Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Driving me to drink!

Click the link below to read a story about a motorized bar stool and its driver. Comes with a picture. Cheers till next time!

The PubScout

Cops Bust Stool Fool - March 31, 2009

Monday, March 30, 2009

Uno's Spring Cask Fest was another winner this past weekend. Organized by Brewer Mike Sella, the Fest featured:

  • Mike's Station House Red (dry hopped ) and his Ike's IPA
  • Climax Helles (recently named Champion at the Star Ledger's Malt Madness Competition)
  • Sly Fox Phoenix Pale Ale and Rt 133 IPA,
  • Yards Philly Pale Ale (dry hopped) and Brawler (oak aged and dry hopped)
  • River Horse Special and Hop Hazard
  • Capt Lawrence Pale Ale, Smoked Porter and Double IPA

Attendance was once again impressive, and proof that there is a growing number of craft beer enthusiasts on the Jersey scene. Sella has another beer dinner planned at Uno's for mid-May. Contact the restaurant for details.

A Tip of the Mug to Dave Hoffman

Longtime award-winning Jersey Brewer and Bon Vivant of the Brewhaus Dave Hoffman gets this month's PubScout Tip o' the Mug for his recent victory in the Star Ledger's Malt Madness Competition. Click the link to read the story. Of course, next year he will demand that The PubScout be brought in as a judge...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Trap Rock Experience: The more things change…


By Kurt Epps

Twelve years ago, when I was just starting out in the beerwriting business (and when my waist size did not rival the new national budget), I visited Trap Rock Brewery and Restaurant—then just two weeks old-- in Berkeley Heights, NJ. I was mightily impressed then with this very special place, and reviewed the place once or twice thereafter. Never a hint of disappointment with anything—except a warning about parking.

From that April 1997 column:

Accordingly, Trap Rock's biggest problem down the road may be parking space. With parking spaces already at a premium, they will need to find ways for patrons to ford the stream that separates an adjacent parking lot from the main building.

No matter. Whatever you have to do to get to the place is well worth what you'll find when you get there. Trap Rock may have a longer brewpub honeymoon than most.

I am happy to report that TR is handling the parking very well, despite increased volume, and the honeymoon is, indeed, still going on. The brewer for the past five or six years now is Charlie Schroeder, and his beers—especially his Smoked Mammal Porter-- should guarantee an even longer tenure. I opened our session with a just-brought-on maibock though, and it was very drinkable and very true to style. Some subtly sweet notes and a nice hoppy finish make it a good choice, even as a session beer. Bob stuck with the award-winning Ghost Pony Helles Lager all night, but more about the beers as we go. The ladies drank wine--the wine list at Trap Rock is extensive—and both raved about their selection. I'll take them at their word, because there's no way any beer nut goes into a brewpub and orders wine.

I described the décor in that column as being reminiscent of an English Country Inn. In the time since, other reviewers, like the NY Times and the Star Ledger have respectively described it as a French Auberge and a European Ski Lodge. I've been to the former, but not the latter two, so I can't say which is the best description. All you need to know is it's all good. There are some places you immediately feel at home in, and this is one such for me. The place has always just felt "right." Must be from an earlier existence.

Two years later, in another column, I wrote:

Trap Rock's owners, Chip Grabowski and Bob Moore, know that great beer alone will not cause your three parking lots to be filled to capacity on a Wednesday evening. Food -- of the fine variety -- does that.

Still does. Trap Rock's food—an American Bistro style—is simply exquisite. On this visit, our party of four sampled a wide variety of food, from appetizers to dessert. I'm not a musselman, but Bob Sharkey is, and he said the Prince Edward Island Mussels ranked among the best he ever tasted. His wife Pam said things like, "Mmmmm," "Omigod," "This sauce!" and "More!"

The Crispy Calamari appy came out perfectly done, light and covered with a Curried Slaw and Pickled Red Onion mixture that was so good, my missus was stealing the slaw combo from off my calamari—and she normally won't go within ten feet of calamari.

My Caesar's Salad was fresh, crisp and with extra pepper added, absolutely delicious. I ordered a Kestrel IPA to accompany the appetizers and this 7.8% West-Coast styled IPA served the dishes admirably. Pam had a Pear Salad she lauded, though she delayed eating it, because she was rhapsodizing over the mussels. The Imperial Lump Crab Cake also got rave reviews. TR takes great care in both preparation and presentation of every dish, so each was as pleasing to the palate as it was to the eye.

The entrees followed with Bob declaiming that his Grilled Swordfish was "absolutely excellent," and Pam's Diver Scallops caused even more mouth-filled muffled sounds which I surmised was more rhapsodizing. The missus and I had the Sauteed Gnocchi with Gulf Shrimp—big tender, succulent Gulf Shrimp at that—swimming in a mixture of basil, pistou, olives and tomatoes. Simply outstanding, but problematic in that there was hardly any room for dessert.

