Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Big Duin's at Rinn Duin

Jacqui Town--a rose surrounded by three thorns

Jacqui Town of Rinn Duin fane is having a celebration--and she'd love to see you there. The event is the two-year anniversary of the brewery's existence, and a tribute to a special beer called "Drogheda Ale" is planned. Read all about it here.

Then make plans to get on the GSP to Toms River and help Jacqui celebrate!

The PubScout

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Spice in Beer Propels "Spice of Life"

Donor Seth, Mom Sharon, Donor Satyra, Jamie, Me, Donna and Donor Jason Nothdurft
(Photo courtesy of Kevin Trayner)

Owner Jamie Queli and pal Seth Dolled of Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing in Cherry Hill are doing some wonderful things—and not all of them have to do with making really good beer. Take the Spice of Life Event they sponsored at the brewery this past Sunday, the second of its kind designed to increase awareness and participation in organ donor programs.

Featuring a host of their regular beers and two special brews from Brewer Dave Bronstein that showcased a variety of peppers, the owners saw their brewery packed with devotees of good beer and good causes. Jamie, the face of Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing, was not only proffering her beers, she was celebrating the tenth anniversary of a special Gift of Life. The main cause on this day was to encourage awareness about organ donation, a subject her brewery friend Seth Dolled knows a bit about. Dolled donated his own kidney ten years ago to save his mother’s life—and, because of his donation, his mom Sharon was there in full vigor to participate and promote.

Jamie, (L.), Seth, (R.)
Nor is Queli a stranger to charitable donations of other sorts, having held many food drives, a coat drive, donations to Sustainable Cherry Hill and to The Food Bank of South Jersey. She even regularly donates the profits of her two skeeball machines to the Pink Boots Society--except fro this day, when the proceeds go the Gift of Life and the Living Kidney Donor Network.

Forgotten Boardwalk donated a keg of their outstanding Shore Shiver to an event held in Foley’s Pub last year called Craft Beer for a Cause. The cause was to assist my own son Brett, who had recently been diagnosed with ESRD—End Stage Renal Disease. That he was “between insurances” when the disease struck necessitated the fund-raising efforts designed to help him until his work insurance kicked in, and Queli's charitable gesture was offered without a moment's hesitation. 

Therefore, the large turnout at the brewery to support Queli, Dolled and their cause was most uplifting, and the team will be making a sizable donation from the proceeds to the Living Kidney Donor Network. Twin sisters Mariah and Satyra (also a donor) staffed a table laden with information about organ donation, “Donate for Life” bracelets, information pieces and other items whose purpose was to spur those inclined to donate to do so, as well as to get those not yet so inclined to think about it.

But what about those special beers that headlined the event? The first was called Lady 8, which was a variant of the brewery’s “What the Butler Saw Wit.” Normally a watermelon refresher, this one had four different peppers provided by official “Pepperer” Bryan Glickman. Using Devil’s Tongue, Dragon Cayenne, Habanero and an even hotter Chocolate Habanero, Brewer Bronstein created a zesty brew with a relatively low ABV that was very drinkable and palate-pleasing. He used the same peppers and bumped up his “Pocket Trick Imperial IPA and dubbed it “Hot Trick,” but the result was a fascinating, thoroughly enjoyable 8.5% brew that was the choice of many in the room, including yours truly.

Devil's Tongue Pepper
Of course, when the time came to grab one of the foot-long burritos from the World Wide Burrito Company Truck stationed outside, I switched gears to the Funnel Cake Nitro which would allow for more “gulpability” and less “sipability.” But after devouring the massive burrito, I switched right back to the “Hot Trick.” Even my spice-loving  missus (who claimed on the ride down that she would not likely drink any beer this day) found Hot Trick to be so thoroughly irresistible, that she sent her personal valet (me) back to the bar three times for refills.

PepperMan Bryan Glickman and Brewer Dave Bronstein
Bryan Glickman gave the PubScout a quick course on peppers, and even provided the samples of his gardening efforts for all to see. Glickman shared that peppers are good to grow because no animals will eat them like they will other produce.
“What about bugs?” I asked him.
“Simple,” he said. “We installed a praying mantis nest in the garden. We don’t have bugs.” Talk about environmentally-friendly and sustainable…

 “Hot Trick” was perfectly infused with the peppers—not so little as to be barely detectable, but neither so much as to set your forehead sweating and your hair on fire. As Brewer Dave said, “Making a beer so full of overly hot spices defeats the purpose of making beer with spices. At base, it has to be drinkable.” And it certainly was. I asked Dave how much spice he used for his batch of Hot Trick, and he allowed that for eight gallons he used less than one ounce of each spice. “Pepperman” Glickman added that he’s going to start growing an even hotter one with the name “Scorpion” in it. Stay tuned for the Scoville score on that baby.
Basking in the sun on a gorgeous Winter day

The place was chock full of people, including some recognized luminaries of the beer world like beer journalist Kevin Trayner and Peripatetic Beer Taster Natalie Lay. At one point, there were no seats to be had, and the line at the bar was four deep. At another, two tables were left empty, but the line at the bar remained four deep. Wondering why, I went outside and found a host of beer and burrito folks basking and picnicking in the 57º sun. And, of course, the legendary skee-ball machines inside saw their share of action.

