As passengers aboard the Titanic learned the hard way, you can have a fantastic ship but you won’t get very far without a good captain. The same can be said for beer menus – as craft beer offerings proliferate, a knowledgeable steward behind the bar can help you navigate a route through the icebergs toward smooth, drinking bliss.
Although I knew this deep down, I did suffer a moment of indignation when Nicki – a veteran bartender at Bristol’s Fins Sports Taphouse & Grille – scoffed at my initial order of beer samples: “You want to try out-of-the-ordinary beers that aren’t well known, and you’re ordering those?!” Apparently writing this column for almost two years hasn’t made me as savvy as I thought. I retracted my order and put myself in Nicki’s hands, since smart men admit what they don’t know and even smarter men don’t argue with the woman in front of them.
Having an order rejected wasn’t my only surprise on this night, but thankfully the others were more pleasant. I had walked by this bar’s previous incarnation – Gillary’s – many times but never felt compelled to enter. This year, the owners decided to re-boot the concept and Fins was born. Now, a fresh re-model, several big screen TVs and a sidewalk menu board with mouth-watering specials beckon passers-by.
“Change is good” as Nicki says, and now she (wo)mans a bar that includes 32 beers on tap that rotate throughout the year. Rhode Island brands like Newport Storm, Grey Sail, Foolproof and Revival are well-represented – a conscious effort to promote local ties. Large-format “bombers” are available, with hard-to-find offerings like Blue Moon Vintage Blonde Ale, Harpoon Director’s Cut and aged beers from Scotland’s Innis & Gunn.
Nicki obliged my request for “different” beers by starting me off with a sample of Cisco Grey Lady from Nantucket. Light like a champagne with a slightly fruity, yet smoky taste – definitely “different,” but not for everyone. This was followed by Goose Island Père Jacques, a Belgian clocking in at 8.7% ABV, and then a Stone IPA from San Diego which was without a doubt the smoothest IPA I’ve ever tasted – none of the hop bite, but all of its flavor. Finally, I washed my meal down with a full pint of Brooklyn Blast, not a new beer for me, but a familiar old friend from my days in the West Village. You can certainly sail the globe on this beer menu.
Of course, the worst thing about pubs is usually the pub food. But not at Fins – as Nicki says, “it’s not just pub food… it’s actually good food.” Once again, she’s right. I had a trio of sliders – short ribs with caramelized onions and goat cheese, BBQ pulled pork and crab salad with garlic aioli. A second visit yielded fish and chips with equally impressive results. The menu is still being tweaked – expect more seafood in the fall – so make sure you come back for the entrées if you’re just feeling like burgers and nachos on game day. Also, follow Fins on Facebook for news on upcoming events like karaoke and poker nights, DJs and live entertainment.