Sidney is getting a boost of cool with the opening of two new craft breweries, a handful of new hip bakeries, and a smattering of sophisticated farm-to-table restaurants.
With almost 4km of walkable waterfront, Sidney is beloved for its sea-glass studded beaches, a popular fishing pier, and nautical-themed storefronts. Not necessarily known as a party beach town, this quaint community boasts a population of over 12,000 residents, 40% of whom are over the age of 65. This used to be reflected in the shopping and dining choices — the main drag, Beacon Ave, was dominated by bookstores, antique shops, small cafes, and long lines at the bank tellers.
Oh, how the times have changed! Read on to discover the “new” Sidney by the Sea through a bakery and brewery tour of the town.
9835 Third Street
I got a sneak peek at this very new business on the day they got the call that the final paperwork had been approved and they were cleared to launch. Needless to say, the excitement in the air was palpable. With a storage room filled with four-packs ready to go out the door and fresh bread already in the oven, the team behind Small Gods was ready to hit the ground running. I sat down with Chris Bjerrisgaard, one of the owners, to chat more about the beer, food, and inspiration behind this stunning brewery.
“Anything but nautical,” was the reply from Bjerrisgaard when asked about the inspiration for the theme (a sentiment repeated by Alexa Fetherston from neighbouring Beacon Brewing).
Sidney is Canada’s only Book Town, a designation given to communities with a high concentration of bookstores. With that in mind, Small Gods was born as an homage to American poet and novelist Jim Harrison. His most famous poetry book In Search of Small Gods was published in 2009 and quietly sits inside the brewery among the bookshelves. The literary theme runs deep, including décor, beer names, and the intention of hosting literary trivia and writer readings. A true haven for bibliophiles and zythophiles alike.
Jonny Kostiuk is the head brewer and co-owner. Previously with Deep Cove Brewers and Distillers, he is a passionate outdoorsman with family on the Island so it didn’t take much to convince him to move to Sidney to co-launch this new project. The beer style is small batch and ultra-premium, taking inspiration from mainland breweries like Brassneck and Field House, but keeping their community in mind.
I tried a few of their flagship beers including the Neverending, a true Northern German pilsner made with heritage Barke pilsner malt, German noble hops, and German lager yeast. I also really enjoyed the hazy pale ale (Promised Land), a passion fruit kiwi sour (Rouenna), and the California IPA (Run, River) — all the beers are named after books inspired by the origin region of the beer style. They are brewing what they like to drink and have 12 taps in the tasting room, including one nitro tap.
But what about that bread I mentioned earlier, you may be asking. The intention was to always have a food program to go along with the beer and Bjerrisgaard mulled over a few options before settling on deli sandwiches, a style of food that is not very prevalent on the South Island. Award-winning chef Brad Holmes of OLO restaurant fame is designing the menu. Essentially Bjerrisgaard reached out and asked Holmes “What would you do if you made Subway?” Expect decadent classic deli subs including an Italian, meatball, and what is sure to be my favourite, a cheesesteak using house-made beer cheese. To quote Jim Harrison, “The idea is to eat well and not die from it — for the simple reason that that would be the end of your eating.”
Small Gods’ beers are available in cans directly from the brewery. Distribution will begin soon so you can also look for them in local stores.
9829 Third St
Alexa and Tristan Fetherston were on a road trip to Oregon in 2019 visiting multiple breweries when the idea to open a brewery came up in conversation. While in Astoria, another seaside community, they wondered why their hometown of Sidney did not have something similar. Tristan had been a homebrewer for years and once he had his wife Alexa on board, it was full steam ahead. Beacon Brewing opened its doors in October 2021 — just two doors down from Small Gods’ location.
There are quite a few similarities between Beacon Brewing and Small Gods Brewing. They are both located on Third Street as part of a newly built condo development, allowing them to open without having to renovate or change any old building codes. They both shunned the nautical theme that tends to dominate businesses in the area. Tristan worked for Telus for many years and the name Beacon is an electrical reference (a light beacon). Plus, there is the metaphorical meaning: a gathering place for locals. Both breweries mentioned wanting to cater to their community, acknowledging the unique makeup of Sidney, and to create a beer list that would please a wide range of tastes. Lastly, both businesses expressed excitement to be open on the same street, recognizing that having multiple breweries in a location will benefit them both in the long run. Look at what this has done for the town of Port Moody after all.
Rounding out the ownership team is Steven Hardy, Alexa’s brother. This is very much a family-owned business, and the space is very kid-friendly with an old-school arcade game and lots of board games to play with. Not to mention monthly comedy nights, music bingo Mondays, and live music on Friday nights.
