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Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Step Back in Time

There is simply nothing like enjoying a good beer in an old pub--especially one with some serious history attached. On a whim, I journeyed to NYC to visit the historic Pete's Tavern, where a guy named William Sydney Porter--aka O. Henry--supposedly wrote a classic American short story titled "The Gift of the Magi."

Having read it and taught it, the distinction of knowing it may have been born in a pub was especially meaningful to me. Sadly, much of the younger generation has never heard of it, much less read it, if my unscientific poll is any indication. Clicking the link above can resolve that issue, however. If they can put their smartphones down long enough to read it. Or maybe read it on their smartphones, if their attention span is longer than that of a salamander.

Pete's Tavern, situated on 18th Ave. and Irving Pl. in the city was exactly what I anticipated it to be in terms of its ambience. It matches Bruce Aidells' classic pub description perfectly:

You sit back in the darkness, nursing your beer, breathing in that ineffable aroma of the old-time saloon: dark wood, spilled beer, good cigars, and ancient whiskey - the sacred incense of the drinking man. 

The Portman Hotel (1819) was the building in which the tavern now sits, and it was purchased in 1899 by Tom and John Healy, who were the likely proprietors when O. Henry did his thing. It also advertised George Ehret's Extra Beer at one time, and it was emblazoned with a somewhat mysterious six-pointed star. In the pic below, you can see the name Healy's.

Though Pete's (1864) claims to be the oldest tavern in the city, other classic pubs challenge that assertion--namely McSorley's (1854). And The Bridge Cafe, near South St. Seaport with a birthdate of 1794, maintains that it was and has been a drinking joint since 1847, when the Hudson River actually came up to its very foundation. That was before a massive landfill construction project that altered the river's shoreline.

A New Yorker magazine article asserts that by the end of the late 19th century, some ten thousand taverns had popped up across New York City, leading to the valid conclusion that NYC has long had watering holes to slake the thirsts of many.

O. Henry was apparently one of them, and a plaque on a building just a half block down Irving St. (making trips to the tavern exceedingly convenient) cites the legend. The booth where he supposedly wrote the "Magi" story is prominently featured--and rarely unoccupied-- despite the fact that the legend may not be true.

According to Wikipedia, the saloon has appeared in various films and TV programs like Seinfeld, Endless Love and Sex in the City. 


But Porter was certainly not the only celebrity to have graced Pete's confines, as some of the pictures here will show. The walls are covered with pictures of celebs posing with the owners, Gary Egan or Declan Farrell. They run the gamut from the Raging Bull, Jake LaMotta to Julia Stiles. There's even a picture of a staffer attending to Pope John Paul. You could easily spend a few days just reading the walls, especially upstairs where P.T. Barnum used to stable his circus animals.

Whether the O. Henry legend is valid or apocryphal, it was enough to cause The PubScout become immersed in it while enjoying a Pete's 1864 Ale.

Who, having read the classic, can forget its fragmented opening line: "One dollar and eighty-seven cents."


Or its poignant closing lines which reverberate even now in the memory:

"But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts, these two are the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are the wisest. Everywhere they are the wisest. They are the magi."





I can't say for sure if Pope John Paul ever read The Gift of the Magi. Given his education level, he probably did.

But I can say with certainty that the Holy Father would definitely have approved.



Cheers!
The PubScout



Saturday, July 26, 2014

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Quick Hit--The Perqs of Celebrity

First, you must disabuse yourself of the notion that "perqs" is misspelled and should be "perks." "Perqs" is correct because it is the truncated form of "perquisites," a term which means, among other things, "A thing regarded as a special right or privilege enjoyed as a result of one's position."

Lauren and Megan flank The PubScout
Being a nationally known beer writer carries some of those perqs. Lauren and Megan, sitting at the bar of the Stage House Tavern in Somerset (and apparently star-struck), were kind enough to pose with yours truly, though I had just met them.

The narcissist in me wants to credit the "personal charm factor." But the truth is that neither their dignity nor well-being was in danger of being threatened by a friendly, harmless Geezer. So they probably felt sorry for me.

Sorry.
"Personal Charm Factor" sounds better.

Cheers!
The PubScout

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"The IPA-ification of Everything..."

It seems The PubScout and The Weekly Pint share a similar attitude about IPA's. Note the quote that is part of the headline:

" And while we lament the "IPA-ification" of everything--face it, some styles were just never meant for a makeover..."

The PubScout has been criticized by some diehard hopheads for exactly the same stance, but, as Oscar Wilde once correctly noted, "The only thing worse than being talked about is NOT being talked about."

And the rest of The Weekly Pint's quote (lest I be accused of quoting selectively) is a sentiment with which I also whole-heartedly concur:

"...we salute the ways brewers around the world have taken that once exotic style and produced myriad beers with once unthinkable dimensions."

In any event, read the Weekly Pint article here, ad see if you have ever heard of
--much less tasted--some of these IPA's.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

There's Class in the Glass

My buddy Ralph is one of the most cerebral beer drinkers I know (and in my circle of beer nuts, that's not many). He recently sent me a link that got me to thinking.

It's long been known that the shape of a glass impacts your beer-drinking experience. While drinking a good beer out of the bottle should be considered a last resort, various beers demand more than the trusty old pint glass.

