Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Taking Beer Chances...

The standard beer pairings for shrimp vary depending on what kind of shrimp dish is on the plate, but generally speaking, one can be safe with hefeweizens, pilsners, saisons, belgian whites and--if sufficiently adventurous--an imperial white ale. Most sommeliers will recoil in horror if a patron does not order white wine with a fish dish, but who cares? Wine tasters spit out what they taste. No self-respecting beer taster would even think about doing that.

So having received an invite to my buddy JJ's house to sample his "Secret Shrimp Scampi Special," I asked the missus to meet me there with three beers. To her credit she brought three of her own--Blue Moons, they were--which, after nearly three decades of close and intimate affiliation with The PubScout, she has "discovered" to be a replacement for (I can't even say it), that OTHER beer. Her Blue Moon (from Coors) would complement JJ's shrimp scampi nicely, I was sure. But for me, I asked her to bring Flying Dog Tire Bite, Troeg's Dream Weaver Wheat and one other for after dinner.

Having put in a long day announcing, I needed to slake my thirst upon arrival, and the Tire Bite and the Dream Weaver were gone even before dinner was served. The missus, who was not relinquishing her last Blue Moon regardless of what my title is, advised that my remaining beer was SA Holiday Porter, which, though one of my favorites, did not augur well for a shrimp scampi pairing. But I would somehow muddle through.

But it wasn't SA Holiday Porter. It was Anderson Valley's Winter Solstice. (Don't ask me how one confuses those two when yanking them from the fridge.) And in the spirit of conviviality--and a free dinner, I would venture to see where this pairing would take me.

The PubScout does not declare himself a food reviewer. I simply know what tastes and looks good to me and which beers complement it. But JJ's SSSS was without a doubt the finest Shrimp Scampi dish I have had in many (blue) moons. Full of flavor, with a hint if spiciness and succulent, they were served over a bed of perfectly done pasta. I was pleasantly astounded. I mean, the guy hunts with a bow, coaches wrestling and lacrosse and drinks Coors Light. I did not expect his Shrimp Scampi to be anything beyond mediocre. But it was so good, so delectable, so flavorful and so perfectly done, I refrained from my usual good-natured upbraiding of him for his own beverage selection, which is a step DOWN from that OTHER beer.

Nor did I expect my AVBC Winter Solstice to be a perfect accompaniment to that shrimp, but it was. The spice and orange flavors of the beer seemed to ignite more flavor in the dish, and the shrimp seemed to coax more flavors out of the beer--cinnamon specifically, and they worked wonderfully together.

The moral of the story is simple. Use the general food/beer guidelines as suggestions, but don't be afraid to experiment with new combinations. Beer is not a snobby beverage, and nobody, including yours truly, can tell you what you SHOULD like. If those OTHER beers are your bag, by all means enjoy them responsibly and I'll raise a glass of my own to you.

But be aware that there is a whole new beer world awaiting you.
And you might find it rewarding to explore that world more than once in a Blue Moon.

Cheers! The PubScout

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Now THIS is a good idea...

I had no idea that so many people had so many other people to talk to, either by voice or text message. In the old days, pubs and bars were places where you'd go to converse and conviviate with the local gentry. Sure, it's cheaper to buy a sixer at the liquor store and sit home by yourself to drink, but that grows stale fast, even for narcissists. Pubs and taverns were born to get people together and talking--not on their cell phone, but face to face.

To an old school pub-man like me, it's somewhat disconcerting to see so many people at so many places texting or chatting with someone far away, while there's some darned good company right in front of you waiting for some good conversation. But I'm a relic, I suppose.

For those (millions) whose cell phones are used ceaselessly, and whose batteries are in constant need of recharging, the idea below may just solve two problems at once--mine and yours.

Now your phone can get juiced right along with you. And nothing loosens the tongue like liquor.

Now if I could just figure out a way to charge my drinks bill to somebody else's phone, life would be golden.

