Archive for June, 2011

A LITTLE BITTER OF OLD ENGLAND — VICTORIA’S MOON UNDER WATER

In 1984, when Don and Bonnie Bradley went to England, they discovered, in Don’s words, “what beer was.” Back home, Don began to home brew and, after he had moved to Bowen Island, he opened the Bowen Island microbrewery, which he operated until 1998. Don and Bonnie then owned a vineyard near Oliver, B.C., the self-proclaimed “Wine Capital of Canada.” Then they retired and moved to the “Beer Capital of Canada” — Victoria. “Don spent a lot of time renovating our house,” Bonnie remembers. “But when he got finished, he got bored. He needed something new to do.”

That’s how “The Moon Under Water,” Victoria’s newest brewpub came into being. “I wanted an English style pub, where people could enjoy good food and good beer, where we weren’t just selling alcohol, but a social experience.” That’s exactly the kind of place English writer George Orwell had described in his essay “The Moon Under the Water.”

The Bradleys chose what seemed to some to be an unlikely location for their new venture: a building on the north side of Bay Street, just before the Bay Street Bridge. Some noted that it was in the somewhat gritty industrial area a kilometre north of downtown. “But,” Don explained, “we knew there would be a great lunch crowd in the area. It was on one of the main routes to Vic West and Esquimalt, so people could stop by for a pint or two on the way home. It was close to the Galloping Goose Trail and to many of the new condominiums in Vic West. People could walk or cycle to the pub for a pint or two on weekends.” It also had ample parking. In fact, while the proprietors didn’t want their customers to over imbibe, they encouraged those who did to leave their cars overnight — free of charge and no towing — and call a cab.

Inside, the Bradleys created the look of an old English pub, with a difference. Art work by the Island Illustration Society adorns the walls, and the 10 hec brewing system is visible from most of the seats. “That,” said brewer Ron Bradley, “makes watching us brew part of the experience of being here.” There’s a pool table and a dart board, but these are in another room, as is the television. “We want the main entertainment to be people enjoying good conversation.”

The kitchen serves up traditional English pub comfort food — from scratch. There is the usual fare: burgers and chicken wings, onion rings and natchos. But, more important, there is a ploughman’s lunch, fish and chips, and a beef, beer and mushroom pie. Local foods are also featured: steamed mussels, baked oysters, and a wild grilled salmon BLT. Some dishes feature apple or cranberry chutney, others paprika or mustard aioli. On Sunday morning, patrons can enjoy a traditional English breakfast and on Sunday evening a traditional roast beef dinner, complete with Yorkshire pudding. Some of their own beer is used in recipes.

But, of course, the drawing attraction of Moon Under Water is the beer. It’s the creation of Don and Bonnie’s nephew Ron, who learned the business from his uncle on Bowen Island, worked with some interior breweries and bartended, before rejoining the family. “We want beers with drinkability. They have to be flavourful but not too high in alcohol. People should be able to enjoy two or three in an evening and still have a good conversation.” That’s why the most potent beer, Tranquility IPA is only 5.2 per cent ABV. both Moonlight Blonde and Lunar Pale are 4.2 per cent and Blue Moon Bitter is 3.8 per cent.

Moonlight Blonde Ale is designed as a crossover beer, introducing newcomers to the world of craft beers. The saaz hops make it crisp and clean. Smooth and light bodied, it has a slight malt sweetness that balances the hops. Lunar Pale Ale is an English style pale, with the east golding hops producing earthy notes, and the malted rye contributing some bitterness. There is a subtle spiciness to the beer. According to Bonnie Bradley, Blue Moon Bitter is “to die for.” The quitissential English session beer has a smoothe maltiness with a mild hop finish. It is dark amber to brown in colour. Tranquility IPA, while it is not by any stretch of the imagination a “hop bomb,” is more aggressive that the English version of the style.

Moon Under Water doesn’t duplicate Victoria’s three other brewpubs, it complements them, offering an environment, food, and beer that will make English ex-pats at home and other patrons most welcome. Were he still alive, George Orwell would have liked to visit this pub.

Moon Under Water is open Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday from 11:30 am to 10:00 pm; Fridays and Saturdays from 11:30 am to 11:00 pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

FRIDAYS WITH BARLEY — THE BITTER TRUTH

In the great enthusiasm for West Coast style pale ales and IPAs, bitter, the somewhat unobtrusive British cousin of these styles, has been relatively ignored.

Three and one half decades ago, on my first (and only) visit to England, I tasted my first English bitter. My father had invited me to a pub lunch at the local in a small village we were visiting and, horrified when I ordered a lager, insisted I have a bitter. I liked it. It tasted different. In fact, it had taste.

Back in Canada, I returned to my lagers (that’s all there really was) and then, when the microbrewing revolution turned to pale ales and IPAs. Most microbrewers didn’t include bitter on their list. “If I do an English style pale ale that’s close enough. The word bitter would scare people off. It’s like a bad four-letter word to them,” one brewer told me.

On the last Friday in May, I decided to rectify my neglect of the style and, on my month-end trip to Edmonton’s Sherbrooke Liquor Store, I picked up four varieties of the style (they were on the pale ale shelves). Later that afternoon I joined with my tasting associates to try them out.

We started with FULLERS E.S.B., one of the great English examples of this great English beer. Low in carbonation, deep golden in colour, it had a smoothe mouth feel and a balance between malts and hops. One taster, who had no use for lagers, said it would be good for “summer quaffing.” Another remarked on the pleasant, bitter finish. The third just wanted to know if there was any more.

Pumphouse S.O.B., from Moncton, NB’s very popular microbrewery, was a lighter gold in colour and more effervescent. it has a more pronounced bitterness, although there were citrusy notes reminiscent of some West Coast pales. It has a more pronounced bitterness than the Fullers and wasn’t as smoothe as that beer. One taster called it “a little edgy,” another said it was almost like a pale ale. The third, who after frowns the last time didn’t ask for more, praised its “robust flavour.” It was 5.0 per cent ABV.

Alberta’s entry in our tasting session, Wild Rose’s S.O.B., was the “weakest” of the four tested at 4.1 per cent ABV. Sweeter than the others, with a mild hop presence, it was lighter in body and colour that Fullers and Pump House. One taster though she dected dandelion notes. Another remarked that the beer was “bordering on bland.” “It certainly isn`t threatening,” said the third. It seemed almost designed to be a summer session beer.

Everyone agreed that Howe Sound’s Bail Out Bitter (named during the financial problems of a couple of years ago) was the most interesting of the four. It balanced mild malt flavours with earthy hop notes. Not so assertive as the Pum House brand, it had a subtle complexity of flavours. “This is a very interesting beer,” remarked one of the group. “It isn`t so in your face`as the others,” observed another.

Overall the members of the group wwere divided evenly between Fullers and Howe Sound as to which one they liked best. Unfortunately, they were unanimous in agreeing that the Wild Rose version needed some beefing up.

But we all agreed, that English bitter deserved more recognition than it currently was receiving. “When I first heard the word bitter,” one of the group told us, “I thought of something really mouth-puckering. It isn’t. But if bitter means that it doesn’t have malty sweetness, then I’m all for it.” Each agreed to advance the cause.