Matt Phillips has changed his mind.
The owner of Phillips Brewing, who for years has avoided adding a tasting bar to his sprawling downtown brewery, has decided to catch up with the times both for his business and to some extent re-establish Victoria as the home of craft beer in Canada.
“Five years ago, the province said breweries could have tasting lounges and, to be honest, I had no interest as I built my brewery to be a distribution brewery and I had no room to put one in,” said Phillips. “But in that time, the Vancouver breweries took the idea and ran with it.”
Phillips noted as the craft beer movement exploded in Vancouver over the last several years, the new facilities all included state-of-the-art tasting rooms. That rankled.
“The reality is Victoria is and should be the craft beer capital, and to not have a tasting room started to feel like a loss,” Phillips said. “For us, we liked the idea of being able to give our customers an experience that was indicative of the brewery, so when the Nirvana spot came available, we jumped at it.”
Phillips has leased about 4,000 square feet of space in what was the Nirvana Pet Resort grooming location that sits beside the brewery at the corner of Government and Discovery streets.
The new tasting room will solve a problem the brewery had been dealing with over the last several years — its own popularity.
Its current retail location, about 900 square feet of space accessed through one door on Government Street, would regularly get overwhelmed in the summer, especially when the cruise ships were in port.
The new space will allow for a larger retail space, storage and a large tasting room to show off the beer.
“This should help us tailor the flow a lot better. It will let people get in and out more efficiently,” said Phillips. “And there will be a dedicated growler station. People will have a better experience.”
The tasting room is a long way from opening, however, as it requires significant renovation and re-zoning. The renovation will be undertaken concurrent with the re-zoning process.
Phillips would like the new retail store open by the summer, and has his fingers crossed the tasting room could open soon after.
The exterior of the building will likely return to its art deco roots, while Phillips said the interior design will include reclaimed material, but definitely retain features of the Phillips artistic culture.
“We are working through how to make it ‘us,’” he said. “But we have time to work on that. We may wait until we have a floor before we work on it.”
Regardless, the Island’s largest brewer is fired up at the prospect.
“For the longest time I thought I didn’t need to have it, but then I started realizing it’s a great thing to have in terms of beer culture and being able to get direct feedback on the brands,” he said.