But the $25 you'll spend for two of these bad boys could also buy a good supply of beer. Your move.

Cheers!
The PubScout

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Quaffing's Easier Than Parking

Why is it that some of the best beer places are in towns with the greatest parking challenges?

Like Pilsener Haus in Hoboken, The Office in Morristown, World of Beer and Harvest Moon in New Brunswick and Triumph in Princeton. 

I mean, Hoboken, Morristown and New Brunswick are like, you know, real cities. But Princeton is a college town, and it should be deserted in summer, no?

No.

I attended the morning session of Coach Chris Ayres' excellent Princeton Wrestling Camp, then hopped astride my iron horse to meet the coach for libation and victual at Triumph Brewpub, right on Nassau St. Chris and I go back a decade, and when he was assisting at Lehigh camps, we'd frequent the Tally-Ho Tavern at night, affectionately known by the locals as "The Ho."

Coach Chris Ayres
There were never any parking problems there, and the beer list was pretty good. But Triumph in Princeton makes its own beer--it was just the second brewpub in NJ--and its beers are pretty darned good, too. That includes their locations in New Hope and Old City, Philadelphia. Moreover, it will soon include Red Bank.

Even on two wheels, finding a parking place was a major challenge, and after three trips around the block, hoping that I'd catch some Princetonian getting into their car in front of the pub, I finally gave up. Some parking meters on the back streets only allow 30-minute parking, so what good is that when there are beers to sample?

Scrappy Sara
Instead, I went around the back of the pub and found Kopp's Bicycle Shop, which has its own parking lot. The proprietors were nice enough to allow my two wheels to join their collection of bikes while I ate lunch, and I raised my first pint to their hospitality. That pint was a delightful saison of 5.9% ABV that was chock full of flavor and big on refreshment. Coach Chris, normally a hophead, agreed and Sara poured us two.

I got a chance to chat with new brewer Brendan Anderson who took over in May for good old boy Tom Stephenson, the horticulturist-turned-brewer, whose recipes put Triumph on the map. I'll have a more in-depth chat with Brendan in an upcoming blog. Anderson oversees the brewing operation in all three locations. But as he was busy making Coach Chris's favorite Bengal Gold IPA, he didn't have much time to spare today.

Brewer Brendan Anderson
That left the afternoon open to catch up with Chris (who wisely used his bicycle as transport), to talk wrestling, talk beer, talk family, etc. Chris may even try his hand at the Brewer's Apprentice in Freehold. I told him to mention my name if he went...then be prepared to run like hell.

So I scored a free parking space, had some great beer, some excellent food, great company and good conversation. In all, a pretty good afternoon.

Except for the parking.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Ecstasy and The Agony

Or the Good News and the Bad News. Or the Yin and the Yang. Or Comedy and Tragedy. Any of those diametrically opposed references will work.

 Two recent stories in a professional magazine I subscribe to called Craft Brewing Business should bring at once a smile and a frown to Beer Nuts, and especially to small brewers, who, according to one article, are most likely to be impacted.




First, the good news. Some colleges are looking to put brewpubs on campus as part of an educational initiative based on beer and the science/art of brewing. That news will probably freak out the modern day temperance movement, but from this perspective, it's perfectly rational as well as educational. An old friend once told me, "You can enjoy beer--even love it, but you can't get intimate with it until you brew it."


And that's what the above programs are attempting to do for their students. A more intimate relationship with beer will very likely lead to less--not more-- binge drinking, which is an absolutely asinine way to "enjoy" beer. In fact, the better beer one drinks, the more he learns to savor and appreciate what it is that makes beer something far more than a liquid to load into a funnel on your head. So good for those schools who are promoting the art of brewing and the appreciation of good beer.

Now the bad news. As I wrote a last week, the rise in hops prices could seriously impact those brewers who focus on hop-forward beers, like IPA's and DIPA's.

Seems my piece was a bellwether, if what this article says is true, and I believe it is. I don't know that terms like "Doomsday Scenario" apply right now, but prices are definitely going up for one simple reason: supply and demand laws are pretty much immutable. Be warned that the link in the story that goes to the Wall Street journal article will only benefit those who have a subscription to the WSJ, but the point is made. Here is a blurb from that WSJ piece, which calls hops a "grain":

"The popularity of hopped-up beers has led to a serious hops shortage in the U.S. That shortage drove the average price for all hops to $3.59 a pound in 2013, up from $1.88 in 2004, according to the nonprofit Hop Growers of America. the Washington-based merchant 47 Hops warned this spring that choicer hops, including Cascade 'will likely be over $10 a pound' by the end of 2014.
This spells trouble for smaller craft brewers, who produce fewer than 15,000 barrels annually. The increasing cost of hops could put them out of business, ironically, amid steady growth for the industry."

The main article itself is sufficiently stocked with information that drives the point home.

Thus, college students who learn to brew might not be able to ply their trade if they are hell-bent on making hoppy beers.

But there may be a bright side--and an opportunity.

Might all those college students who can't find jobs want to consider starting up hop farms? Sure, it's work. But it's work.

And, as you'll see in the next issue of NJ Brew Magazine, there's always mead.

Cheers! The PubScout