The Victoria Pub Co. are the owners of three British Isles style pubs: the Irish Times, the Bard & Banker (Scottish style), and the Penny Farthing (English style). Until recently I had only ever visited the first two since they are both downtown on Government street and are thus an easy place to wander in for a pint. The Penny Farthing not so much, being located in Oak Bay village, a location one would generally only visit if specifically planned. Now in fairness I must point out that my first ever visit to the Pennyfarthing at the end of September went rather smoothly. I was much impressed with the relative lack of televisions when compared to her sister pubs, it had a decent selection of English ales (I enjoyed a Goose Island Honkers Ale, which is from Chicago, but has a very authentic English taste), and combined with the tasteful interior this meant that there was a rather authentic and classic pub ambiance, something that I value very much. So when my friend Ian contacted me the other day expressing an interest in a visit to the Penny Farthing (“I’m craving English style pubs and pints” he said) I was of course delighted to return. I wish I could feel the same way after my second visit, but alas things were a bit disappointing this time around.
Ian had taken the time to have a gander at their website, and he decided that we should try the Fuller’s ESB and the Foundry Cider, and write tasting notes if the mood befell us. I saw no reason to stray from his plan, as they seemed like perfectly good English drinks to consume in the jolly little pub. On our arrival we followed the sign “Please Seat Yourself” and chose a nice little table in the upstairs. After about 10 minutes though we came to the conclusion that this part of the pub was not being serviced by any of the pretty waitresses in kilts, so we had to move ourselves downstairs. Perhaps the upstairs is only open during peak hours, but there was certainly no visible sign indicating such.
While we had been waiting we came across our first real disappointment. Fuller’s ESB had recently been replaced with Hoegaarden Wit on the menu, yet their website was clearly not up to date. While I have nothing against Hoegaarden, being a delightful beer in itself, it seemed an odd time of year, given that Hoegaarden is more of a classic summer beer, and the ESB more of an autumnal one. The beer selection continued to confound us though, for the only other English beer mentioned on the website had been Tetley’s Ale, and it was also no longer on the menu. In their place we now had TWO European wheat beers, and THREE European lagers. Each one a serviceable drink in their own right (Hoegaarden Wit, Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc, Stella Artois, Grolsche, and Heineken) but on any draught list slightly redundant, and certainly disappointing in a supposed “English style pub” to have NO English ales. It should be noted that they still carried the Goose Island Honkers Ale, as well as the Foundry and Strongbow ciders, which both hail from England.
In our new seats we were given confirmation by our waitress that the Fullers ESB was indeed gone, and so in an effort to maintain taste bud anticipation we chose the Russel Brewing Blood Alley ESB. And here I will now take the time to hold off on my review of the Penny Farthing for a review of this pint.
Russell’s Blood Alley ESB
Appearance: Copper colour.
Nose: Hoppy and fruity, specifically canned cherries.
Palate: A bit hoppy, nearly balanced with the fainter roasted malt.
Finish: Quite hoppy, more of an IPA strength finish rather than that of a typical ESB.
Overall: A good beer, but disappointing as an ESB because it tastes like an IPA, and what is the point of brewing an ESB if it is going to taste like an IPA, a style that is already over represented. I wonder if Russell was wondering if anyone would buy their beer hoping to enjoy the taste of an ESB, or if they just assumed because people like IPA’s so much they might as well make their non IPA’s taste like IPA’s. They even acknowledge this on their website, saying, “at 50 IBU’s this beer is slightly higher in bitterness than the average ESB but it is well-balanced by the rich, roasted malt flavours.” Whatever.
Rating: 2/5 Okay as an ESB, though potentially 3/5 Good if you were blind and deaf and thought it was an IPA.
Meanwhile, as we were drinking our “ESB,” I was waiting for the waitress to return to take my food order. You see, she had asked us if we wanted to take a look at a food menu, and since I had not had lunch yet, I agreed. I decided upon a Scotch Egg, and then waited nearly half an hour for her to return, at which point I stood up and motioned for someone to come and take my order, which was promptly done. Now, I’m not someone who would normally make a fuss about a bit of a wait, but what with everything else going wrong for us at the Penny Farthing that day, it seemed a tad more annoying. I must say though, that upon arrival the Scotch Egg was delicious, and our concluding pint of Murphy’s Irish Stout was superb, leaving us with a better taste in our mouth. This pub is still worth a visit, unless you would really like an English ale.