Thursday, January 20, 2011

Review - Moon Under Water Brewpub

The Moon Under Water takes its name from an essay by George Orwell from 1946 published in the London Evening Standard. In it he proclaims ten attributes that make the perfect pub, the fictional "Moon Under Water." I believe that if one looks past the veneer of the age in which it is written, this essay still strikes at the heart of what makes a great public house today, and I would encourage anyone to read the full essay here.

The proprietors of Victoria's newest brewpub aim to make this vision a reality. Moon is located on the downtown side of the Bay Street Bridge and thus immediately satisfies two of Orwell's criteria: it is located two minutes from a bus stop (the #14 stops across the street), but is on a side street, so drunks and rowdies won't find their way to its doors. Also according to Orwell's standard, Moon now has a games room separate from the main bar, a fire burning in the hearth, and no radios (or televisions) blaring.

Don, Bonnie, and Ron Bradley, the founders of the Moon Under Water, are hardly new to the micro-brew game, as they founded Bowen Island Brewing back in 1994. This would be my third visit to the Moon since they first opened late last year and I was very excited for the chance to review their beers, as I was pleased with their first efforts. Walkng in I knew I had to leave some of my prejudices at the door. Let me say it now, I am head over heels in love with the Cascadian brewing revolution. There is little I enjoy as much as being clobbered over the head with a 10% abv Imperial Stout or slapped in the tastebuds by a 100+ IBU double IPA. But the Moon is about something different. They serve traditional English-style low alcohol session beers that are still full-flavoured and full-bodied, but without the high abv % so common these days. While ordering a couple of pints at the bar I had a chance to talk to Ron  about his recent research trip to Seattle and Portland, as well as his philosophy on beer. He said that some beers south of the border were so intense that they took him most of the night to finish and left him with heartburn. Now despite my love of extreme beers and a spot of old-fashioned beer revelry, I respect his desire to create satisfying session-beers, that can be enjoyed over an evening, without resulting in overly drunken and disheveled customers. This, I must admit, stays true to the spirit of Orwell's essay.

Before I get on to the beers let me say that both me and my girlfriend's meals were good, as they have been every time I've been to Moon, (local tip: always order the soup, its amazing) but the decor and atmosphere is a touch sparse and it is here that the Moon must truly improve to bring itself up to the Orwellian standards to which it aspires. But I digress, this is a beer blog, and so lets get on to the beer.

Moonlight Blonde Ale    4.2%
This is not a style that I'm naturally inclined to and on my first two visits this beer was by far my least favourite, but since then it has definitely improved. Its newest version is very dark, to the point of being indistinguishable from their pale ale, and thus probably the darkest blonde I have experienced. It is nonetheless surprisingly refreshing and would make a great introduction to micro-brew beer for the lager enthusiast.
Rating: Good

Lunar Pale Ale    4.2%
This beer cascades into the glass a classic pale ale amber and its aroma is a wonderfully blended mix of malt and hops. The unusual combination of Goldings and Cascade hops have been used to dry-hop this beer, a process where hops are added while the beer is fermenting to provide hop aroma. I was highly impressed with this beer until I tasted it. Its body was quite thin, and its flavour bland, with somewhat unpleasant sour notes. The great balance of hops and malt so evident in the aroma was totally absent in the flavour, and this beer that started out so promising, ended up my least favourite.
Rating: Drinkable

Blue Moon Bitter    3.8%
This Best Bitter bitter pours a highly attractive deep amber with a thin, creamy head which sits atop the beer to almost the end of the glass. It bears a mild, yet inviting hoppy bouquet and is truly an attractive beer before ever being tasted. It has a beautiful, silky mouthfeel and an incredibly full body for being 3.8% abv. This is the beer that will keep me coming back to Moon, and its session strength means I can have a few without fear of the new drunk-driving laws.
Rating: Very Good

Belgian Chocolate Porter    4.6%
This beer is highly limited, and is likely to not last the weekend, so if you want to try it head to Moon soon. It enters the glass a very dark black with a totally non-existent head and a delicate chocolate, malty aroma. Its body is full and satisfying with a roasted, yet somewhat bland and quick finishing aftertaste. If you're at Moon its worth a try, but if you're keen for a top-notch local porter, go for a Driftwood Blackstone.
Rating: Good

It has to be said that for Moon Under Water to become the pub of Orwellian vision is still going to take some work. The atmosphere is lacking, the menu needs consistency, and above all the beers need to get better. But this being said I believe the people of Victoria should get behind this establishment. This is not a tired old brewpub, resting on its laurels of years past and producing beers of consistently mediocre or worse quality year after year. This is a new business actively looking to understand and produce the beers desired by a changing marketplace. Coming in February Moon will have an IPA on-tap with an abv of 5.5%. They will soon be selling off-sales, including some beers of higher strength not offered on-tap. They will also be featuring a series of very small batch beers in order to gauge what people are looking for. I cannot think of an approach more dedicated to improving Victoria's already good beer scene, and this is why I believe that if you love quality beer and want to continue to see Victoria uphold its reputation as the beer capital of Canada, you should give Moon Under Water a shot.
The Moon Under Water Pub & Brewery on Urbanspoon


  1. John, great blog entry - thank you for the "Moon Under Water" explanation; it painted a lovely picture in my mind of what the brewpub could be...unfortunate that MUW's atmosphere doesn't live up to it quite yet, but it sounds like the owners are dedicated to perfecting their beers, the rest can come later :)

  2. Thanks for the review, we are and will being working to improve and change our menu and beers.
    We want to be the place to go in Victoria and we
    will be by summer. The Belgian Chocolate porter was misrepresented, my wife thought it was just that bless her heart, it is a chocolate stout, first stout I've ever made, like ever. just an experiment that I thought turned out no too bad, even if I do say so myself. thanks again for taking the time to give us some thought.

  3. No problem Don, I like the direction that Moon seems to be going, keep it up. For a first effort, that stout was impressive, cant wait for the next one. Im really looking forward to your IPA and whatever else might be up your brewing sleeve in the future. Catch you next time.

  4. I have been to MUW a number of times now, and the food has always been really good. The last time I went was last weekend. Had a really great roasted vegetable soup. It was not too salty, not too rich.Just right and so warm- great on a cold day! Had that with the Artisan salad, which was quite nice with the pumpkin seeds. Overall a very enjoyable experience. I will go back next time I am in town!