Cheers! The PubScout

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Making his Pater Proud

Son Kacy made a video for his broadcasting class at Montclair State, and the subject was--beer. Despite my ugly mug being so prominently featured, I think he did a great job. Dave Hoffman makes a cameo appearance, too!
Maybe if he gets lucky and lands a good job after graduation, he can actually begin to re-stock my refrigerator? The project was entitled "Beer Sense (Carpe Diem)" and you can view it here. Open a good beer, relax, sit back and enjoy.

Merry Christmas and a Hoppy New Beer!

The PubScout

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Of Fascinating Depths and Delicious Heights

By Kurt Epps, The PubScout

At Delicious Heights, the menus are lit. The tap handles on the "Maya Bridges" are lit. And, if you're not careful with beers like Delirium Tremens and Mad Elf, you will be, too.

On the word of fellow biker and beer-lover Larry Deahl, I made the short trek to the three-month-old Bedminster pub and restaurant for a thorough review. Formerly known as Willie's Tavern, this 1780 structure (with a horse supposedly buried somewhere out back) was thoroughly gutted and refurbished in fine fashion by Alex Rubinstein along with co-owners Dominic and Ralph Acquaviva. It's the second Delicious Heights in the area, with the first one having opened in Berkeley Heights on the day the Giants won their last Super Bowl. While the original Heights may have produced a learning curve, it's clear that curve was instructive, as the Bedminster facility is running on all eight cylinders and is rather fabulous in many areas, not the least of which is the beer offerings.

Managing those offerings is a former record store employee turned crackerjack beerman named Jason Turon. With a sound beer knowledge, a very winning personality and a seemingly endless supply of energy and good humor, Turon keeps the twenty-four drafts lines humming, pumped, as they are, through a system known as a Maya Bridge. Said device circulates glycol through all taps and that means probably the coldest beer you can get on draft in NJ. So efficient is the system that any beer less than 4.6%--which means all "light" beers-- cannot be tapped as they would freeze. The Guinness line, therefore, has a special device surrounding it which allows it to flow freely. There's even an "ice rail" that separates the bar drinking area from the servers which allows quaffers to keep their beer cold. One of those servers, the sultry Sarah can be seen posing with her favorite PubScout in the pics on the right hand side.

Cold beer has its devotees, for sure, especially in the summer months, but what about the plethora of Winter Warmers on draft, like Sam Adams Winter Lager, Mad Elf, Celebrator, Brooklyn, Smuttynose and Anchor OSA that must pass through the lines? "There's not much we can do about that, except to pour them and let them warm up a bit," said Turon. And warm up, they do, especially when the beer drinker can pause to order some of the best food you can find in any NJ restaurant while chatting with a very friendly and very comely serving staff. Take Denise (in the pics), for example. Two kitchens run 24/7 to keep up with the demand for this high quality/medium-priced fare. I had a Panko Shrimp appetizer that came with five huge Panko-encrusted shrimp and dipping sauce for just $12. The missus gave her Panko Shrimp Salad a hearty thumbs up, not being able to converse with her mouth full. The Guacamole was fresh-made and the chips used to scoop it were still warm.

The clientele at Delicious Heights is as varied as its beer list. Twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings, heck all the way up to geezers like The PubScout pack the place, which Jason says, "…is crazy on the weekends." Not hard to see why.

But what you're not likely to see is the "Depths" of Delicious Heights. Jason took The PubScout and two thirty-something stunners in his party—Susan and Brooke—on a tour of the bowels of the place to see the engines that keep the place running smoothly. Wells Banana Bread Beer and selections from Innis and Gunn were patiently waiting their call to duty upstairs. There was even a crate of Infinium in the queue. If you have to ask, google that baby. Fascinating to me was the main beam of the Revolutionary War era house which was a large, wide and long tree trunk set in place to, well, hold up the place. Inasmuch as my own home has the keel of a last-century sailing ship as its main beam, I found the tour quite fascinating.

