Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Friday, August 21, 2015

Got Your "Wet Ticket" Yet?

I got this tip from a guy I met last week.

The Beer Boom continues apace! Thanks for the heads up, Colin!

The PubScout

Author's note: In the earlier version I posted today, I referenced a "Colin," also from Rahway, whom I met at a beer dinner last week. Though that Colin was a nice guy as well, he was not the Colin that sent me the tip, so I had to amend the article. Sorry for any confusion, but two Colins from Rahway in one week did me in. It's hell getting old....

Thursday, August 13, 2015

What Happens When "Outside the Box" Teams Up with "Off-centered?"

Fr. DeSimone pours the Holy Water...
Lots of good things, apparently.

Chef Eric LeVine of Paragon Tap and Table and Sam Calagione of (off centered) Dogfish Head Beer were brought together in marital bliss Tuesday evening, with Fr. Mike De Simone presiding.

The Good Father has been doing wonderful things with his "Holy Water" promotions at the Clark locale since its inception, and the packed houses are an indication that the public appreciates it.

This very special, five-course beer dinner was pretty much sold out, and Chopped Champion Chef LeVine and his crew made the decision to "plate" the attendees' food in full view of the large audience, which was pretty unorthodox --and cool--if you ask me.

Chef LeVine educates the class...
The beer/food pairings were wonderful, and, according to Dogfish Head rep. Nick Vitalo, Chef LeVine was responsible for all of them.

He sure did have some good beer to work with, though. 

The first course was Smoked Duck Breast on a Salad of Blood Orange, Fennel, Roasted Peach and Herb Basil Brush. It was accompanied, smartly, by DH's Festina Peche, a relatively light, low-alcohol brew. Kevin, one of my tablemates, wasn't quite sure about it on first taste, but by the end of the dish, he'd been hooked. He simply followed the "Three Sips" rule.

Course #2 was Roasted Pork Loin and Roasted Corn Pudding with Mushroom Ragout, and it worked exceptionally well with Calagione's "American Beauty," a beautiful beer for more senses than just the eyes.

Course #3 saw a very special beer
--Black and Blue--(are you listening, Larry Porter?) paired with a Salmon dish with Crusted Seared Scallop and Shaved Asparagus Salad in a Black Garlic puree.

The fourth Course was an amazingly tender and perfectly cooked Monkfish, served on avocado, watermelon and a Star Fruit hash. It was accompanied by the granddaddy of the Dogfish Head IPA's
--120 minute, and it, too worked perfectly as its big alcohol bottom worked its wonders with the dish. In fact, every beer after the Festina Peche ran the ABV chart upward. Thank God there was food.

And speaking of ABV, the Raison D'Extra that joined the dessert course of Honey Lemon Cake with Beet Sorbet (yes, BEET sorbet) was plain and simple "outtasight."

At night's outset, DH rep Nick Vitalo predicted that he might have a hard time keeping control of the forty or fifty members of his "beer class" as the night wore on. He was right, because not only did the conversational decibel level rise considerably (commensurate, perhaps, with the increased ABV of the beers)  but some "students" actually engaged in classroom mischief--like Claudia (an American Beauty herself), who shot a hair tie across the room at Kevin to have it land on his shoulder during dinner.
Stephanie, Allie and Claudia (The Troublemaker)

'Twas all in good fun, though, and, if you add "good food," "good people" and "good beer" to the mix, that describes the dinner perfectly.

Father De Simone is having a special "Blessing of the Mead" Event  on Wednesday, August 19, where you can come and "get your Viking on."

You might even consider wearing your horned helmet, in case Claudia is in the house.

The PubScout

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Essex, CT--Home of "The Gris"

The PubScout is an admitted sucker for historic pubs. There's just something magical to me about drinking good beer in old pubs, and The "Gris" (Griswold Inn) in Essex, CT is the oldest continuously operating inn in the nation.
The Inn is actually a campus of various buildings in this Connecticut River port town, and we stayed in a delightful suite across the street from the storied inn. 

Our suite was clean, spacious and charming--even without a TV. These days, of course, you can get streaming TV on your computer (which I did, because I didn't want to miss Tyrant), so no biggie. All the rooms are different, so don't expect cookie-cutter accommodations like the big chains have. There is real character here.

But it was in the Tap Room, with its smoke-coated, domed ceiling made of clam shells and horsehair, that the past came alive. No chairs at the bar (a throwback to an earlier "gentlemen only" policy) and a handful of coveted tables surrounding an ancient wood-fired stove gave us all the historic ambience we needed. The perpetually lit and decorated Christmas tree atop the fireplace seems to say, "Welcome to continual good cheer!" 

