Friday, June 27, 2008
Friday, June 20, 2008
My colleague Don Russell (Joe Sixpack) takes South Jersey to task about beer--or, rather, the paucity of it. A very worthwhile read from one of the best in the business....Don't forget tomorrow's NJ Craft Brewers' fest on the battleship New Jersey!
Monday, June 16, 2008
The fact that he's a true conservative has nothing to do with this link.
But you may notice there's no link to Al Franken, Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid, either.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
By Kurt Epps—The PubScout
The year was 1968. A lot of serious, crazy stuff was happening in the US. But the college guys I ran with were pretty much oblivious to it, preferring to focus on more important issues.
Like going to Tierney's Tavern on Valley Rd. in Montclair.
A group of us Montclair State students who would graduate in 1969 would convene regularly at this classic Irish pub to suck down a brew or two, gorge on the delicious cheeseburgers, talk sports, girls and engage in what we considered high philosophical debate. (I once proved that we don't exist because "now" is too infinitesimal to measure. It's amazing how smart college students think they are.)
But outside of our apartments, Tierney's was the place that the song from Cheers talked about, where everybody knows your name.
Fast forward forty years. I'd taken my 17-year-old middle son to scope out MSU (it was only a state college when I went) as a potential college choice. My alma mater had changed considerably since I trod its footpaths. Beyond changing its mascot from a noble, proud and revered Indian to some bird, a politically correct act for which I have never forgiven it, the number, newness and size of the buildings was astonishing. There's even a 24-7 diner and an NJ Transit station right on campus. And the dorms are co-ed. What's up with that? I got kicked out of mine for wrapping a comely, willing lass up in a rug and transporting her to my boudoir to see my itchings etchings. And now it's officially approved by the college? Just shows how forward-thinking I was.
The tab to attend was also a tad larger than I remember, but, in terms of what some colleges are charging for a "liberal" [emphasis mine] education, it's pretty much a bargain.
But our tour and my nostalgia being done, I told my hungry teen (is there any other kind?) I was introducing him to my old favorite pub, just in case he decided to attend MSU. We sidled up to the bar right in front of the flag that says: Ireland—United—Gaelic—and Free.
Things were not much different in Tierney's in 2008 than they were in 1968—unless you count that, Cheers song be damned, NOBODY knew my name. I didn't feel too badly about that, considering some friends my age I see regularly can't remember my name either. But Tierney's constancy came through. Same buff colored walls done in ersatz wattle and daub, same huge American flag dominating the back wall, same hustle and bustle near the kitchen door, same long hardwood tables and chairs for twelve on either side.
The HD TV's positioned in key locations around the walls were a far cry from the mounted TV I remember over the bar that had only six channels—and dials on it that had to be turned to change channels. "Clickers" hadn't been invented yet.
Also interesting is that Tierney's has incorporated some far better beers than what was generally proffered in my heyday (you know which beers I'm talking about)—not that any in my circle gave a damn back then.
TJ, the burly, friendly and welcoming bartender at the top of the page (another thing about Tierney's that has remained constant) is part of the ancient Tierney clan that has run this iconic pub since 1934. He allowed that in the beer category, Pabst was making a big comeback. Go figure.
He had 10 taps running, and a few of the beers were worthy of a beer geek's attention, like the Blue Point Toasted Lager (above right), which was perfectly poured. He also noted that the pub was going to acquire four more lines very soon.
I ordered one of my old standbys from yesteryear to accompany my Blue Point: Liverwurst on rye with mayo and raw onion. Still big, thick, fresh and tasty as I recall. And the Toasted Lager worked magnificently with it.
I asked TJ if I could snap his mug shot, and he said, "Absolutely no problem. The Sopranos shot an episode here in Tierney's and I was in it, serving beer, of course.
Forty years ago, when we'd leave Tierney's, it was a foregone conclusion that we'd return. Forty years later, the conclusion is the same, whether my son attends MSU or not. Of course, if he does, that would make visits to him and Montclair far less burdensome.
And far more frequent.
By Kurt Epps—The PubScout
It's time for me to come clean. I love good beer, and I love good pizza.
I do not, however, mix the two. There's just something about pizza that matches up perfectly (for me) with "pop" like Coke, Pepsi or Sprite—and NEVER the diet kind. I mean what's the sense in that? Diet sodas all have that greasy aftertaste that conflicts with the greasy aftertaste I seek in my pizza. It may be sacrilege, but I've always felt that beer and pizza just don't make a good match.
At least, I felt that way until yesterday. That's when I was introduced to a new (to the US, anyway) beer from Belgium called PALM. I arranged a meeting at The Sun Tavern—renowned for its pizza-- in Roselle Park, NJ with one of the youthful, energetic co-founders of Latis Imports named Anthony Giardina. He and partner David van Wees joined forces with an idea to introduce Belgium's best selling ale to us Yankees. For the uninitiated (which of course, doesn't include YOU, dear reader) Belgium is to beer what France is to wine. So the title of Belgium's best selling ale is not one to be, um, sniftered at. Giardina and van Wees introduced PALM to the NY region only last November, and according to Connecticut native Giardina, "PALM is taking off!"
