Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Monday, August 31, 2009

Sam's a Damn Fine 'Fest

Jim Koch is a helluva nice guy. I know, because I've spent time with him in pubs from Denver to Philadelphia. He's also a damned good marketing man who knows good beer. I know this because I've had every beer he's ever made, and there hasn't been a single one that didn't measure up to the style guide. My favorite marketing pitch is the one for Sam Adams Light. You know, the one that says that SA Light won a Gold Medal in some German Beer Competition. And there was no Light Beer category.That's a kicka$$ advert. And though I'm not a Light beer fan, I could handle a few SA Lights without looking for the water fountain.

For sure, there are many Sam's Brews I prefer above other Sam's Brews, but Jim's beers never disappoint. His brewers are top-drawer, his product is affordable and his beers are remarkably consistent. Pop the top on any Sam's and you're guaranteed two things--quality and consistency.

And I'm not tooting Jim's horn just because he sends me twenty-four cases of beer a year, either. Because he doesn't. I just said that to see if you were paying attention. Unless Joe Skelly is at my elbow or Lenny or Moshe is in front of me, I have to pay for every Sam Adams brew I get, barring presents.

Like the one the missus came home with two days ago--a case of Sam Adams Octoberfest. At this time of the waning year, O-fests are my go-to brews and I'm delighted to report that not a single one I've had so far failed to measure up. That includes styles from locally-brewed Hoffman (Climax) Oktoberfest, to Flying Dog Dogtoberfest, to Flying Fish's Octoberfish to Sly-Fox's hoppy version to--well, too many to recount. The only O-fests I haven't enjoyed this fall? Ones that I haven't tried yet. I look forward to Mike Sella's (Uno's) and Augie Lightfoot's (JJ Bittings) respective versions

Most people don't realize that the largest American-owned brewery (after the sale of AB to InBev) is none other than Jim Koch's Boston Beer Co., makers of Sam Adams. And "mass-produced" Sam Adams Octoberfest is a damned fine brew, comparable to many in my end-of-summer repertoire. This beer is beautiful to look at, has a distinct malty nose and is smooth as silk in the mouth. In Jim Koch's special glass created for his Boston Lager, it tastes even better. It's a classic Marzen that is definitely worth your time.

There is one thing about it that bothers me, though. The spelling of Oktoberfest with a "C" on the label rankles my sensibilities. I know it's the Americanized version of the word. But the "K" just seems so much more authentic when you're quaffing and watching handsome gals in dirndls heft five huge mugs per hand. I'm going to have to mention that to Jim the next time we throw a few down together.

But "C" or "K," SA Octoberfest is worth the trip to wherever you need to go to get it.

Ein Prosit! Der Gemutlichkeit!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Not the Best of Times...

Off-Night at Killmeyer's? Let's hope…

Everybody's entitled to have an off-night, I suppose. But in the world of service or entertainment, you're only as good as your last gig. And my experience last night at one of my favorite places--Killmeyer's Old Bavaria Inn on Staten Island--did not leave me longing for a return.

For starters, many of the beers offered on the "Spring '09" beer menu were unavailable, as were some on the more extensive menu. When I go to a place like Killmeyer's, the German beer is the main reason. Though my first beer was available--a Spaten Optimator-- many others weren't. If I wanted a Blue Moon Honeymoon, I could get it cheaper on this side of the Arthur Kill.

Besides being disappointing, it can sometimes make me forget my manners. I asked the waitress what Oktoberfest beers were available. She came back with this information from the bartender: "Oktoberfest beer isn't in the country yet."

Huh? I confess that I wasn't as refined as I probably should have been when I replied, "He's full of sh!t." Fortunately, I knew the waitress from a previous visit, so I doubt she was offended in any way. Her smile and attitude, in fact, were the brightest parts of the visit.

But here was an obvious case of a barkeep trying to BS a customer. Barkeeps not only need to be truthful, they need to be aware that some of their customers may actually know beer. If Oktoberfest beer isn't in the country yet, I must have been drinking and reviewing Ersatz-Marzen these past weeks.

Then there was the disappointment with the food menu. Online, Killmeyer's offers Crab Cakes--a major draw for two members of my party. But on this night they were, like many of the beers, MIA. Instead, there was something called Crab Nuggets. Not bad, I was told, but not Crab Cakes, either. That meant that two of my party had to switch gears, despite being lured to Killmeyer's by my promise of Crab Cakes being on the menu. My reputation as being knowledgeable about the places I visit and review took a serious hit.

It took another hit when, after promising my party that there would be hamburgers on the menu, I was told that while they were available, they weren't allowed to be served in the dining area.