Appealing to the eye, palate and ear, dotted with flatscreens and actually somewhat labyrinthine in layout, Delicious Heights will not disappoint. There's even a separate bar room in the back just for those who prefer liquid sustenance.

Turon allowed that his beer lines are cleaned every 28 days and his beers are rotated frequently to keep up with the demands of that eclectic clientele. Constantly searching for new beers to offer, Turon abides by the message of the small tattoo on his right forearm which reads, "Stop Wasting Time."

Apparently the whole operation abides by it as well, because in just three months, Delicious Heights has been on fire, not waiting for another Giants Super Bowl win. Its ample parking lot is almost always full. You can't make a reservation here, but you should have no problem getting a seat or a table, as the place is quite large.

Bottom line is that if you like good beer, good food, friendly staff and an exceptional ambience, put Delicious Heights of Bedminster on your must-visit list, and tell them The PubScout sent you.

Even those credentials however, will probably not get you the "Depths Tour." But you can take it by seeing the You-Tube videos that yours truly was kind enough to upload here.

Cheers and Merry Christmas!

The PubScout

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Quick Hit--Oatmeal and Pumpkin in a Stout?

Stopped into Basil T's in Red Bank tonight to meet two business associates for dinner. As you know, Mike Sella (formerly of Uno's in Metuchen) has been brewing there since last summer. Now in the fourteen plus years I've known Mike, I've had every one of his beers. The guy can brew, for sure. But I've never had a beer from him like the one I had tonight--an Oatmeal Pumpkin Stout. And that's because this is the first time he's ever made one.

But I sure hope it's not the last, because this stout was delicious. Roasty, toasty--and spicy--in the nose, smooth on the palate and solid in the finish, this one's a winner. I tasted clove, nutmeg, cinnamon and, of course, pumpkin. But there were other flavors that were balanced nicely to make this a most memorable beer.

Might be worth a trip down the GSP at Exit 109 to get a growler for your Christmas dinner and attendant company. You Italian folks can even have it on Christmas Eve with the Seven Fishes. I had mine with a delicious shrimp risotto dish and it worked surprisingly well. That would make the second time in ten days I've married pumpkin and shrimp and enjoyed their connubial bliss. The first was at last week's Uno's dinner.

Anyway, it appears that Iron Mike Sella is flexing his creative muscles in his new digs, and that's good news.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Percello Era “Officially” Begins at Uno’s

By Kurt Epps--The PubScout

Chris Percello took over the brewing duties at Uno’s from Mike Sella a few months ago. But he “made his bones” last night.

It was Chris’s first attempt at what has become a treasured tradition at the Metuchen brewpub—the Uno’s Beer Dinner. Handled ably by Mike Sella and Co. for 14 years, Chris, knowing he had big shoes to fill, stepped up to the plate for his first real at-bat—and he went “yard.”

He had help, to be sure, and he’s the first to acknowledge it. From a history-making female duo in the kitchen, to Lenny and Alexis’ efficient and attentive waitstaff duties, to the presence of Chris’s own tutor—Die Biermeister Dave Hoffman, to the assistance of a blonde beauty named Natalie who made the knock-your-socks-off Scotch Ale ice cream, Chris’s support was solid.
It’s called a beer dinner for two reasons: the beer and the dinner. And in the dinner category, Chef Doreen De Paolo had some tough acts to follow herself. But the petite blonde with the perennial smile, along with female assistant Migna in the kitchen, put out dishes that were second to none—and judging by some comments—a new bar was set. Everything that came out was delicious, and the assembly of 39 ½ (Georgia counts for the half) proclaimed their approval with every course.

From Stephanie: “Love this salad, especially the cranberries.”
From Kurt Hoffman: “This pork is absolutely delicious. Bring me another lager.”
From Dave Hoffman: “I never thought pumpkin and shrimp would taste this good, but it’s “bangin!”
Also from Dave Hoffman: “Is there another one of these Scotch Ale ice creams?”

