The Bard & Banker: A Tale about a Pub, a Poet, and Damn Good Ale

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There it was.

Early afternoon in downtown Victoria, and the sight that made my eyes go all sparkly  – a Scottish pub (Bard & Banker), an English pub (Garrick’s Head), and an Irish pub (Irish Times), all in a row. Or as I like to say, just staggering distance from each other!

 

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And as a bonus, right smack in the middle of the English and Irish pubs is Bastion Square, where locals watched public hangings back in the day, then hit the nearby watering holes afterwards for some conversation. I love a town with a rich history!

How do you gentrify a site of gruesome, tragic history, plus make it trendy again? Tourism!

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In addition to being a lover of classic cocktails and hard spirits, I am a huge fan of craft beers. Expanding my horizons has been very good for the soul. Having never tried a Scottish ale, I decided today was the day!

 

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Bard & Banker was beautiful inside, shiny yet cozy, with its cream walls, dark wood, and many chandeliers. Awfully fancy for a Scottish pub, I thought, as I headed for the bar (Hint: It used to be a bank).

As I sat down, I beheld yet another wondrous sight: A place of honor for their best Scotch whiskys! Next to it was a shelf for the rest – bourbons, vodkas, less special whiskeys, etc.

 

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I told the bartender I wanted a Scottish ale. He handed me a menu, and there it was – big, bold red letters, burning into my eyes and brain, like Destiny: Stone Fired Scottish Ale. I ordered it immediately, and was told it was a fine choice.

 

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“Barkeep”, says I, “What be this ‘Phillips Robert Service’?”

“Phillips is the brewing company”, he replied, “As for ‘Robert Service’, aye well, there’s a tale!”

The bartender hurried to the other end of the bar, and brought back my ale, a poster, and then the tale.

 

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Robert Service started his career working as a banker in Scotland, like his father. During that time, he devoured books on poetry by Browning, Keats, Tennyson, etc., and started composing some of his own. He later moved to Vancouver BC, and wandered up and down North America, doing odd jobs, falling in love, hitting his family and friends up for money, and having one crazy adventure after another (something about a cowboy outfit, a bordello in Mexico, and so forth). During that time, he published several pieces.

This guy! There oughta be a movie!

While honing his poetic prowess (and being flat broke), the “Bard of the North” got a day job as a Banker, at the Canadian Bank of Commerce in Victoria BC. He rented a room upstairs, in this same building where he worked. And the building later became the bar where I’m sipping this damn fine Scottish red ale named after him – one of the finest craft beers I’ve ever tasted!

 

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This Robert Service Stone Fired Scottish Ale, it was absolutely delicious – rich, flavorful, yet light and fresh!  I highly recommend you order this beer when you’re at the Bard & Banker in Victoria BC. , or anywhere else in the world, if you can get it!

Robert Service’s journey continued to the Yukon, where he had many more adventures that inspired some of his most famous poetry. I’m envisioning a web series of the Bard/Banker’s adventures. Think of the creative liberties the writers could take, on top of an already amazing story!

One of his funniest and most popular poems is the famous “The Ballad of the Ice-Worm Cocktail“. Below is a snippet. Click the link if you want to read the entire poem:

“…”There’s been a run on cocktails, Boss; there ain’t an ice-worm left.
Yet wait . . . By gosh! it seems to me that some of extra size
Were picked and put away to show the scientific guys.”
Then deeply in a drawer he sought, and there he found a jar,
The which with due and proper pride he put upon the bar;
And in it, wreathed in queasy rings, or rolled into a ball,
A score of grey and greasy things were drowned in alcohol.
Their bellies were a bilious blue, their eyes a bulbous red;
Their back were grey, and gross were they, and hideous of head. 

And when with gusto and a fork the barman speared one out,
It must have gone four inches from its tail-tip to its snout.
Cried Deacon White with deep delight: “Say, isn’t that a beaut?”
“I think it is,” sniffed Major Brown, “a most disgustin’ brute.
Its very sight gives me the pip. I’ll bet my bally hat,
You’re only spoofin’ me, old chap. You’ll never swallow that…

Cheers!

 


All photos taken by Alexandria Julaton

 

Distilled Discovery: Long Table Distillery

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It was a crisp spring morning in downtown Vancouver BC, perfect for another day of exploring. The overcast sky was getting brighter as the day was slowly warming up. Even better – it wasn’t raining.