Huh? They could be served outside or at the bar, we were advised, but not here sitting down under Franz's (a stuffed moose) gaze. The logic of that misguided policy defies common sense—not to mention Winter, and the waitress allowed that it frequently costs her customers.

And while I'm on the subject of losing customers, let me say that had this been my first visit to Killmeyer's, it would certainly have been my last. When I visit places that don't satisfy, I don't write about them and pass them on to my readership. "Better left alone" is my reviewing philosophy in cases like that. But in this case, Killmeyer's has performed admirably in the past, and as such, deserves an "off-night" pass. My party did enjoy the food they ordered, though the regular beer snafus didn't do much to complement what they ate.

However, if he's promoting Killmeyer's as "a family place that has everything from escargot to hot dogs," Ken Tirado needs to ditch that Bizarre Burger Doctrine ASAP. He also needs to insure that what is advertised on both the beer and food menus is--with rare exception--actually available.

Ditto Oktoberfest beers in late August.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Don't Forget...

"We found that light to moderate drinkers were 28 percent less likely to develop Alzheimers than non-drinkers, 25 per cent less likely to develop vascular dementia, and 26 per cent less likely to develop any dementia," Anstey said in a statement.

I'll drink to that. As our Greek philosophers advised, moderation is key.

Click below.


Moderate drinking late in life can ward off dementia: study | Lifestyle | Reuters

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Epps Boys hard at work

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Crime, Punisherment and Beer

The Punisher bashes into McGillin's

By Kurt Epps—The PubScout


My favorite Philly pub—McGillin's Old Ale House—hosted the third of its Author Series last night, and judging by the crowd that packed the place, the idea is a homerun. It was The PubScout's first such session, so there is nothing to which last night's festivities can be compared. My guess, however, is that the featured author on this night—Duane Swierczynski—had a lot to do with the size of the crowd.

Let's face it. Duane Swierczynski's name is not (yet) synonymous (nor pronounceable) with Raymond Chandler, Steven King, or even Shakespeare. And I doubt seriously whether those who came to Philly's oldest pub last night were there because they had read Duane's (Swierczynski's too tough to type any more) first foray into the world of beer writing with his Big Book O' Beer. I penned a most favorable review of that classic more than half a decade ago, and that book, which resides in a place of honor in my house, was the reason I made the trek to McGillin's.

My assessment was that most in the house, however—like my two sons--were fans of Duane's connection to comic book characters like Frank Castle—a.k.a. The Punisher. Duane has also written other characters for Marvel—Cable, Wolverine and Deadpool. The author admits he is attracted to the "darker" characters, though, in his public persona at least, he's the complete opposite of "dark." Creative, quick-witted, amiable and funny, Duane broke into comics by writing crime novels. His rather cherubic appearance is misleading, but, conceding that The Punisher movies might not have been the pinnacle of greatness, he confesses that he thoroughly enjoyed them all. He also admitted that he became a writer so he wouldn't have to speak in front of audiences, though it was clear he connected with the one at McGillin's last night.

He is married to the former Meredith Paul from Wilkes-Barre, who allows that she knew how to spell her new last name long before she could pronounce it. She, 14, and Duane, 17 were pen pals in 1989 until they came face to face at a high school jazz band concert in 1995. They married in 1997 and have two children—7 and 6. Duane dedicated The Big Book O' Beer to his daughter Sarah.

So, besides the Author Series, why was Duane at McGillin's? Some of his stories use the iconic tavern, though it takes on the pub name of Interesting Times. The art work, however, leaves no doubt that McGillin's is the place. Duane sat signing books next to the mullioned window that The Punisher crashed through in one of his stories. Duane also had a special deal: if you bought one of his comics, you got a McGillin's special anniversary 1860 IPA on him. That beer is a good one, by the way. Made by Stoudt's, it's not overly hoppy, and owner Chris Mullins the Youger says it's an IPA for those who are just getting into the style. The beer will be available in bottles and for takeout soon.

Typical of his engaging and self-deprecating style, Duane publicly admitted, "Hey, the beer only costs me two bucks, but it's the thought…."

If you missed the event, fear not. You can still get Duane's work at Brave New Worlds, whose reps were on hand. Check out pics here.

Marvel and comic book fans in general who also happen to be fans of good beer should also check out The Big Book O' Beer. I took my copy to McGillin's and had Duane sign it. Now it goes back to its place of honor in my Loo Library.

Don't laugh. That place, like McGillin's, is my sacred sanctuary. But my sons won't let me put The Punisher in there.

They say one punisher per bathroom is enough.

©Kurt E. Epps 2009 All Rights reserved

Monday, August 24, 2009

Gals, scratch Malaysia off your O-Fest list

It appears that the "Religion of Peace" doesn't exactly embrace Ben Franklin's famous quote about beer being "proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."


