Oct. 10, 2012 - Issue #886: Typhoon Judy
The Underground Tap & Grill: Craft beer hideaway
The Underground Tap & Grill
10004 Jasper Ave
Craft beer has been a buried treasure among Edmonton's bar scene, until now. The Underground Tap & Grill has taken the brews from being a rarity on a draft list to front and center.
Don't expect to find average, run-of-the-mill brands at the Underground. Here, you'll find only the good stuff, with 72 taps of craft and micro-brews, 60 of which will be mainstays while 12 will rotate to feature different varieties.
General manager David Helm wanted to offer Edmontonians a reprieve from conventional macro-brewed beer and standard menu items commonly found in neighbourhood pubs.
"I took a trip to Calgary and Vancouver back to back and one thing I noticed is they have craft specific lounges where that was the only type of beer that they serve and they were wildly successful. I could not for the life of me figure out why something like that would not be successful in Edmonton," Helm explains of the concept.
The Underground is located directly below the Treasury vodka bar, but Helm says there is no direct link between the two businesses and adds it will be an amicable co-habitation. He says the Treasury wanted a second business downstairs that could help retain business in the building during busy periods, rather than patrons getting fed up with waiting in long lines and going elsewhere. This way, they can move between the Treasury and the Underground, enjoying the contrasting atmospheres of each.
The Underground offers a relaxed, welcoming interior with ample seating for large and small groups. In addition to an extensive craft and micro-brew list, the Underground will offer a full lunch and dinner menu, with dishes that will suit a variety of tastes and diets. Currently, a scaled-down introductory menu is being offered leading up to the grand opening on November 1 to let patrons get a taste of the menu lineup.
Helm says the fare is best described as upscale pub fare. Highlights on the current introductory menu include bison sliders, topped with arugula, roasted red peppers, caramelized onions and spicy aoili on mini sourdough buns; a grilled BLT avocado sandwich with applewood bacon, lettuce, tomatoes and avocado on grilled chiabatta bread; as well as smoked salmon salad with fresh greens bocconcini, feta and rosemary garlic dressing.
While the Underground has a staggering list of draft and bottled beers, as well as a full bar, it's not going to be a haven reserved only for beer geeks. Helm wants it to be a place where those unfamiliar with craft beer can become more educated with the niche market, and potentially discover new favourite brews. The selection varies from local brands like Alley Kat Amber and Yellowhead, as well as Canadian micro and craft brews such as Granville Island, Mill Street and Unibroue. There is a beer from almost every province, as well as a couple of territories, including Paddock Wood from Saskatchewan.
One of Helm's concerns in compiling the draft list was that people would come in only ever having had macro-brews before, not recognize any of the beer and accidentally point to a Belgian quadruple, which they'd hate and write off craft beer forever, just because they hadn't adjusted to a stronger taste. To mitigate this, he has a troupe of well-educated staff who are there to help guide customers based on their palettes, as well as a simple way to navigate the lengthy beer menu.
"I got the idea from a post-secondary course calendar where you would expect a 100-level course would be far easier than a 400-level course, and the best way to king of work your way to a 400-level course would be to work your way through those courses," he explains, adding those who are fairly new to craft beer would be wise to start in the 100-level beer before branching out into the stronger varieties.
This approach to the craft beer world goes hand-in-hand with Helm's educational approach to The Underground. He says he would like customers who are familiar and not-so-familiar to feel comfortable in the space and learn a thing or two, despite their prior knowledge. Beer flights, which can be compiled from any level of the menu give customers a chance to taste without committing to a full pint.
The idea for a craft-specific business has been met with some skepticism and Helm says while he has been told the idea will never hold up in Edmonton, Helm believes once people open up and try craft beer, it will be hard for them to go back to macro-brew varieties.
"I make the wine analogy a lot. You can have really cheap wine and then if you have a $30 or $40 dollar bottle of wine it kind of ruins you because you can't go back to that nice $10 bottle of wine," Helm says. "With craft beer, it's the exact same analogy there: there's this inferior product and superior product, but the cost is almost identical. In some cases it might be a little more expensive, but it's not wild."
In other words, back away from the Budweiser and see what you've been missing. vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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