Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Review - The Moon Revisited, Moon Under Water's Grand Opening Week

The Moon Under Water is the newest brew-pub on the Victoria beer scene and its philosophy around beer centres on the session beer, a beer of fairly low alcohol content that is suited to drinking in quantity over a session of long duration.This past week they had their official grand opening and I was on hand to try some of their new offerings. Every day during the week they released a new nano-brew paired with an entrĂ©e, in an effort to discover new beers as well as to see what was popular with Victoria beer drinkers.

This would be my second time writing a review for Moon and although I'm keen to move on to reviewing the city's other brew-pubs, I felt that revisiting this spot would give me a chance to see how they'd moved forward. In my previous review I found the atmosphere to be lacking, but this is something that has definitely improved, the bare walls are now adorned with artwork and the empty dining room has been filled with lively crowds. They serve unpretentious traditional pub fare that is homemade and always good. I have never been disappointed by a meal at Moon and would recommend their food to anyone. However, to my mind what is of utmost importance in a brewpub is the beer. If your beer isn't good, then you're really just another restaurant. Last time I found their beers to be good, but there was definitely room for improvement, so I was looking forward to trying their new offerings to see if they'd been stepped up a notch. The proof, as always, is in the pudding, so lets down to it.

Double Chocolate Stout - 4.9% abv
I tried the previous incarnation of this beer and found it to be good, but not great. This time it was made with twice the chocolate as this character in the previous brew was quite understated. True-to-style this beer was black in colour with a creamy head and an aroma of dark roasted barley. This beer was made with a partial-sour mash, a technique where a portion of the brew is allowed to sour and is then re-introduced in order to add tartness to the beer. When done well it can add a new layer of complexity and flavour to a beer. On tasting this beer a sourness was apparent on the entry fading into faint notes of roasted malt and finishing overly sour, with strongly acrid notes. The body was very thin, almost watery, something totally inappropriate for a style that should feature a creamy texture. This beer had very little flavour or body and the sour mash was far too strong, so I definitely cannot recommend it.
Rating: Poor

Brown Ale - 4% abv
If there is one style of beer that gets no respect, it's the brown ale. Perhaps this is because it is by definition a lightly flavoured, malty beer of low strength and thus the exact opposite of everything we have come to associate with the Cascadian: strong taste, lots of hops, and high alcohol. But Moon prides themselves on their dedication to the session beer, and so I was intrigued to try their version of this quintessential beer of the session. This beer was a deep brown with red highlights and struck a beautiful picture in a pint glass. It had a light malty aroma and a nice medium bodied mouthfeel. Its flavour was toasty and nutty mixed with the taste of roasted malts which extended into a long finish. This beer was very drinkable but also interesting; it wasn't incredibly complex but was a fine expression of its style: refreshing and flavourful and brewed to be enjoyed in quantity. It's not a beer that speaks to my heart but it did exactly what it's supposed to and so I definitely have to recommend it.
Rating: Good

India Red Ale - 5.6% abv
Although it seems in opposition to all Moon stands for the Cascadian revolution is hard to deny. With the growing trend for strong, hoppy beers so goes the liberal use of the word India to describe them. India browns, India Belgians and India reds have hit the market featuring high alcohol contents and tons and tons of hops. Despite Moon's reputation as a purveyor of the session beer they released this somewhat stronger, hoppier brew to much fanfare; it was the biggest hit of the week selling out in a matter of hours. When I arrived at Moon on Friday night it had already sold out, but Ron was good enough to share a bottle with me that he had stashed away. The IRA was a dark, almost cloudy red amber but I was somewhat surprised by its mild, malty aroma that had no hop presence. It had a nice bitter entry that moved right through the mid-taste and into the finish and lingered long and pleasant. For a beer that featured five hop additions I was surprised by its lack of hop flavour or aroma. It was a good beer and featured great bitterness, but to me it cried out for front end hops to round out the flavour. The plan is for future versions of this beer to be dry-hopped, a process that greatly enhances a beer's hop aroma, and should improve it somewhat. Nonetheless, an enjoyable brew.
Rating: Good

Tranquility IPA - 5.2% abv
Unlike the other beers in this review the Tranquility is set to be a permanent feature at Moon, their fourth regular offering. An IPA is a beer that emphasizes hop character, and the Tranquility is no exception, however it leans more towards the British end of the style, meaning less emphasis on hops and more on malt than many North American IPAs. It was an attractive beer with a brilliantly clear, bright orange amber hue and a pleasantly hoppy bouquet. It was medium bodied and had a moderately hoppy flavour that was incredibly well balanced with malt. Its finish was of mild to moderate bitterness that was very pleasant and long lasting. The finish could possibly use more bitterness, but apparently the plan for the next batch is to do just that, which could send the quality of this beer into the stratosphere. Predictably, for my taste the Tranquility could use more hops, but it was balanced, drinkable and interesting and I highly recommend it.
Rating: Very Good

