Just before Xmas, I got an opportunity to head to St. John’s for a few days. I didn’t mention it at the time because I decided it would make a nice set of columns. And it did, as you can discover by reading this week’s Vue Weekly (here) or the last issue of Planet S (here). The columns are highly similar, but I did tweak each of them to fit format and keep them at least a little fresh.
In short, I LOVE St. John’s. I am hardly the first person to ever say that, but I may be one of the few who say it based upon St. John’s beer scene. In terms of locally-brewed craft beer, St. John’s lags a bit (but no worse than, say, Regina, Winnipeg or other mid-sized Canadian cities). They have 2 local craft brewers – Quidi Vidi and Storm Brewing (no relation to the Vancouver Storm Brewing) – and a brewpub – Yellowbelly.
As I mention in the article, each of the breweries have their highlights, yet overall the line-up is so-so. In my mind (they may disagree) this is not a criticism. St. John’s is a Molson-Labatt stronghold. Crafting new and interesting beer is hard slogging. Not to say they aren’t trying. Storm has a hemp beer, as well as some other unique creations. Quidi Vidi is more traditional but tries to offer a wide range of flavours. In a way Yellowbelly is freer to experiment – and they do – given their localized situation. They don’t have to persuade bar owners to carry their product like the others.
However, the pub scene is unparalleled, second, maybe, only to Halifax. St. John’s pubs are homey, friendly and unpretentious. Plus most of the pubs I entered had at least one tap reserved for the local craft breweries, even if it was just their pale lager. I could list a few, but won’t.
Just like in the articles, I prefer to highlight a single pub. A pub that rates among my three favourite pubs in the country. I am speaking, of course, of the Duke of Duckworth. Recently famous due to the Republic of Doyle (one of my favourite tv shows, by the way). The Republic version of the Duke is cleaner, brighter and more middle class. The real one is much more earthy, which is why I love it. It is way too easy to spend a couple hours in this pub. It also offers an exclusive house beer, brewed by Storm (at one time the Duke brewed its own beer on site).
In a way St. John’s requires you to let go a little in terms of beer geekiness; no big hop bombs or barley wines available, but it is not too hard to find a decent pint of something. But what it lacks in edgy craft beer-dom it gains in atmosphere and pub collegiality. I would much rather have a decent, passable pint in a pub where conversation is plentiful, than the most outrageous Imperial IPA in a sterile, anti-social bar. But maybe that is just me.
All I know is that a return trip to St. John’s is on my wish list.=