Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Sunday, August 17, 2014

You Have Been Notified...(or warned, as the case may be...)

The rest is up to you.

Reserve a spot at NJ's grandest Oktoberfest celebration!

Pose with Artisan's Dirndl beauties (who never seem to get older).

Taste Steve Farley's fabulous fare.

See why Dave Hoffman's beers are so widely acclaimed.

Meet "The Petes."

And their "daughters."

It's a night of essen, trinken, tanzen und lachen!

Ein Prosit!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Be Still, My Fluttering Heart!

All aboard...maybe.
Everyone has a "breakthrough beer."
You know, that beer which woke you up and made you say, "So that's what beer is supposed to taste like!"

While a British beer called John Courage may have tapped me on the shoulder sometime in the '90's and asked, "Want to start a journey together?" (a request with which I have complied ever since), it was an American beer that hit me upside the head one hot afternoon in the '70's.

This one.

I can taste its strong flavors in my memory to this very day. If the attempt to resurrect it as it was is successful--and I'll know with the first sip--I'll be headed to my local liquor locker.

I suggest you do the same.
Because it's not every day you get to ride in the Time Machine.

The PubScout

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Good Things and Small Packages

It's an old maxim, but in this case it applies to a gem of a pub in Easton, PA called Porters' Pub.

In terms of square footage, the pub is definitely Lilliputian; but in terms of beer, food, value and that evanescent quality called heart, it's positively Brobdingnagian. If you don't understand the reference, go read Swift's Gulliver's Travels.

You can read the fascinating history of this vintage, stone-walled 1833 building on the site above, but you may only get a taste of the blood, sweat and tears that went into the eighteen months of getting the place ready to open in 1990.

The Worst Bar in Easton?
Clearly every drop of sweat was worth it. This pub has a charm that enveloped me the moment I entered, one which I expect will continue in the future. The bar is comfortable and clean, but not at all large. To get a seat at it, especially on a Friday or Saturday night is an achievement to be treasured. The rest of the place has comfortable, though limited seating space, and that includes the church pews owner Larry Porter uses for special beer events. It holds 75 people.

And 150 beers, many of them much sought after. I had a Smuttynose Baltic Porter that gives Synebrychoff a run for its money. That it matched up perfectly with my Duck Sausage and Bacon dish was icing on the cake. And it also complemented the special dish Chef Derek Chimel asked us to try--Hops-Infused Bacon I think it was called-- thick slivers of seasoned pork belly surrounding Cascade hops that had been injected into it.

At Porters', you're a stranger just once. Whether you chat with James Flynn, the bar manager, Abby the server or with regulars like Stephanie at the bar, your conversation will be worthwhile--and there are no TV's to interrupt it. You may even get to see Chef Derek Chimel emerge from the kitchen with a new dish for you to sample. If that happens, sample it. You will not be sorry. My photographer Kacy declared the Chicken Quesadillas to be awesome.

A glance at the low ceiling will reveal the much-revered pewter-like mugs that adorn the ceiling of the place. Some 4300 of the vessels hang there, with room for plenty more. All numbered and named, you can earn one by consuming every beer on the list the pub will provide. Enrollment is free. Retired teacher Stephanie (who was at the bar when we arrived) was downing a Corsendonk Brown, her 31st from the list. She was proud that she had the most completions of any Porters' female patron so far.

Larry Porter also does "Pub Crawls," but he doesn't mean simply walking up the street to Black and Blue or Two Rivers. Check out the destinations on Porters' web page. Larry clearly runs with the big dogs.

Another nice thing about this pub is the absence of usurious, blood-sucking parking meters. In Easton, the meters run up to 6th Ave., and the pub is on 7th and Northampton in a residential neighborhood. The gelt you save can be better used at Porters' anyway.

"We're always open," says Larry. "Even during power failures, like the one caused by Sandy. We were open on Halloween using candles and a cash payment system. Everybody loved it."

The pub just feels "right." Maybe it's the age of the building, the corner location, the rock-walled ambiance, the great beer list, the great food and the nice folks that inhabit the place.

