Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Friday, July 3, 2015

Joe Sixpack--Not Your Father's Beer Writer

Joe Sixpack (aka Don Russell)--and Not Your Average Beer Drinker-- has a very interesting story about the latest fad drink called Not Your Father's Root Beer.

I've tried it, but could only manage a sip. Overly sweet it was, with a metallic finish that, to me, wouldn't pair well with anything, including hot dogs, potato chips or yard work. But it must have struck a chord with the public, because it's in the enviable position of being everywhere and nowhere at the same time. 

That's some serious marketing right there.

But this is some serious journalism, folks. 

If our media went after stories about politicians--from either party--like this, the nation would be better served.

I'm hoisting a pint to Joe Sixpack today.
Cheers! The PubScout

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

This Just In--Everything Old is New Again?

Brewer Mike Sella toiled at his craft for fourteen years at Uno’s on Rt. 1 South in Metuchen. While there, he not only produced great beers that were enjoyed by many, he spread his love of the craft beer culture through his dedication to regular, very successful beer dinners and well-attended cask ale fests. Well-liked by everyone, Mike’s departure was bittersweet for many. They were happy for him, as you won’t find a nicer guy, but they knew that his particular style of beer making would no longer grace Uno’s taps.

When he left to assume the brewer’s duties at then Basil T’s (now Birravino), he stepped into an entirely different beer-making environment. Though he continued to make beers that were enjoyed by patrons of the restaurant, the restaurant owner was focusing on the acquisition, promotion and sale of fine wines to accompany his top notch food and service.
Recently, Mike was notified that his services would no longer be required, and he was out of a job doing what he loves.

But, as could be expected, not for long. I sat down with him for this exclusive interview after learning the good news.

If you know Mike, you know he’s a man of few words. “Taciturn” and “Reticent” are probably under his high school graduation picture. So getting him to respond to any question at all with more than a sentence—or in some cases, a word-- was my biggest challenge.

PubScout: Well, this story had a happier ending than anyone expected. Does that include you?
MS: Well, yes, of course. I sure hope that me coming back will make some people happy but, none will be happier than I am. I'm really fortunate that this opened up when it did. 

PubScout: How difficult was it for you to make the decision to leave Uno’s?

MS: It was not an easy decision to leave at all.  I didn't leave because I didn't enjoy working there.  I made a lot of friends there. Lenny, of course, is still there, so it'll be great to work with him again.  Doug and Joy will hopefully be showing their faces. Coach still drops in when he visits from the land of Dogfish Head.  Nick and Doreen are still around.  Bob and Mary. Tom, Harry. It'll be great to see them a bit more often.  I never disappeared. I still dropped in once in a while, but now I'll see these people more often again which is great.

PubScout: Talk a bit about what challenges you faced at Birravino.
MS: I'd really rather not talk much about Birravino.  At this point it’s water under the bridge and I'll probably say something that I'll regret, or at least wish I had just left unsaid.

PubScout: Was the decision to let you go a complete surprise, or were there red flags?

MS: Total shock

PubScout: It had to be demoralizing to learn that you were let go. Were those dark days?

MS: I'd say stressful more than dark.  My wife is great and she did her best to keep me going in a positive direction.

PubScout: What other opportunities were offered or did you explore?

MS: I had one other concrete offer, and I feel bad that I'm not going to be helping those folks out, but that was just a part time offer.  I wish them the best, but there was no way I would or could pass this up.

PubScout: How long were you out of the beer making business before this new/old opportunity arose?

MS: Two months or so since I was let go.

PubScout: How did this return to your brewing roots come about?

MS: I was actually walking out of the place that had just offered me the part time job.  I hadn't even gotten to my car and my phone buzzed.  It was Zac [Conner] letting me know that he was getting ready to move on and that the job was open again.  I reached out and luckily found that they were receptive to bringing me back.  I didn't burn any bridges when I left the first time so there was not animosity on either side.

PubScout: Is the Metuchen Uno’s still the only one of all the 150+ franchises world-wide to produce its own beer on premises?

MS: Yes, it’s still the only Uno's with a brewery.

PubScout: Are you planning on introducing any new beers to the tap list beyond the old faithful standards?

MS: Sure. I'll do some new along with some of the old standards.  I've got something that I'd really been wanting to try for a few years now.  It seems like something that would be perfect for summer but by the time I get started, it’s coming up on pumpkin or Oktoberfest time.
Beer Dinner Girls...
PubScout: Will you start up those successful beer dinners again?

MS: I’m game if [manager] Jeff is.

PubScout: How about the cask fests?

MS: I'm sure the cask events will continue.

I had more (nosy) questions relating to Mike’s experience at Birravino, but Mike, understandably, deigned to answer them, remaining a class act to the end.