Anthony has a respectable beer pedigree, having worked for many years at InBev. You might recognize that Belgian corporation as the one that just yesterday laid down a $46 billion dollar bid for a small St. Louis brewery named Anheuser-Busch, offering the company $65 a share when its current high is about $56. But I digress.
Like InBev knows acquisitions, it's clear Giardina knows his beer, and more importantly, he knows what his game plan is. Currently, he said, “15 markets make up approximately 80% of the Euro import draught business and we will focus our efforts on PALM in these markets over the next 4 or 5 years.”
PALM isn't available except in draft form, and in Jersey, 16 of the 17 bars that are permitted to carry it (The Sun in Roselle Park being the southernmost) are in "North" North Jersey—like around Jon Corzine's hometown of Hoboken. Proximity to NYC and its upscale market is neither accident nor happenstance.
Nor are the training sessions required of wait staff in businesses who would sell this eminently drinkable, surprisingly versatile and very satisfying brew. To be most appreciated, PALM must be served in its own special glass—a snifter-style, logo-emblazoned one provided by the brewery, which obviously also understands the importance of branding. It's the same glass you'd be served in Belgium, so the theme of authenticity is always present.
The head should be about two-fingers high and devoid of the bigger bubbles that might affect the nose; a nose, by the way which is delightfully floral. According to Giardina, the Kent-Golding hopped PALM is crafted to act like a pilsner/lager but remain true to Belgian ale style. It does that with an exceptionally smooth mouthfeel—and more.
Properly poured, PALM is a beautiful beer to behold (despite the fact that beauty is always in the eye of the beerholder, which may account for the old saw that says "no one's ugly at closing time"). Still with an ABV of just 5.4% and 18 BU's, PALM can serve respectably as a session beer. Bear in mind that it's going to cost you more per snifter than Natty Light, but there are few Belgian beers not worth what they cost.
I asked Giardina how he viewed the Ommegang Brewery, which, in this writer's opinion, makes outstanding Belgian-style beers, and other potential competitors like Blue Moon (Coors) and Shock Top (AB). He had nothing but praise for what those breweries are doing, stating that if they can assist in tuning in the American market's palate to Belgian-style beers, they might just be curious enough to want to see what a real Belgian tastes like.
Giardina and Van Wees are patiently pacing their first progeny—whose symbol is not of a palm tree, but of a Belgian Draft horse—hoping that American tastes will come around to PALM. That should come to pass once beer lovers savor a PALM. Currently, PALM is available in NY, NJ, CT and San Diego, with plans to expand into a few other key European import markets. If PALM takes off the way they expect, there are more PALM varieties waiting in the wings to take flight across the pond to the US.
But don't get the idea that this is a snooty beer—we ain't talking wine or Flemish sours here, dude. In fact, my biggest surprise of the afternoon came when Giardina ordered up two of the Sun's outstanding pizzas—a White Clam Pizza and a regular Sausage. He ordered two because Pat Rafter and sidekick Bill Laverty of Peerless Beverage Co. were in the house (all these beer dudes, like realtors, insurance guys and wrestling coaches, run in a pretty tight circle).
I hesitated to join the feasting, due to my previous aversion to coupling pizza—especially White Clam—with beer. But lo and behold, the PALM worked magnificently with both pizza styles! And it would very likely perform as admirably with many dishes, from chicken and chops to game meat, to fish and shellfish. But probably not White Castles.
However, with a rap sheet like that, PALM could well do what Giardina expects—bridge the gap between craft beer geek and Joe Six-Pack. That would serve to propel Latis Imports to another long-term goal: to seek other small European breweries that might want to test the American market.
After all, if an American icon like Bud can go Belgian, why couldn't the guys who drink it do likewise?
Friday, June 13, 2008
By Kurt Epps—The PubScout
I didn't know him personally, but Jay Misson was buried today. Most of the clientele at Princeton's Triumph brewpub were probably unaware that one of the great beermen in the state of NJ had passed away. Therefore, the mood among them was markedly different from that of the staff, especially those who knew and worked with Jay Misson.
Triumph was the second brewpub up and running in NJ. From Sales and Marketing Manager Eric Nutt, to GM Doug Bork, to young bartender Christine, it had been a rough day. In fact, Nutt told me that most of the staff from all three of Triumph's brewpub locations--Princeton, New Hope (PA) and Philadelphia-- found a way to get to Misson's funeral services, so large was his impact on the company's operations, its employees, and, from what I could gather, everyone who knew him.
Nutt, savoring a glass of Misson's favorite pilsner, waxed nostalgic, though not maudlin, about his friend and colleague's passing. "His mission was to increase beer knowledge across the world," said Nutt. While Nutt was obviously emotionally drained, he smiled with every sip of the lager that Misson so loved. Nutt commented that while Misson was in charge of brewing operations for all three sites, it was the Philly site that Misson helped to build that was his protégé.
