Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Friday, June 26, 2009

You call yourself a Beer Man?

I've been in contact with a buddy Down Under who runs these tours. He just sent me what looks like the be-all and end-all of Beer Tours. I haven't yet decided (read "asked permission") to go yet, but it looks like a humdinger. If you sign up after clicking the link below, tell 'em The PubScout sent you!


Euro Hard'n'Fast 2009: Europe: Thirsty Tours: Thirsty Swagman

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Shannon Rose Pub in Woodbridge, NJ

An Irish Pub to call Home, and to call home about

By Kurt Epps—The PubScout

There are some pubs that you walk into and within ten seconds, you know it "works." It looks right, feels right and, well, just IS right.

The brand-spanking new Shannon Rose in Woodbridge—it has an older sister in Clifton-- is just such a place. The rustic crimson exterior alone is appealing to those who savor the Irish pubs from the Old Sod, but the minute you walk in, The Shannon Rose makes an even bolder statement: "This is your pub."

It opened at 11 AM on June 22. I arrived at 11:25 and by 11:30 I had met a bevy of gorgeous hostesses, waitresses ( I think they have to be 9.5 or higher to work there) and congenial GM Victor Rezabala. But even had those meetings not occurred, I'd have had plenty to occupy my attention.

As in the medieval cathedrals of old, your eyes are automatically drawn upward to the high, gilded ceilings with the suspended Victorian lamps. A towering, massive wood bar simultaneously intimidates and invites you sidle up. Of course, you don't have to sit at the first bar you come to, because there are FOUR—count 'em—FOUR bars scattered throughout this bi-level food and grog emporium. Three of those bars are on the main floor and one is high above on the second. All stock a wide assortment of beers for my fellow beer-nuts, and one, Shannon Rose Amber Ale, is made especially for The Shannon Rose by none other than Flying Fish in Cherry Hill. It's outstanding, too, so don't miss it.

By all means, take a walk around the place. You want noisy pub hubbub? Sit in one of the big areas. You want privacy? You'll discover little nooks and crannies that give pubs their character. I saw two chaps working intently on their laptops, which indicated wireless access to me. There are five different areas, each named with a theme. My party sat in the section called The Library (we writers are drawn to such places, I suppose), which was aptly named for the twenty-foot high shelves stocked with books, the photos of famous Irish authors, and quotes like, "I'm a drinker with writing problems" from Brendan Behan embossed into the wood paneling.

The other areas are The Victorian, located under the aforementioned massive towering bar; The Gaelic, a back room where a wide variety of entertainment will perform; The Cottage Room, a cozy, quieter place where the laptops were being used; and The Mezzanine, a huge upstairs area designed to host parties or accommodate the overflow crowds which are likely to be packing this place.

All areas have access to widescreen TV's, but there's just so much to look at in The Shannon Rose, only the diehard TV buffs will focus on the electronics. The bar in "Cheers" didn't need a TV, after all.

Of course, the food will tell the tale eventually, as will the service and the prices; and while I had no food on this visit (a fact which smartly prompts a return), I can attest that the beer list is impressive. Apart from the FF/Shannon Ale, I noticed Arrogant Bastard, Dogfish Head IPA, Magic Hat #9 and other famous micros sprinkled among the more mainstream offerings, including Harp and Guinness, naturally. Clearly, this pub is committed to good beer, and that earns it high grades in The PubScout's book.

As to the service, the waitstaff I spoke with all seemed very excited to be employed at the Shannon Rose and were looking forward to positive, lucrative experiences. The Rose has special $2.50 Pint Nights among other promotions, and if that applies to all the micros as well as the canoe beers, it sounds like a good deal—not to mention a positively lucrative experience for the quaffer.

The Shannon Rose, named after two principals, a daughter and an owner, is a must visit for anyone who enjoys beer, people and pubs. With more than ample parking in the Shop-Rite center complex on St. Georges Ave (Rt. 35) in Woodbridge, it's decidedly NOT your father's quiet little, out-of-the-way pub, though I'm sure dad would enjoy himself here.

This dad sure did. That's why I'm going back tonight.

