic soil and bird life (some 250 species have been identified), grows the country’s most renowned and expensive coffees.

Panamanian coffee was not always so well known or capable of commanding remarkable prices. One estate, Hacienda La Esmeralda, caused a sea change, shifting perception of and demand for Central American beans. Owners, the Petersons family (largely run by Rachel Peterson), discovered an unusual variety of tree growing on their property called Geisha. Before recognizing its distinct (and later prized) cup profile, they initially replanted the cultivar across their farm for practical reasons: disease resistance.

River in Boquete

River in Boquete

In 2004, Hacienda La Esmeralda submitted Geisha lots to the Best of Panama competition. Organized by the country’s Specialty Coffee Association, judges ranked the entries and then put them up for auction online. The Petersons won the competition four years in a row, and several times since. At auction, the coffees broke record after record, jumping from $21/lb in 2004 to $350.25/lb in 2013 for a small lot of naturally processed coffee – one of the most expensive single estate coffees ever sold.

Farmers hoping to recreate the synergy between the Peterson site and the variety (and reap the resulting prices), have planted Geisha across Panama and neighboring countries. Due to the diversity of micro-climates, no two coffees will taste exactly the same.

Geisha does, however, have flavor and aromatic tendencies. The best examples tend to be bright and citrusy, often tea-like in delicacy and complexity, with a whiff of jasmine-like florals.

While Hacienda La Esmeralda only accepts trade visits, a number of farms in the region do offer tours and tastings. Their neighbors at Elida Estate, also an internationally respected producer, recently opened their doors to consumers.

Rum cocktail in Bocas

Rum cocktail in Bocas

The Provenance of Panamanian Rum

Because of the suitable climate, sugar cane has long been an important crop for Panama. Recognizing the “incredible abundance of this resource” said Simon Ford, co-founder of The 86 Co., he and his partners decided to look to the Central American country to create a ‘carta blanca’ style of rum in the spirit of Havana Club.

The 86 Co., founded by bartenders, develops spirits for bartenders. Their final product, Caña Brava, has been marketed solely overseas. Same goes for Don Pancho’s line of aged expressions called Origenes. Pancho distills both his brand and Caña Brava, and was the former Minister of Rum for Cuba where he crafted spirits for 35 years before relocating permanently to Panama.

Both of these brands are finding success. But according to Ford, The 86 Co. wants a route to the domestic market to supply the growing interest in specialty cocktails and artisan products.

Ox and Cart at Ron Abuelo

Ox and Cart at Ron Abuelo

Not all rums have built their reputation outside of Panama, however. In 1908, a young Spanish immigrant named Don José Varela Blanco moved to Pesé and established the country’s first sugar mill. By 1936, he, along with three sons, began distilling alcohol from fresh pressed sugar cane juice. Nearly a century later, Luis Varela (his brother Juan Carlos is Panama’s current president), third-generation family member and head of the Varela Hermanos, S.A. company, continues to distill spirits from estate-owned crop, including the premium Ron Abuelo line.

Ron Abuelo is now one of the nation’s oldest and most popular rums. The sugar cane fields and distillery are located in a fertile valley of the Azuero Peninsula. The region features a unique climate called the Arco Seco, or Dry Arch, defined by the area’s lack of summer rain, and rum lovers who wish to taste the spirit in its place of origin, can visit the distillery or drink it in bars throughout Panama City.

Part 2: Where to Drink, Stay, Taste, and Play in Panama

 

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Alquimie: The Most Ravishing Drinks Magazine in the World?

Alquimie3

It looks like my days of hoarding handsome magazines have returned.

Wrapped in plain brown paper, my first copy of Alquimie arrived from an unfamiliar overseas address. Pulling it from the packaging with the excitement of an unexpected gift, I thumbed through the weighty edition’s pages, and instantly felt a potent nostalgia for the days of print. Is Alquimie the most ravishing drinks magazine to publish in the last decade?

While adopting a model of print media and shipping the cumbersome result around the world from its founders’ base in Australia sounds like a great way to turn any size pile of money into a smaller one (like owning a vineyard!), the team behind it hopes a readership yearning for beautifully written content and presentation, will support the effort.