Or the attention to details. Like the fact that Porters' Pub, owned by three brothers named Porter, properly uses the apostrophe in the plural possessive form.

Only an old-school English teacher (like Stephanie and I) would notice that detail, however.


The PubScout

Addendum: Check out more pictures from Porters' Pub here.
All photos property of Kaseclosed Photography

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Seanachaí's Story

Warren County's Rt. 629 from Rt. 57 is smooth and scenic, and it ends as Grand Avenue in Hackettstown, which is a kind of hub for some great motorcycle roads, like 517 and 604. I've driven past Bea McNally's at 109 Grand Ave. a few times in the past year, and, while it's a nice looking building, a jaded part of me just yawned and said, "another Irish Pub."

Don't get me wrong; I love Irish pubs, and I frequent too many to list here. But because I usually passed the place in the morning, I wasn't moved to check it out. Despite it 'being 5 o'clock somewhere," The PubScout doesn't drink before noon by his watch.

But today, I happened to turn down Grand off Rt. 46 at around 2:30. I had logged about 140 miles on the bike by then, and a rest stop was due. I planned to have a burger and a beer, provided Bea had some decent libation. I could meet the proprietor-ess, stretch the old legs, fill my belly and empty (and refill) my bladder for the ride home.

Bea McNally's Irish Pub has only been in business for about a year, but whoever put this place together did it right. At the door, I asked the smiling hostess if she was Bea McNally. Turns out Bea inhabits the pub only in an old portrait. Bea, it seems, was a seanachai (pronounced shawna-key), which is or was an Irish storyteller. Personally, I've never met an Irishman or woman who wasn't a storyteller, but this title is a giant step up from just "garrulous."

A nice, big welcoming bar greets you as you enter, and behind it today was friendly, pretty Cathy offering a plethora of really good beers. There's also a plethora of eating areas in this labyrinthine pub, all beautifully decorated, comfortable and clean.

Cathy offers an Arrogant Bastard
to an arrogant bastard...
There's a lunch special every day for just $10 that includes your choice of entree, salad or soup and fries or chips. I opted for the Monday Monte Cristo, a salad and fries and an Arrogant Bastard.

The salad was absolutely delicious with a housemade sweet balsamic dressing, and the fries were perfectly done. The sandwich itself was huge, and chock full of meat and whatever else is in a Monte Cristo. It was so big, in fact, that yours truly could not finish it. (But I did manage to finish the Arrogant Bastard.)

I got to chat with Manager Tim Sengle, the guy responsible for the beer selections as well as the condition of the pub. I commended him on his choices, and he offered that he'd like to do an event that would help his clientele learn more about the growing beer world.
"We're at the spot with beer that the wine folks were at ten years ago," said Sengle, "and I'd like my customers to be educated about what's out there and how to appreciate it." And he's serious about educating his serving staff as well.

"I can do that," I said. And we may very likely be joining forces soon to enlighten the customers. Stay tuned, therefore for news of a "Beer Event" at Bea McNally's.

It was, therefore, a very serendipitous visit. I found a new pub to share with good beer drinkers and good food lovers (that's what I do, after all), and Tim found a willing accomplice in his beer mission.

Bea McNally's is decidedly not just "another irish Pub." I'd wager the students at nearby Centenary College would agree. I may have passed Bea McNally's often before today, but after today, passing it will be tough to do.

Unless it's morning.

The PubScout

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Captain Craic and the CraftBrew Crew

Captain Cameraphobe
He's the heart and soul of Hailey's Harp & Pub in Metuchen, and he's the reason so many make Hailey's a regular destination. If you're on FaceBook, he's all about the craic, and his engine never stops. He's the camera-shy Wizard of Brainy Boro, Chris Flynn, and, together with his trusty sidekick Moshe, they chart a steady course for good beer, good food and good times.

