Dubbed as ‘The UK’s first pub dedicated to American craft beer’, the Goose Island Vintage Ale House is now open in Balham, south London. I was fortunate enough to be invited down for the launch event and here’s why it was worth the trek to SW12.
The pub is on the wrong side of London for me as I live in Luton but what I initially thought was going to be quite a trek actually turned out to be a pretty simple journey from my office in King’s Cross – just 25 minutes on the Northern line.
Goose Island’s pub is a just a minute’s walk from the station in Balham and has a striking exterior with some outside seating. As it was a very cold evening, we were glad to be greeted by the attractive whitewashed wooden and stone interior style with well thought out warm lighting.
So why Balham? Well Goose Island founder, John Hall, told me the firm wanted the pub in an up and coming location where locals would appreciate and frequent the establishment. Being part of the community was an important element. John added that the pub is something of a pilot scheme and if it’s successful he implied there’s a good chance of more branches, perhaps a bit more central.
The Vintage Ale House is quite small but it has a warm and cosy feeling – although I can imagine it getting quite cramped at busy times. Apart from the tables for dinner, there are a few bar stools in true American fashion and three higher tables suitable for two people each.
As mentioned the pub is dedicated to US craft beer, but I was keen to find out what that really meant. It turns out that it’s not because the Vintage Ale House only serves beer made on the other side of the Atlantic. Josh, the firm’s brand ambassador told me it was more about American styles and the pub will also stock beer from local breweries including nearby Belleville.
Really, the pub is best described as a showcase for Goose Island’s range of beer (albeit not every beer it makes). Essentially it can be thought of as Goose Island’s London tap room. You’ll be able to take beer home in a growler which is another benefit.
While you’ll struggle to find much more than Goose IPA and Honkers Ale around London, the Vintage Ale House has many more treats to get your mouth round. For starters, there are five keg taps (no cask yet, although I’d love to try beers like Honkers that way) and plenty of bottles in different sizes.
What you really want to head to the pub for is to try some of Goose’s prestige range such as Matilda, a Belgian pale ale, and Halia which is a sour saison aged on peaches in white wine barrels. You can also get the well-known and loved Bourbon County Stout 2015 which is pretty much worth the trek alone. Larger 750ml bottles cost around £18-25 so you have to treat these bottles, most of which are barrel aged, like bottles of wine. You can also get a flight and try three for £10 if you’re not feeling so flush.
I’d also recommend trying the awesome mimosa made with Sofie, a farmhouse ale, instead of champagne.
While the beer is a huge lure, the food is also top-notch and I was able to try a decent selection of the menu on the launch night. The seven-course tasting menu was delicious and each dish was paired with a different Goose Island beer. I’m happy to say it was all things you can go there and order, too.
Below is a list of the food and beer we had. Highlights for me included the short rib croquette and the chocolate truffles made with Bourbon County Stout. The only beer I didn’t really get on with was the Winter Ale – I’m normally a fan of this kind of style but something about it didn’t quite sit right with my palette, perhaps the blend of malts.
It was also awesome to finally get my head round a style of beer I’ve not been able to before. Sour beers are all the rage it seems but I’ve never really enjoyed one. That is until we had Halia paired with panna cotta – the contrast of sweet and sour worked really well and made me wonder why that hadn’t occurred to me.
This was an addition so I got some Four Star Pils, 5.1%
Smoked short rib & blue cheese croquettes
Paired with Winter Ale, 5.3%
Cod fregola with cockles and langoustine
Paired with Sofie, 6.5%
Porter & molasses glazed beef cheeks
Paired with Matilda, 7%
Buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup and cured bacon
Paired with Goose IPA, 5.9%
Manuka honey & goat’s cheese panna cotta with ginger honeycomb
Paired with Halia, 7.5%
Bourbon County Stout chocolate and coffee truffles
Paired with 2014 Bourbon County Coffee Stout, 12.6%
There are plenty more tasty looking dishes on the menu and some beer too, of course. I was really impressed by the passion and knowledge of the staff also. Main dishes range from £12 to £18.
It’s a fitting full circle since John Hall took the idea of a British pub over to Chicago, so head down to the Vintage Ale House at 3 Ramsden Rd, SW12 8QY and check it out. It also has its own Twitter account.
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