Alquimie’s motto “breathing new life into drinks” certainly pertains to the physical attributes of the magazine, although it’s more reminiscent of a journal with its quarterly publishing schedule, matte cover, and heavy paper stock.  Each page shows careful, artistic intention both in layout and gorgeous photography. This tactile approach, meant to lure a base of practical romantics who long to hand write notes with the smooth comfort of a Mont Blanc fountain pen between the fingers, but succumb to email for the majority of their correspondence, will charm them (me) as intended. To address that important practical side, however, they’ve developed a sleek website.

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Fortunately, the authors, sourced from the founding team and journalists around the world, write articles as compelling to read as they look on paper.

The current edition (its third) tackles a diverse landscape of topics ranging from coffee, Armagnac, whisky, and little-known Swiss grape varieties. Food, integral to the experience of drink, also receives treatment: this quarter, author Tony Tan explores the sub-regional cuisines of China. In a section devoted to tasting and reporting on spirits and wine called The Palate, they review boutique Champagne, consider the nuances of vodka (nuance being the operative word), and compare notes on several value wine recommendations through the lens of professionals v. the lay taster.

Supplementing their subscription fees, Alquimie offers an interesting addition to the traditional media model: they sell wine. Josh Elias, the Editor in Chief, handles the selections, and although he says there isn’t a strict criterion on how he chooses the bottles, the people behind the projects share a similar narrative in that they are “small producers doing things a little bit differently.”  The wine subscription offer applies primarily to Australian residents unless foreigners have the wallet for astronomical, overseas freight charges.

So who is behind Alquimie? Four colleagues who consider themselves friends first, business partners second, according to Josh. The other three publishers and founders are James Morgan, Photographic Director; Nicholas Cary, Creative Director; and Raul Moreno Yague, Chief of Contributors.

Alquimie2

I emailed Josh a few questions to learn the impetus behind Alquimie’s creation, and to ask what they believe they add to the global beverage conversation. We also addressed favorite cocktails, up-and-coming producers in Victoria, Australia, and how Josh would like to be traveling in two places at once (Sicily and Piedmont).

What inspired the creation of Alquimie?

We wanted to produce a print publication that we could read ourselves. We couldn’t relate to the existing offerings. We wanted to produce something a little more democratic, less authoritarian with more of a focus on the narrative (the narrative of the story & the document). Drinks require context. Be it a dining table, or a time in history. The concept of ‘drinks in a vacuum’ never made sense to me.

What was your previous (or concurrent) profession?

I am a law graduate, who worked in a family business in the fabric industry and then spent nights working as a sommelier in fine dining. My grandfather quite rightly calls me a jack of all trades, master of none. Though, I’m studying the Master of Wine qualification at the moment, which hopefully means that one day I’ll prove him wrong. Alquimie occupies most of our time at present. Even when we are doing other tasks, working other jobs, it is on our minds.

How did you decide on the name?

It was about creation and narrative. We wanted something that hinted at a story and a science combined. We felt Alquimie — the original french derivation of Alchemy — ticked those boxes.

Did friends or family have doubts about taking the print channel, including global shipping?

For sure they were skeptical but I guess part of that comes from being protective. In terms of the evolution of print and the changing of that industry, we believe that the timelessness of our publication, our careful selection of tried and tested subject matter differentiates us from other, timelier magazines. We aim to be a reference piece. Our publication doesn’t mention current events or index the ‘hottest new releases’. Alquimie is not a guide or an index for instant answers, it is an opportunity to sit down and let your mind wander. I think our family and friends relaxed once they saw and felt the magazine. The quality of the finishes helps to create a universal acceptance of quality. Much of that is due to James’s photography and Nic’s design. They make my job, as a drinks writer, very easy.

What are you attempting to add to the world of drinks publishing? What did you think was missing?

I think it was missing accessibility and a sense of context. As an industry, drinks publishing is fairly good at communicating about the product, in isolation. However, wine media, as an example, are very much focused on the projection of their ‘objective truths’. To this end, the writing can be somewhat authoritarian and dictatorial. We wanted to step away from that style. It doesn’t benefit the consumer who may be trying to develop their own palate or embrace the beautiful variables to be found in drinks, of which there are many. Such is the problem with that phenomenal addiction known as ‘wine-scoring’. It doesn’t answer any of the ‘why’ questions. Rather, it encourages blind following. It also has the consequence of shortening the conversation with the consumer. It unduly simplifies the product to the point which, I believe, is somewhat disrespectful to the people who put all the effort into the growing, making and marketing of their product.