Yesterday, one of those memorable voyages took place to the storied Flying Fish brewery in Somerdale, NJ and the Iron Hill Brewpub in Maple Shade immediately after. From his own pocket, the Captain charters a luxury bus (with wifi, thankfully) and bathrooms (blessedly) since he provides "road soda" to all who attend his cruises to exotic ports of beer. The costs involved for passengers, usually members of Hailey's zany Beer Senate, are simply tour fees, which usually include more beer, and whatever they have for lunch, which usually includes more beer.

The Flying Fish facility, once the record factory of Motown mogul Berry Gordy, is nothing short of cavernous, as gargantuan bright beer tanks and fermenters tower over beer tourists. Rick Stype, brewery rep, led yesterday's tour, providing an informative, interesting tour--done in terms the layman could understand. He also provided some interesting info about the brewery regarding its eco-friendliness.

With its direction set by owners Gene Mullin and Andy Newell, Flying Fish is the "greenest" major brewery on the East Coast, though it's not easy--or cheap--being green. Mullin and Newell, who met when Gene was a bank client and Andy his loan officer, are to be commended for their approach, as well as for the wonderful beers that emanate from this decidedly local brewery.

The Brew Crew arrived at 11:30 (despite snarky protestations by the curmudgeonly Captain regarding the route), and when we did, no one else but Rick Stype and some servers were there. When we emerged from the tour, however, the spacious tasting room was filled with beer lovers, each carrying a full pour or a flight to enjoy at a table. Flying Fish, it appears, is a well-known beer destination.

Captain Craic, owner Andy Newell and Moshe Atzbi
The Captain and I enjoyed a chat and a beer--an excellent NJ350-- with affable and down-to-earth owner Andy Newell before the ship had to depart for lunch at the Iron Hill Brewery in nearby Maple Shade.

One of ten IHB's, the Maple Shade facility is also large, clean, airy and welcoming, and it produces some exceptional beers. Many beer nuts at my table had the Mahalo, Apollo, a summer wheat beer spiced with Grains of Paradise and lemongrass, but The PubScout opted to go big with #500. That's IHB's 500th batch of beer, and it's a beautiful, garnet colored DIPA that comes in at 11.2%. Exceptionally well-balanced, this DIPA will not suck your cheeks and lips into a perpetual pucker. But it will remind you why Brewer Chris LaPierre has some serious GABF hardware hanging on his wall. The cask-conditioned Sleeping Beauty, a 9.6% mellow, sherry-like beer with dark fruit and vanilla notes, was also outstanding.

The PubScout did not have the opportunity to linger, but he will be making a trip down again to have some of the Bottled Reserves, like Russian Imperial Stout, Rauchbier, The Great Imperial Pumpkin Ale and a Rum-Barrel Aged Dark Humor, a collaborative effort with the Ithaca Beer Co.

Not wishing to leave empty-handed, The PubScout toted out a bomber of The Cannibal, a Belgian-style Golden Ale. Report to follow after I drink it, but as it won the GABF Gold in 2005, I probably won't be sharing any astounding news.

But hopheads will appreciate this news: IHB is going to celebrate National IPA Day on August 9--not August 7--when it brings in ten different IPAs from ten different IH brewpubs. The festivities start at 1 PM. (PS: get the Kennet Square Burger... just sayin')

Both Flying Fish and The Captain provided some very nice take-home memorabilia in the form of pint glasses and TWO shirts.
The dark green one from Hailey's should be mandatory at the next Beer Senate in September, when The Captain and Mo ramp up the program. If you like beer and craic, you can't go wrong with what these two wise guys devise. That's wise guys, not "wiseguys."

Moira, Jamie and Ashley
You may even get a picture of the two-most camera-phobic people on the planet--The Captain and Moira.

But to preserve Moira's anonymity, I won't tell you which one she is in the picture at right.

There are more pictures available to download for free here and here.

The PubScout

Thursday, July 31, 2014

OK Hopheads...Hop to It!

 I got this email from Beer Gal Sarah Reister, and I felt obligated to share it--since August 7 is National IPA Day. 

Why we need one of those has me scratching my head, as EVERY day lately seems like IPA day, and if it's not, it certainly can be, given the plethora of IPAs available at almost every taproom. 

