Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Monday, April 21, 2014

Beer-wise, The Court Jester is No Joke

Finding it necessary, recently, to meet a buddy roughly midway between my house and his, I looked for a pub or good beer bar in the area. A few came up, but as I had visited them, I opted for a place I had never heard of: The Court Jester.

With twenty-five beers on tap, it beckoned; and its website revealed an interesting food menu as well. So I took a shot.
Turns out that there are two Court Jesters, one in Freehold and one in Aberdeen (nee Matawan) owned jointly by Mike Page and Ryan Jones.

Located in a mall on Rt. 34, the Matawan Jester’s rather unassuming storefront belied its downright cavernous interior, walls lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Surrounded by so many books, I thought I had
inadvertently wandered into the Library of Congress. The atmosphere is most conducive to either bar interaction or private side discussions. It was a bar in which The PubScout felt immediately comfortable.

Ample bar seating and different rooms and levels make the place most inviting, though I was told that the Matawan site is considerably larger than the Freehold site.
Eleven-year manager (and fellow MSU Alum) Mark Ricca greeted me cordially at the door and began to fill me in on the Jester’s history.

Mark Ricca and Kyle Norek
The Jester was born in 1995, and has steadily increased its clientele in that time. “We get a great dinner crowd of varied age groups and a great late night bar crowd, a diverse group, with folks in their 20’s represented as solidly as those in their 50’s.
Another thing that has steadily increased, according to both Ricca and his high school buddy bartender Kyle Norek, is the number of patrons seeking better beer. The Jester’s ownership listens, and that accounts for the 25 tap beers available. Not only that, but the Specials Menu includes direct beer pairing suggestions, and if a specific beer is tapped, the knowledgeable waitstaff is sufficiently educated to suggest another that will pair as well.
The menu (which I haven’t sampled yet) has a wide variety of starters, salads, burgers, pizzas and fajitas, as well as full dinners of steak, chicken seafood and BBQ ribs.

The beer menu had many beers I had tasted, as well as some I hadn’t—like Captain Lawrence FreshChester Ale, Evil Genius Purple Monkey Dishwasher and Magic Hat Elder Betty. Sam Adams Nitro Boston Stout being available, I went with that.
Rich Page is responsible for deciding which beers get featured, as well as what food gets ordered. Apparently Rich is on top of things, as even long-time server Heather commented on the dramatic increase in craft beer orders.

Smiling Heather
The PubScout will definitely revisit the Matawan site and absolutely scope out the Freehold site for the purpose of evaluating the food and beer pairings as suggested, and to determine how the beer menu has changed. The PubScout looks forward to a return.

The PubScout

Monday, April 14, 2014

There's Some Fine Beer Here, by George!

Fewer than 20 days remain until one of The PubScout's Favorite Brewfests takes place on the banks of the Delaware River in Pennsylvania.

The Washington Crossing Brewfest seems to grow better each year, and if the list of breweries in attendance this year is any indication, such growth will continue.

George Washington himself (out of costume)
The festival takes place rain or shine, though shine is decidedly better. If it shines, my biker buddies and I can take two wheels on some of the best backroads in Jersey and PA to get there. Still, even in the rain, the tents provided make for great opportunities to meet new beer nuts.

But if you plan to attend, you need to purchase tickets ahead of time. The website allows you to do that, as well as listing the names of some pubs that currently have those tix on sale.

And don't forget to read the rules of the brewfest. The organizers don't want to have to put you in a Durham boat and send you across the river to Trenton.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

You Meet the Nicest Folks at Beer Events

Honest to God.

The PubScout stopped into one of his favorite brewpubs--the Harvest Moon in New Brunswick--for a special beer event: a massive collaboration among some nine major cognoscenti of NJ's beer scene. In addition to Mike Kivowitz of NJCB, Al Buck of East Coast Yeast and Moon brewer Kyle McDonald, beer aficionados packed the downstairs area to sample some really outstanding collaborative brews.

The first was a Dark Rye Saison, and it was nothing short of fabulous. New Brunswick City Planner Glen Patterson, his wife Chris and I struck up a major conversation--and not just about the beer. The state of education today was a major focus, as Chris teaches English in New Brunswick HS.

Glen and Chris Patterson

Then there was VT grad Moreo Rivera (a freshman when those horrific shootings took place), whose father plays sax for none other than Billy Joel, and who would be playing the national anthem at the Bosox/Yanks game this very night.

Moreo and Karen

Lovely Karen would
seek Assistant Brewer Jeff's help to eradicate beer spilled on her just-purchased NJBC T-shirt

Karen and Jeff clean her shirt...

