Monday, January 12, 2015

Review: Mad Jack Brewing at The Van Dyck Lounge

I wasn’t sure how to phrase the headline for this blog, since it’s not a review of a brewpub or a brewery per se, but of a line of beers brewed at a restaurant (as well as the restaurant itself). Does that make it a Restaurant-pub?A Brewstaurant? I don’t know what the appropriate moniker would be.

Mad Jack 011

Anyway, Mad Jack Brewing has been the Van Dyck’s in-house brewery since 2011. I’ve visited it many times, though I wasn’t especially impressed with the beers when they first launched. They seem to have upgraded their equipment and brought in more experienced brewers in the last couple years. In fact, you can find it on tap at several bars and restaurants throughout the Capital District, though I recommend going to the Van Dyck itself so you can try the entire lineup at once (which is constantly rotating).

Mad Jack 009

My girlfriend Renee and I decided to go there for dinner on Friday evening after work. It was quite
busy when we arrived and I was worried we might have to wait or be turned away for not having reservations. Thankfully, we were seated immediately and our waitress was quite prompt as well. The Van Dyck usually offers ten Mad Jack brews on draught at any given time; however, their sampler flight ($8) is limited to only six 4oz pours ($0.33 per ounce). In order to try them all, you’d have to order two flights and, obviously, have a few repeat brews (and no, they won’t let you order individual samples for whatever reason). Since we both had to drive afterwards, we decided to split just one flight.

mad jack 023Double White (6.2% ABV, 18 IBUs): Firstly, let me say that I appreciate the fact each beer’s description contains both its alcohol percentage and its bitterness rating. As for this beer, it was a great way to start out. I always think of witbiers as aperitifs, though this one was a bit bigger than most. Definitely to-spec, style-wise, though a bit juicier-tasting than most. Huge orange flavor on this with strong Belgian banana yeast esters. I could drink a beer like this year-round, especially a bolder incarnation like this.

mad jack 024Pinhead Pale Ale (4.9% ABV, 35 IBUs): Brewed exclusively with Cascade hops it has a strong piney/resin flavor with dank bitterness. It’s almost like a session IPA, but with real body and balance to it. I really appreciate well-balanced pale ales like these. I’d recommend ordering a pint of this to go with a meal.
mad jack 025Imperial IPA (8.5% ABV, 55 IBUs): By far the best beer of the flight; this beer is akin to the recent trend of combining sweet tropical fruit flavors with spicy/herbal/earthy bitterness. It has the big, full, almost sticky/chewy body you expect in an imperial IPA, though it was still surprisingly crisp with a clean aftertaste. And at only 55 IBUs it’s not insanely bitter, either. I highly recommend this for all the hopheads out there.

State Street Saison (7.4% ABV, 34 IBUs): As we were walking up the restaurant, one of the brewers recognized me and recommended I try this and let him know what I think. Usually, I’m a fan of saisons, though they are not my go-to style. This one is pretty much “to spec” with all the flavors and characters you expect in the style. The spice seemed a little milder than most and there was a surprising amount of boozy character. Overall, I’d consider it a good beer, but it didn’t especially impress me (Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of this one).

mad jack 026District Brown Ale (5.2% ABV, 44 IBUs): More often than not, I tend to roll my eyes at a brown ale on the menu of a brewpub. This was not a ho-hum brown ale, though. A lot of maple flavor as well as some brown sugar sweetness. Plus, there was a strong hop presence here as well, so much so that this could maybe pass as a “Brown IPA.” Probably the best beer on the menu to pair with dessert.

Mad Jack 017Jackhammer Scotch (7.3% ABV, 40 IBUs): If the last beer was the most pleasantly surprising, this was the most disappointing. Not that it was a bad beer, though. This brew has the flavor of a Scottish Ale with the body of a Wee Heavy. Thick and tepid with a slight cinnamon flavor and only minor smokey/malt presence. Good, just not great.

mad jack 028Dutchmen Lager (4.7% ABV, 26 IBUs): Being a Union College Hockey fan, I just had to try this one. Another 4oz sample would’ve sufficed, but the Van Dyck will only sell short pours as part of a sampler six-pack (that’s annoying). So Renee and I split an 8oz half pint for $3.50 ($0.44 per ounce). Though it has a beautiful color and clarity, the taste is much too mild for my preference (though, to be fair, its mildness seems to be its selling point). It reminds me of an all-malt Yuengling, though I detected a bit of buttery diacetyl. Maybe it was because it was the last beer of the night, or maybe because it’s intended to be mild, but we both kind of shrugged at this.

Overall, I have to say I was pretty impressed with the beer menu. Sure, not all of them were homeruns, but most were way more than just satisfying. The pale ale, imperial IPA, and brown ale were all memorable. I may swing by again just for a pint of one of those.

Mad Jack 013

As for the food, it was excellent. Renee ordered bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin medallions ($17) and I got the Kobe beef burger ($13). The pork was very tender and juicy, almost succulent (but isn’t that a term reserved for seafood?). My burger was good, though it was a little overcooked (I asked for medium but it came out medium/well to well done). It left a beautiful pool of grease and blood on the plate. The bun and toppings were good, as were the steak fries that accompanied it.

Mad Jack 015

Between the beer and food I was most definitely satiated afterward, though we decided to order dessert because we were having such a good time (my mood will more often determine my decision to order dessert than any other factor). We split a piece of peanut butter pie. Let’s just say it tasted even better than the photograph below makes it look.

Mad Jack 020
Mad Jack 021
Between drinks, food and dessert the total came to a little over $50 and I left a $12 tip. I thought the service was good for the most part. Even though the dining room was quite busy, our waitress checked up on us pretty frequently (her visits to table became less frequent as the night went on, though). I also really enjoyed the atmosphere of the Van Dyck; it has a reputation as a fancy restaurant but it’s actually more casual than you might think.

Was it worth it? Yes. Will I be returning? Yes. I’d like to try one of the pizzas and/or other items on the dinner menu, as well as any beers in the Mad Jack lineup that change by season. If you’re in Schenectady, this is an ideal restaurant for a Friday or Saturday night (as long as there’s not a major event happening at Proctor’s, in which case it’ll be packed).

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