Bork, a nephew of famous jurist Robert Bork, was much more emotional when describing the void that Misson's passing left. His emotions ranged from smiles to tears as he described his working relationship with Misson. "Jay wanted to produce the most perfect beer ever," said Bork. "His dedication to the craft is what I most remember."
Twenty-five year old Christine (pictured above right), who began working at Triumph at the tender age of 19, spoke of Misson with reverence and respect for his beer knowledge. "On my first day, when some customer asked me what the difference was between a lager and an ale, I replied that one was dark and the other was light. Jay overheard the exchange and when I got finished with my shift, he called me over and sat me down. He educated me for two hours about this liquid he loved so very much. He knew so much. His knowledge of beer, his passion for it and his desire to share it with others is what I remember." Bartender Christine raises a glass to Jay Misson.
As a beer writer, I was familiar with Misson's status, work and reputation among the beer cognoscenti, though I never had the pleasure of a face-to-face. After hearing from Misson's co-workers, that was my loss. But two things are certain besides death and taxes:
- Misson's Mission is clearly imprinted on every glass of beer that comes from a Triumph tap
- As long as there are lagers, he will not be forgotten.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Monday, June 2, 2008
Basil T's Annual Mug Club Membership Dinner
Friday June 27th, 2008
Maibock, English Special Ale, Dopplebock, Barnegat Lite,
West Coast IPA, Toms River Red
Wild Mushroom and Black Summer Truffle Bruschetta
Fried Shrimp with Aguacate Salsa
Sesame Tuna on Crisp Wonton
Turkey Meatballs with Mole Pueblano
Homemade Bell and Evans Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Grilled Jersey Corn
BBQ Beef Brisket
Grilled Parmigiano Polenta
Pork Carnitas with Tomatillo Salsa and Blue Corn Tortilla
Green Bean Salad
7 Cheese Mac-n-Chee with Applewood Bacon
Potato Salad a la Hoffman
Jersey Summer Salad
Menu subject to change
Executive Chef Steven M Farley
Brew Master Dave Hoffman
Entertainment by the Bonnie Boland Band
Click below to buy tickets via Paypal!
Mug Club Dinner Only $34.95
Mug Club Dinner & Membership $50.00
Steven M Farley
Basil T's Brewpub and Grill
1171 Hooper Ave
Toms River, NJ
By Kurt Epps
Shocked, I tell you. Shocked.
On Memorial Day weekend, I took my youngest son (15) down to Salisbury, MD to wrestle in the NHSCA Duals, and we got a nice, cheap room at the Super 8. (I got the senior citizen discount rate.) But the digs had a TV, a microwave and a big fridge (and an indoor toilet for those of you who look down on Super 8's). So the lad and I went out for some goodies to tide us over for three days.
Just down the road was a place called Tiger Mart which was a gas station linked to a combination of a MacDonald's (except down there they're called Hardee's), a WaWa and a liquor store. Actually a beer store, since "liquor stores" in Maryland don't even carry beer, as we found out. Here in Jersey, that would require three different visits to three different places, but Maryland's system worked for me.
As usual, I scanned the beer coolers to see if there was anything remotely palatable for relaxing after the grueling tournament schedule. After the canoe beers section, I saw Blue Moon's Honeymoon (reviewed below last month), so I figured I had a least one safe choice. Then I saw a beer called Shock Top. The logo had a picture of a guy who looked like his father, in a drunken spree, had made love to an equally soused cockatiel. But the words "Belgian White" jumped out at me. I tried like heck to see who brewed it, but, interestingly, that info wasn't prominent. I committed to the buy, and then I saw another sixer called Wild Blue. Brewed someplace in NY, it said, and I was up for some beer-experimentation, so I got both—plus the Honeymoon as a fall-back.
The Shock Top was unexpectedly good. Refreshing, yellow-gold with a fluffy head, this beer had some graceful orange and spice notes. True, I was drinking it out of the Super 8's bathroom plastic glass, but it still held up nicely. So nicely, I decided to see if I could find the brewer.
Damn. After my nice experience with their Bareknuckle Stout, it was time for me to be re-impressed with what's happening at the palace of the King of Beers. I drank three and brought the rest home to share with friends.
I didn't try the Wild Blue at all in MD, but when I got home, it was time to see what this NY Brewery had going for it.
Lots, apparently, even before I discovered that the NY brewery was AB—again. But the Wild Blue Blue me away. Reminiscent of Lindemann's fruit lambics, but with a fuller body and sweeter taste, this Wild Blue is a summertime winner for sure, though not for everybody. Very likely, lambic "pureeists" will sneer, which is their right. But I thoroughly enjoyed it, though I wouldn't give up Sea Dog Blueberry Wheat, either. Some might try to categorize this beer as an "alco-pop," but if they do, beware that its alco is 8% and it provides quite a "pop." Be prepared for its grapey color, as well as its pink head.
Something's going on at AB, though. And, so far, I'm liking it.