Frank Alton is the head brewer, having met Tristan while working at a homebrewing shop in town. They describe their beer as easy drinking and sessional and this is reflected in the great selection of lower-ABV options, something I very much appreciate. Their flagship line-up includes a very quaffable lager, a traditional pale ale, a west coast ISA, a nice hop-forward IPA, and a popular dark mild. They have a few rotating taps, including a sour and a very cool pilsner tap that features a new style of pilsner every month.
Unlike Small Gods, Beacon Brewing does not distribute, but they do have a few screw-top cans available for off-sale purchase at the brewery. The small space does not have a kitchen, but they do offer a great variety of Central and North Saanich food businesses, including Bicycle Pizza, Jenny’s Smoke Shack salmon, Island Nut Roastery snack mix, Adriana’s tortilla chips, and Sidney Scones on the weekends.
1780 Mills Rd
This pico-brewery (even smaller than a nano-brewery) is attached to the Fickle Fig Farm Market. Despite its small size, it creates quite a large selection of beer, albeit in tiny batches. They focus on using seasonal and locally sourced ingredients and often use very old, sometimes medieval recipes. The first brewery to open in the Sidney area back in 2018, you can find their bombers in some select local beer stores and in some local Sidney restaurants.
And now the bakeries…
10 Acres Market Cafe
9805 Seaport Place
This popular Victoria farm-to-table restaurant opened a cafe and market in Sidney. It’s the perfect place to grab a coffee, some frozen meals to make at home, and most importantly, incredible bread. A favourite is the sourdough loaf and their traditional French baguette. They sell out fast so be sure to get there early.
2310 Beacon Ave
Britannia Walsh started her baking career as a delivery driver before quickly working her way up the ranks of a large bakery to become an assistant baker, and then eventually the owner of Lone Tree Bakery, a beloved wholesale bakery. When the cafe side of the business had to close, Walsh took over the old Mother Nature’s Market space right on Beacon Ave, a former wholesale client. The new cafe opened in early June and is a great addition to this bustling street. They make incredible muffins that are absolutely massive, and the turnovers are a must try. They serve some great breakfast items including some cool savoury puff pastry items and their lunch menu includes a burger, salads, soups, and some sandwiches that are served on her unique bread that is marbled pink with the inclusion of beets into the dough.
The Fickle Fig Farm Market
1780 Mills Rd & 2489 Beacon Ave
Although they have a second location in downtown Sidney, the main location off Mills Road just above the airport is worth the drive and visit. The converted old nursery is an idyllic setting for their bakery, restaurant, gelateria, and farm. There are so many delicious items here, including pillowy soft focaccia bread, a very good ham-and-cheese croissant, fresh pizza dough, and decadent chocolate brownies. Go for the baked goods but stay for the beer: Howl Brewing is right next door.
2527 Beacon Ave
This tiny cafe is a local favorite for both sweet and savoury lunch items including the blueberry coffee cake, decadent shortbread cookies, and a lovely quiche. They also make daily soups, salads, and a handful of sandwiches. The space is small with no indoor seating so it’s the perfect choice to grab a treat to take to the beach, only a few steps away.
2507 Beacon Ave
Okay so not everything in Sidney is new! In fact, this beloved bakery has been serving the community since 1944, one of the oldest continuously running bakeries on Vancouver Island. That is a lot of time to perfect your recipes and it shows. They are most famous for their doughnuts, cinnamon buns and croissants. If you’re feeling nostalgic, they make a killer pound cake, a classic apple pie, and a traditional Eccles cake, a British dessert similar to a turnover.
2310 Beacon Ave
Chelsey Columbus makes incredible scones with super quirky flavours like Sour Patch Kids, Banana Split, and Dunkaroos. Columbus originally only sold them at farm markets, online, and at collaborating storefronts (like Beacon Brewing), but now you can get them daily at the new Britannia’s on Beacon bakery where she shares the space.
Tonolli’s Deli & Cafe
2400 Bevan Ave
Exciting news that this popular Central Saanich cafe has opened a second location! Now cyclists can visit without having to huff-it up the Island View hill. There are two things that are a must try when visiting this cafe: the German Apple Cake and the savoury cheese scone. They also make lovely soups, sandwiches, and a great breakfast sandwich.
Bonnie Todd is the owner of Off the Eaten Track Food Tours in Victoria, BC. She is passionate about discovering and promoting the culinary culture on Vancouver Island and is a regular contributor to local publications including Edible Vancouver Island and MicCHEK podcast.