The unmistakably British Duke of Clarence in inner Sydney reports a great response to its themed pub, serving up a new home-style menu and flirting with serving warm(er) beer to Aussies.
Liquor industry stalwarts Mike Enright and Julian Train are the nous behind Barrelhouse Group, which hit the scene with the original Barber Shop bar four years ago.
Last December they opened the doors to their first pub – a right proper British boozer, adorned with antique dark timbers, hardwood flooring, light fittings, panelling, stained glass and furniture, all sourced from the UK.
The new Clarence St venue was dubbed the Duke of Clarence, in honour of the street’s namesake, who went on to become England’s King George IV and bring major reforms to the British Empire including the abolishment of slavery.
The concept was inspired by proud Liverpudlian Enright and his experience and nostalgia of the style of pubs back home, which the team lamented had not really been done in Australia.
“Everything we wanted in a pub is what we’ve done, really,” he explains. “You get a whiskey in a nice cold glass, a nice piece of ice, a piece of pie and you’re maybe sipping some cask ale.”
The Duke has recently ramped up its British fare, via head chef David Penistone and a new lunch menu. The hope is to create some “English nostalgia” through the likes of house-made pie of the week, served with mash, peas and gravy, and lighter options such as oven-roasted blue eye cod with asparagus, pea and cos leaf salad.
There are also classics by the Nottingham-raised chef, including sardines on toast or lamb’s liver with smoked bacon, brandy and mash.
The drinks menu offers a line-up of more than 500 spirits, 80 per cent from the British Isles, alongside ports, sherries and sparkling wines.
Testing the authenticity, the problem was considered of pouring beer at the regular UK temperature.
“We wanted to serve our beer like this. We discussed it and said you can’t serve 12-degree beer in a hot climate, so we thought we’ll reduce it to six.”
While just three to four degrees warmer than the typical temperature in an Australia coolroom, the change nevertheless brought benefit in far better head (crema) retention, and a noticeable effect on the taste of some.
“All our nitro beers came out tasting better,” remarked Enright.
Dominating the pub’s overall offer is the introduction of real hand-pumped cask-conditioned ales, poured from ornate English-made taps and sourced where possible from the handful of Australian brewers dabbling in the old-time method, such as 4 Pines, and Beer Farm.
A style that has been popular in the UK for centuries, cask ales are non-carbonated, yet produce a creamy head. Additional hops are added to the beer in the cask and it steeps at room temperature before being allowed to settle for 24-48 hours in the refrigerator and tapped.
Enright says these beers have a lot more character, yet are more ‘sessionable’. The Duke is also encouraging the age-old UK practise of using the same glass for subsequent pours, allowing the crema and residue to build up, which he notes has the added advantage of not having to blast glasses through the glasswasher every hour or so.
But while the pub has been getting a steadily increasing stream of both ex-pat Brits and curious Aussies turning up for a cask ale, he’s not convinced it will be the next big thing here.
“Is it a new trend? … it’s arguable. I don’t know mate, all I know is we’ve had a really good response and some brewers are buying into it.
“The response has been really awesome, we can’t knock it. Really good fun. It’s a great project to work on, for sure.”