Notice I said hardly. From my first visit to Trap Rock 12 years ago, I was completely smitten with the Crème Brulee. "Smite me again," says I. So they did. And this experience was even better than twelve years ago, because I matched the brulee up with the aforementioned Smoked Mammal Porter. This is a brew that, along with any smoked cheese, or a gouda or an edam, would make a meal in itself. Roasty and full-bodied without being overly "chewy," this porter was by far the star of the night, especially when its complex notes met up with the vanilla in the Crème Brulee.

Quality comes with a price tag, so don't visit Trap Rock expecting a tab from your corner bar. But every aspect of the experience is well worth it. Look, an Aveo and a Lexus will both get you to the same destination, but sometimes, especially for special occasions, it's the quality of the ride that counts. Where else would a beautiful Irish gal named Kelly sing "Stolat" in Polish to you on the way out? For a picture of Kelly (among others) click here.

I confess I did not try all of Charlie Schroeder's beers on the menu during this visit for a very good reason.

I will, by virtue of dedication to my craft, be forced to re-visit Trap Rock to complete my research.

It's a tough job….

©Kurt Epps 2009 All Rights Reserved

Cheers till next time!

The PubScout

Saturday, March 28, 2009

WTF? (What the Feck?)

Politicians are not very popular among average Americans these days, though they probably never have been unless you worked for one. But consider the hazards of the pol's journey. Many complain of the endless round of "Rubber Chicken" dinners they must attend to raise funds and gladhand the party faithful, which, admittedly, could get old quickly.

And one of the many criticisms you hear of our elected officials today is that they are "feckless" (with "feck" being used as a synonym for testicles) and either unwilling or unable to do the right thing for fear of offending some voter bloc.

Well, fear no longer. An event (new to me and probably most of us in the East) might just be able to give the politicians two things: a new menu item for those fundraisers and more feck. It's called a Testicle Festival. Click the link you just read over for an earthy description. There's a milder version at the bottom of this column, too. It's the link sent to me by one of my Arizona readers, who, probably tongue-in-cheek, asked me for a beer recommendation that would complement this delicacy. It's no small irony that my recommendation was for a Nut Brown. I also think LeCoq's Imperial Stout might go well. Unless they taste like chicken, which opens up a whole new world of opportunities.

Cheers till next time!

The PubScouttesticlefestival

Diners can 'have a ball' at testicle festival

Update! Apparently the servers of the link up top are being overwhelmed by my faithful readers, so until the Feck Fever subsides, try this most interesting link, which says, ironically again, that they DO taste like chicken! Be sure to learn about the contests that take place at these events, and check out the letter to the editor--and the author's response!

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Tip of the Beer Cap to Wegman's

My after-school job in high school--back when the Dead Sea was just sick and there was no history-- was stocking shelves in the local A&P. I used to think the A&P was a pretty big store, especially when I had to mop the aisles. But compared to a modern Wegman's, my old A&P looks like a corner bodega. Not that there's anything wrong with that....

If you've ever been in one, you know that Wegman's puts the "Super" in supermarket. Looking like a self-enclosed city, it's almost stupefying to see the choices that are offered to the consumer. If a guy buys his groceries in Walmart, it might be considered a tad pricey, though.

However, if one of the reasons for slightly higher prices is quality, well, then what's wrong with that? That maxim applies to beer, too. You want better beer? Ante up a bit more, because life is far too short to drink bad beer. So Moses used to say when we hung around together at the Red Sea Resort.

I keep a few different genres of reading material in my Loobrary, and I was thumbing through the most recent MENU magazine that Wegman's puts out. There's a section that gives you recipes for various meals, complete with enticing photos of succulent and appealing dishes called "Healthy, Easy, Affordable" meals. They usually come with a recommendation of what wine to drink with the meal--all of which suggest that somebody at Wegman's knows their wines.

At the very top, of the first meal in the Winter issue, I was shocked to see that somebody else at Wegman's knows their beers as well. There, under a meal called "Chili, Corn Skillet Bread," was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. At the bottom of the page was a description of what this classic beer from Chico, CA was all about--with a recommendation to try other beers.

Wow, says I. When did this start? Followed quickly by who cares? It's great for beer nuts, and it's even better for those of us who try to scrape a meagre existence (and a free meal) from hosting beer dinners which pair food and fine brew.

Further back in the book, Brooklyn Lager was paired with "Spicy Red Lentil Chili and Turkey Reuben, Ommegang Witte with Tomato Basil Soup, Ham and Gouda Panini, Newcastle Brown Ale with Cream of Broccoli Soup, Roast Beef Sandwich and Orange (?) and Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale with Savory Squash Soup and Roast Pork on Honey Apple Oat Toast. (And they say brewers make some extravagant beer recipes?)

Anyway, Big Props to Wegman's for getting aboard the Beer and Food Pairing Express. Now if we could only amend NJ's antiquated and restrictive distribution laws to allow us to buy beer in the supermarket where we get our food, we'd be home-free.

Cheers till next time!

The PubScout

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Devil Made Me Do It!

