It was April Fool's Day, and Mother Nature, showing that she's still a scamp at heart, made it snow. Thus there was no sun, but that didn't mean there was no fun--especially at the Tun Tavern, where my pal Harvey and I repaired a few hours early to await the opening night of the Atlantic City Beer Fest.
I had heard much about this brewpub from fellow beerscribes Mark Haynie and Jeff Linkous, but, despite my critically-acclaimed yearly headlining at various hotel/casinos, I had never visited the place. What better time than before the AC BrewFest, a function growing in size and attendance each year.
Let's get this out of the way quickly: the beers are very good--in fact, of the four I sampled, there wasn't a one that wasn't good. And that includes a Tripel that wasn't even brewed by brewer Tim Kelly. But more about that later.
There are three things I came away with from the Tavern which was the birthplace of the USMC. One: the staff is incredibly friendly and helpful. Two: The Burgers may be the best Iv'e ever had--cooked EXACTLY they way I ordered it. And three: beer brewers are fascinating people.
Take Kelly, for example. The guy studied to be a physicist, for Heaven's sake, worked on spectro-something-or-other along with fiber optics--even taught physics at Drexel University, until he came to the conclusion that if he didn't want to work a day in his life, he should be doing what he loved. Which, as it turned out, was brewing beer. After receiving a homebrew kit in college, the amiable Kelly's future was sealed--although he didn't realize it at the time. He just knew he loved working around beer and brewing more than with Bohr models and Balmer series. He had stints at Flying Fish and elsewhere before landing the Tun job where he's been mashing in for the past four years.
And apparently, judging from the crowd at 5 PM, doing a land office business. Of course, the free parking right across the street from the Tun (with validation necessary) may have insured that other fest-goers had the same idea as Harvey and I did. But small matter. The place is neat and nicely appointed, the food (at least the burgers Harvey and I wolfed down) was excellent and Kelly's beers are very, very good. In fact, I first sampled his APA, and I immediately noted that that beer should be his transition beer. Crisp, refreshing and full of flavor (with a more noticeable hop presence than the Lite), it was a superb session beer that I presume would go well with most any dish save dessert. For that, there was Chocolate Cherry Stout and Leatherneck Stout. That Tripel I spoke of earlier was the winner of a homebrew contest, and it's not hard to see why. In fact, Kelly had that tripel pouring from the taps at the Beer fest across the street.
Sated, we made our way out the door of the Tun and crossed the street--with great anticipation-- to the BeerFest. Let me make this next point very clear: The Atlantic City Convention Center is cavernous. We must have walked a half mile, weaving in serpentine ways, to get to the actual fest. But I figured the walk was designed to make one thirsty, and it did.
A plethora of brewers, many very well known (Sam Adams, Troeg's, Yard's, Allagash, Sierra Nevada) and some lesser known (Hometown Beverage Corp.) made for a wonderful panorama of beer experiences, all to be sampled in your 2 oz. plastic pilsner glass. Perhaps I'm a bit of a purist, but I would have appreciated a few well placed stands with water and waste buckets to rinse the previous beer out of my glass before trying another.
But what do I know? After the first 50 beers, they all start to mingle together in what my Italian buddy's mother describes as "Giambotta." It was of no consequence, however, to the enjoyment of the fest, which featured vendors hawking everything from food to beef jerky to tattoos to (speaking of my Italian Buddy's mother) moustaches, by God. A very loud rock cover band was pumping out the tunes, and there was even a dunk tank where you could try--for a fee--to cause a shapely, bikini-clad lassie to hit the drink with a well-aimed shot. Considering this was a beer festival, well-aimed shots were at a minimum, pretty much assuring the wench of a dry night. Not so her managers raking in the money.
There was a gaggle of gals out celebrating a Bachelorette Party, which I thought was SO much better than having some thong-clad juicehead gyrating his junk on your bar table. Their shirts read: "Last of the Brews Before the I do's!"
But perhaps the biggest crowds gathered periodically around the bull-riding pit, where a mechanical bull challenged already loopy riders to stay on for more than eight seconds. It might have just been me, but it seemed that the operator (clearly no fool) gave a break to the comely lasses, allowing them to stay on longer, while tossing the fat male festers off in less than five seconds. Clearly, there's an aesthetic difference in plumber's butt between men and women, especially if the dude is wearing a thong.
People-watching at any beerfest is an experience, and this one was no different. Most were beer lovers out to enjoy the night, but a few looked like they had wandered over from Wal-Mart, if you get my drift.
In all, it was a wonderful time and I would encourage all beer lovers to attend (especially if you preface it with a visit to the Tun), even though I did not get to hear my pal Mark Haynie deliver a short presentation about beer. 'Twas a shame, too, because Mark knows his stuff (beer-wise if not politically, but I still love him.) Part of the reason the talk did not come off was the logistics of having the talkstage right in the arena instead of in some off-room where the speaker could be heard.
I mean Mark is good, but rare is the guy that will give him undivided attention when a buxom, mini-skirted lass is riding the mechanical bull.
If you get my drift.
For pictures, go here.
The PubScout tips his hat to beerscribe Scott Cronick of the AC Press for his invaluable contribution to this article.