The Tap Room
The walls in both the Tap Room and the Dining Room are chock full of maritime art, and your head needs to be on a swivel to appreciate all of it. As New York Magazine wrote, " The Tap Room is something very special, retaining all the traditional spirit that a country inn is supposed to project. It just may be the best looking drinking room anywhere in America." The PubScout will not disagree.

The food is classic American fare, and the House Special Clam Chowder, seasoned with Bermuda-based Outerbridge Sherry Peppers Sauce was a work of art. The Gris even has its own beer--Revolutionary Ale--brewed specially by Red Hook in New Hampshire. It's a quality session brew that paired well with everything I had on the menu over two days.

The Gris also sports a collection of other quality craft beers on draft and in bottles. Two Roads Road to Ruin IPA was quite nice, as was the Charter Oak Pale Ale.

There is entertainment every night as well, and we stopped in to hear the stylings of a group called The Sea Chanteys, who sang, well, sea chanteys. The packed room obviously was full of Chantey fans as everyone knew all the words to all the songs and sang them with considerable vigor. Given the town's ancestral links to the water, the Sea Chanteys made great sense and added to the historic atmosphere.

The next night we were treated to a very good jazz ensemble as we dined in the Historic Dining Room adjacent to the room which has seen the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Billy Joel, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Richard Thomas, Henry Winkler and Rat-Packers Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and others.

The food was fresh, of good quality and well prepared (if a tad on the pricey side), but socked in as the town is by marinas and yacht clubs, and with the roads chock full of Mercedes, Beemers and Porsches, that's to be expected.

Bartender Ed
For lovers of old, character-filled drinking emporia, the Tap Room fills the bill quite nicely, and it's not surprising that it is the only pub in Connecticut to make Esquire's "Best Bars in America" list every year.

There are also a few neat things to do near Essex, and one of them is riding the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat, a combination journey that transports you back in time in classic, restored railroad cars and a river boat that tours up and down the river past stunning houses (like the Gillette Castle), amazing scenery and wildlife that even includes bald eagles. And the Connecticut River Museum, located at the water's edge at the foot of Main St., informs the visitor wonderfully about the history of the great river and the people who used it. You can even see David Bushnell'sTurtle, America's first submarine, and, if you aren't claustrophobic, climb into a mock up of it to see how it worked. Jockey-sized people will fit best.

The Turtle
The entire area is pretty, picturesque and tranquil, and if you have a special affinity for charming old  towns with well-kept historic homes at the water's edge, this one will fill the bill quite nicely.

And what's better than recounting your day's adventures over some excellent food and grog in a pub that was up and running in 1739?

Even if you have to stand at the bar? 

The PubScout

Friday, July 31, 2015

What's A Motto?

Plenty of beer makers have used mottos or slogans to sell their beer, or at least to help people remember it. My personal favorite in that list above comes from John Courage (It's what your right arm's for).

Charlie offers an Amber
But during a recent visit to "New-Brewer-On-The-Block" Cypress Brewing, I asked host-owner Charlie Backmann if Cypress had one.

"We do, but I can't remember it. Something about three great guys making great beer...I don't know...we made it up during a tasting session. You'll have to ask Bill (Lutz) when you tour the back."

As it happened, a wet (which proves he was working) Bill Lutz emerged from the back on brewer business, and after introductions, I ask him the same question. He couldn't remember, either. Must have been a hell of a tasting session. 

But you won't need a motto or a slogan to remember Cypress after trying it, either at the brewery in Edison or at various drinking spots in Middlesex County. Hailey's Harp in Metuchen, Charlie Brown's, Quaker Steak and Lube on Route 1 in Edison and Miller's Ale House on Rt. 9 in Woodbridge have all beaten a path to the door of the green cypress tree with the beer mug light above the door.

Charlie is one-third of the trio of owners. Bill Lutz is another and Jay Kijowski is the third. Charlie, who works so many hours that he wonders if he ever goes home, took me on the requisite tour, and what I learned was astonishing. These guys built the entire place form floor to ceiling--including the cooler, tasting room furniture, bar and bathroom--in seven months. 
Bill Lutz (L.) and Charlie Backmann (R.)

Even more amazing was the electronics Jason, whose day gig is being the IT guy for Ray Catena Automobiles, invented (patent pending) and built to monitor the entire brewing process. And Bill Lutz designed the entire kettle system. If their future wasn't in brewing, it certainly could have been in construction.

But beer was where they wanted to put their marbles--and their efforts-- from the early, heady days home brewing on Cypress Dr. in Colonia. Charlie actually was studying law, all set for a career in criminal justice. But his father told him he "made good beer," and the call of the wild hops beckoned more strongly.

Offering a variety of beer styles, Cypress has something for everyone, from a bouncy, refreshing hefeweizen to a chewy Double Chocolate Imperial Oatmeal Stout made with more than four pounds of real cocoa per batch. A Blonde, a Red, an Amber, two IPA's, A Saison made with Rye and an "award-winning" English Nut Brown round out the rest of the current roster. Charlie was getting ready to start his Octoberfest the next day, and plans on using eight full weeks to bring it to the handmade bar by the third week in September.