The only time I ever saw the downstairs of The Moon this packed was during a ceremony for NB firefighterJimmy D'heron, who gave his own life to save 15 people he did not know during a fire.

 And while the dark rye saison (at about 8%) was the PubScout's fave, the Simcoe Coffee Double IPA and the Mosaic Rye Pale Ale with Zythos Hopped offerings were most intense.

But, good as they were, the beers are simply vehicles that get beer lovers to interact, and that's exactly what happened.

And it should happen more often.

Kudos to those who collaborated for this superb event!

The PubScout

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Recuerde que la Sexta de Mayo!

Yeah, yeah, I know. "Sexta" means sixth in el Espanol. And everybody gets hyped about the day before, which is Cinco de Mayo. But if you refrain from the ubiquitous Cinco de Mayo come-ons, you can take advantage of a true celebration on May 6.

Because two Jersey beermakers (Trap Rock and Triumph) are collaborating on that date for a (what else?) Mexican beer dinner at Trap Rock in Berkeley Heights.
 You can get all the info you need right here.

And as the dinner will be held in the Garden Room only--which seats only 47--you might want to get in on the action early. The food will be top drawer and the beer--well, it won't be Corona.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

It's May! The Month of "Yes, you Mai (Bock)"

Vanessa Redgrave in 1967
(She doesn't look like this today, 
but who among us looks like we did in 1967?)
The ancient rhythms are stirring again, just as they did for Queen Guinevere in the classic film--Camelot.
To be candid, the weather hasn't been exactly springlike.
Though anything above 50 is an improvement over the doses of global "warming" this winter shared with us. It was, assuredly, a winter of stouts, porters, tripels and quads around my house.
But, also assuredly, spring is coming, and with it the entry of one of The PubScout's favorite beer styles--the Maibock.

And, though there are surely others that will delight a malt-maven's palate (Rogue Dead Guy is one) my favorite is this one. Einbecher Mai-Ur-Bock.

For starters, it's a strong spring beer, more malt-forward than hoppy (IPA nuts be warned), sweeter and higher in alcohol. Einbecker checks in at 6.5%. Most are tawny to golden, though helles bocks are known for being lighter in color. A pale malt nose and bready, earthy, toasty notes show why this is a favorite of mine among German seasonals. Some beer cognoscenti describe it as having "buttery, caramel scents," and I wouldn't argue. My only complaint is the 11.2 oz. bottle.

Others, like Altenmunster Maibock, have an almost lemony, peppery quality (from the hops) to accompany the honey notes. Gordon Biersch makes one--a Blond Bock--that has more pronounced hop notes than a maibock lover might expect. Hofbrau Munchen's product is a bit higher in alcohol (7.2%) and just a tad more bitter in the finish.

Here are some others that deserve a shot: Primator Maibock, Abita Andygator, Abita Bock, Fort Collins Maibock, Narragansett Bock, Smuttynose Maibock, Anchor and Victory St. Boisterous.

And NJ brewers have also made outstanding maibocks: Ramstein (with a Bourbon Barrel Aged offering), Flying Fish and Cricket Hill. Harvest Moon supposedly has a maibock brewing as we speak.

Search your local liquor locker to find more, because most maibocks will not disappoint malt mavens in the merry month of May. (And how is that for alliteration?)

Unless, of course, you're a DIPA, Imperial IPA slave of the Hop Monster.

But hey, drink what you like.
I always do.

The PubScout

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Beer Flows, Food Goes at Beers on the Boards

Patty (3rd from left) had a birthday today!
Give Chris DePeppe credit. When he throws a beer bash, he does it in style. And putting his Beer on the Boards annual fest together at Martell's in Pt. Pleasant is no small undertaking.

Lining up good breweries is critical of course, and there was no shortage of good--even great-- ones here this year. Names familiar to Jersey beer nuts abounded: Carton, Flying Fish, Bolero Snort, Tuckahoe, Beach Haus (East Coast),Cape May and Rinn Duin were just a few. Add to that some nationally known favorites like Ommegang, Blue Point, Southampton, Shipyard, Starr Hill, Sam Adams,Victory, Great Lakes and Brooklyn and the ingredients for a great beer day were there.

The hordes were lining up to get their bracelets and tasting glasses early, but anyone who's been to this event knows that the beer is just one half of the success equation for DePeppe. The other is the food--gourmet and beer-infused food--that comes with the price of a ticket.