Which brings us to the beer. The standard practice is to have three Uno’s beers and three guest beers, and having Climax beers pretty much assures success. But Chris’s own interpretations of the Uno’s classics (the IPA and the Scotch Ale), stood on their own merit, as did his own, relatively new, creation of a dark lager which accompanied some incredible cheese steak rolls. Climax was represented by three beers which have earned worldwide, national and statewide recognition: Climax E.S.B., Nut Brown and Helles, in that order. But Dave Hoffman, playing Santa, brought a special gift in the form of his exclusive Bavarian Dark Lager, available only in three places in the metro area—NY (Brooklyn), NJ (Jersey City) and PA (Philadelphia). Malty, “Munich-y” and with a nose that had some guests swooning, it was a delightful and delicious surprise.

Of course, when you hit a home run in your first at-bat, people expect you to do it every time. But because there are more variables you can control, it’s a lot easier in brewpubs than in baseball, where just a hit every three at-bats is considered excellent.

Ah, the pressure of greatness.

Check out the pics above right to see some of the night’s action.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Not drinkable, but edible...

Coors Light is always promoting its coldness in commercials--you know, the Silver Bullet Train that roars through wherever, or the label that changes color when it's cold enough. What the commercial doesn't say is that the colder a beer is, the less you can actually taste of it, which, in the case of Coors Light, may be a blessing.

The article below doesn't say whether the guy who survived by "eating" Coors Light enjoyed the taste, but at least he's alive. Check it out.

(PS: There was no comment on the color of the label...)

Clifton Vial, Alaska Man Stranded In The Snow, Survives By Eating Beer

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Check Out Those Gunns

It's always good to have one of my cubs come home unexpectedly. And it's even better when he comes bearing gifts--like beer. Kaz and buddy Rob, collaborating on a film project about beer appreciation, showed up to shoot the last segments of their effort. They crossed my threshold, each bearing a bottle of Innis and Gunn Beer from Edinborough, Scotland. (Ah, the lads know the path to the PubScout's heart, for sure.)

We shared a bomber of Mad Elf (just to set the mood) and eventually had some dinner after the shoot. The missus' outstanding NushKumShmush (my favorite) was accompanied by some San Tan (AZ) Hop Shock IPA, and then it was time for dessert.

We decided to try the G&I Highland Cask, a beer aged in malt whisky oak casks--single malt, 18 years-old-- for 71 days.

A very pretty beer, its nose was redolent with oaky, woody notes and yielded some vanilla as well. In mouthfeel, it was medium bodied, but very smooth and silkier than it looked. The taste was exceptional and the finish malty.

It would make a fine dessert beer by itself, but the missus produced a loaf of her classic banana bread, and the pairing was exceptional. As Rob put it, "They complemented each other, making each different and better than it had been alone."

The kid, who's just taken the plunge into craft beer, is learning his lessons well, I'd say.

Because they had to drive back to school, I did not open the second bottle, which was Innis & Gunn's Original. Also oak-aged, it claims to be a "honey-hued beer with aromas of vanilla and toffee, and a malty, lightly oaked finish."

We'll see. I'd like to keep this baby around until Christmas, but if its brother is any indication, it probably won't make it that long.

Especially if the banana bread is still here tomorrow.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

This just in...

Great news for winterbier lovers from my Beer Buddy Don Russell, aka Joe Sixpack:

"Take a peek at the Sam Adams Winter Classics Variety Pack. They finally got the mix right by dumping fizzy Cranberry Lambic and the out-of-season White Ale and replacing them with a warming Chocolate Bock and the new Black & Brew coffee stout."

That's great news concerning those new replacements. The Chocolate Bock is a goodie, though my buddy Ty in AZ pans it. And in honor of my Jewish beer-nut friends, I will have to try He'Brew's (The Chosen Beer) Jewbilation 15, which sounds positively scrumptious.

You can read more of "Joe's" Christmas suggestions here.

Cheers! And Merry Christmas!
The PubScout