We prefer to talk about fewer products, giving each of them the respect that they deserve. These points are true for writing about coffee, water, spirits, etc. However, wine is a good example because I believe it to be the most experienced drink, in terms of communication. Our decision to write about all drinks, also helps to break down a few of the expected ‘norms’ associated with wine writing.

What’s your favorite type of wine? Cocktail? Nightcap?

In terms of wine, I’d say that I drink either of pinot noir or nebbiolo most often. However, I try to taste widely in order to keep my palate sharp. As for spirits, I’m a sucker for Armagnac; the heat, the warmth and the sweet, spicy flavors. An old bottle of Darroze doesn’t go astray. As for cocktails, an old fashioned or a negroni are the two that you’d most likely catch me drinking.

What’s new or unique to the drink world in Victoria, Australia that people should know about?

Patrick Sullivan, BobarLinnaea winesMelbourne Gin Company, Four Pillars Gin, and Madenii Vermouth. First and foremost, these are great people. Secondly, they create products with unique personality. They have curly edges and stark flavours. Most of all, they are delicious.

If you could be traveling anywhere right now, where would you be?

That’s hard. I’d say Sicily. Usually I’d say Piedmont because Barolo is my favourite wine region. However, there is such an amazing array of viticultural styles across the island. From the zesty whites and structured reds of Etna, through to the floral reds of Vittoria or the rich fortifieds of Marsala. The seafood and the pasta dishes are sensational and a welcome accompaniment to the wines. Not to mention the beach, the sun, and the architecture. Rock formations poking out from the sky blue water…. Getting carried away here….

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Discover the Drink Trails of Vancouver Island

SunsetFerryVictoria

If you missed my piece on the drink trails of Vancouver Island for Fodor’s, here’s a second look:

With its bucolic farmland, rugged wilderness, and cultural vibrancy, Vancouver Island tends to stun first-time visitors. Add the islanders’ enthusiasm for the art of the beverage, and Vancouver Island makes a strong case for itself. Whether you are a beer, wine, coffee, or tea lover—or a connoisseur of them all—you could spend a week on the island just drinking. Fortunately, there’s an abundance of fresh, local food to keep your stomach full, too. Here’s our guide to the best drinking trails of Vancouver Island and what to eat along the way.

COWICHAN VALLEY ARTISAN ROUTE

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This region sits northwest of Victoria and boasts the highest average year-round temperature in Canada. To access this pastoral valley teeming with drink artisans, take the scenic car ferry across the conifer-lined shores of the Saanich Inlet, from Brentwood Bay to Mill Bay.

Once off the ferry, head north for a superb view of the valley at Averill Creek Vineyard, the island’s largest estate winery. Proprietor Andy Johnston produces fine-tuned, cherry-scented Pinot Noir utilizing a unique growing method: He wraps his vines in plastic to create a pseudo-greenhouse effect. Before heading east to Alderlea Vineyards(appointment necessary), take a detour north. A curvy, country road leads to an oasis of organic tea plants. The owners of Teafarm start harvesting the plants this year; in the meantime, they source and sell organic, loose teas, handcrafted ceramics, and perform Moroccan and Japanese tea ceremonies in their garden.

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Circling south, grab a bite in the quaint fishing village of Cowichan Bayfrom the sustainable seafood purveyor of the same name, before sampling local fizz from Vigneti Zanatta Winery. For those with an adventurous palate, swing down to Venturi-Schulze Vineyards and taste their polarizing and puzzling “Terracotta” wine. Produced from 100% Siegerrebe, the production notes are a well-kept secret. They also craft terrific traditional Modena-style balsamic vinegar. Take a coffee and panini break at the island’s superlative Drumroaster Coffee: All beans are roasted on-site, and they offer multiple brew methods. Wrap-up the day with a sampling of unusual German grapes such as Bacchus, Ortega, and Black Muscat in Blue Grouse’s farmhouse tasting room.

