Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sella to leave as Uno’s Brewer

Mike Sella, the unassuming and soft-spoken brewer at Uno's Chicago Grill and Brewery for the last decade and a half, will be leaving his position. He will take over at Basil T's in Red Bank for the departing Brewmistress Gretchen Schmidhausler. Mike was kind enough to advise The PubScout of his pending change, and, after trying to keep such momentous news under my hat for a week, I sat down with him today to discuss it. No small task that, as this guy detests the limelight in any way. Just getting him to pose for a picture is a challenge. But he opened up about this momentous change in the NJ Craft Beer scene.

PS: How long have you been the brewer here at Uno's?

MS: Fourteen years.

PS: You followed Mike Munro, correct?

MS: Yes, I apprenticed under Mike when Uno's first opened. When he left, I got the job.

PS: When you came on, did you have to follow a company guideline for the types of beer they wanted to sell? Or did you follow Mike's lead? Or were you allowed to do your own thing?

MS: I told the company what I wanted to make, but I had to make sure it sold, too. At first, the Company did not want any unfiltered beers to be made, but one day I made some of my Hefeweizen and had them try it. It won them over, and my Hefe has been a staple for many years.

PS: Why are you leaving Uno's?

MS: It's a different venue and a wonderful advancement opportunity I couldn't pass up.

PS: When do you expect to be officially mashing in at Basil T's?

MS: Probably late July or early August.

PS: You've established quite a reputation and a following here at Uno's. How much of that following do you expect will follow you to Basil T's in Red Bank?

MS: Basil T's is a distance from Metuchen, I know, but I can only hope that some of the friends I've made over the years will come and visit from time to time.

PS: Your beer dinners have become fabulously successful since you started them. I can remember doing them with just eight fannies in the seats, and now 40+ seems to be the rule. Will you continue them at Basil's?

MS: That decision will eventually be Vic's [Vic Rallo], but we are talking about it.

PS: Basil T's Brewmistress Gretchen Schmidhausler has a number of GABF medals, including Golds, under her belt. Will you be following her recipes, doing your own or a combination of the two?

MS: Probably a combination of the two. I want to be creative, but I don't want to mess with success, either.

PS: Basil T's and Uno's are different types of places with different menus that cater to different clientele. How will that affect your brewing?

MS: It'll have some effect, sure. For example, I probably won't be able to brew my Wee Heavy in the winter, and my creativity will probably be tested as I brew lower alcohol beers. But I really don't know yet, because I have to "get my feet wet" in a whole new environment with a totally different business model.

PS: Vic Rallo Jr., your new boss, is a great guy and a class act, as was his dad. How do you anticipate that things will be different working for an individual business owner as opposed to a corporate boss?

MS: I'd imagine that having a sole proprietor who makes the decisions will have some advantages.

PS: You and Gretchen have both been fixtures on the NJ craft brewing scene for many years. After such a long and successful run at Uno's, how do you feel about putting this chapter of your brewing life to bed?

MS: It's going to be bittersweet, for sure. I'm definitely going to miss all the customers and the staff I work with every day. But at the same time, I'm excited by the opportunity to do something different and new.

PS: Your daily commute is going to change drastically. Are you ready for that?

MS: I just bought a new small car that gets 38 MPG, so I'm prepared for the gasoline costs. Besides, I'm an early riser and the heaviest traffic in the morning is coming North on the Parkway, not South.

PS: Basil T's has had a pretty regular presence out at the GABF. Will you be picking up that challenge in your new Brewhouse?

MS: I really don't know; it's too early to tell.

PS: What are the differences in the size of the brewing systems?

MS: The system at Basil T's is half the size of the system I use now. That means I'll be brewing more often, but that's my favorite part of the job.

PS: You established a very successful and well-attended series of Cask Ale fests at Uno's. Will you do that at Basil's?

MS: I enjoy cask ales, and we've talked about getting cask ales in, but we'll have to see. I don't know if my replacement at Uno's will do the Cask Ale Festivals, but if he does, I'll be here. They get pretty crowded.

PS: Will you maintain, decrease or increase the number of beer festivals you enter your beers in? Which festivals will you do, besides the NJ Craft Brewers festival?

MS: I don't know yet; too early to tell.

PS: What do you expect the differences to be in your daily schedule--beyond commuting--from your Uno's routing to your Basil's routine?

MS: Other than brewing more often, none.

PS: Have you offered Uno's--or has Uno's asked for-- any advice as to hiring a new brewer to replace you? Can you throw out some names?

MS: They have asked, and I have given them a recommendation, but that name's under wraps for the moment. I can say that he knows his way around the brewhouse. But I'll have him contact you when and if he gets the gig.

PS: Will the brewer who replaces you do his or her own thing, or do you expect that Corporate will want him to follow your successful recipes?