Mariah and Satyra

It’s very clear that the folks at Forgotten Boardwalk care about what they do in the brewery, and their beers are reaching more and more Jersey beer lovers thanks to Dolled’s marketing efforts. But charitable events like the Spice of Life also show that they care about people, too.

If that quality of caring gets more people to drink your product, that’s wonderful.

If it gets them to donate an organ to save someone’s life, it’s a win all the way around.

The PubScout

Did you know that ONE organ and tissue donor can save or enhance the lives of up to FIFTY other individuals?

If you’re interested, TAKE ACTION. Visit

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Stirling Effort Produces Sterling Dinner

Staging a successful beer dinner, even for seasoned pros, requires many things to work together. The beer, the food pairings, staff efficiency, the venue, the host and even the crowd are all important cogs if the result is to be a beer dinner that runs like a well-oiled machine. To achieve that in your very first beer dinner, while presenting a food/beer event which is decidedly “outside the box,” is a testimony to the teamwork of the Stirling Hotel.

Tom & Dori Baldassarre

Tom and Dori Baldassarre, owners of The Stirling Hotel, gave the reigns over to Beer Manager Dan Schneider and his management team of John Baldassarre, Dan Moeri and Meghan Bury to run what was called a Colorado Craft Beer and Game Dinner. Along with his Exec Chef Ryan Chatfield and Sous Chef Brandon Campney (who proved their culinary wizardry), the team scored a huge win, at least if the reactions of the forty-plus guests were any indication.

Set in the cozy confines of the outdoor heated patio, Schneider and Company delivered winner after winner in terms of beer and food pairings, some of which yours truly had never tasted. Wild Boar, Rabbit, Brook Trout and Elk are not The PubScout’s usual fare, even at some of the high-end places he has evaluated. Add Prickly Pear Granita and Crème Brulee—all with appropriate libations—and the table for success was indeed set. That such an elaborate offering was served with great efficiency is a credit to the staff, who also managed to clean up every setting after every course, silverware included, and replaced it with new settings.
Wild Boar

In an unusual move, Schneider opted to pair the Wild Boar appetizer with Breckenridge Brewery’s 25th Anniversary Imperial Vanilla Porter aged in Barbados Rum Barrels. Beginning a dinner with a nine-percent monster was a gamble, but its smooth taste worked beautifully, and it was an immediate hit. After that course, the friendliness levels around every table skyrocketed predictably.

 The Rabbit dish was paired with Oskar Blues’ excellent Pinner Throwback IPA, and it served as a mini-palate cleanser to prepare for the rare (in NJ, at least) Left Hand’s Sawtooth Nitro, which matched up with the crispy-skinned Brook Trout and Morel Mushrooms. Long a fan of Left Hand’s Milk Stout Nitro, the PubScout was so impressed with the Sawtooth that he requested a second glass.

Left Hand Sawtooth Nitro
 That set the stage properly for the main event—Elk with Sage, Barley Risotto, Cumberland sauce and a flaming sprig of juniper. Tender, sweet and savory, the elk had everyone at my table “mmm-ing” in approval, and though I may not get it, I’m asking for the barley risotto recipe. That it was matched with Great Divide’s hearty Hibernation Ale didn’t hurt either.

I really need to watch “Chopped” more, according to the missus, because, as a meat and potatoes guy, I had no idea what Granita was…maybe a Spanish term of affection for a diminutive maternal grandparent? But I sure know what it is now: a term of affection for an excellent palate-cleansing dessert made with Prickly Pear Juice and Lime Zest. Along with Avery’s unique Liliko’i Kepolo, it would have made for a memorable end to a five-course meal.

Shelly and Rick
Deb and Jeff

Except this wasn’t a five-course meal—it was a six-course meal, maybe seven if you count the Welcoming Glass of Mama’s Little Yella Pils served with Serrano ham, Salame Feline and aged goat cheese with black truffles on a polished slab of pine tree stump. 

