When I first heard the news that Goose Island were opening a bar in London, my mind immediately jumped to a location like Soho or Camden, but definitely not Zone 3’s Balham. Often seen as Clapham’s less-adventurous sibling, Balham seemed a slightly odd choice – but not one I was going to complain about – for Goose Island to plant their flag on UK soil. Balham’s a lovely part of town; and punching well above its weight in terms of craft beer options (with We Brought Beer and Firefly being the two prime players), so adding another with a name value such as Goose Island can only be a good thing for bringing more people to the area – and getting them drinking beer with a bit more about it.
Due to their buy out from AB InBev in 2011, Goose Island are often spoken about in hushed tones in craft beer circles these days; but I’m a massive believer in Pete Brown’s compass of good beer and bad beer from both sides of the craft and corporate spectrum. In the grand scheme of things Goose Island tend to fall on the ‘good beer’ side of the divide, and with this in mind, a Friday lunchtime (coupled with a day off work) gave me the opportunity to visit the first Vintage Ale House in the UK.
So let’s get down to what you ACTUALLY want to know about the bar shall we?
How’s the vibe? – The bar is bright, modern and spacious with the walls and taps unsurprisingly decorated with various goose and Chicago-related paraphernalia. The team member that served us at our table definitely knew her beer, and even joked about getting her hands on the last bottle of one of the highly sought after beers on the menu. The difference someone who’s knowledgeable about beer makes in a bar like this is always a massive positive, and is definitely an asset to the whole experience of the place.
How’s the food? – Great. Food-wise, a House Burger for my friend and a Pulled Goose Hash (roasted goose, nduja roast potatoes and a fried duck egg) for me made for a damn satisfying lunch. This is before even mentioning the cheese and charcuterie boards being demolished on the table next to us, which looked like a fantastic accompaniment to a round of beers.
And most importantly, how’s the beer? – The draught selection comprised of the usual Goose Island suspects such as Goose Island IPA, 312 and Four Star Pils, and these were all under £5 a pint. Although the ‘craft-credentials’ may be suspect to some, this definitely isn’t a line-up you’d be dissapointed with if you saw them in the majority of boozers. The fridges were also stocked with a few Goose Island options in bottle, as well as a handful of offerings from Balham-based, Bellville Brewery (a nice touch). What really stood out though was the eponymous Vintage Ale selection – with Goose Island specials such as Juliet, Gillian, Halia and Sofia available either as full bottles (£18 – £23 for 765ml bottles with cheaper versions of smaller bottles for some) or in flights of thirds (£10 a third). The fact these relative rarities are now readily available in the UK is an absolute treat for discerning beer fans, and would be in themselves worth the trip to “The Gateway To The South” for many.
All in all, this is a great little addition to what is a very underrated part of London when it comes to beer. And one I can heartily recommend a visit to for anyone that is: intrigued by the Goose Island brand, looking to widen their experience of beer or simply wants a few good brews and some hearty food in a really cool environment.
You can visit the Vintage Ale House website here.