MS: I plan on leaving the standards—Ike's IPA, Station House Red, Gust N Gale Porter, 32-Inning and Bootlegger Blonde. Whether he does his own seasonal or not is between him and corporate.

PS: At least one influential person who knows your beer--and your intention of leaving--has told me, "I don't care if the beer is a little different after Mike goes, but it's got to be good beer." Your reaction?

MS: I see no reason why the quality of the beers at Uno's will suffer.

PS: You've done many things , fests, beer dinners, etc.,that reach out to the growing craft beer drinking public, and you've hoisted pints here at the bar with many of your customers regularly. What advice would you give to the incoming brewer regarding his or her role in public relations as the Uno's brewer?

MS: I'd tell him to listen to the customers as to what they like and dislike. You can't just brew styles that you personally like. They have to sell.

PS: Uno's Metuchen is the only Uno's franchise among more than 150 franchises that makes its own beer. They seem to be committed to keeping the brewhouse open if they seek a replacement brewer. But if that doesn't work out, could you envision Uno's shutting down its only brewpub in the world?

MS: I don't see that happening because the Brewhouse adds so much to the value of the restaurant. Actually, I'd hate to see that happen.

PS: You're replacing an award-winning brewmistress. Do you feel any pressure?

MS: No.

PS: Besides our beer dinner collaborations, what will you miss most about Uno's when you leave?

MS: All the friends I've made over the years here.

PS: Last question. You have a beer dinner planned here for June 28. Anything special planned for that final occasion?

MS: Yes. My vacation the next day.

Not many of us get to follow the old maxim "Do what you love, and you'll never work a day in your life." Clearly, Mike Sella has been one of the lucky ones, and we who drink his beer have benefitted from that. The PubScout wishes him well as he starts this new chapter in his professional life, and vows to visit him as regularly as practical at Basil T's. One door closes, and another opens, as the saying goes. The big question is will the next person who walks through the Uno's Brewhouse door have to be named Mike, too? It's a tradition, you know.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Some Gave All

...and it is to their memories and sacrifices that we raise our glasses this day. Today, I ask my readers to take a moment, look at our flag and give thanks for those who gave their lives defending it. May God bless their families, and may He continue to bless this great nation.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Big news coming on the Jersey Craft Beer scene

Stay tuned for what may be a seismic shift...

The Return and Rise of the Biergarten

There's something magical about them, whether they're tented or outdoors, during the day or during the night. And what's magical is the atmosphere that those who patronize them make, along with a healthy dose of oom-pah music. Dirndl-wearing gals (some of whom can heft five 20-oz. mugs per hand) serve as icing on the cake. One of the closest Biergartens for central Jersey folks is right across the Arthur Kill from Perth Amboy at Killmeyer's Old Bavarian Inn. Click the link below for the good news.

Ein Prosit!

The PubScout


Beer Gardens Growing Steadily in New York -

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Wilde Hogges hit Bethlehem, PA

The Wilde Hogges and I had a great, mostly impromptu, MC run today through NJ and PA. Our destination was an outstanding pub called JP McGrady's, which has a most impressive beer selection. A favorite of the Lehigh University crowd, this place gets so crowded at night you have to go outside just to change your mind. But we had it all to ourselves today. Joe, Larry, Harvey, Steve and Ron had us laughing for almost two hours.

Good food, good grog, great company and a really great 200 mile ride put an exclamation point on an outstanding day. And we made friends with a delightful waitress named Tracy. Her hearty laugh and her winning personality almost--I said almost--got her an honorary Wilde Hogge membership, but she'll have to prove herself once more for that. Pics are at right.

Four wheels move the body; two wheels move the soul.

The PubScout

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Long Valley Brewpub a welcome oasis

After more than two hours in the saddle of a V-Twin, and on a day that saw the temps hit 90, I found myself in the vicinity of one of my favorite brewpubs--Long Valley. Located at the crossroads of County Roads 517 and 513, the place has a history of making good beer, and winning some prestigious medals for it. I first reported on this pub in 1997.

Today, however, I required simply sustenance in the form of a beer and a sandwich, so, after making the lovely Emma's acquaintance, I ordered a Signature Pale Ale and that German Valley Reuben that I always enjoy. For the record, the beer and the sandwich are a perfect match. Joe Saia's Signature Pale Ale, hopped with East Kent Goldings was wonderfully balanced with a floral nose and a complexity that was as interesting as the finish.

Got to chat a bit about beer and bikes with Mike, an RU grad who brews his own beer. The chat supported one of my longstanding beliefs: you meet some of the nicest folks in pubs. Emma, a sultry LA transplant, offered to draw me another, but although two wheels are known to move the soul, I did not want to move mine too far, like to Heaven's Pub. So I declined, paid my tab, bade Mike farewell and thanked Emma for her hospitality.

