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Victoria’s Newest Taproom Expands the City’s Selection of B.C. Beers

Victoria’s Newest Taproom Expands the City’s Selection of B.C. Beers

A robust roster of made-in-B.C. craft beer, wood walls and bad wifi—you’re going to love Refuge Taproom, Fort Street’s latest neighbourhood watering hole.

Refuge Taproom, the new craft beer taproom on Fort Street, was almost another Victoria coffee shop. “I was looking for a small business I could buy and make my own—I wasn’t even looking for a liquor establishment at that time,” says Refuge owner Darren Ainsley. “But when I found this place with a liquor licence, it was a real eye-opener. I was like, now I know what I’m going to do.”  

The first-time entrepreneur spent nearly two decades bartending and managing bars, pubs and restaurants in Nelson and the Lower Mainland, so a taphouse—complete with his dream wishlist of B.C’s best craft beers, spirits, ciders and wines—made a lot more sense. “I found [taprooms] to be something that was lacking in Victoria,” says Ainsley. “I knew there was a thirst for good craft beer. Beer stores have a great selection, but not a lot of taps in town also carried Lower Mainland stuff.” 

Refuge Taproom owner Darren Ainsley outside of his Fort Street watering hole.

Superflux, Mariner, Boombox, Parkside, Moody Ales, Slow Hand, Twin Sails, and Steel and Oak are a few of the breweries you’ll see from Greater Vancouver on his thoughtfully curated craft beer list. But there are a few locals too: Vancouver Island Brewing and Moon Under Water from Victoria, Red Arrow from Duncan and Howl from North Saanich. 

Hoyne’s extra special bitter is one of his favourites on tap.  “Unfortunately E.S.B. gets a bad wrap because of the word bitter in the name,” explains Ainsley. In the UK, the “bitter” is being removed from a lot of traditional British beers, and even Hoyne has renamed their take to “Best British Ale,” which Ainsley says is a shame. “Sean [Hoyne brewmaster], thanked me for having it on tap, because it’s his favourite beer, and there aren’t many people in Victoria who carry it.”  So far he’s converted more than a few thirsty locals to Hoyne’s formerly named E.S.B.

In addition to his 21 beer taps, he has on-tap ciders from Pender Island and Kelowna, spirits from North Vancouver, Tofino and Duncan, and wines from Penticton and Mill Bay. Refuge offers small bites, things like snack mixes, warmed olives, cheese and charcuterie boards from neighbours Choux Choux Charcuterie. (After installing all those pipes for the taps, there was scant room for a kitchen.)

Refuge officially opened its doors in mid-July and the response from locals so far has been great. This section of east Fort is dotted with tech start-ups, lawyers and accountants, so the taphouse (which is open every day of the week) and its secret courtyard patio have turned into the spot for after-work drinks. “Everyone that lives and works within this little radius is really stoked to have something in their backyard.”

The intimate space (36 seats inside) is divided by a big, long bar and uses lots of wood, including box shelves and two big feature walls in herringbone. “I knew I wanted something very simple; I’m not a big fan of kitsch” he says. So in place of the standard pub decor (no pre-made bar posters and beer labels here) you’ll see a series of large-scale abstract neon paintings from Ainsley’s Vancouver pal, artist Moe Sherwood, adding a fresh vibe. “It’s cozy, inviting, and there are no TVs—I wanted people to talk to each other. “

“I think it was the first week or the second week after we opened, and I was pouring beer so my back was to the crowd, and all I could hear was people talking,” says Ainsley. “And I thought, yes! This is exactly what I want.” 

Refuge Taproom
832 Fort St., Victoria

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