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Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Ties That Bind on Father’s Day

It's a month away, but it's not too early to start thinking about Father's Day.
Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are decidedly different, and not just because of their gender roles.  

Mother’s Day evokes deep sentiment, probably because of the special bond that exists between mothers and their children. Most children start forming a bond with their mothers at conception, and the bond strengthens and grows throughout the gestation period. 

And, like it or not, that’s a bond we fathers just don’t have. Oh, we can share in the love that’s growing, but it’s not growing in our bodies. We can marvel at the surreal movements as we watch baby’s limbs make ghost-like scrawls across mom’s abdomen. We can even be amazed (though never jealous) as we feel the “kicks” baby is sharing inside that sacred home. But we cannot feel that eternal, primal bond that only mothers get to feel, even after baby has vacated the womb and emerged to a place where we can actually hold it.


That’s why mothers never get ties for Mother’s Day. They get nicer, more meaningful, more sentimental, more emotional gifts, because, well, they’re mothers.

Not that most dads mind. Most dads won’t care if we don’t get a round of golf at Augusta from our progeny. Nor do we mind getting less sentimental gifts…like ties. That’s just the way it is with dads and their children.

But if the dad in your life is a cerevisaphile like The PubScout, you can show your appreciation for the missing bond in a number of ways, and many of them come in four-packs, six-packs or bomber bottles. If you’ve been paying even the slightest bit of attention, finding some beers that your dad likes shouldn’t be hard, especially with the proliferation of breweries around today. If you want to “go the extra mile” for the guy responsible for making you, a growler or two from his favorite breweries would work beautifully, and if you’re into beer, you can share it.

If he’s proud of his association with beer, even T-shirts proclaiming that are good choices. Check these out from Brew-Tees, for example. With this deal, he gets a one-of-a-kind design from some of the most popular craft breweries in the world, and he gets a new one every month. If you do order, mention that you read it here.

If his tastes run to such things (like mine do), a few good cigars might be in order. After all, he probably gave out a bunch of them when you emerged from your weatherproof 98.6º cocoon. Father’s Day is a great time to pay him back with some good ones, not the Phillies or Dutch Masters he probably gave away. True, it’s not the most sentimental or emotional of gifts, but he’ll appreciate it for sure.


In fact, even the slightest awareness of things your father appreciates  (besides not having to bear you in his abdomen for nine months and expel you from an orifice with some rather astounding stretching capabilities) would be good.

There are other things you can get to show your appreciation for his role in your being, too. But in reality, most dads would be happy to just get a card, a hug and a big “Thanks, Dad!” from their children.

And dads should say thanks, too. But to God.

From being a bedside witness to three births, I have come to know this immutable truth:
God must be a man, because he spared us the ordeal the missus says was “the most horrible, wonderful experience of her life.” 



True, we didn’t get “the bond” or "the wonderful," but neither did we get the"horrible." And dads don't do "horrible" well at all.
Worth the trade-off to me, especially if I have a beer and a cigar to reflect on my good fortune.

Happy Father's Day!
Cheers! The Pubscout


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Location, location, location--Mac's Speed Shop

If you're like me and you want to post a pic to FaceBook, the site often asks for a location. Which is fine if you happen to be in the location you're posting from, like, say, a pub.

But rarely will your location choices be "Your Home" or "Your Son's Apartment." So the locator picks out nearby places, and you pick whichever one suits your fancy...like the churches and synagogues near my house that often serve as my beer worship spots.

For nearly three weeks I've been in and around Cornelius, NC where my son lives, and the first place that pops up when I post something from his pad is a very nearby place called Mac's Speed Shop. Sounded like a cool name, so I went with it.

Then I went to it.

Be still my beating heart. The first thing I see as I pull into the lot is the unmistakeable front row parking only for motorcycles. Chalk up one point already. Then as I make my way in from the back lot, I have to navigate around some cornholers having a grand old time on the patio. (Just a side note; as a boomer--I do wish they'd call that game something else, like "Bean Bag Toss...)