Man, oh man. I'm sitting here trying to update the old blog, and I'm drinking a beer some friend of Beelzebub or Mammon gave me for my birthday. It's called Mephistopheles. It's a stout. It's made by Avery in Boulder, Colorado. And it is nothing short of Kick-A$$.

As Tony Soprano, who some might say was on a first-name basis with the 2nd Fallen Angel, might say: "Minchia!"

Drink it at home. Slowly. Do not drive. Do not pass go. Do not pass gas, either.

Mephistopheles.  "Minchia."

I'm not even halfway done, and I'm hearing the refrain from The Mephisto Waltzes.

Cheers till next time...if I'm alive.

The PubScout

Big Saturday (March 28) on Tap!

If you're in the Metuchen area this Saturday, don't forget Uno's Real Cask Ale event commencing at noon. Mike Sella's got a nice lineup of casks ready to be tapped and enjoyed at the Rt.1 South Brewpub. The PubScout plans to be there, so if you want to get in the picture, show up and introduce yourself--holding a beer, of course!

And if you're in the Berkeley Heights area this Saturday evening, stop by one of the great brewpubs/restaurants in the state known as The Trap Rock Restaurant & Brewery.

I'll be there around 7 PM for a celebratory night out, sampling some of Chuck Schroeder's fine ales and the incredible cuisine that emanates from the Trap Rock scullery. Come over (with a beer in hand) and say hello if you want to be in the picture!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Your butt and your beer...

Columns like this are why Joe Sixpack (my buddy Don Russell) gets paid the big butts--er, bucks. Check out the link below and see how many calories and Weight Watcher points are attached to some well-known beers.


Joe Sixpack - Reporting and drinking beer in Philly and beyond

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Was gibt hier?

I don't often read Playboy. But when I do read Playboy, it's only for the pictures.

Similarly, I don't often go to Costco, but when I do, it's usually for the "Senior Buffet" which starts around 11 AM. At this event, you can make quite a nice lunch by visiting the various free sample tables, hence the name Senior Buffet. if you know senior citizens, you know what I'm talking about.

The missus, on the other hand, is a regular customer at Costco--bless her penny-pinching heart. She called from there the other day to tell me she found a new beer sampler from--of all brewers--Michelob. That's Michelob as in Anheuser-Busch. The only thing I ever liked about Michelob was the bottle, as it made for a great candle-holder in my frat house back in the day. Candles added a certain ambience to my room, an ambience that usually impressed the opposite sex despite my rather plebeian choice of bobeche.

But Michelob has obviously been working to improve what's IN the bottle since then. The missus picked up two cases of a new (to me) product called The Michelob Wheat Beer Sampler Pack. That's the box on the lower right of the website. You may have to give your age to actually enter further, so be prepared. It contains four different wheat beers: Shock Top (reviewed in this space a while ago), Dunkelweisse, Honey Wheat and Hop Hound. And the case comes with built-in information cards that provide the vital stats of each brew.

I've yet to sample the Hop Hound, but if it's as good as the first three, I may have to completely revise my opinion of AB completely. The Shock Top is a Belgian-style wheat, the Dunkelweisse is a darned good German-style wheat and the Honey Wheat (sweet, indeed, but tasty) is an American-style wheat. The Hop Hound purports to be an American-style amber wheat. The truth is that AB has the finest brewers in the world, and it's not their fault they spend most of their time working with rice beer. Check that--SPENT most of their time. because they are obviously discovering there's a market for more flavorful beers.

Bottom line here is that in addition to being very good for the palate, they are also easy on the pocketbook for those of us with no link to AIG bonuses, drug cartel money or government jobs. Just $20 for 24 bottles, six of each style.

That might be enough to coerce me into joining the missus on her next stock-up trip to Costco. Free food and two dozen bottles of darned good beer can be most enticing. But I'll go during the week and not the weekend so as to avoid the crowds of seniors looking for freebies.

More for me that way.

Cheers till next time!

The PubScout

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Casking into Spring

Get out your calendars and your Rolodex. The calendar is to schedule a visit to Uno's Grill and Brewery on Rt. 1 South in Metuchen on March 28 for the second big cask event. The last one was a smash hit, and this one promises to be equally good. Show up around noon. The event will run until the casks empty--and even then there's still good brew to be had from Brewer Mike Sella. When Mike tells me what will be on cask, I'll update it here.

Say hello to Moshe the Magic Chef (fresh off his debut as Beer Dinner Chef Extraordinaire) who'll likely be on pour duty with Lenny the LionHeart--Server Nonpareil.

And the Rolodex? That's for calling friends to give you a ride home if you need one. Yeah, yeah, I know. Nowadays people store those numbers in Speed Dial in their cellphones. But Rolodexes are bigger (easier to see) and don't need to be charged.

See you at Uno's on 3/28!

Cheers until next time!

The PubScout--Kurt Epps

New Pic added!

Scroll down to the bottom of this blog to see the new picture I've added. It's not actually "new," but it is definitely appropriate for those who love beer--especially Belgian Beer! Makes a great desktop pic, too! (No, neither of the gentlemen is me...but I can dream, can't I?)

Cheers till next time!