When is a Pub not a Pub?

Remember when, if you wanted to go out for a drink you just went to a local bar? Well, welcome to the age of choices! Now you and your best pals can be shuttled to bars, pubs, brew pubs, craft breweries, microbreweries, and gastropubs. Confusing, right? Let’s see if we can clear this up.

Bars, Pubs, or Taverns

Ale as a drink predates the occupation of Great Britain by the Roman Empire in the first century AD. The construction of the system of Roman roads led to the appearance of the first taverns (known as “tabernae”) serving food and drinks.

A Taphouse is a tavern consisting of a building with a bar and public rooms; often providing light meals.

Bars typically do not serve food and you go to the counter or bar to order drinks, hence the name. There is an age limit for patrons and bars can be attached to other businesses such as hotels.

Pubs, short for “public houses”, became established around the beginning of the 19th century and have been the social centre of the villages and towns of England and those countries once part of the British Empire ever since.

Pubs generally occupy their own building and serve casual food and drinks with a focus on beer and wine although they also provide non-alcoholic drinks. Pubs provide a social gathering place for locals as well as those just passing through.

Microbreweries or Craft Breweries

A brewery, sometimes called a beerhouse, is a commercial establishment that creates and sells beer. It can produce millions of barrels of beer per year.

As its name suggests, a microbrewery produces much less annually – no more than 15,000 barrels. It must be licensed by the Government of Canada, and be independently owned. Microbreweries make specialty beers and most are sold and drunk on site.

Trying to pin down a definition of a craft brewery or microbrewery is difficult as there is no consistency across Canada. Most craft breweries are small and locally or family owned. According to the BC Craft Brewers Guild, member brewers must be majority owned in BC and produce less than 200,000 hectolitres of beer per year.

Brew Pubs

Brew pubs gained popularity in recent years as an extension of the movement towards supporting local businesses using locally-sourced ingredients sustainably. Essentially, a brew pub is a combination of a brewery and a restaurant.

The beer is brewed on the premises and often served directly from the brewing tanks providing a unique look at the technical skill and methods used to create a top-quality beverage. Food offered is typical pub fare.

The Cowichan Valley has become a popular center for the craft beer industry. Take a pub crawl through these local brew pubs:

  1. Red Arrow Brewing Company: Located in Duncan, the Red Arrow brews small batch high quality beer taking every opportunity to use locally sourced ingredients. The food menu features classic pub fare with vegetarian and gluten-free choices.
  2. Small Block Brewery: A family-run brewery with a cozy atmosphere, Small Block even features live music on the weekends. The menu features craft beer, cider, and snacks.
  3. Craig Street Brew Pub: Offering a range of handcrafted beers brewed on site, the pub has a cozy fireplace for winter and an outdoor patio for warmer weather. Food on offer covers the range of appies to desserts.
  4. The Oak Taphouse: Fostering community and connections, The Oak serves up local craft brews and delicious home-grown eats.
  5. Riot Brewing Co.: Located in Chemainus, the Riot Brewing Co. offers a full lounge license, outdoor patio, sleeves, and sample flights. It’s kid- and dog-friendly.
  6. Bayview Brewing Company: Locally owned and operated in Ladysmith, Bayview offers wonderful craft beer and appies, bowls, and sandwiches sure to please anyone.
  7. Sawmill Taphouse and Grill: Another reason to stop in Chemainus, the Sawmill features Pacific Northwest craft beers and forno oven pizzas. Authentic farm-to-table tapas and appetizers complete the incredible atmosphere.


Gastropubs first made an appearance in England in 1991 when the new owners of The Eagle pub decided to offer “restaurant quality” food in their pub moving the focus away from a purely drinking establishment. The word gastropub was created by combining “pub” and “gastronomy” to emphasize the inventiveness and quality of the food on offer.

Whether you’re a connoisseur of beer, a foodie, or just want to hoist a few and kick back with good friends, the Cowichan Valley offers a diverse range of establishments for visitors to explore.