Granita--Prickly Pear Juice and Lime Zest
And the last course was an exceptional Crème Brulee made with egg yolks from the chicken coop out back, and honey and lavender. Schneider made another “out of the box” move by pairing it with Redstone Meadery’s Sunshine Nectar Mead. The smart money says that that’s not been done often—if at all—at a beer dinner.  A cost of $65—including tax and tip—for a six-course dinner of this quality is, quite simply, a steal. And every guest walked away with a pint glass favor filled with tchotchkes as a remembrance of the night.

The Baldassarres, Schneider, the Chefs and the staff received a well-deserved round of applause for The Stirling Hotel’s very first venture into the beer dinner scene, and the gracious hosts invited The PubScout to visit when the weather is more conducive to outside events, which will showcase The Ponderosa I wrote about here.

I will take them up on that, and you might want to consider getting to their upcoming beer dinner to be held next month. It’s going to be a New England-themed dinner with appropriate beers and foods. I’ll publish more details when Dan Schneider sends them to me.

Nancy was a Happy Camper

It will likely be another Stirling effort.


The PubScout
On top of it all, a gift

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Throwback Sunday--Blizzards and Beer and a Pioneer

I just got finished shoveling and snowblowing after Winter Storm Jonas, and the accumulations reminded me of a storm back in 1996, before they had any fancy names attached to them. The reason the memory was so clear was because it took me three whole days to dig out of that white monster, as I had no snowblower at the time, and my lads were too small to help. Schools were closed for three days, and virtually nothing moved.

It was exhausting, slow work, digging three or four times in one shovel spot just to get down to pavement. So I needed a break every so often. And, as it happened, the night before the blizzard, I was sent  by a "brews paper" editor on my first-ever beer writing assignment ever to cover a beer bar in Highlands, NJ called Gimpi's, which is no longer there. I had answered an ad for an "Experienced Beer Writer Wanted" in the back of that periodical. That I had no experience whatsoever at beer writing did not deter me. I thought it would be fun

Whenever I took a break from shoveling, I'd scurry up to my attic garrett to sit, rest, have a beer and write a few paragraphs, then get re-dressed to go out and shovel. And all the while I was shoveling, I was thinking about what I wanted to say--and how I wanted to say it-- in my first published article. 

It took me all three days to get it just right. And I thought it would be fun to republish it after twenty years in the business and share it with you. It has been a wonderful journey for me, and I'm not just talking about the NAGBW Awards I have won. I have been invited to remarkable places to drink remarkable beers. But above all, I have met so many remarkable, wonderful folks who are part of the craft beer scene--brewers, owners, movers and shakers in the beer industry-- but above all are the many good, down-to-earth, craft beer lovers with whom I have bent more than a few elbows.
Dave Hoffman

Many major news outlets are now jumping on the beer- bar-visiting bandwagon. Some outlets are just discovering beer bars and pubs I reported on more than decade ago. And while I'm happy that more publications are alerting beer-loving readers to the many wonderful bars, brewpubs, microbreweries and restaurants out there, I take some pride in being a pioneer of the genre. 

So sit back, grab your favorite microbrew and see where this wonderful journey into the beer world began.

Then get back out to shovel.

Gotta get to Gimpi’s      Jan. 6, 1996

            Any beer person who believes that a good beer pub has to have gleaming brass railings and stainless steel tuns visible through a glass windowwall should probably not bother visiting Gimpi's Food and Spirits in Highlands, NJ.

Too bad. They'll miss a nice experience.

Gimpi's, named for a dentist who broke a leg skiing (his original cast still hangs on the wall) is located on Bay Ave in the little Jersey shore town of Highlands, just before Sandy Hook.

Bay Ave is not that long, but you can tell you're getting close to Gimpi's by two signs: one is the plethora of cars parked out in front (and around the back) and the other is an unmistakable yellow lighted picture of the erstwhile, but unfortunate, gimp legged dentist. And there's a profoundly good reason for the crowds.

Gimpi's is fun, friendly and sports a beer list worthy of any beer geek's attention. Over 100  bottled brews are available from an impressive list in constant flux. Owner (and Gimpi Son) Cary Lazar is well versed in the intricacies of brews and micros, although his responsibilities are in the kitchen. A graduate of Tulane University in New Orleans, he began his quest for beer expertise in college. His partner and brother Blair is in charge of the brew side of things. Cary, whose all time favorite beer is Abita Turbo Dog, serves as a consultant on the beer menu.