Beer-Drinking Muslim Model's Caning Delayed - Asia | Travel | Map -

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Festa di Ottobre at Basil T's Toms River

In what has to be a first in NJ, Basil T's (Toms River) two Greek brothers, both named Pete, have advertised their spectacular German Oktoberfest Event on their Facebook Page--in Italian.

Why are two brothers both named Pete? Something to do with their mother and a shipment of ouzo....

No matter. it's an Oktoberfest like no other, and the smart money reserves a seat or ten.

Check out Steve Farley's menu, Dave Hoffman's beers--and the Italian words--here.

Ein Prosit!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Punisher does Oktoberfest?


Month-long celebration: August 25 - October 3

From German beer & comic books to Beer Garden at Midtown Village Fall Festival

PHILADELPHIA (August 19, 2009) -- Local breweries start producing Octoberfest beers in late August. Instead of storing it for a month - McGillin's Olde Ale House will start pouring the coveted seasonal brews on Tuesday, August 25. Adding to the festivities on August 25, American Crime Novelist Duane Swierczynski will be on-hand to discuss the newly-released trade paperback about Frank Castle's escapades in Philadelphia for Marvel Comic's "The Punisher." Besides modeling the décor of the pub in his comic book after McGillin's, Swierczynski is also well-versed in its beer, having written The Big Book o' Beer: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Greatest Beverage on Earth. In fact, he plans to buy a pint of McGillin's 1860 IPA for anyone who buys his book that night.

The event on August 25 featuring Swierczynski and German beers begins at 6 p.m. No cover. Pints of the newly-released McGillin's 1860 IPA by Stoudt's Brewing reduced to $2. Plus, McGillin's newly installed beer tower will be stocked with Stoudt's Festbier, Flying Fish's Octoberphish, Victory's Fest, Jack's Pumpkin Spice, plus a variety of rotating Octoberfest and other seasonal beers.

The Octoberfest beers and German cuisine will be served at McGillin's Olde Ale House, Philadelphia's oldest continuously operating tavern, from August 25 through October 3. The lunch and dinner menus will feature German cuisine including Mussels steamed in Octoberfest Lager and served over Hay and Straw Noodles with German-style Toasted Cheese Bread; Grilled Pork Loin served with Sweet and Sour Cherry Sauce, Braised Cabbage, Apples and Potato Dumpling; and German Style Grilled Sausage Platter with Bratwurst and Knockwurst with Red Cabbage and Warm German Potato Salad served with German-style Cheese Toast and Dark Mustard; and Kasebrotchen Chicken, Chicken Breast topped with German style Spread (Ale, Brown Mustard, Sharp Cheddar Cheese) baked to a bubbly finish and served with Heaven and Earth (Himmel Und Erde), Potatoes sautéed with Apples and Bacon, served also with Red cabbage and German-style Cheese Toast.

Gott im Himmel!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

2 for 2 in O-fest beers

No sooner do I finish singing the well-deserved praises of Dave Hoffman's Oktoberfest beer, than I come across another that's a knockout as well. It's a Flying Dog (as opposed to Flying Fish) product called DogToberFest Marzen. Read all about its mystical lore on the FD site. A tad darker than Dave's, this excellent example of the style is smooth as silk with a caramel finish you'll savor for a while. Beautiful to look at with a wonderful nose, this one will complement any wurst platter you can concoct, and should dance very nicely with Sauerbraten, Spaetzle, Jagerschnitzel, Rouladen or Farmer's Feast. It's only 5.3% ABV, so it's a perfect session beer for those late Summer/early Fall afternoons and evenings. And mornings, truth be told.

So men, break out the lederhosen! Ladies, tighten up your disselstoppemfumfloppen! (That's the German word for brassiere...) Strike up the Oompah Band! And get ready to dance The Schuhplattler! Remember Chevy Chase in National Lampoon's European Vacation?

DogToberFest won a Gold Medal at the 2008 GABF, and it's not hard to see why.
This one's a clear wiener (ouch!) in the PubScout's BBOO (Best Beers of Oktoberfest) category.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Oktoberfest in August

One of the greatest misunderstandings among those who aren't tuned into the beer world is when Oktoberfest happens. You can be forgiven if you think Oktoberfest is in Oktober, but only if you're not a beer geek.

Oktoberfest starts now, and will last through the first few weeks of Oktober--er, October. And, to get me on my way to one of my favorite beer seasons (the others being Winter, Summer and Spring and Autumn), I sit here typing next to a pint of Dave Hoffman's Oktoberfest. Dave's brewery, Climax Brewing Co. in tiny Roselle Park, NJ has been putting out quality beers for more than a decade, and his beers have been featured in some of the best beer books in the world--including Michael Jackson's Ultimate Beer Book.