I'll give it its official food evaluation after I sample the special corned beef spring rolls and the Shepherd's Pie. That, of course, is the mark of any good Irish pub. And if it's as good as The Shannon Rose's first impression on this writer, we have a winner, folks.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Gimme a beer, dolt!

Economy got you down? TARP funding grating on your last nerve? Does the very word "politician" make your blood boil?

Relax, bunky. Have a beer...and click below.


Gimme a beer, imbecile! - Yahoo! News

Monday, June 8, 2009

Fine Time at Philly

By Kurt Epps—The PubScout

June 6, 2009

Because it's a 45 minute train ride—on one train-- I frequently go to New York. I go less frequently to Philadelphia. The train ride is longer and more complicated because I have to switch from NJ Transit to SEPTA in Trenton. And, like most men, unless I have the clicker in my hand, I'm not into switching. NY is closer and faster; Philly is farther and longer.

But NYC just doesn't seem as welcoming as Philly does, especially if my destination is GoodBeer. Not that there aren't great brewpubs and beer bars in NYC…there are, and I've written of them extensively. But there's just "something" about the beer scene in Philly that makes me wish the COBL was closer.

Take, for example, the recent invite I got from the lovely Irene Levy Baker at Spotlight Public Relations. She invited me to join the Craft Beer and Artisanal Cheese Tasting hosted by Eric Matzke of City Food Tours. The adventure originated at Triumph Brewing--Triumph's newest Brewpub-- on Chestnut in Old City.  Described to me as an introduction to craft beer at Triumph for newbies  to the beer scene (which I am not), the tour culminated with a visit to Old City Cheese, and an introduction to artisanal cheeses for tyros (which I am).

So my eldest son Brett (who's probably been in more bars and breweries in his 21 years than many twice his age, given his father's avocation) and I took the trusty '99 Elantra and drove down Rts. 1 and 95 before noon to Philly for a 3:30 appointment with Matzke. We got there in a little over an hour (no train schedules to negotiate), parked in The Bourse parking garage and sallied forth into the historic district.

McGillin's Old Ale House

Our destination was McGillin's Old Ale House on Drury St—about 11 blocks from where we were. As Fate would have it, the Ford Motor Company was demo-ing a neat little new car called the Fiesta, due out in the US next summer. The comely lasses employed to attract attention to the car asked if we wanted to take a test ride. I asked if they'd give us a ride to McGillin's, and they assented. The car was nimble, powerful and well-appointed; at $13 K base price, we'll definitely be giving it serious attention when our Elantra dies.

It was Brett's first visit to McGillin's. Having frequented McSorley's in NYC with me often, he noted the similarities. We tried the McGillin's sampler—a truly great value at $8.50—and he claimed his favorites as McGillin's Lager and Walt's Wit. A growing lad, he wolfed down a BLT as an appetizer, then finished it off with an order of McGillin's outstanding Crab Cakes. I can't resist the Shepherd's Pie, which is without doubt the finest I have yet tasted. The McGillin's Ale and Yards PPA were excellent accompaniments to the authentic Irish dish.

Sated by an absolutely delightful lunch and superb beers at my (and now Brett's) favorite Philly Pub, we lit up a couple of Alvarez Robustos and sauntered down Chestnut on a sparkling Philly afternoon to our rendezvous at Triumph.

Triumph at Philly was somewhat reminiscent of the Princeton Pub, what with the towering tanks on the second floor looming over customers on the first. One difference, of course, was the large number of patrons outside the Philly joint soaking up the sun and quaffing some of Brewer Patrick Jones's fine beers. Eric Matzke greeted us and eight other attendees, and invited us to sit and survey the semicircular flight of beers he had laid out for each of us. The idea for City Food Tours, he confided, came to fruition about a year and a half ago. His partner Robert's sister—Joyce, in New York City—is credited with the idea. We didn't get to meet Robert, but if he manages the tour half as well as Eric did, it's bound to be a winner.

