Beer is central to the lives of Czechs to a degree that few, if any, countries can match. One recent study shows that per capita, Czechs drink the most beer in the world, and it’s not all that close. They consume 20% more beer per person than the second place country, Ireland, with Germany a close third. I’ve always liked Czech pilsners that is far and away the most popular style with their dry, bitter clean flavor. I still remember the revelatory experience of trying Staropramen on tap for the first time at the outstanding pub Lucky Baldwin’s in Old Town Pasadena in the mid-90s. I finally understood what the inspiration was for all these American beer giants whose main purpose appears to be selling lifestyle or image rather than flavor.
Like in many European countries, however, the beer industry is dominated by a small handful of national (to international) brands such as Pilsner Urquell, Budweiser Budvar, Krušovice, Gambrinus and Staropramen (I prefer Budvar and Staropramen from the above list). I knew from a past visit that there are smaller, local breweries. Years ago I had visited the generally well-regarded tourist trap U Fleků which showed to me a different side of Czech beer, and on a recent visit I figured I’d try to learn more about the small artisinal producers in a country with a rich brewing history. A quick search led me to Restaurace Kulový Blesk, which is a fairly easy 15 minute walk (or one metro stop ride) from Wenceslas Square in central Prague. They pride themselves on a fairly extensive selection of beer only from small Czech producers.
The Crow and Gate Pub 2313 Yellow Point Road Nanaimo District, BC (250) 722-3731
In 1972, the government of BC relaxed truly some truly Victorian liquor laws to allow neighbourhood pubs to operate for the first time in the province. The Crow and Gate made local history when it became the very first of such establishments. Jack Nash, Sussex native and the former owner, built this place as a labour of love — importing timber beams, furnishings, windows, memorabilia, and other objects to provide the raw material to build a truly authentic southern English pub. He provided a sort of template of how neighbourhood drinking holes could be built and run. Soon it became a local favourite.
Since then, however, the big factory breweries such as Molson’s and Labatt’s have managed to use their hegemony to infest just about every neighbourhood in the province with cookie cutter pubs serving their swill. Things are definitely getting better now in the urban areas with the recent ascent of modern microbreweries and “gastropubs”….but for the rest of the province, Big Brewery mediocrity still rules.
London Pub 700 Main St. Vancouver, BC (604) 684-7732
A year ago this week I was in London, UK. So fitting that I should visit a gastropub that has taken that city’s name in its title. Nestled in a restored corner space of a brick building on the southern edge of Chinatown along Main Street, this still relatively new establishment seems to have a carved out a niche for itself with a loyal and locally residing customer base, judging by how busy and loud it got during the course of my stay. Large, spacious, things to do like some pool tables, video games and big screens to watch sports, it has none of that commercially produced feel of say a Boston Pizza, but rather feel just like the work of some folks who wanted to create a place to hang out, have some suds and meet up with friends for some pub grub. My kind of joint…
The London Pub while first and foremost a watering hole, did have some food on the menu to peruse from and with nothing in my stomach after a long day of work, we figured something to munch on would be good. Looking to split something more substantial the the listing of smaller appetizers shown, we opted to try one of their pizza’s, 11-inch I believe. The barbecue chicken seemed to be the most appealing and substantial of the lot, so that’s what we ordered from the personable young lass who was assigned to our table with the high stools. Fairly chewy and softer textured dough and on the sweeter side with the sauce, gourmet pizza it is not, but for someone who was in need of some sustenance, it fit the bill just fine. Size-wise, more than enough for the pair of us.
Refuel 1944 W 4th Avenue Vancouver, BC (604) 288-7905
[This report is from an outing from this past fall – it had been sitting in the incomplete queue for a while, various travels led me to leave this aside until now, apologies.]
Putting on special events is something that a restaurant can do to draw some attention to itself and cut through all the clutter of marketing hype and word-of-mouth buzz generated among regular patrons and prospective new customers. With so many ways to do this, I think a lot of them are really lost when it comes to pulling off a creative concept. Refuel, with its strong pedigree from its previous incarnation as Fuel, and the strong reputation of its lead man Rob Belcham, have found a way in recent years to conduct an annual event that has now led to a trio of seatings in a single night to commemorate a pig-fueled anniversary celebration.
This year for the Whole Hog Dinner, they brought in a partner to compliment their set course, family-style meal by adding some cask beer creations from the local R&B Brewing Company. This even involved the participation of some of the brewers themselves who were responsible for concocting the brews that were on hand this particular evening. They were as follows and recommended pairings with each of the three food courses that were served.
1. Lemongreass sungod ale
2. Oaked raven cream ale
3. Bacon stout
The experienced beer drinking fellows in our group had favorable comments on the course one paired lemongrass ale. In fact, many noted they wished they’d just stuck to that for the other two pints they had instead of following the recommendations and falling victim to the curiosity factor. Especially when it came to the bacon stout, which had a hint of the pork product, but frankly felt weak overall. The thoughts on the cream ale were that it wasn’t creamy enough too.
Russian River Brewing Company
725 4th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
A few years ago, I unwittingly developed a taste for American IPAs. From years back I enjoyed the IPA from Bridgeport, the rather enjoyable brew pub in Portland, OR whose killer app is the aroma from its non-stop pizza ovens combined with a variety of decent beers. But for whatever reason, a couple of years ago, I went from occasionally enjoying an IPA to suddenly finding it to be my favorite style of beer – well, provided it’s a west coast IPA, which I find to be cleaner, more focused and stylish than its Pacific-removed brethren. The recent evolution of IPA (as the story goes) took a step forward when Vinnie Cilurzo, then at Blind Pig in San Diego, jacked up the regular IPA with even more hops, and balanced the extra bitterness with more sweetness from malt, which inevitably led to more alcohol. And thus the double IPA was born. <Cue the manna from heaven sound effect.> Now Mr. Cilurzo is co-owner (with his wife) of the Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, CA, smack in the middle of California’s tourist – sorry, wine – country.
Guu in Aberdeen
4151 Hazelbridge Way
I’ve come out and said it beforebut my personal desire to explore the full realm of the Vancouver izakaya scene is not exactly the strongest. Again, its not that they are bad or a terrible bastardization of this unique genre of dining out found in Japan, but that the context is lost on me and my memories of many izakaya outings overseas has ruined me and thus nothing will ever compare. I’m sure I’d say the same for other specific segments of popular national food from around the globe if I had the similar depth and breadth of experience such as say in the diverse Liguria regional cuisine of Italy or the so called ‘rainbow cuisine’ that is reputed to be available in Southern Africa. Any transplanted replica outside of those regions would just seem, well, how can I put it… “off”?
I suppose I should relax this hesitation I feel whenever I hear the names of well known joints such as Hapa, Kingyo, and so on. Believe me I’ve tried. And a pair of visits to the Guu chain should be proof that I’m not all that stubborn in my beliefs. This particular post is about the Aberdeen location, found in that shopping mall in Richmond best known for drivers in the parking lot who feel that there is nothing wrong with holding up a long line of cars just to secure a precious parking spot near one of the mall entrances.
Without significant commentary or respectable photographs to complete more solo posts on establishments visited earlier this month on a trip to Calgary, I thought I’d quickly sum up a few thoughts on a trio of places to wrap up this busy week…