Google maps showed a marina just a 10-minute walk away. On the map’s aerial view, I saw a ferry that took people across from the pier to Granville Island – VBC’s version of Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Today’s adventure was a ferry ride to Granville Island, and whatever was waiting to be discovered along the way!

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The Discovery

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Several hours later, I had a bag full of gourmet, artisan yummies, and headed back through the upscale waterfront neighborhood and flowering cherry trees. Suddenly, across the street, the clouds parted, the sun exploded and sweet melodies started playing in my head as I realized what was right in front of me!

The Distillery

Vancouver BC’s first microdistillery was tucked away from the downtown core, looking politely inconspicuous on the outside. It was 3 pm, and customers were already celebrating handcrafted gins and other fine spirits in “a place where kindred spirits meet.” I sat at a corner table, which gave me a view of the whole room.

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Bottom photo of distillery, courtesy of their website

The microdistillery equipment was in a large space, just to the other side of a glass wall, behind the bartender. I’m guessing the place was named after the long, beautifully-stained raw wood community table at the center of the room.

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I waited for customers to leave so I could get this shot of the table

I noticed customers would occasionally walk back in from the fish and chips truck out front, bringing deep-fried delicious badness to enjoy with their craft cocktails. A Rubix Cube was placed in front of the order pick-up window, to distract you from the windchill while you wait.

The wall next to me was covered with framed articles and accolades about the new distillery. One article mentioned that it was a trip to Portland, Oregon, with its multiple distilleries within and just outside city limits, that inspired co-founder and master distiller, Charles Tremewen, to open Vancouver BC’s first microdistillery. He came over to say hello, and to chat with my server. That’s him in the picture, on the right.

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The Gins

I had gotten there in time to order from their happy hour menu, and went straight to the Gimlet. One had the option to have the cocktail made with their Texada Vodka, instead of gin; I asked Colin, my gin experience guide and server, if “Texada” was a wordplay on Texas and Florida. Nope.

Their Texada Stoned Vodka was filtered and mineralized with Canada’s own Texada Island limestone, resulting in a “soft, almost oily, mouthfeel.” Lemongrass was added afterwards for a light touch of citrus. Interesting, but…nah! I’m sure they make a fine vodka, but I’m a GIN lover at a GIN distillery, here to try their premium-quality GINS.

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The bourbon barrel-aged gin, listed under the Anathema Devise and Wallach IX cocktails, caught my eye. I knew that with a whiskey, about 60% of its flavor comes from the barrel it was aged in.

But gin aged in bourbon barrels? Bourbon on top of botanicals? Huh!

I ordered a shot. It was sublime, smooth, aromatic and deep. Completely wonderful! I could bliss out with this, listening to some downtempo and ambient house, while looking out at the VBC skyline.

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Excited, I put down my shot glass and looked for my next cocktail – Musashi’s Blade, with cucumber-infused gin, sake, vermouth, etc. Colin said the sake smoothed out the gin’s “edges”. My inside voice said, “But isn’t that what the vermouth does already?” Confused, I decided to trust, and ordered it anyway.

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I took a sip and frowned. Hm. Here’s the thing.

The Do-Over

Their Musashi’s Blade cocktail recipe called for Nigori Sake, milky white due to its rice sediment. While appropriate when enjoyed on its own, this sake’s creamy richness and sweetness more than smoothed out the cucumber gin’s edges – it overpowered the gin altogether.

I apologized to Colin for the change of heart, and asked if I could have the cucumber gin as a martini instead of in a cocktail, which I should have done in the first place. I wanted to really taste the gin itself, and the sake was interfering with that. He smiled and said I shouldn’t apologize; when a customer says they want to taste and enjoy more of the product itself, that’s a very good thing. The cucumber gin was quite enjoyable – light, fresh and elegant!

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Where to Get Them

Now that I’ve whet your appetite for some new, amazing Canada gins, here’s the catch: Along with their other award-winning spirits, Long Table Distillery’s gins can only be purchased onsite, at select stores in Canada, or online in the UK.

When I’m back in town, this place will definitely be on my list of must-visits.

Cheers!



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Photos of ferry and Granville Island Market by JE Alexandria Julaton

Long Table Distillery room, courtesy of their website http://longtabledistillery.com/

Various quotes from the distillery’s website and articles