The comfortable--also hand-built-- tasting room filled up substantially as the night wore on. Even two local high school wrestling legends, now celebrity coaches, found their way to the "Tree"--and not for the first time. Whether drinking pints or flights, the clientele all seemed to know the gregarious Charlie, chatting with him as he consumed the dinner brought into him by his girlfriend.

Hefe, Rye Saison, DIPA and Nut Brown
The PubScout liked all the beers he tasted, but the Amber called him back for a second pint before the night was through. First sip was unremarkable; second sip piqued my interest. And I was hooked by the third sip.

So the word is apparently getting out about what Cypress is doing, now to the tune of about 500 bbl per year. And according to Charlie the minute a 30 bbl system becomes available, it's going in, which means expansion of the floor space somewhere down the road.

Oktoberfest is going in here today!
Which proves that a catchy motto or slogan is not required to sell beer. 

As Charlie finally allowed, "If your beer is good, you won't remember your motto." 

Which, I suppose, is as good a slogan as any other.

The PubScout

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Captain Craic and Crew Taken Over at Hailey's

Captain Craic with his Magic Shillelagh
If you ever wanted to know why Hailey's Harp & Pub in Metuchen is doing a land office business, look no farther than Captain Craic--aka Chris Flynn--and his Maven of Malt, Moshe Atzbi.

From Beer Senates to bus rides to major beer happenings like the one that occurred last night at the pub with the Southern Tier Tap Takeover, they keep the joint alive as a destination for fun.

And their faithful customers love every minute of it, packing the place nightly. NJ Transit passengers getting off at Metuchen have just a 100-foot walk after leaving the train to enjoy a real Irish pub experience.

Malt Maven Moshe and guests

Southern Tier's Robert Muscatello, along with sidekicks Leila Mezaber and Brian Abry brought some of the Lakewood, NY brewery's outstanding beers to the taps, and even had other notables available for tasting at a separate table.

On tap were Sonnet, Tangier, Gemini and a special Mokah from 2014. On the table were Compass, Unearthly and Creme Brûlée. The PubScout, accompanied by his sons Cody and Kacy and NJ's own supermarket guru Matt Casey, enjoyed all of them, but was particularly taken with Sonnet and the 2014 Mokah. Beer Nuts Marc Lobur, Natalie Lay and Eugene Tawiah were also bellied up to the bar.
Robert, Leila and Brian

Moshe also made a batch of wings using the Mokah, and they were excellent. But that's not surprising, considering Moshe's talents in the kitchen.

Prizes were awarded by Leila who had earlier distributed free raffle tickets, with the usual cries of "shake 'em up!" ringing through the pub. 

Cody, Natalie and Kaz

But a rousing good time was had by all, for sure. 
And that's not surprising either, considering who commands the Good Ship Hailey's.

The PubScout

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A Little Quicker-Picker Upper

There are so many things that are positive about beer. Its color, its nose, its taste, its mouthfeel, the many ways it pairs with food its health benefits--in all, there are so many reasons to love beer.
And I've found three more.

The PubScout

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Skyway Robbery

I had to fly to NC last week. If I didn't fly, it's a ten and a half hour drive from Jersey, which, as I get older, gets less and less appealing. So the relatively short flight--just over an hour from the Garden State--is a darned good deal, provided, of course, you know when to book it. If you don't and you're not made of money, the long ride seems like a smarter deal.

What doesn't resemble a deal in any way is what the airline (which shall remain nameless, though I suspect all of them are pricey in this regard) is the cost of enjoying a decent brew at 35,000 feet.

Here's an ad from the placard in front of my seat. I believe a person's beer choices are their own. Beer is not a snobby drink, and those who denigrate the choices of others violate that standing principle. Drink what you like.

But there's no way The PubScout would order the one on the far right at ANY price, and he'd have to be desperately thirsty on a flight far longer than an hour to order the one in the middle, the one on the far left is a damned good beer. And enjoying one while flying in the afternoon might have been a nice experience, despite the necessity of having to use the Sky-Loo afterwards.

But not at $7 a can. I mean, who do these airlines think they are--Pro sports stadia and/or concert venues? NYC high-end restaurants? Highwaymen? The IRS?

Nope. Sorry. I slid the placard back in its place, pulled my ball cap down over my eyes and took a nap until we touched down in NC. And the brewpub/brewery scene in that state is simply exploding, so there would be plenty of places at my final destination where my $7 could get at least two outstanding brews, like the one below.

As I age, there are fewer things worth waiting for--especially if there's a line.

But good beer is not among them.

The PubScout