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August Jack

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It was with great interest that I learnt of the impending opening of a beer-focused tapas bar mere blocks from Sharon’s apartment in Kits. Prior to this opening, if we wanted an evening out at a restaurant with even slightly decent beer, we had to choose between the Manchester, Bimini’s or, more recently, Ceili’s. Needless to say, we cook a lot.

August Jack promised to change that, so I eagerly accepted their offer of a fully comp’d evening to take their new menu for a spin. I won’t bore you with a course by course rundown of what I was fed; enough beer bloggers went through the August Jack that ten seconds of Googling will get you quite a few detailed takes. However, I will run down what was good, what was okay, and what was worrisome.

The Good

The food ranges from quite good to excellent, and let’s face it, that’s sorta why you eat out. All five menu items I sampled were well structured & balanced dishes, prepared with care, and all priced at a very reasonable level. In particular, the mussels were fantastic. The Pan Seared Beach Oysters offered a very BC-take on our local meaty oysters, and had a rich earthy flavour that took me back to my days growing up on the coast, filling my insatiable oyster craving via my proximity to the beach. Of course, you have to take great food with a grain of salt, as the restaurant was fully aware that over 3/4 of their clientele that evening were reviewing the grub. Anything less than awesome would have been a disaster.


Pictured: Food of some sort.
What do you want from me? I’m a beer blogger.

The Meh

The beers chosen to pair with each meal were a confused lot. Take the opening salvo: inviting a bunch of beer geeks to your new restaurant and thrusting Steamworks Pale Ale in their faces upon arrival is a ballsy move. This is arguably the worst craft pale ale in the province, and using it as your lead move in a beer-pairing restaurant is questionable at best.

Then take the oysters. Why, oh why, would you skip down a tap list that includes Storm’s amazing Black Plague stout and elect to pair your oysters with Unibroue’s Blanche de Chambly? Yeah, I get it; the coriander in the beer is supposed to pair with the tarragon and portobello slices. It makes sense on paper, but it just didn’t work on the plate. Stout with oysters is Beer Paring One-Oh-Freaking-One, and they missed it.

Some of the pairings did work, especially the Odin Kolsch/mussels pair, but overall there were enough misses or questionable decisions to make me not trust the menu’s pairing recommendations… in a restaurant staking its reputation on beer pairings.

The Worrying

A glaring menu omission can be found on the draught list itself. Where are the serving sizes? The beer stats (ABV, IBU, FG)? Tasting notes? The theme of the restaurant is pairing food with beer, but somehow no one thought to put together a couple of lines about what flavours the beer actually has?

However, no aspect of the evening was more concerning than the wait staff’s decision to seat a party of sloppily intoxicated, rowdy 20 somethings in the midst of two tables of mid-review bloggers. I get it; the restaurant was empty and man those folks looked like they’d leave a bit of money behind, but August Jack needs to decide what kind of restaurant they want to be and stick with it.

Conclusion

Overall, my evening at August Jack was a pleasant one, and it does take time for a new restaurant to find its groove. The planned draught expansion, and the beer bottle cellar will take time to build out, but should add an extra level of complexity and quality to a solid start.

Overall, though, the restaurant really does seem like an endeavour from someone for whom craft beer is not a passion, but rather a sound business investment (see owner Chris Hall’s other restaurant, the Sin Bin to back this theory). But you know what? Craft Beer in Vancouver has grown to the point where it really IS a sound business decision, and I’m okay with that.

Will I go back and pay this time? Absolutely. Should you? Yup.


As I am wont to do, I crawled outside the foundation and into their cellar. It’s not loaded with awesome beer yet, but it will be.

Written by chuck

September 3rd, 2013 at 4:18 pm

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A Short Missive on the Price of Great Beer

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I’m off to Chambar tomorrow to celebrate Sharon’s birthday, and my reservation reminder email got me salivating like some Russian scientist’s pet. Sure, the food is amazing, and they do make a foie gras terrine so decadent that it likely would have been outlawed in the sexually repressed 1950s. However, the thing that really got me going was the beer I had there last time. Raise your hand if you’re surprised in any way by this.