He was notified today that he is back in the Uno’s brewhouse where he started almost sixteen years ago. He'll be there one week from today. 

He seems to be very happy about this turn of events.
Almost as happy as his loyal patrons.

Good luck, Mike Sella!

Cheers! The PubScout

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Trip Down HopHead Alley

 There’s a reason mouth-puckering IPA’s are considered de rigeur by many beer drinkers these days, especially among those called millennials.

And that’s because they pucker your mouth.

Some do more than others, of course, and the variety of hops used in different beers also leave various lingering impressions on the palate. Good session IPA’s like Founders All Day or Oskar Blue’s Pinner, or  the outstanding Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch are quite delightful, and in the PubScout’s personal opinion, preferable to the ones that blow your mouth and palate apart. Though I’ve never understood why “dank” is considered a desirable flavor, even some of those can be quite pleasurable—at the right time and with the right food.

But where does a true Hophead go to sample some of the most interesting IPA’s all in one spot? Simple. IPA Alley at The Old Bay in New Brunswick.

I attended yesterday’s event early due to other commitments, so I had no way of knowing if the Alley got packed as the night wore on. I do know that beer raconteur Gary Rosen was expected to make an appearance, and that alone usually produces a gladsome and special mayhem. But he wasn’t there when I was.

What was there, however, was a raft—twenty-one, to be precise-- of special IPA’s selected by Tommy Sheehan, The Old Bay Restaurant’s Beer Meister. Each beer came with a well-written description of what the IPA nut was about to throw across his palate, and there was even a special menu provided by Chef Joe Donlin that was geared to match all those hops.

At Sheehan’s suggestion, I ordered the “Hopped up Flight of the Day” (six four ounce pours for $16) and one of Joe Donlin’s special pizzas—BBQ Bacon.

The flight, progressing in intensity from sessionable IPA to Triple IPA, included Founders All Day, Ballast Point Sculpin Grapefruit, Brewdog Punk IPA, Carton 077XX, Kane Overhead and Captain Lawrence Seeking Alpha.

It was good to see the two Jersey beers on the list, and, as I had enjoyed them before, I knew what to expect. Ditto with the Founders. The Ballast Point Sculpin Grapefruit, 7% ABV, 70 IBU’s and rated a 100 at was certainly intense, but this drinker was glad he only had to finish four ounces, otherwise his lips would have slammed shut. Oddly, it did go well with the BBQ Bacon Pizza, leaving me to understand why some people enjoy grapefruit juice with their eggs and bacon in the AM. Normal people opt for orange juice. Sorry, but that’s the way I see it.

But the other two on the list were true winners. The Brewdog Punk IPA, a “fusion” IPA, is hopped with New Zealand hops and they shine through from beginning to end. The write up said the finish was “aggressive,” but I didn’t think so, which is why I probably liked it so much.

The Captain Lawrence Seeking Alpha is a TIPA (as opposed to a DIPA) and its presence at the end of my serving board caused me no small consternation. Would it cause not only my lips, but my nose and eyes to be sucked fully into my oral cavity, never to appear again? And how would I ride my motorcycle to wrestling practice with this baby checking in at 11%?

The answers, in order, are “no” and “quite ably, thank you.” The pizza probably helped with the latter.

But I found the CLSA to be quite delicious and in no way intimidating. The array of hops (Tomahawk, Mosaic, Cascade and Citra ) blended very well indeed with the two-row malts to make this a nicely balanced, very tasty brew.

Tom Sheehan told me this event was his second annual one, and that he also has a stout-centered event during the winter which is quite popular. I haven’t been there, but if this event for Hopheads was an indication, Stoutheads might want to stay tuned for January news.

I passed the time waiting for my food and beers to come out by chatting with the delightful and efficient Sabrina, who was doing extra work this day due to an injury to her regular bar-back. Had she not been so busy, she probably would have had more time to chat with me, provided, of course, that my lips could open enough to speak after the beers.

Bottom line? This is an event Hopheads should not miss.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

If you build it, they will come...

Mike Proske of Tapastre

 …and come, and come and keep on coming, if the 60-90 minute line that snaked around the corner waiting to gain access to the already-packed 2nd Somerville New Jersey's Craft Beer Fest was any indication.

Mike Proske, Beer and Food Wunderkind of the fabulous Tapastre restaurant was the main organizer of this event. After finding “middle ground” with the city of Somerville, negotiating with the State DOT to close a portion of NJ Rt. 28, hiring 60 people to work the tents and, in his spare time, working in consort with the Weather Gods to reverse near-disastrous weather predictions, Mike’s extremely successful event was held under warm, sunny skies.

