The Manx Pub, Ottawa

Welcome back and hope you’re enjoying my series on Ontario Beers and where to drink them when you find yourself in the nations capital. Today, I would like to pay homage to one of my most favorite pubs (in part because of their many, many taps). As the title line suggests, I am referring to The Manx Pub, located at the cozy intersection of Elgin Street and Frank, right next to that venerable institution, the Elgin Street Diner!

I was first introduced to this pub back in the early 2000’s. I was told in advance that it was good, that it was popular, and I immediately saw why. As soon as you walk in to this basement-level pub, you are hit with a warm, cozy feeling that is augmented by the decor. In addition, they also have artwork and photographs on the walls, showcasing the work of independent artists. I tell ya, it’s like a cross between an updated Tudor-era pub and a Bohemian artists wet dream!

But what I liked especially was the friendly atmosphere and the many taps they boasted. Not only that, but if you were a regular in the old days, they’d let you bring in a mug of your own, hang it behind the bar, and you serve you out of it whenever you came in. Mine was an Alexander Keith’s porcelain mug, and it hung there for a little over two years (since renovating, they had to discontinue this trend, but hopefully they’ll pick it up again soon).

In 2004, when I moved into an apartment just up the road, I made the Manx my go-to place for dinner and drinks. Many an evening I would spend their with friends, my writing note-book, or just a stack of papers that needed marking. Since moving to BC, I make it a point to go back there anytime I’m in town. My wife and friends became easy converts to the place, seduced by the atmosphere, food, and great beer!

The Great Beer:
Of their taps, the following names have typically enjoyed a home there.
McAuslan Brewery: the St. Amboise Pale Ale and Oatmeal Stout have had a home at the Manx for as long as I can remember. Good thing too!
Churchkey Brewery: Another popular customer at the Manx, particularly their Northumberland Ale. However, others seem to be making it into the lineup all the time.
Scotch-Irish Brewery: An old favorite that I keep returning to, and one the Manx has been known to rotate in every now and then.
Niagara Brewery: I can recall many occasions when Niagara was on tap, particularly the Gritstone or the Olde Jack.
Creemore Springs: the lager is available year-round and the Urbock is brought out during the winter season. Every winter, I’m sure to get on that!

The Food:
In addition to all that, I’ve found that they make the best burger in town! Competition on that front has been intense since our most recent visit, especially since the burger joint known as Hindengburger set up shop! Nevertheless, my feelings on this issue stand!

One can always find their daily burger creation listed on the specials board. Everyday there’s something new and creative, but the core principle always revolves around a burger with a hand-made patty of thick beef, a toasted kaiser, and the usual fresh fixings. Not to mention the potato-wedge fries with garlic aioli, which is frankly to die for! The most recent special (which we enjoyed during our visit) featured a Kim Chi twist (Korean pickled/spiced cabbage). I can also remember one incarnation from years back that involved Brie cheese. Others involved shaved beets, cucumber, white cheddar, back bacon… the list goes on!

Aside from that, their special board always includes a Naan pizza (always different), soup, pasta and a main dish which are often vegetarian, but which will sometimes feature steak, ribs, or duck. Portabello mushrooms, seasonal vegetables, and different types of cheese will usually make it into the mix as well. And their regular menu is definitely worth checking out as well. Since it keeps changing and I tend to visit only once every few years, I cannot attest to the contents with any real accuracy. But always the ingredients are fresh, the combinations creative, and the result well worth the price. Word around the campfire is that they do a fantastic brunch too!

The Atmosphere:
When one walks into the bar, one is immediately struck by the old-world feel of the place. Whether it is the dark wood tables, beams, and bar, the warm lighting, or the stucco walls, one can help but think they are in a Victorian or even Tudor-era pub (updated for the current century obviously). In addition to that, adding to the creature comfort factor, are the plush red velvet booths and couches and copper-skinned tables. Where else but on Elgin street could someone find such a place, I often wonder. Ecclectic and artistic, traditional yet trendy-modern. With friendly staff, great beer and good eats to accompany, its little wonder why the place is always packed.

This latter aspect is something that can be a bit uncomfortable about the place. It’s size and popularity lend themselves to a packed a tight mentality. What one person finds cozy, another might find claustrophobic. Live music is often featured, but again, space is not at a premium which means noise levels can get a bit oppressive too. In addition, the food can be pricey as well. Still, once you get your seat and have your meal, you’ll feel that your time and money were well spent!

My thanks to the Manx staff for having us back again this trip! To my fellow Beer Snobs, I say to you that if you find yourself in Ottawa and are looking for good taps and a quality establishment, get yourself a table at this here place. Come early or call ahead, as the place tends to fill up quickly during the dinner and drinking hours! Cheers and keep on tilting!

