Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

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

Saturday, July 11, 2015

"Candy Store" for Beer Nuts in NC

So, for the past five days, I find myself in hot, humid Huntersville, NC on a mission for my son who still needs a kidney transplant. The house where his intended donor and I are staying is blocks away from a place called Crafty Beer Guys.

Catchy, says I. And outward appearances make the joint look like a residential house. But you know what they say about outward appearances.

Because inside it's a candy store for beer nuts. Hundreds and hundreds of bottles of really fine craft beer, arranged from specialty beers to monster stouts, to monster porters and browns, to IPA's, pale ales, ciders and more line the walls. Pardon my digression, but if you're an IPA fan, try a large can of Ass Clown's Citra Ass Down, which clocks in at 8%. 

It's like exploring the home of a new friend, who, for a donation, will let you take his beer home. And it also has a bar where you can saddle up to ride some great brews from the fourteen taps while you're there. Samples are available.

So impressed was The PubScout on his first visit, that he has been back EVERY day since to pick up some excellent beers for consumption in the home of our gracious hostess, Tammy. A dizzying array of twelve ouncers, bombers and more beg for investigation--and eventually adoption.

I swore I would come back to do a story on this place, hoping to include commentary from the principals, but I get distracted and just wind up carting out some great beers to consume at "home."

I will eventually get back there and back to "business," but I can't promise when. In the meantime, satisfy your curiosity by check ing out their various online presences here, here and here.

The prices are reasonable, all things considered, and the staff is most accommodating. Though the PubScout is a big fan of air-condtioning in NC's 90º humidity during the summer, I saw lots of folks gathered outside at the picnic tables enjoying their favorite brews at this dog-friendly place. I'm told that many will walk to a cafe two blocks away, order take-out and then transport it directly to the Home of the Crafty Beer Guys.

Because, at bottom, it's a lot like going to a friend's house for a casual getogether. AND your friend has a serious bar, as well as a serious collection of beers. If you bring your dog, I assume you stay outside.

Because you shouldn't be giving man's best friend candy--or candi sugar.
That's reserved for you.

The PubScout

Friday, July 3, 2015

Joe Sixpack--Not Your Father's Beer Writer

Joe Sixpack (aka Don Russell)--and Not Your Average Beer Drinker-- has a very interesting story about the latest fad drink called Not Your Father's Root Beer.

I've tried it, but could only manage a sip. Overly sweet it was, with a metallic finish that, to me, wouldn't pair well with anything, including hot dogs, potato chips or yard work. But it must have struck a chord with the public, because it's in the enviable position of being everywhere and nowhere at the same time. 

That's some serious marketing right there.

But this is some serious journalism, folks. 

If our media went after stories about politicians--from either party--like this, the nation would be better served.

I'm hoisting a pint to Joe Sixpack today.
Cheers! The PubScout

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

This Just In--Everything Old is New Again?

Brewer Mike Sella toiled at his craft for fourteen years at Uno’s on Rt. 1 South in Metuchen. While there, he not only produced great beers that were enjoyed by many, he spread his love of the craft beer culture through his dedication to regular, very successful beer dinners and well-attended cask ale fests. Well-liked by everyone, Mike’s departure was bittersweet for many. They were happy for him, as you won’t find a nicer guy, but they knew that his particular style of beer making would no longer grace Uno’s taps.

When he left to assume the brewer’s duties at then Basil T’s (now Birravino), he stepped into an entirely different beer-making environment. Though he continued to make beers that were enjoyed by patrons of the restaurant, the restaurant owner was focusing on the acquisition, promotion and sale of fine wines to accompany his top notch food and service.
Recently, Mike was notified that his services would no longer be required, and he was out of a job doing what he loves.

But, as could be expected, not for long. I sat down with him for this exclusive interview after learning the good news.

If you know Mike, you know he’s a man of few words. “Taciturn” and “Reticent” are probably under his high school graduation picture. So getting him to respond to any question at all with more than a sentence—or in some cases, a word-- was my biggest challenge.

PubScout: Well, this story had a happier ending than anyone expected. Does that include you?
MS: Well, yes, of course. I sure hope that me coming back will make some people happy but, none will be happier than I am. I'm really fortunate that this opened up when it did. 

PubScout: How difficult was it for you to make the decision to leave Uno’s?

MS: It was not an easy decision to leave at all.  I didn't leave because I didn't enjoy working there.  I made a lot of friends there. Lenny, of course, is still there, so it'll be great to work with him again.  Doug and Joy will hopefully be showing their faces. Coach still drops in when he visits from the land of Dogfish Head.  Nick and Doreen are still around.  Bob and Mary. Tom, Harry. It'll be great to see them a bit more often.  I never disappeared. I still dropped in once in a while, but now I'll see these people more often again which is great.

PubScout: Talk a bit about what challenges you faced at Birravino.
MS: I'd really rather not talk much about Birravino.  At this point it’s water under the bridge and I'll probably say something that I'll regret, or at least wish I had just left unsaid.

PubScout: Was the decision to let you go a complete surprise, or were there red flags?

MS: Total shock

PubScout: It had to be demoralizing to learn that you were let go. Were those dark days?

MS: I'd say stressful more than dark.  My wife is great and she did her best to keep me going in a positive direction.

PubScout: What other opportunities were offered or did you explore?