Then I walk in and I read the small print under the word Mac's: Beer, Bikes and BBQ. Chalk up three more points.

Then I meet up with the manager--one Jeremiah Grindstaff--who shows me the beer list for which he alone is responsible. He says, "I drink more beer before 10 AM than most people drink all day, but somebody's got to know what they taste like." 

There are fifty-one rotating beers on tap, and more than 150 in bottles. And they are organized beautifully on the menu. You can check them out here. That list is worth at least six points, and there's your ten.

But add another point for some excellent Shrimp and Grits, washed down with a Left Hand 400 pound Monkey, and that makes it an eleven on the "Cool Pub" scale.

My family and I got seated immediately, but I'm told that's because it was a Tuesday night. The weekends are packed, and sometimes with celebrities.

There are five locations so far, with a new one coming soon, according to Manager Grindstaff, (who does no such thing, according to his servers). Congenial and very beer savvy, Jeremiah loves what he does and does it well at the Lake Norman location.


Beer, Bikes (with preferred parking) and BBQ, and the ability to enjoy a good cigar outside while watching cornholers, er, beanbaggers. What's not to like? 

It's The PubScout's kind of place.
Cheers!


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Throwback Time at Uncle Milf’s

Now don’t get your knickers in a twist at the name above. According to everyone, it stands for “Man, I Love Food.”

Right.

But since I’m spending a good amount of time in the Tar Heel State at present (most of it in medical facilities) the occasional respite in a pub or tavern is most appealing, and this one was very near to my lodgings at the Hotel McVay. It also came highly recommended by the hoteliers.

That’s as it should be, because this throwback tavern has nothing fancy about it. The exterior is so nondescript that you might ride right by it without knowing you’ve passed up a great experience, or the picture of Uncle Milf himself peering over a fence with a “Kilroy Was Here” look.  It’s official name is the Lake Norman Tavern, though (for my usual sophomoric reasons) I prefer the name above.

Apparently in place since many of its current customers were just kids, the tavern recently asked its customers what they wanted to see in the way of changes. The responses came back with "bigger print on the menu"(which should tell you something about the loyalty and age of many of the clientele) and more craft beers. Those requests were accommodated.

 Once inside, you will not find fancy lighting, designer seats or a bank of forty-plus Hi-Def TV’s, no upscale interior and no line of gleaming craft beer taps that stretches the length of the room. It does have a few pool tables and games off to one side for those so inclined, but its décor, like its exterior, might never be described as “visually stunning.” It is, however, most comfortable and welcoming.

Taylor and Rebecca flank The PubScout
 There was a decent beer list, both on draft and in bottles, and most beer lovers would be able to find something to suit their fancy on it, and quite a varied menu. The servers were extraordinarily pleasant and efficient. That they were visually stunning didn’t hurt, either.

If you’re up for a Brew and Burger, the choices are many, but on this night, I decided on a Sweetwater 420 and a classic Southern dish—Shrimp and Grits. I’m certainly not a connoisseur  of this particular dish, but I know what I like—and I liked this immensely. Shrimp were perfectly done, spices were deftly applied and the overall rating was a 10. Couldn’t finish all the grits either.


It has a “Cheers-esque” kind of atmosphere, and our dining partners, who recommended the place and visit often, met up with someone they knew—again—and struck up a nice conversation. That’s another thing about the South…friendliness comes with the territory, and it sure is part of Uncle Milf’s.


It was a great place to visit, and if I made my home in the Mooresville area, it would definitely be high on my “Go-To” list. If you’re in the area, check it out. 

You won’t be disappointed. It's like NC Blue Dot says: "If North Carolina had neighborhood taverns, this would be it."

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ass Clown: Don’t Be One; Drink One—or More



While attending to my son in NC last week, I learned of a brewery very near his place called Ass Clown, and during a break, I headed over to the “Tasting Room” to see what kind of beer would be so bold. I operated on the assumption that if you’re going to call yourself that, your stuff better be good.

