Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Saturday, September 20, 2008

CNJ Beer Fest 2008

We Have a Winner!


By Kurt Epps—The PubScout

Talk about a perfect day, not to mention a worthy cause. This year's Central Jersey Beerfest 2008, spearheaded by JJ Bittings owner Mike Cerami, must have had the blessings of all the beer gods and their Boss.

Crystal clear, perfect weather, a shaded venue that seemed tailor-made for the event and crowds estimated above 1,000 made Parker Press Park the place to be on the last full day of summer 2008.

Eight breweries/brewpubs were on hand to proffer their beers. Bittings, Uno's, Climax, Cricket Hill, Tun Tavern, Boak's, Stone and River Horse were kept hustling, drawing brews for the sunsplashed and convivial crowds, as a band played boomer favorites on a stage at the far end of this compact park hard by the NJ Transit tracks in Woodbridge.

The purpose of this year's event was to raise money for a young lady, Kelly Mahon. You can read about her issues here. The proceeds will go to make her home handicapped-accessible. Woodbridge Mayor John McCormack, an all-around good guy, was even drawing beer at the Bittings taps, and his presence added a nice sense of panache and purpose to the event.

For the beer fancier, it was a bit of heaven dropped into a pocket park. Bittings Bad Boy Oktoberfest (Lager) and Uno's Oktoberfest (Ale) saw a huge amount of action, as did Stone's Arrogant Bastard and a blowaway barleywine called Hairy Eyeball. At 9% ABV, one might expect his orbs to become a bit hirsute after a few of these. Tun Tavern (with their model-caliber Miss America Pourers), Climax and Cricket Hill also saw substantial action with some very solid offerings. River Horse's Double Amber had people coming back for more in their four-ounce glasses.

But the prize for longest lines at the fest had to go to Boak's. With Brian Boak himself pulling a knockout Russian Imperial Stout called Monster Mash (10% ABV), an Abbey Brown (7% ABV) and a Belgian-style Tripel called Two Blind Monks (7% ABV), beer lovers were queued in lines of twenty-five or more all afternoon. So far back did the lines extend that they often mingled with the food vendors' lines on the other side of the park. Considering that this was Boak's first beer-fest ever, it was an impressive and auspicious beginning for this youthful-looking grandfather who got his start with a homebrew kit from Linens and Things. He was one of just two homebrewers invited to NYC's Brewtopia last year, and it's not hard to see why.

I decided to "go green" to this event, and I rode my bicycle from my home in Perth Amboy to Woodbridge, a distance of about five miles each way. I was glad I did when I saw the parking situation, and I was able to pay my fee and pedal my, um, self right into the park. I was also glad I had biked it when the event had concluded, because that Monster Mash and those Oktoberfests were really good, and, though I had filled my belly with two Doo-Wop special hotdogs, the bike was the more responsible ride. I will confess, though, that the ride home did seem as if it was all uphill.

Mike Cerami, who organized this event, was pleased. "It's a great day and a great cause," he said. The PubScout concurs, but has some recommendations for next year.

First, invite more food vendors to allow for more variety and choices. There is plenty of room to accommodate more.There was a pizza stand that sold cheesesteaks ($6) and other subs. I loved my Doo-Wop hot dogs, and the $2.50 price was right, but not everybody is a hot dog fan.

Second, when you treble the number of breweries, you should also treble the number of porta-potties. Those people standing in those long lines may have been shifting their feet from side to side, but I guarantee they weren't dancing to the music.

Third, whatever prayers or sacrifices you're making to the weather deity should be continued, because days don't get better than this.

In all, as Mike Cerami said, it was indeed a great day for a great cause.

And I can't wait to pedal to next year's.

Check out the pics here.

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