The last time we were there, I enjoyed an extreme beer rarity: Westvleteren 12. This seldom-seen trappist is hailed by many as the “best beer in the world.” While I might not put it on such a lofty pedestal, it definitely is one of the better beers to ever pass my lips, and not to fluff my own pillow, but that means it’s pretty damned good.


Although I’m uncertain if the fact that my pillow
is also a beer helps or hinders my case.

I enjoyed this beer immensely for a number of reasons. First, it was served at the right temperature in an appropriate glass. Second, the atmosphere of Chambar is nigh perfect for a post dinner sipper of a big ale. Third, and I cannot stress this one enough, trying the Westy at Chambar meant not having to dip into my own small stash to monitor how my investment was progressing.

With such a memorable experience behind me, it’s fairly natural to remark about how great a time was had to friends, relatives, passers-by, and pretty much anyone who will listen. Imagine my shock when, instead of the intended jealously and interest, my story generated disapproval, centered solely around the question of price. I paid (IIRC) $27 for my 33cl bottle of Westvleteren 12–just over twice the ~$13 cost at retail, and therefore around the low-end of restaurant booze mark-ups. The reaction?

“How much? For beer!? *A* beer? I wouldn’t have paid that. You got ripped off.” Sure, some folk got it, and immediately went to Chambar for their own bottle, but others–even some craft beer fans–just couldn’t get over paying that much for a beer. Some even suggested that I could have saved money and drank beforehand. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t frequently pre-game fine dining.


I’m not saying it wouldn’t be awesome,
just that I personally don’t do it.

Think about this one for a second: $27 for 33cl is ~$82 for a litre, or ~$61 for 75cl. You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? Here’s Chambar’s wine list. The price per bottle ranges from $38 (Bodegas Navarro Lopez ‘ROJO’ ’11 Tempranillo) to $525 (Chateau Palmer ’07 Margaux). $61 doesn’t even get you into the decent reds.

Drop $525 on a bottle of wine at a restaurant and people will think “wow, that must have been a great wine!” Drop $60 on a bottle of beer, and folk will think “what a rip-off.” The wine > beer mentality has been burnt into our sub-conscious by decades of cheap products from Big Beer and the advertising to back that up. It’s okay for wine to be expensive, but alas beer is not afforded such a luxury, no matter the quality.

Which would you prefer? The “best beer in the world,” or an okay Merlot from Washington State? (Charles Smith ‘The Velvet Devil’ $59). I know which one I’d go for, and I’d do it again in a second if Chambar hadn’t sold out already. While annoying for me, that fact is proof that some progress has been made, but until I can enjoy a high-end beer at a quality restaurant without derisive comment about what is frankly a low markup, we’re not quite done here.

Written by chuck

August 9th, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Posted in Bars,Beer and You

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More on Craft Beer Market

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Is everyone all tingly with excitment yet? Vancouver Craft Beer Week, that most wonderful week of the year, is nearly upon us. It all kicks off tomorrow night with the Opening Gala at the Roundhouse. The main focus of the night will be all the new breweries in BC, but alas, they’re so new that only a handful will be able to actually, you know, bring beer. Oh well, the notably beer-less breweries will make up for it with their awesome beards.


These guys could easily sub-in for the villain in an old timey-western. Please don’t hurt me.

This celebration of all things beer and face-follicle-related is brought to you by none other than Craft Beer Market, the mega-taphouse coming to the Olympic Village in the not-so-distant future. I’ve written about them before, but I recently had a chance to sit down and actually talk to Rob Swiderski, the man behind the dream.

From this talk I gleened some insights into both Rob and Craft Beer Market, and it would be remiss of me to not share these with you guys.

At first glance, Rob seems like the kind of guy who you could easily picture shotgunning some Canadian then crushing the can against his head. He’s tan, well built and–get this–completely beardless. I’ll admit it; I was worried. When he opens his mouth, though, the façade falls away and you realize you’re talking to someone with a serious interest in craft beer.