But while I enjoy many of Dave's regular brews (you won't find a better Nut Brown or Helles), I have to confess that my favorite Hoffman brew is the one I'm enjoying right now--and that's his Oktoberfest beer. From its orange-amber color to its incredibly bready/fruity nose to its nonpareil mouthfeel and finish, this is an O-fest lover's Oktoberfest.

I'm not here to blow smoke up Dave's butt, as he has heard me wax poetic about this beer in person in his shop. And I'm sure not looking to score a free growler at the upcoming Basil T's (Toms River) set for Oktober-er, October 2nd, though if he has an extra, I won't turn it down.

I've had and enjoyed many Oktoberfest beers. But none better than the one I'm currently drinking. There is, quite frankly, no better way to usher in this best of beer seasons than with Dave Hoffman's Oktoberfest. Dan Ratti's Oak Tree Buy-Rite Discount Liquors has it.

To the brewer: Ein Prosit! Und Gemutlichkeit!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Irish pub coming to Metuchen

Looks as though Metuchen's Main Street will be the home of a brand new Irish Pub as Hailey's Harp & Pub will debut on September 12 at 400 Main St. Click on the link below for more information.

The PubScout will visit and report back as soon as the place is up and running. You might recall I reviewed The Shannon Rose on the first day it opened, and within 30 minutes of the doors swinging wide. (And just for the record, I think The Shannon Rose is within ten miles of Hailey's, but who's counting?)

Slainte! to the new owners of Hailey's Harp & Pub.

One of my favorite Irish prayers:

May those that love us, love us, and those that don't love us, may God turn their hearts.

And if he canna turn their hearts, let Him turn their ankles, so we might recognize them by their limping...

Irish pub, other establishments set to move to downtown Metuchen

Monday, August 10, 2009

Killmeyer’s Old Bavaria Inn

The More things Change…

By Kurt Epps—The PubScout

…the more they stay the same. Thank heavens that maxim applies to Killmeyer's Old Bavaria Inn on Staten Island. I last visited the place in its infancy, twelve years ago, so being a lover of German food and beer, I felt a revisit was in order.

My buddy Tom Froehlich (now there's a Deutsch-handle if ever there was one) and I made the quick trip across the Outerbridge Crossing from my hometown of Perth Amboy to see if sole owner Ken Tirado, a co-owner twelve years ago, had effected any changes to the place.

Thankfully, in the main hall he has not, apart from increasing the availability of some exceptional brews from the Fatherland and other countries as well. Time was when Killmeyer's would only serve beers that came from countries contiguous with Germany, and it also had the distinction of being the largest purveyor of Spaten beers in NYC. Ken doesn't know if that distinction is still extant, but it's of little consequence, as Spaten lovers can still get their favorites at the Inn. Now, fifteen countries have their beers on Ken's menu.

Ken has also expanded the outdoor Biergarten, covering it in the event of inclement weather and adding seating to accommodate the crowds that show up, not only during the six-week Oktoberfest Season, but all year long. A wide variety of bands are booked to satisfy the listening needs of what Tirado describes as a "family" place that has everything from escargots to hot dogs.

Indeed, on our visit, many families were enjoying the indoor ambience and that exceptional Killmeyer's food, overseen by Franz the Moose, who has remained faithfully on the wall where he attends to his round-the-clock vigil. Franz watched Tom and me carefully as we ordered our beers from the extensive beer menu. Tom ordered a Reissdorf Kolsch to start, and yours truly had an Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen. We ordered up the Forest Wives' Mushroom appetizer that captured me back in the day. It was excellent then and remains a must-try now. Tom, an expert on food, confided that he could make a meal of this tasty appetizer alone.

Tom was enamored of his Sauerbraten main course and a Radeberger Pilsner, and I enjoyed my Weinerschnitzel, especially after Laura ladled some of the Forest Wives' Mushroom Sauce on it. It matched up nicely with my Eggenberg Urbock.

Dinner done and bellies full, we ordered up a few more beers—a Weihanstephaner Original for Tom and an Ommegang Three Philosophers for me--and retired to the outside Biergarten to enjoy some chat and a couple of Romeo y Julietas Tom had somehow managed to score.

Our stay was made even more pleasant by the attentive staff at Killmeyer's, from Delores the hostess (definitely a grandma with the Mostest) and dirndl-wearing Laura, our server. Laura, an ethnic mixture of Spanish and Italian was as helpful, friendly and attentive as anyone could want, with a winning smile and an attitude that showed she really enjoyed working here. That sentiment was prominent twelve years ago when former servers Melissa and Suzanne allowed that Killmeyer's was a great place to work.

We'll buy that. And it's still also a great place to eat and drink, especially if you're a Deutsch-o-phile.