MS: I had one other concrete offer, and I feel bad that I'm not going to be helping those folks out, but that was just a part time offer.  I wish them the best, but there was no way I would or could pass this up.

PubScout: How long were you out of the beer making business before this new/old opportunity arose?

MS: Two months or so since I was let go.

PubScout: How did this return to your brewing roots come about?

MS: I was actually walking out of the place that had just offered me the part time job.  I hadn't even gotten to my car and my phone buzzed.  It was Zac [Conner] letting me know that he was getting ready to move on and that the job was open again.  I reached out and luckily found that they were receptive to bringing me back.  I didn't burn any bridges when I left the first time so there was not animosity on either side.

PubScout: Is the Metuchen Uno’s still the only one of all the 150+ franchises world-wide to produce its own beer on premises?

MS: Yes, it’s still the only Uno's with a brewery.

PubScout: Are you planning on introducing any new beers to the tap list beyond the old faithful standards?

MS: Sure. I'll do some new along with some of the old standards.  I've got something that I'd really been wanting to try for a few years now.  It seems like something that would be perfect for summer but by the time I get started, it’s coming up on pumpkin or Oktoberfest time.
Beer Dinner Girls...
PubScout: Will you start up those successful beer dinners again?

MS: I’m game if [manager] Jeff is.

PubScout: How about the cask fests?

MS: I'm sure the cask events will continue.

I had more (nosy) questions relating to Mike’s experience at Birravino, but Mike, understandably, deigned to answer them, remaining a class act to the end.

He was notified today that he is back in the Uno’s brewhouse where he started almost sixteen years ago. He'll be there one week from today. 

He seems to be very happy about this turn of events.
Almost as happy as his loyal patrons.

Good luck, Mike Sella!

Cheers! The PubScout

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Trip Down HopHead Alley

 There’s a reason mouth-puckering IPA’s are considered de rigeur by many beer drinkers these days, especially among those called millennials.

And that’s because they pucker your mouth.

Some do more than others, of course, and the variety of hops used in different beers also leave various lingering impressions on the palate. Good session IPA’s like Founders All Day or Oskar Blue’s Pinner, or  the outstanding Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch are quite delightful, and in the PubScout’s personal opinion, preferable to the ones that blow your mouth and palate apart. Though I’ve never understood why “dank” is considered a desirable flavor, even some of those can be quite pleasurable—at the right time and with the right food.

But where does a true Hophead go to sample some of the most interesting IPA’s all in one spot? Simple. IPA Alley at The Old Bay in New Brunswick.

I attended yesterday’s event early due to other commitments, so I had no way of knowing if the Alley got packed as the night wore on. I do know that beer raconteur Gary Rosen was expected to make an appearance, and that alone usually produces a gladsome and special mayhem. But he wasn’t there when I was.

What was there, however, was a raft—twenty-one, to be precise-- of special IPA’s selected by Tommy Sheehan, The Old Bay Restaurant’s Beer Meister. Each beer came with a well-written description of what the IPA nut was about to throw across his palate, and there was even a special menu provided by Chef Joe Donlin that was geared to match all those hops.

At Sheehan’s suggestion, I ordered the “Hopped up Flight of the Day” (six four ounce pours for $16) and one of Joe Donlin’s special pizzas—BBQ Bacon.

The flight, progressing in intensity from sessionable IPA to Triple IPA, included Founders All Day, Ballast Point Sculpin Grapefruit, Brewdog Punk IPA, Carton 077XX, Kane Overhead and Captain Lawrence Seeking Alpha.

It was good to see the two Jersey beers on the list, and, as I had enjoyed them before, I knew what to expect. Ditto with the Founders. The Ballast Point Sculpin Grapefruit, 7% ABV, 70 IBU’s and rated a 100 at was certainly intense, but this drinker was glad he only had to finish four ounces, otherwise his lips would have slammed shut. Oddly, it did go well with the BBQ Bacon Pizza, leaving me to understand why some people enjoy grapefruit juice with their eggs and bacon in the AM. Normal people opt for orange juice. Sorry, but that’s the way I see it.

But the other two on the list were true winners. The Brewdog Punk IPA, a “fusion” IPA, is hopped with New Zealand hops and they shine through from beginning to end. The write up said the finish was “aggressive,” but I didn’t think so, which is why I probably liked it so much.

The Captain Lawrence Seeking Alpha is a TIPA (as opposed to a DIPA) and its presence at the end of my serving board caused me no small consternation. Would it cause not only my lips, but my nose and eyes to be sucked fully into my oral cavity, never to appear again? And how would I ride my motorcycle to wrestling practice with this baby checking in at 11%?

The answers, in order, are “no” and “quite ably, thank you.” The pizza probably helped with the latter.

But I found the CLSA to be quite delicious and in no way intimidating. The array of hops (Tomahawk, Mosaic, Cascade and Citra ) blended very well indeed with the two-row malts to make this a nicely balanced, very tasty brew.

Tom Sheehan told me this event was his second annual one, and that he also has a stout-centered event during the winter which is quite popular. I haven’t been there, but if this event for Hopheads was an indication, Stoutheads might want to stay tuned for January news.

I passed the time waiting for my food and beers to come out by chatting with the delightful and efficient Sabrina, who was doing extra work this day due to an injury to her regular bar-back. Had she not been so busy, she probably would have had more time to chat with me, provided, of course, that my lips could open enough to speak after the beers.

Bottom line? This is an event Hopheads should not miss.