BEER TRAIL IN VICTORIA

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Known as the “Craft Beer Capital” of British Columbia (although rapidly being surpassed by Vancouver’s recent surge in urban breweries), Victoria brims with a staggering number of breweries, brewpubs, and taphouses for a city with a population of 80,000.

For a brewery-focused circuit, hoof it to Phillips Beer, or take the ferry from the Empress Hotel to the Swift Street Landing and walk the last five minutes. Phillips’ friendly staff will take you through their rotation of offerings like the hop-infused Electric Unicorn IPA, or the Hop Circle, featuring four varieties of hops. A short stroll from Philips, Vancouver Island Brewery, in business 30 years, is one of B.C.’s original microbreweries. Pass through their storefront and growler station to sample their latest creation, the Sabotage India Session Ale. Another 15 minute walk and you’ll reach Hoyne Brewing Co. and Driftwood Brewery, two highly praised breweries within beer geek circles. Sean Hoyne honed his craft for 13 years at Canoe Brewpub, before finally opening his own eponymous outfit. Driftwood, conveniently next door, created the wildly successful Fat Tug IPA—a must-visit, just be sure to confirm they’re open.

Victoria’s brewpubs include the aforementioned Canoe, situated on the water in a stunning heritage building that once housed the city’s coal-fired generators. Score a patio seat and watch the sun set with a hop-heavy IPA. Swans, set in the ground floor of a boutique hotel, is another old-timer known for its litany of awards and live music. Take a picturesque walk across the harbor bridge to visit Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub; their line-up of beers includes cask-conditioned ales served with elevated cuisine—think a farm-fresh beet salad and a brett-inoculated beer. Finally, for a taphouse that serves everyone else’s beer, Garrick’s Head Pub, one of Canada’s oldest English pubs founded in 1867, offers almost 50 beers.

Note: For an in-depth look that serves as a practical guide to Victoria and Vancouver’s beer scene, pick-up a copy of Craft Beer Revolution, The Insider’s Guide to B.C. Breweries by Victoria local Joe Wiebe.

VICTORIA’S CAFFEINE CRAWL

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Coffee enthusiasts are spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing the perfect cup, with as many as 11 independent shops dotting the island. Local favorite roaster Bows & Arrows, founded in 2011, doesn’t run a café, though you can visit their operation to sample coffee. They supply seven cafés in Victoria, plus shops throughout Canada and the U.S. Their beans are exclusively carried by Habit, its owners champions of sustainability: they purchase carbon offsets and transport supplies by Dutch cargo bike. Habit has two locations, the original in Chinatown, and a second at The Atrium, with floor to ceiling windows and sleek, modern design. Another roaster-cum-café called Fernwood was opened by a chef-journalist duo, and the adjacent café Parsonage sells the espresso-based drinks, hand brews, and a full breakfast and lunch menu. Other honorable mentions include Heist (727 Courtney St.), a small shop oddly located in a parking lot, which sources its beans from multiple roasters around North America, and 2% Jazz (2621 Douglas St.), a roaster and café open late in the evening and known for unusual coffee-based specialties like coffee-flavored cotton candy and foie gras ice cream affogato.

Mainland tea lovers heading to Victoria should replenish their pantries at Silk Road Tea (two locations), stocked with a range of teas from green, to white, to Yunnan province specialty Pu-erh. If you’d prefer to participate in the traditional British ritual of afternoon tea, served in delicate china on sterling silver platters with cakes and scones, reserve a table at grande dame The Fairmont Empress.

WHERE TO STAY

Vancouver Island has a wide range of lodging, from farmstays to ocean front inns, but for short visits, Victoria and the Saanich Peninsula function best as a base. For urban digs, consider downtown boutique property Magnolia Hotel and Spa. Rooms furnished in a cool palette of grey, lavender, and sand, soothe travel nerves, as does the attentive, informed staff. If you prefer to sleep where you drink, book one of the modern suites at historic Swans Hotel & Brewpub, located in a beautifully restored 1913 heritage building. Nestled in a serene setting near a small fishing village, Brentwood Bay Resort &Spa boasts two on-site restaurants, a spa, spacious rooms (and bathtubs) with water views, and quick access to the Cowichan Valley ferry.

Photo Credit: All photos by Lauren Mowery

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