Ass Clown was born in 2011, as near as I can determine, and, like most, started small. More like an actual pub, complete with tables, bar and flat screens, the place was packed. I learned that this is typical for Saturdays at this very unique brewery, which houses not only the usual beer-making equipment, but also a Sour Beer Lab and the ability to produce four different varieties of wine.


Matt Glidden, a former Vermonter, is the owner/brewer, and apparently possessed of a “can-do” attitude that takes a back seat to no one. He grows his own organic coffee and hops and uses mostly local ingredients to create a wide array of beers. Viewable on his site, the range of flavors is nothing short of astounding. He also strives to be “environmentally responsible.”

With an eye towards being “green,” he even has craftsman Jeff Greeno making the custom tap handles on site—three handles to a block of old fencewood, and a host of volunteers like Ralph and Amanda helping out in various capacities. It was Ralph, in fact, who led me to the working guts of the back room where Ass Clown makes its brews.

 
Doesn't get much "greener" than Jeff Greeno
Ralph is designing a bottler for the growing demand of the brand, which still bottles by hand, and Amanda was tending to the 30 taps with regularly rotating beers, trying to slake the thirsts of the customers who packed the place.

A four-beer sampler (with six-ounce pours) is available for $8, and the many serving palettes were also designed and hand built by Glidden. Pick your beers, and Amanda will inscribe exactly what they are in black Sharpie so you can keep track.

I ordered a Honey Pale Ale (excellent), a Rum-soaked Stout (delightful), a Dark Chocolate Stout with Sea Salt (worth a few growlers or grunts, for sure), and an Imperial IPA, which was killer.

Amanda
 I also sampled an interesting beer named Star Fart. Made with Star Fruit, the aromas given off during the brewing process were somewhat sulfurous in nature, leading to the name. Fortunately, those aromas do not come through upon tasting, and the beer is quite interesting and tasty.

I also sampled a sour—Citrus Sour, to be precise. Sour beers are an acquired taste, and for those whose tastes are so attuned, I recommend it. Ass Clown’s Sours usually develop in that special storage lab for a year to eighteen months.

Glidden was not in the house that day, as he was attending a brewfest in Raleigh called “Brewgaloo.” According to reports from that fest, Ass Clown, unsurprisingly, had the longest lines. Though their beers are readily available throughout the Cornelius and Mooresville areas, their distribution will hit Charlotte proper very soon, where they expect production to increase big time, and that’s not hard to understand, either. Growlers and grunts, as well as bomber bottles are available for purchase at the brewery.

The more people that taste this beer, the more popular it should become. The name Ass Clown developed because as Glidden and his partners made the beer, they jokingly referred to each other as such. 


So, they figured, what better name for their beer? And they created the promotional tag line, “Don’t Be One; Drink One!”

Solid advice, that.

Cheers!

The PubScout

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Perfect Day--Even to Wait Outside

That's The Festhalle in between these two Ocean Grove visitors...

When the theme of your blog is "Good Pubs, Good Beer, Good People," a visit to Asbury Park's newest Beer Emporium is apropos. This past Saturday was the day to do it--perfect weather for a motorcycle ride and early enough in the season to avoid shore traffic and crowds.

And after being fully sated with all of the above inside, I wandered outside the Asbury Park Festhalle & Biergarten, hereinafter known as The Festhalle, to enjoy this absolutely perfect afternoon with an Alvarez cigar.



Owned by some of the same guys (Andy and Ladi) who launched Hoboken's wildly successful Pilsener Haus, The Festhalle gives off a similar vibe, right down to being unable to find a parking spot--not because it's parking challenged like Hoboken, but because finding an empty spot requires "Natalie Luck." While she found one--right in front of the place, no less--my biker buddies and I crossed over into quaint, charming Ocean Grove, where there were plenty of spots. Only a one-minute walk across a small footbridge brought us to the Festhalle. It's a strategy worth remembering if you go.

On Saturdays, the place opens at noon (4 PM during the week) and, at 1 PM, we anticipated no problem finding a place to sit.