Is there a National Altbier Day? A National Rauschweizen Day? A National Arrogant Bastard Day? (Dedicated to those celebrities and politicians who tick me off?) 
No, there is not. 

But this country also wildly celebrates Cinco de Mayo, which commemorates the only battle the Mexicans won in a war they lost. Even Mexico does not celebrate it. But, I digress.

Sarah's letter, however, was so nice, and the beer list looks so good, and the place is so close to NJ, I said, "What the heck?"

OK, Sarah. Here's your shot. Maybe I'll see you there. You owe me a beer.

One of those IPAs.
Not a Corona.

Hi Kurt, 

Barren Hill Tavern Celebrates National IPA Day with Single Hops Series Party
 National IPA Day is on Thursday, August 7
 Lafayette Hill, PA (July 29, 2014)- Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery is celebrating National IPA Day with a Single Hops Series Party from 6pm-12am on Thursday, August 7 featuring a bevy of Barren Hill beers saved especially for the occasion.

 To honor this beer-lovers' holiday, the tavern has saved kegs from every batch of their seven single-hopped IPA series and will be pouring all of them together for one time only on IPA Day.  Also, the newest addition to the series: the unreleased eighth Belgian IPA called Columbus Belgian IPA will be on tap for the first time.  The beer line up is as follows: Galaxy, Amarillo, Centennial, Chinook, Citra, Nelson Sauvin, and Mandrina Bavaria.

 Since Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery opened its doors in November 2013, they have been brewing a one-time only series of single hopped Belgian IPA’s. After each series is made, it is sold on draft one time until the batch is kicked.

 Head Brewer Scott Morrison is a world-renowned brewer and six-time Great American Beer Festival medalist. After, less than one year at Barren Hill, Morrison already took home the bronze medal in the World Beer Cup for Barren Hill’s beer Biere de Extra. He previously brewed at McKenzie Brewpubs and Dock Street. Morrison wanted to do a series of Belgian Ales, since that is what he is known for, but also to add a different element to them by making them IPA’s.
 “I enjoy creating new and interesting styles that aren’t readily available in the Philly Market,” said Morrison. 
 Series 1:
Galaxy Belgian IPA- 7.1% ABV
A true hybrid beer brewed with Belgian yeast, Australian hops & American barley. The Galaxy hops show a strong tropical fruit flavor.
 Series 2:
Centennial Belgian IPA- 6.7% ABV
Centennial hops create a floral, citrus bitterness. Light amber, hoppy, with a spicy finish from the Belgian yeast.
 Series 3:
Chinook Belgian IPA- 6.7% ABV
Chinook hops create a spicy piney bitterness. Light, amber in color, and hazy. This is an unfiltered IPA with a dry finish.
 Series 4:
Amarillo Belgian IPA- 6.8% ABV
This single hopped ale was brewed using exclusively Amarillo hops, which are flavorful and yield a flowery, spicy and citrus-like aroma.
 Series 5:
Nelson Sauvin Belgian IPA- 6.8% ABV
An amber colored IPA, Nelson Sauvin hops have a strong fruity flavor resembling white wine or crushed grapes.
 Series 6:
Citra Belgian IPA- 6.8% ABV
Citra hops have a prominently citrus & tropical fruit flavor in this Amber colored IPA,
 Series 7:
Mandarina Bavaria Belgian IPA- 6.8% ABV
When using a Mandarina Bavariva hops, it adds a strong tangerine, citrus flavor, which adds an intense mandarin orange aroma.
 Series 8:
Columbus Belgian IPA- 6.8% ABV
An amber colored IPA, using Columbus Hops, which creates a very resiny, bittering hop with sharp, earthy, and woodsy notes.

 Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery, set in the historic General Lafayette Inn building on the outskirts of Philadelphia in Montgomery County, is a new brewpub from the owners of Devil’s Den and Old Eagle Tavern. Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery offers 30 craft beers on draft and a variety of select cans and bottles. 

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.

The PubScout