And it was crowded. So crowded, there was no room to fall down if somebody did exceed their capacity—which no one did. The general atmosphere was friendly and fun; it was like a huge block party.
Heide and Erik from Angry Erik Brewing
A wide array of outstanding breweries were on hand, all ready to slake the thirsts of the hordes that descended upon the festival, and the lines were long at almost every one. With my little tasting mug in hand ($1-$3 a 4 oz. pour), it soon became apparent that the smart move would be to opt for a 12-or 16 oz. pour at $5-$7, if for no other reason than to avoid the wait.

That option alone set this fest apart from others where the price of admission, usually ten times higher (or more) than the $5 this fest cost to enter, guaranteed you the right to purchase beers directly from your favorite breweries. At most fests, a higher entry fee  allows unlimited sampling in 2 oz. glasses with no exchange of cash at the tap.

But this system, according to those with whom I spoke, seemed to be much preferred, even if the lines were intimidating to some. Of course, the rewards were in keeping with the wait, with beers from the following breweries: Stone, Founders, Abita, Great Lakes, Forgotten Boardwalk, Captain Lawrence, Dogfish Head, Troegs, Sly Fox, Weyerbacher, Neshaminy Creek, River Horse, Flounder, Carton, Kane, Angry Erik, 902, Demented and others.

Mike also arranged for featured tappings of the following beers:
Founder’s - KBS,
Weyerbacher - Sunday Morning Stout,
Cricket Hill - Small Batch Russian Imperial Stout,
Dogfish Head - 75 Minute Firkin,
Abita - (Top Secret),
Stone - (Top Secret), and Odd Russian Imperial Stout
Carton - SS Kentucky, Dune Fruit
Great Lakes - Rye of the Tiger, Alberta Clipper
Kane - Morning Bell,
Captain Lawrence - Seeking Alpha
Angry Erik--Dubbel Blade

Even the food offerings were good. I had a half of a Philly Cheese Steak with the works for just $5 from The Court House Sub Shop, and, not only was it phenomenal, it was a damned sight bigger than a half. With the weather in full cooperation mode, the live music causing rather fascinating gyrations by some fest-goers and the quality of the beer offerings, it was clear that the Somerville New Jersey's Craft Beer Fest 2015 was a wild success. It turned all of downtown Somerville into a festival, and no doubt brought serious ancillary benefits to all businesses in the area, as almost 5,000 beer nuts descended on this event, with portions of the proceeds going to the St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center.

Mary Nell and Donna
That’s not to say that there isn’t room for improvement, and Mike admitted that changes will be in store for next year’s fest. Parking, for one, wasn’t easy to find, and providing free parking everywhere on the day of the event would be a benefit. Also the fenced-in space was far too small to accommodate the huge crowds comfortably, probably making the beer lines longer than they had to be. And just fitting all those breweries into the space allotted was a Herculean task.

But nobody was complaining either. Sweating, yes, and enjoying, certainly, but not complaining. I have no doubt that everyone who went today will return next year.

But where to hold this event and still retain its local “Somerville” flavor?

If anyone can figure it out, Mike Proske will.

Monday, June 8, 2015

You Barefootin' on July 11?

My beer buddy Chris de Peppe sent over this notice for  South Jersey beer nuts--or even for those who want to make the run down from The North. Chris always associates himself with quality in beerfests, so you will not be disappointed.


Icona Resort to Host Barefoot Beer Fest
Diamond Beach, NJ. June 9, 2015

Cape May County will be the site of a unique beach party this
summer when the inaugural Barefoot Beer Fest comes to the Icona Resort on Saturday, July 11th.

Representatives from over fifty craft breweries will set up beer stations all along Icona’s huge private beach where they will be pouring samples of their freshest beers, and ten New Jersey breweries will be on-site with their seasonal specialties and small-batch brews.

Local food vendors will add some smoke and aroma to the party and a beachfront beer garden will give guests a chance to relax and enjoy the food and beer with friends.

There will also be a presentation about the magic of hops and a discussion of hop-growing in New Jersey.

The event is produced by Icona Resort and TotalBRU Marketing, a company that runs successful craft beer fests in PA and NJ.

Tickets are $50 per person but there is an early bird discount. Tickets include unlimited two-ounce pours of all beers and one food sample ticket. Guests will receive a commemorative five-ounce tasting glass. Food will be available for purchase from a variety of local vendors. Vegetarian options and gluten-free beers and ciders will be offered. 

Designated drivers are encouraged and a special ticket for drivers is only $10 and includes alternative beverages and a meal ticket that can be redeemed at any food vendor. There will be two sessions: 12:30-4:00 and 5:00-8:30.
For more information, go to