These guys know what they're doing, too. The list includes some famous and not-so-famous-but-outstanding brews. American brews occupy the lion's share of the menu, but there are choice offerings from Belgium, Canada, England, Germany, Switzerland and even Turkey. Australia, Japan, Jamaica, Ireland, Korea, China, Denmark, Thailand, Mexico Holland and New Zealand round out what appears to be a UN of beers all working in a peaceful harmony among the general assembly.

Many standard bar brews are available from Bud Light to Coors to Sharp's, but owner Lazar says that the microbrew explosion is very evident in the changing tastes of his diverse clientele. That diversity was clear at 7:30 PM.

There were tables with families and young children, senior citizens, couples and groups. The big bar (there's a half bar joined to the raw bar) contained more singles, but also showed some of the aforementioned mix. There was also a distinct, but not unpleasant, difference in the atmosphere between the bar and dining areas, although they are not separated by anything more than a few feet of space and a noticeable difference in temperature. The room is lively with the mixed sounds of conversation, clinking glasses and the unobtrusive noise of many TV's tuned to news and sports and a big screen video display.
Gimpi's has a friendly and efficient service staff. All were easy to talk to and, bartender Gary Braverman was not only knowledgeable about his stock and trade, but you got the feeling you were talking to a carbon copy of superstar Michael J. Fox. Our server, Natalie, was prompt, efficient, knowledgeable and personable. We did not get to sample the talents of server Melissa who bears the title of "The Waitress with Personality," but if she had more than Natalie she must be as hot as Blair's Death Sauce. That's a special hot sauce for wings which is so potent, the pub issues a disclaimer right in the menu which refuses to accept responsibility for what happens to those brave enough to try it. So powerful is it that Cary and Blair will pay for your order of hot wings if you dare to finish them. They're called, appropriately, "Wings of Death."
Indeed, the tastes of the public seem to be leaning toward beers and away from "hard" liquor and toward micros specifically. Owner Lazar confirmed that saying, "People are willing to spend more for a big bottle of Rogue rather than an equivalent or less amount on shots. Noboby 'does shots' anymore."
And if it's Rogues they want, Rogues he's got, from Santa Reserve to Dead Guy to Mogul to Shakespeare Stout. He also offers the neat, small (and expensive) blue bottles of Sam Adams' Triple Bock in both '94 and '95 versions. A couple of Blue Moons, Celis, Rhino Chaser and North Coast's Red Seal are prominent on the list. Of course, Pete's Wicked is available in various styles as is a healthy repertoire of Samuel Smith's brews, including the outstanding Winter Welcome.

Speaking of overseas offerings, the serious Belgian lover can get Corsendonk, Chimay and Chapaue Banana, or Sterken's Kruikenbier or Porter in their own handmade crocks. Switzerland's Samichlause, brewed just once a year on December 6, is a special treat. Fuller's E.S.B. and Young's Old Nick Barleywine are there for the British fancier, too. On this particularly cold night, I would have enjoyed a Young's Winter Warmer, but with all those others present, who's complaining?

Germany, not to be outdone by any nation, contributed titles like EKU Hefe-Weiss, Pschorr's Weiss, Pilsener and Oktoberfest and Pinkus Pilsener.
And while the bottled beers were indeed the winners in the quantity department, the draft beers made an impression on this writer. On the night in question, the beer drinker had a choice of Pete's Wicked Winter (which, unsurprisingly, ran out) Oregon Raspberry Wheat, Franziskaner Weiss, Bass, Guiness Stout, Sam Adams' Winter Lager, Yuengling's Black and Tan, Wild Goose AND Snow Goose, and Pilsener Urquell.  Of course, Bud, Coors, Molson and Killian's Red got their share of attention, too.
Entertainment kicks in at about 10:30 (when the Generation X'ers start to filter in) in the form of various rock bands on Friday and Saturday night. According to Cary Lazar, Wednesday nights and the weekends are the busiest times in the winter, but the warmer weather and the proximity of Sandy Hook make Gimpi's a magnet for quaffers and sunworshippers as well.

In all, Gimpi's Food and Spirit's is well worth the trip, especially if you go with a group. The variety of brews, the portions and value of food more than outweigh the lack of "brewpub" style furnishings and accouterments. Its motto, boldly imprinted on the shirts of its sixteen employees is "Life is too short to drink cheap beer." How true.
I'd be real careful about the Wings of Death, though.
Come to think of it, there are worse places to die than in a friendly, clean pub surrounded by hundreds of excellent brews.
And Michael J. Fox.

(Ed. note--Gimpi’s is Kurt’s first review.)

Gimpi's Food and Spirits
231 Bay Ave.
Highlands, NJ 07732
Fax: 908-291-3605