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Niagara Brewery

And I’m back with another installment in the “beers from the East” series. That’s what I’ve decided to call it, since calling it “Beers from Ottawa” would hardly be accurate. In truth, much of what I enjoyed when I lived there was from all over Southern Ontario, not to mention Quebec, the Maritimes, continental Europe and the US. However, whereas I still have access to most of those out-of-the-country varieties, I have next to no access to my old Ontario favorites.

Now where is the logic in that? How is it that I can walk over to my local BCL and buy any number of European brews, but a couple dozen of beers from a few provinces away are inaccessible? Sure, some would say its the convoluted issue of globalized brewery ownership that’s to blame, but believe it or not, old prohibition laws have way more to do with it. But that’s something for another post. Right now, I want to honor another of my old favorites.

So here she is: The Niagara Falls Brewery, located in Brampton Ontario! This beer has been around for several decades and made an impact on me on a few occasions. In addition to being a local favorite, it was also a purveyor of good, hoppy, and uniquely flavored beers.

Pale Ale: As Pale Ales go, Niagara’s is one of the cleaner one’s I’ve ever tasted. This is to say that it is less hoppy than you might expect, but also malty and slightly viscous, with a clean finish that is somewhat reminiscent of lager. Combined with a nice red-orange hue, it was one of the better taps that I enjoyed at my favorite pub in Ottawa (the Manx!). Can’t wait til I’m back on those velvet benches, drinking off those copper-skinned tables. I just hope this beer is still on tap! 4/5

Gritstone Premium Ale: The name kind of spoke to me once I had my first taste of this beer. With a name like Gritstone, you expect the beer to taste… I don’t know, gritty! And it does! In fact, much like their pale ale and strong, this beer has a tawny, almost sedimentary taste that makes you think of unfiltered/bottle fermented ale. Mildly hopped and also malty, its a highly enjoyable and quite unique experience, as ales go. 4/5

Olde Jack Strong Ale: An old favorite. This beer is dark, strong, highly malty, and with a toasty taste of tannins that lingers on the tongue. Toasty taste of tannins, try saying that three times fast! Also lightly hopped, this beer’s main strength comes from the rather unique flavor that makes one think of stone-ground bread and roasted barley soup, albeit with a smooth, stout-like quality. Definitely hope I can find this one again! 4.5/5

Millstone Lager: Admittedly, not one of my favorites. For some reason, many of my favorite breweries make lagers that just don’t seem to cut it with me. Perhaps its the fact that the lagers taste a little too malty and sweet to be thought of as true lagers, which in my opinion, must always be clean, sharp, and distinctly hoppy. Anything else, and you should have stuck to ale! Ah well, still a good beer, the Millstone is merely a bit light on the hops and sweet on the malts for my taste. Others may certainly enjoy though, as it is purely inoffensive and goes well with food! 3/5

Eisbock: This beer I discovered at the  same time as Creemore Urbock, and it went hand in hand with that beer in educated me on the subtleties and complexities of Bock beer. In conjunction with Bock beer, this number is produced during the winter months using select hops and barley and fermented at ice cold temperatures, resulting in a beer that is mildly syrupy, semi-sweet, quite strong, and just the slightest bit brackish tasting. This last aspect kind of bothered me, as it rendered the beer a little watery in the beginning, but sweet and syrupy in the end. You might say I thought this was a tad inconsistent. However, since this is a seasonal beer, my experience was limited to the earlier 2000 and something releases. Later vintages could and probably were entirely different. And overall, the Eisbock was a tasty and educational experience, and I’ve not hesitated to pick this one up an several occasions when I needed something festive for a party! 3.75/5

Naturally, there are only the beers that I can recall drinking. In total, Niagara Falls Brewery produced over a dozen brand names, some of which were ahead of their time. They included an Apple Ale, a Best Bitter, a Brown Maple Wheat, a Saaz Pilsner, a Scotch Ale, and a seasonal Weisse. However, it seems that in recent years they were forced scale back. In fact, upon writing this, I’m not even sure they are still in operation. What info I could find on them indicated that they were bought out by Moosehead some time ago, that their variety and standards seemed to have dropped, and at present, they don’t appear to have an operational website.

Could it be that the worse has happened? Could they have gone the way of Hart, first being bought out, then forced to purvey run of the mill beers, only to get axed anyway in the long run? Oh God, I hope not! But until I get to Ottawa and am able to ask/interrogate some people over at the local LCBO, I will know for sure! Niagara, if you’re out there, hang on a little longer! I have yet to re-sample thee and will be there soon!