Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Christmas Eve Proposal

The PubScout has a suggestion for all those who love good beer and the special feelings Christmastide brings.

Gather your family around the living room or den. Their ages do not matter. Grab a bottle of Troeg's Mad Elf and have the best reader in the room read this poem aloud.

(If that's you, read  between sips.)

Merry Christmas!

Night Before Christmas

Friday, December 14, 2007

Joe Skelly’s I P(olitical)A

By Kurt Epps


Beer has a way of breaking down barriers between people, even if the barriers aren't really anything more significant than politics or religion. Sure, you can get into some heated arguments about politics and religion at the bar over a few brews, but only if the brews aren't the focus of the evening, which is the case with all those canoe beers.

But real beer drinkers don't usually drink canoe beers, so politics and religion are usually ancillary topics that really matter very little. Joe Skelly, a real beer drinker, can often be found barside at Uno's Grill and Brewery in Metuchen, where his favorite Mike Sella brew is the Porter. Between sips, he's usually blowing everyone away at national trivia, because the guy's a virtual repository of knowledge (which makes his liberal politics even harder to comprehend).

I mean, as fellow Democrats, we should be seeing eye-to-eye on most issues political. The problem is that I'm a conservative Democrat (OK, a staunch conservative Democrat) who voted for Reagan (a former Democrat) and who remembers when my party was the party of the workingman. Today, it seems to be the party of those who won't work, which is why my vote in the last two presidential elections went to neither Bush nor Kerry nor Gore. My vote went to a guy whose political stance was about five hundred yards to the right of The Minutemen of the American Revolution. I didn't even care that he wasn't running.

But this column is about beer, not politics. In fact, it's about Joe Skelly's beer. You never really know a guy until you drink his beer, and I'd always thought Joe was a great guy. But after downing his 2007 Homebrewed IPA, I've had to kick my assessment of him up a notch.

I'm a big fan of IPA's. I love the hops and the way the beer goes with almost every food I enjoy. Uno's puts one out that is probably my favorite year-round brew—Ike's IPA. You won't get a better meal match than Uno's Steak or Shrimp Quesadilla and an Ike's.

Unless, that is, Joe Skelly's IPA is available. Joe was kind enough to bring in a sample for me after our last beer dinner at Uno's as a Christmas present. That's the kind of guy Joe is. Even after suffering through my jokes and schtick, he had enough Christmas spirit left to give me a present.

Housed in a well-sealed plastic bottle with a hot pink label (Joe is a liberal Democrat after all) I pulled out the brew to enjoy my Friday night at home. I confess that I wasn't expecting much. Liberal Democrats usually hold Natty Light in high regard. But this was Joe Skelly, a real beer drinker, so as I poured the brew into my brand new, handy-dandy Sam Adams glass, I hadn't lost all hope. The question was, "Would a real beer drinker be able to make a real beer that was drinkable?"

Damned right, he would. This was very delightful, somewhat different example of the style. First look was that the beer was a tad darker in color than many IPA's. Its clear, dark amber was appealing to the eye in a curious way. First taste revealed that the hops were subdued more than those of the typical eye-popping IPA. Mouth-feel was extremely smooth, again somewhat atypical for the style. There was an unusual, and equally subtle, sweetness that was very pleasant, and the finish was clean. I'm guessing that the very slight sweetness was a product of the malts Joe used, but he didn't tell me what went into his creation.

I enjoyed it so much that I finished the entire quart after dinner. It must not have been exceptionally high in alcohol content either, because even after the quart was drained, I felt no effects. That's a good thing.

In sum, Joe Skelly turned out a damned fine brew, and if Uno's brewer Mike Sella ever organizes a homebrew tasting at Uno's, he should make sure Joe's IPA is entered. If a liberal Democrat can make a beer worthy of the homebrewing Minutemen of the American Revolution, I can ignore his politics.

Provided, of course, that he sends me another quart.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Uno's Holiday Homerun

Tom Corrigan, manager of Uno's Grill and Brewery on Rt. 1 in Metuchen, NJ should get some kind of recognition from Jersey beer nuts for his unfailing commitment to the craft. Here's a guy who for years has been waging a one-man battle with the corporate suits at Uno's to maintain a solid craft beer presence at his restaurant.

There are some 170 Uno's around the world and the only one with a brewery in it is the one in Metuchen. You might think that distinction would garner some special effort--if not recognition--for Corrigan and his head brewer Mike Sella, but I challenge you to find anything in the monthly or quarterly Uno's Newsletter that even acknowledges the existence of the brewpub.

Thankfully, enough of the Uno's brewpub faithful are fully aware that there is good stuff to be had here, and that's due to Corrigan's commitment and Sella's product. Some healthy numbers-about 24--turned out to sample Corrigan's menu magic and Sella's ever-evolving Seasonal Scotch Ale and legendary Porter. I was on hand to provide my usual contribution of lame jokes and half-witty repartée, and the dinner was thoroughly enjoyed by all despite my efforts.

A Mozzarella--wrapped prosciutto with special mustard was accompanied by Mike's solid 32-Inning Pale Ale. Corrigan then sent out Uno's Good Guy Lenny with trays of Pineapple-Orange Shrimp and Mango-Ginger Shrimp to be enjoyed with a classic wit known as Hoegaarden. The match was superb according to the assembly. Uno's piping hot French Onion soup appeared next, joined by Spaten Oktoberfest (hey, who said Oktoberfest beers can only be drunk in August?). Then a Mesclun Salad with Blackberry and Pomegranate dressing made its appearance, linked with Great Divide's (Rasp)Berry Ale.

These outstanding dishes, however, served only as a warmup to the star of the show entreé--a Cab Crusted Pepper Steak that was melt-in-your-mouth good. The steak was a clear hit with the crowd with nearly everyone exclaiming of its virtuous qualities. (Beer drinkers tend to exclaim as the night wears on.) Though everyone was pretty well full after the main course, most bit the bullet to find room for the Chocolate Chip Cookie Sundae dessert, trundled out to ooh's and aah's--and Mike's Gust 'N' Gale Porter. That brew always brings a wide smile to the face of Uno's regular Joe Skelly, who will very likely one-day be firmly ensconced in the White House as an adviser, though probably not to a Republican president.

The evening concluded with a story of how angels became fixtures atop Christmas trees and a "12 days of Christmas" visual interpretation by 12 sated volunteers. Two lucky interpreters--five golden rings and eight maids a-milking-- walked home with growlers of Mike's brews. The rest of us walked out to the bar to extend the festivities.

The beer dinners--at $45 (less tip) are a bargain and a boon for both food and beer lovers. Maybe if enough of them e-mail Uno's website and say as much, Corrigan's and Sella's efforts may get some well deserved R & R.

As in Recognition--and Raises.

Merry Christmas!