Raspberry Porter - 4.7% abv
My feelings on raspberry beer are somewhat tarnished from numerous painful hangovers of years ago thanks to the sickly sweet raspberry ale made at Swan's Brewpub, but I was still willing to give this a shot. In the glass this beer was quite dark with ruby highlights and had a light aroma of raspberries. It had a great mouthfeel, creamy, and full-bodied. Its flavour was a mixture of dark malt and raspberries and it has a long aftertaste of sweet raspberry. For me, this aftertaste seemed a bit too sweet, almost like raspberry cordial, and could have used some tartness or perhaps a bit less berry flavour, but it doesn't overpower the beer and this makes for an enjoyable pint.
Rating: Good

For the most part I enjoyed the new beers at Moon Under Water, and I'm looking forward to seeing what their brewers create in the future as it cannot be questioned that they have the ability to make great beers. However, one thing that seems to be lacking with their beers is consistency. On my previous review I gave a fairly poor rating to their Lunar Pale Ale, but on trying it again it reminded me of the beer I had enjoyed on my first visit to Moon, I suppose a poor batch was responsible. I had previously rated the Blue Moon Bitter the best of their beers, but on revisiting it it seemed a totally different brew, much of its flavour and wonderful, full body were absent. Again, I suppose a bad batch was at fault. For Moon to build up a strong following of regulars that will be its key to success in its out of the way location, it will need to address this concern and produce consistently good product, batch after batch. Nonetheless, the Moon's atmosphere is much improved, a local following seems to be growing, the food continues to be great, and if you haven't tried it yet, a pint of the Tranquility IPA is an absolute must. If you haven't been down to visit them near the Bay Street Bridge yet, you should, you won't be disappointed.


  1. Just a note on consistency, the Bradleys have had very little time for brewing because they've been focused on staffing and the kitchen. Soon enough their focus will shift and they will be at full potential ( ps if you peek into the brewery you can see and shiny brand new bottling machine!) I for one can't wIt for the day I see moon under water in the liquor stores

  2. Victoria has more than it's share of fine dining. What the Bradley's must focus upon if they are to capture their share of the market is brewing good ale and brewing it consistently.

  3. On the claim that Victoria has its fair share of fine dining, that's a matter I will dispute.

    On the inconsistent brew issue: Patience, grasshopper. It's a new brewery that is experiencing some growing pains and is tweaking its way toward consistency. I'm old enough to recall the opening of Spinnakers, Swans and more recently Canoe and the now-defunct Hugos, and I recall they too got off to great, but bumpy starts. At least a couple of them found their way to producing consistent beer.

    I also think Moon deserves some slack on their one-time nano-brews made especially for the grand opening. Brewing is not an exact science, and I appreciate any brewery that experiments with the art side of the brewing equation. Not every experiment is going to be a Sistine Chapel Michelangelo.

    The two times I've been in the pub (prior to grand opening), I tasted all of their house brews, and all were excellent, both times. If I had one issue, it's that their bitter should be served a bit warmer, cellar temperature if possible. That's the beauty of drinking in London - most pubs there have their refrigeration temps for their ales set to cellar temp, if not a bit warmer, which allows the full spectrum of flavours to be enjoyed.

    By the way, this is the best beer blog I've come across in Victoria, perhaps BC. Keep up the fine work!


  4. Thanks for commenting guys, some good points made all round. I think a good thing to keep in mind is it doesn't take much to tick off a customer, especially a first-timer, and a new pub is gonna be having a lot of first timers walking in. If they walk out disappointed its gonna be hard to get them back. Thanks for the vote of approval YRS, Im looking forward to more of your refreshingly candid blogging as well,

  5. Let's drop the "f" word - I was overly enthusiastic trying to make my point. Which I still stand by....there are many "good" dining spots in Victoria, but MUW is a brew pub not a restaurant, competition is stiffer than the early days of Swan's and Spinnaker's and the drinkers more discerning. I hope they do find their way to producing consistently good beer.

  6. I would assume that it depends on ones definition of many & good. Not to take away from this blog post, however there are nearly 900 dining establishments/eatery's in the greater Victoria area and it would be hard pressed to say there were 40 "good" dining spots by my definition.

    Cheers, Mike