Sauerbraten with cabbage and Victory beer, Kielbasa and Kraut made with ECBC's Kickback Ale, Flying Fish Farmhouse Battered Cod, Hot Dogs steeped in beer and even a Mac and Cheese made with Sam Adams Stout were available in two buffet lines. There was even a cider offering called Angry Orchard Chicken with Apples and Bleu Cheese, and a full cider bar outside on the deck.There was also an offering from Horny Goat brewing called WisconZIN, made with zinfandel grapes. It had a wonderful effect on the women, from what I could tell.

Many fests offer food, of course, but none that I have ever attended offers an array like this with such quality, and that, too, is to DePeppe's credit. He works hand-in-hand with Martell's catering to produce the gourmet buffet.

The revelers were apparently impressed as the accompanying pictures will attest, and there are more pictures HERE for the reader to download for free.

There were two bands playing, one outside and one inside, and the one inside had a sax player I mistook for Chum Lee from the TV show Pawn Stars.
Is that Chum Lee?

Jacqui Town of Rinn Duin

Horny Goat Brewing

Making its Journalistic Debut on this day was the brand new magazine called NJ Brew, brainchild of beer artist par excellence Gregg Hinlicky and the peripatetic and professional beerwriter Mark Haynie. Sporting a wide variety of beer articles by beer writing professionals, along with beer features and photos designed to pique the interest of Beer Nuts everywhere, this glossy, high end mag is also FREE. No disrespect intended, but a "brewspaper" this ain't. Hinlicky, Haynie and Co. are to be commended for a great inaugural issue.

Two Beer Beauties reading their favorite article from their new favorite magazine!
In all, a most satisfying day on the boardwalk in Pt. Pleasant, and the weather was nice enough to allow wandering out on the deck, which was as packed as the inside was.

Thank Chris DePeppe, who clearly knows his beer, his food and his audience.

Put this fest on your MUST HIT list for next year.

The PubScout

Friday, March 14, 2014

Joe Canal's Embracing the Beer Revolution

Paulie and the PubScout

I stopped into a Joe Canal's in Woodbridge a few years ago, but I confess here that beer had nothing to do with my visit. I was there to meet Tony Sirico (Paulie Walnuts) of Sopranos' fame as he introduced a new Sopranos wine.The wine was pretty good, too.

But I had to join something called the Bottle Club to get a decent discount on the wine, so I did, figuring I'd never use it again. It was free to join, so who cared?

Because I did, Joe Canal's sends me frequent emails detailing what special wines they're featuring.

And, with increasing frequency, what special beers.

Tom and Chris pull a growler at Joe Canal's

So I took a ride to the Woodbridge store to check out the scene, and I met Tom Broderick, the store manager. We chatted about the 600-700 beers available in Joe Canal's as his beer manager, Chris, drew me a half growler of the superb Southampton Imperial Baltic Porter--just $6.99. I'm drinking it as I type, so please excuse any typos or wild commentary. 7.2% ABV can do strange things, especially in a beer that tastes this good. Tom knew nothing about beer until he got the job, he said. It's a different world to him now.

With a few hundred single bottles of pretty much any beer you've ever heard of, and 600-700 more in the cooler and the aisles, a visit to Joe Canals' will not disappoint in terms of selections. Ola Dubh 12 called out to me from one shelf, and at $8.99, it was like a siren's call.

That growler service is also pretty neat.The change in the beer laws allowed a place like Joe's with a broad "C" license to dispense tap beers. You can get a 32 oz. growler or a standard 64 ouncer. The Purchasing agent decides how the taps get rotated, and you can always find something that suits your fancy.

For The PubScout's money, the 32 oz. bottle is perfect, because I can finish it in one or two sittings. Unless you take special re-seal precautions with a 64 ouncer, your beer could go flat if it sits in your fridge for an extended time.

And there's nothing worse than a beer that has gone flat or bad in a growler, because they only thing you can do with it is discard it.

Which is a cardinal sin, I think.

In addition to the weekly specials Bottle Club members can take advantage of, there are regular weekly special beer tastings that are free to them as well. Check out this whiteboard below:

The store is located on Rt.1 South in Woodbridge, just past Woodbridge Center. The prices for Bottle Club members are moderate, and you can always visit Mike Kivowitz at NJCB to obtain a discount card.

The long and short of it is this: If you're a true beer lover, don't bring any more money into Joe Canal's than you want to spend, because spend it, you will.

The PubScout isn't saying they have every beer in the world. But they're damned close. And very close to my home.

Because my Southampton Imperial Baltic Porter is so delicious, my growler, like my column, is almost done. I have to proofread to make sure I didn't leave anything important out.

What? Oh yeah. Joe Canal's has wine too.  But you can't get fresh growlers of that stuff.

A 32 oz. growler...
The PubScout!