Wrong.
Allison

The place was packed, all tables were full and there were people standing around barrels with their food and grog resting on them. So after ordering from bar maid Allison, a stunner who used to work at Hailey's (and, bless her heart, who recognized me), we sidled over to a table where this delightful family looked like it was ready to pack up. When they did, we swooped in, and just in time, too, as four senior citizens on walkers, there for the 5 PM early bird specials, were targeting those seats. But they weren't fast enough, and like George Costanza evacuating during that episode with the fire, we got there first! 

Just kidding. They were millennials.


When this lovely family left, we pounced...
The upstairs room had not yet opened, and nor had the outside Biergarten area. With all rooms open, the capacity is 760.

The Festhalle has an impressive list of beers on tap that rotate, and an extensive list of others in bottles. Likewise, the Festhalle's food menu fits the ambience of the place perfectly. Natalie ordered us a pretzel the size of a steering wheel ($11), and, with the accompanying mustard, it was absolutely delicious.


I won't run down the list of what's available as you can get that from their site, but our server Tasha (from New Zealand) was a total delight. The bottom line here is that if you're a fan of Biergarten- type dining and drinking (which I am) you will absolutely love this place (which I did).

But that's if you can get in. While enjoying my Alvarez, I got to chatting with "Big John," a mountain of a man stationed outside who was checking ID's. He was also only allowing in as many people as exited the Halle into the bright sunshine.  Those guests range from 21 year-olds to families with children to senior citizens. 


Tasha
John said that he was stationed out here in 5º weather back when the place opened, and there was a one-hour wait to get in. And while yesterday was certainly a pleasant day to wait outside, not all days will be like that. So figure that into your plans.

Oh, and one other thing. The Festhalle's wi-fi is not accessible to the public. As Tasha explained, "We want our guests to interact with each other, not with their cell phones." That's an idea I support 1,000 percent.

My first visit to The Festhalle will definitely not be my last.
Go, even if there's a line.
Cheers!
The PubScout

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Gathering of Willing Fools


Full disclosure:
Last night's Beer Senate at Hailey's Harp and Pub was not my first.

And it damn sure won't be my last, because these events are just plain fun. 

With their Beer Senates, Chris Flynn and Moishe Atzbi have struck upon a formula that packs the back shuffleboard room with thirty-five "Senators" every month (except in the summer when, like Congress, the Senators take a recess).

The behavior of the Senators varies between raucous and rowdy, especially during the voting of best beer of the night, where their behavior mimics that of our wig-wearing English brethren in Parliament.

And why not? Most of them usually come into the session either bearing a pint or having consumed one, and that's before the four beers of the main event have even been poured. Those four beers, accompanied by some outstanding food, are not little tasting glasses, but full pints as well. But the Senators
are nothing if not dedicated to good beer, good food and good cheer.

There were four beers on the agenda last night: Oskar Blues Pinner, Blue Moon White IPA, Duclaw Celtic Fury and Magic Hat Stealin' Time.

The Honorable Senators, Angela and John
What's that? You've not heard of all of these? Well, that was exactly the theme of the dinner--April Fools Beers--or beers that one doesn't think of immediately when seeing the name of the brewery.

Moishe works his magic in the kitchen as well as behind the bar, and the food always includes a wing dish. Last night's wings were "sweet-heat," initially sweet to the palate with a nice little jolt of fire from the peppers. They disappeared as quickly as they appeared on front of the finger-lickin' Senators.

But for The PubScout's money, the best dish, as well as the best pairing, was the first--Pinner with a crazy good lentil soup, hidden cavatelli and unhidden sorpressata. It was so good, I told Moishe that if the Senate took an early recess, I'd consider the night already a success. 

I also suggested he put that exact combo on the regular menu, for that's essentially what the Senate does--it selects a beer to be put on tap and offers menu suggestions which Chris and Moishe heed. And the fact that they listen to their Senators may be one reason why they have one of the 10 best Irish pubs in the state, according to NJ.com.