Matzke is at once personable, informative and entertaining in his delivery, and his approach is perfect for those just dipping their beer toes in the wort. He simplifies rather than obfuscates, taking an occasional swipe at the mainstream beer hucksters who would have ad-watchers believe that adding hops to beer is some kind of modern advancement. He is knowledgeable about beer , yet decidedly un-snooty, unaffected by doing occasional wine tours. (Only kidding, wine-lovers.)The beer nut—neophyte and veteran alike—will have no trouble discerning that Matzke loves beer. He also loves when newbies like Eliza yell out things like, "Bananas! Yes! I tasted bananas!" Or "Omigod—BUBBLEGUM! Yes! Yes! I tasted bubblegum, too!"

He apparently also loves artisanal cheeses, and he seemed just as at ease talking about curds and whey in The Old City Cheese Shop, where we traveled to sample the second half of this particular tour, as he did talking grain, malt and hops during the beer portion. The cheeses we sampled ranged from goat cheese with lavender blossoms, to a creamy taleggio, to asiago to an incredible Stilton, and they were presented attractively along with things like crème de balsamic vinegar, prosciutto, apple and chorizo.

In fact, The PubScout heartily endorses what Matzke and Company are doing, and I encourage anyone who has the slightest interest in learning about beer—not to mention enjoying better beer—to sign on for one of these tours. They are held on the first, third and fifth Saturdays of each month, which means Father's Day is the next one (HINT, HINT). In fact, they've added a Sunday tour on 6/21, to accommodate beer-loving Dads. Matzke allowed that his tours—and Philly beer and food establishments in general—seem to have been insulated from the current economic downturn, and he sees the concept growing even larger. City Food Tours, which has seen cheese, chocolate and coffee tours rolled into the experience, has strict regulations as to which businesses they will incorporate into their tour. "They must be family-owned, generally speaking, they must within walking distance and their products have to be exceptional," says Matzke. "This is my baby."

It's that attitude that makes Philly such an attractive place to visit, beer-wise or otherwise. My buddy Don Russell (AKA Joe Sixpack) often says that Philadelphia may be the best beer drinking city in the country. I think he may be right.

Though I've never been to Pittsburgh.

©Kurt Epps All rights reserved 2009

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Death, Taxes and Beer

By Kurt Epps—The PubScout

June 7, 2009

One of the neat things about Philly is the number of little, out-of-the-way lanes and alleys that connect its streets, especially in what's called "America's Most Historic Square Mile," the Old City section. Cobblestoned Elbow Lane, Strawberry St. and Trotters Lane are just three of them that lured me during a recent trip to the COBL. Of course, Drury St. always catches my eye, as my Favorite Philly Pub –McGillin's Old Ale House—commands that thoroughfare as it commands my presence.

And just as those little by-ways help to make Philly what it is, so do some beer bars. Down on Chestnut, between 2nd and Penn's Landing and across from Triumph is a little place named The Eulogy Belgian Tavern. If you're a Belgian beer buff, as I am, don't miss stepping into this place. With 300 beers available and at least 21 on tap every day, the Eulogy certainly deserves equal billing with its perhaps more famous Belgian sister—The Monks' Café. It's not a big place, at least on the lower level, where, during busy times you may have to go outside just to change your mind, but, to use a '70's term which is sure to date me, it's "happening" place.

Inspired by the owner's visit to a Belgian tourist spot named Le Cerceuil –The Coffin—The Eulogy has an upstairs section known as The Coffin Room, where owner, CPA and adjunct professor Michael Naessens frequently entertains clients—and does his own taxes.

What I found to be most interesting was the extraordinary collection of glassware set on the shelves to accommodate the many beer styles. Belgians know beer like the French know wine and women, and they are attuned to the fact that the glass has everything to do with the beer drinking experience.

Naessens is as much in love with accounting as with things Belgian, and has another location at 33 South 3rd called the Benelux Tasting Room which features glass rinsers built into every table for sampling different beers, of which there are forty, accompanied by 38 cheeses and twelve different chocolates by the ounce. Pizzas, crepes, salads and paninis are also available.

If you're visiting Philly, don't miss this exceptional pub, especially during tax season. If the Tax Man in a Grim Reaper costume gets you down, at least you'll have 300 outstanding beers to choose from to lessen your pain.

©Kurt Epps All rights reserved 2009