In order to maximize your enjoyment of Black Swan Brewpub, I suggest ignoring the décor. Although a brave attempt has been made to dress up this former commercial building with the trappings of a European pub, it's hard to gaze upon the drab office-style carpeting, the exposed prefab brick cladding or the ersatz tin ceiling without wishing the owners had had a bit more money to spend on interior design.
Fortunately, Black Swan's beer is well worth the drive. In fact, I would go as far as saying that it stands right up there with the city's better brews, and at very favorable prices. At $3.75 a pint, brewer D.J. McCallister offers excellent quality and a clear understanding of what he's doing. All too often I get the impression that many aspiring brewers try to run before they can walk, ignoring the classics in favor of their own take on this or that with a bit of coffee or pumpkin thrown in for good measure.
Not so here. These are beers, many of them English or Belgian-styled ales, which take a serious stab at authenticity. Much kudos to the man for using Fuggles hops and Ringwood yeast, two seldom-seen ingredients which elevate this brewery way above the commonplace.
On a recent visit, four of us sampled the IPA, ESB, Belgian dubbel, the porter and a new bourbon barrel-aged stout. All were terrific brews, really well balanced, even at the hoppier end of the spectrum. If I had a single, slightly nit-picking complaint, it would be that the ESB was a touch too malty and not as flamboyantly estery as some of the traditional British versions.
All of us appreciated the lower than usual alcohols, though, proving that good beer doesn't need to be hugely strong and over-hopped in order to possess flavor. I would love to see McCallister try his hand at a traditional, session-style Midlands mild ale.
As for the food, the menu presents a refreshing departure from the usual brewpub fare, and for that it deserves high praise. Still, an otherwise excellent dish of perfect sweet potato gnocchi and succulent duck ($15.95) was marred by a heavy-handed cream sauce; a lighter broth might have fared better. Similarly, a well-prepared and juicy chicken schnitzel ($13.95), accompanied by wonderfully caramelized red cabbage, was let down by a plodding and strangely loamy mushroom sauce.
By contrast, the grilled eggplant rolls ($13.95), an enormous portion, could have come out of any of the better Italian kitchens in town.
To end the meal, we enjoyed a quirky, but largely successful take on trifle, with apples, pumpkin cream and gingerbread. Although perhaps a bit heavy on the cinnamon, it nevertheless provided a rich wintry mouthful. Less successful was the chocolate stout cake for $4.95; although the menu mentions that it's dense and rich, it doesn't mention that it's dry and heavy.
With lighter touch a bit more verve in the kitchen, I believe Black Swan could well become a destination, and not just for its beer.