Heck, in some ways, Rob has more beer geek cred than I do. Here is a list of things Rob does that I don’t:

  1. He homebrews
  2. He’s a member of his local homebrew club (Cowtown Yeast Wranglers)
  3. He’s a certified BCJP judge
  4. He’s a certified Cicerone Beer Server
  5. He’s intends to become a full Cicerone

He also talks a good talk. His goal with CBM is to focus on what’s good and local, building a restaurant from the kitchen on out. I lost track of how many times he said the word local while describing his final product, but I was definitely left with the impression that the food being served there will not be coming out of a can.


Nope, it’s free range spamalopes only.

What about the beer, though? Rob’s approach here is practical rather than passionate. If I were to run a restaurant, I doubt I’d make the following choices, but I also wouldn’t be opening a 300 seat mega-bar. Here are some highlights of our talk.

  1. Macros. Yes, there will be macros. More than one, in fact. The reasoning is that these are “entrapment” beers, designed to lure in your average macro lager drinker and make them feel comfortable. Once they’re served their shitty horse piss in a glass, though, the staff will begin making suggestions to move them up the beer-addiction ladder. I don’t even mind this approach. Think about the first beer you drank; I’ll bet it wasn’t Driftwood.
  2. 140 taps, but only ~20 rotating taps. Have you ever trained the staff in a 300 seat restaurant on 140 beers? Would you like to do it every week for the rest of your life? Maybe if you had good, passionate people this might not be too hard (think Alibi Room), but in a restaurant this size your staff turnover will guarantee a steady influx of clueless newbies. While I can’t help but agree that training them would be hard, I still feel limiting the rotating list to so few taps will be a mistake. Seasonal beers and one-offs are the life-blood of craft beer in BC. If I want a regular production beer (eg Fat Tug), I can go to the shitty bar down the street.
  3. Lines on the ceiling. Yup, they’re doing this. It’s not as bad as you think, though, as these will be glycol-sleeved, insulated lines of unusual thinness. The beer in here won’t go bad any time soon. Sure, it virtually guarantees that imperial stout will be poured too cold, but at least it… uh… looks cool, I guess? Oh wait, it’s also inefficient, so it has that going for it too.
  4. Line maintenance. The goal is to clean the lines at least once every two weeks, and preferably every week. This means that, on any given day, 10-20 lines will be fresh and squeaky clean. This is a good thing.
  5. Custom imports. When you buy a lot of beer, you can do some interesting things, and Rob wants to do just that, via importing beer that’s new to BC, but has been featured in his Calgary bar. Sure, he hasn’t tangled with the LCLB on the issue yet, so he still has hope. Let’s not take that from him just yet.

In the end, Rob is a savvy businessman with a solid vision of what his bar will look like. Is it the perfect bar that we’d like to see in the Salt Building? No, but I honestly think that perfect bar would go out of business pretty darned fast. Considering what else could have been there, I think we lucked out that Rob signed that lease.

This isn’t a bar for the high end beer geek, and it’s not trying to be a bar for the high end beer geek. Rob is, however, engaged. He wants suggestions, and seems willing to adapt his model to better fit Vancouver. So, on that front, if you see something you don’t like, let CBM know; I suspect they’ll accomidate us. You don’t get the mega-taphouse you want, you get the mega-taphouse you deserve.

Will I go there often? Sure. It’s got a nice patio, is in a gorgeous building, and will have at least a dozen solidly awesome beers on tap. Will I repeatedly joke about breaking-in on Twitter to gain illicit access to incredibly awesome and rare beer lists? Nope, I’ll save that stale joke for the Alibi.

I hope to see everyone there for the grand opening which, according to Rob, is in August. However, having seen the place just recently, I wouldn’t hold my breath.


Sorry, Rob, but a building that looks like this on May 9th does not turn into a 300 seat restaurant by August.

Written by chuck

May 30th, 2013 at 5:22 pm

Posted in Bars

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