Pinner (the winner) will be the next beer on tap, and the next Senate theme set for the second Tuesday in May will be Cinco de Mayo. Moishe will put his thinking cap on to come up with beers and food that follow the theme, and as of today, he'll be getting in the right frame of mind to do so, headed as he is for Cinco de Mayo land to see if he can get the "Most Interesting Man in the World" to make a guest appearance. 

But no worries. When the next Senate convenes, I am sure it will be celebrated with full vigor--if not aplomb. If you're a lover of good beer, good food and good cheer, become a Senator.

If our government Senate approached its business the way the Beer Senate does, it might actually get more done.


Stay thirsty, my friends.

Cheers!
The PubScout


Monday, April 13, 2015

Pleasant Surprise in Salisbury


I first heard the name Salisbury back in the days when you actually had to get out of your chair to change the TV channel. As a youth of only single digits in age, I thought TV dinners were cool, and my favorite was Salisbury Steak from Swanson. 

You got the "meat," the peas, the mashed potatoes and the gravy, the soup and dessert all in this neat little formed aluminum tray. Apart from being allowed to eat and watch TV in the "living room," a treat of epic proportions back then, the best thing was that when you were done with your dinner, there were no dishes. 

And I loved the Salisbury Steak, even though my mother said it was "just hamburger."

My recent weekend travels, wrestling-related, took me to the Maryland city of the same name, and upon checking into my motel (which, ironically, was opposite from a restaurant called Steak Salisbury), I asked the counter clerk for pub/restaurant recommendations where I could find good beer. Without hesitation, she said, "Evolution is just 5 minutes from here."

I was not unaware of the name, as I had some of its product in Atlantic City a month ago during a different wrestling-related event, and I found it quite good. So off to Evolution Public House we went.

I'm glad we did. We got to meet the lovely Victoria and the friendly and knowledgeable Assistan Manager Brian Mertz (no relation to Fred and Ethel), who left the teaching profession to eventually become Evolution's Beer Quality Control Guru. Whether the strains of the first profession led to the grains of the second, I'm not sure. But the newly married, Brian told me he chose his bride based on two basic criteria: "She had to love kids, and she had to love beer." Sounds like a strong foundation to me.

Victoria offers up a Prelude Red
Because Brian really loves his beer and his job, he spoke with great knowledge of it and affection for it. He also suggested a tour of the large, 33,000 bbl-per-year brewery, located within the Public House confines. In addition to outside seating, a pleasing dining area and a very comfortable Tasting Room, Evolution boasts a wide distribution area. It includes the legendary beach resort in nearby Ocean City called Seacrets for which a special beer called Tropicale is produced.

The Life of Brian
My guess was that just the brewery operation alone was a $3 million dollar one, and even though the original brewer... is now in Florida, the reigns have been adequately assumed by brothers Tom and John.

Evolution offers a wide variety of brews, of which my choices this day were limited to a red called Prelude, which Brian informed me is used as the base for sour beer blends as well. In appearance, it looked cloudy and "undone," but in taste, it was spectacular, and with its relatively low ABV could serve as a good session ale. It also went exceptionally well with my House Burger, which was also done a perfect medium-rare.

But the beer that rang my bell (in more ways than one) was a special Rise Up Imperial Stout. At 10% ABV, its rich coffee and chocolate flavors came through  on a very smooth mouthfeel. Lots of brewers make good stouts, but this one was great, a bit bigger than the "regular" stout pictured here. And the Lucky 7 Porter they provided for the tour was also spot on.

In all, an unexpected and delightful find, and beer lovers should look for Evolution beers as their ever-expanding distribution continues. According to their beer locater, there are many just across the Delaware River in PA, including Isaac Newton's, and as mentioned, I found it in Atlantic City. There are many places that have it on the Southeast Jersey Coast.

If your personal beer journey is evolving, be sure to include Evolution as a stop.
Just remember they don't serve TV dinners.

Cheers!
The PubScout