AJ Auld and Taylor MacNeil at Browns Crafthouse

Behind Bars visits Vic West’s Browns Crafthouse

A focus on local beers, wines, products and people

  • Nov. 30, 2022 7:30 a.m.

Focusing on the local community and honing their craft with exceptional local products and services are helping Vic West’s Browns Crafthouse stand out from the crowd.

General manager Taylor MacNeil, who has been in charge for five months, said: “We really focus on the craft products, making things locally from scratch. We focus on local beers, wines, products and people.

“It’s also a little bit more of a step back. We have more handhelds, burgers, comfort food items, and things you’d kind of want to have when you’re out having a couple of pints–as opposed to a steak or a seafood dish. But you’ll also find some fun Asian fusion and tasty eats.

“The Crafthouse really appealed to me because you’re looking for that standard where you have good staff and service, but then you get to have a little bit more fun with your menu. So, we have 20 craft beers on tap, and our staff members are extremely local. We have a lot of blue collar workers and we want to be that spot where they can come in and feel more elevated than in a standard pub, but still have that pub atmosphere where you get to know everyone and all be friends.”

Top of the pops on their signature drinks list are the cocktail Chain Famous, Sooke Brewing Company’s Renfrew Red beer and the nitro-coffee-infused Vic West Shaft.

“The Chain Famous is our twist on the classic bellini,” said MacNeil. “It’s the same kind of peachy sweetness but ours isn’t in a frozen slush. The bubbles and the Prosecco give it a unique spin.

“And then, the Vic West Shaft was created with the idea that Victoria is really well known for its shafts and it’s kind of a signature thing. A twist on that classic pick-me-up, we added chocolate bitters, a cream foam and nitro coffee on tap. It really elevates the drink. We partnered with Cafe Fantastico for the nitro.

“One of our most popular beers is the Sooke Brewing Renfrew Red. Not a lot of places keep a red ale on tap, but we keep it year-round. The type of brew and the type of hops make it red.

“I’m also a margarita person. And what I really enjoy is that we squeeze our lime juice fresh every morning. So, you’re always getting the freshest margarita you’ve ever had.”

Browns Crafthouse comes under the larger Brown’s umbrella,and includes the Ventura Room cocktail bar in Vancouver, Browns Social House and the brand-new Liberty Kitchen.

The Vic West branch, featuring a generous patio, has just under 50 staff who love the unique social side of working here.

On the food front, MacNeil recommends the Ridiculous Turkey Dip, a year-round Thanksgiving dinner, the Crispy Chicken Ramen, Dynamite Crunch roll—definitely a staff favourite—and the Fried Mac & Cheese Balls.

We asked Taylor:

What traits make a great bartender? Somebody who takes passion in their craft. Somebody who really prioritizes putting out a good product and then connecting with the guests. I bartended for a long time, and becoming passionate about the people who came into bar led me to start loving the industry. We always love creating our classic cocktails, signature drinks or something off-menu.

When is your Happy Hour? Our Happy Hour starts at 3 pm. Our regulars flow in and out during the day, but between 3 and 6, you’ll see a lot of regulars and people who live in the neighbourhood. We know them all really well, and we work really hard to give back to our community and let them know we are here for them.

How do you see your role within the Vic West community? We sponsor a few sports teams—the a slow pitch team this year. We hosted their end-of-year wrap-up party as well. We also sponsor local events; just last month at the Spiral Cafe there was CornFest and it was a great time. We also have music bingo here every Saturday. We work with Driftwood Brewery quite a bit and they sponsor the music bingo.

What would be your ideal customer experience? I always like to say to my staff that we work in hospitality and that means being a host and making people feel welcome. If you are trying to host somebody at home, that’s how they should be treated in a restaurant. Make sure they have drinks, are fed and feel welcome and safe. Go above and beyond, and get to know our people. It’s a give-and-take relationship—a really extra-yard connection.