And headed, sated, back to my country roads. It's always good to know that a good, friendly pub is close by, and the Long Valley brewpub fills that bill.

The PubScout

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Her Majesty gets critical demonstration

Ireland's most famous export is introduced to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. She didn't sample it, however. Must not be cricket for The Queen to tipple in public...but give her credit for bellying up to the bar!


Video: Queen shown how to pull pint on Guinness tour - Telegraph

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The PubScout gets some love...

Taylor, the "stunning beauty" from my Key West post, has, as it happens, her very own blog. Check it out here: Night Moves

Good luck, kids! Love ya both!

The PubScout

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Key West Bike/Bar Adventure

By Kurt Epps—the PubScout

Readers of this blog know of my penchant for good beer, good bars and my motorcycle. So when Debbie Wevers, Organizer Extraordinaire of the Central Jersey Motorcycle Riders Group, concocted a trip from NJ to Cayo Hueso (that's Key West, gringo), I was intrigued. Long trip to be sure, especially on two wheels and subject to the whims of Mother Nature, but I had the time—and most importantly—the hankering to make a trip like this sometime before I die. (I had the same feeling before my first –and only--skydiving adventure.) Hopefully, like the skydiving, it would not be just before I died. So I signed on.

The plan—painstakingly crafted and perfectly executed by the aforementioned Debbie Wevers-- called for a departure point at the famous Clinton Diner in Clinton, NJ. From there we'd ride to pick up a fellow traveler in Carlisle, PA. Four of us then rode I-81 to our first stop of the ride at Dublin, VA, where we added two more bikers to the group. A dinner of Cajun Shrimp was accompanied superbly by a Sierra Nevada Torpedo.

Our six soon turned to five as one of the party broke off for Nashville the following morning, but soon became six again as we met Martin Wevers, Debbie's husband, in SC on I-26. We stopped in Georgia off I-95 for the night, and at a nearby Ruby Tuesday's, in addition to a Sam Adams Boston Lager, I had a pretty darned good beer called Dr. Sweetwater's 420, made in Atlanta. An easy-drinking, well-balanced beer, it will make a good session beer if you can get it.

Six of us rode I-95 to FL where another broke off for a quick visit to his parents, and shortly after that, two broke off for a short visit to family members in Port. St. Lucie, FL. Martin, Debbie and I continued to the nice little town of Hollywood Beach, FL, and after checking into our efficiency apartments at The Atlantic Sands (very spacious, clean and comfortable), Martin and I walked a half-block to the Broadwalk (yep, that's how they spell it) and hit a place called Nick's Bar. As it was late afternoon, the outside seating area was pretty full, but we walked up to the service area and ordered a couple of beers. Mine was a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, for me an always-reliable thirst quencher, and after almost eight hours in the saddle, my thirst needed quenching like my backside need cool air.

Anyway, Nick's was supposedly where a scene from the movie Marley and Me was shot, though in the movie it was supposed to be somewhere else in FL. No matter to me, as long as the SN was cold and good. And it was.

After a day layover in Hollywood Beach, we headed for The Conch Republic. Sometime in the early afternoon we were poised in front of that famous buoy which says that you're actually closer to a foreign country than you are to the nearest Wal-Mart. After a few pics, we headed two blocks up Duval St. to our residence for the next four days, a neat, quirky—and exceptionally clean—place called the Speakeasy Inn. Once again, the rigmarole of check-in was followed by a seat at the bar where affable Bahama Bob Leonard was in charge. I ordered up a Magic Hat #9—which I would later come to learn was probably the best selling craft beer in Key West—and started chatting. Bahama Bob, it turns out is an expert on rums of the world, and has a FB page where he shares his love of the stuff. I knew he was hard-core when I told him my favorite rum was Mt. Gay, and his response was, "Which one?"

Seated at the bar next to me was another rumophile named Mike Streeter. He caught my attention by putting ice in his Miller Lite. But when he learned he was chatting with the PubScout he apologized profusely for the sacrilege. I told him not to worry. Putting ice in Miller Lite wouldn't hurt it a bit. We're now friends on FB.

Before heading South, I had established that there were a few beer bars I had to visit. One of them was the Smallest Bar in Key West, a closet, essentially, on Duval St. which was indeed so small you had to step outside to change your mind. Another was Kelly's, billed as the "Southernmost Brewpub" in the US. They're big on that "Southernmost" business in Key West. There's a "Southernmost House" and even a "Southernmost Southernmost House adjacent to it—and, of course, south of it.

I got to chat briefly with Tomas, the brewer's assistant, but as he was busy, I said I'd come back another time. In the interim, I learned that Kelly's was once owned by movie starlet Kelly McGillis and her husband, but when they divorced, she no longer had a hand in operations. The name, however, stuck.

The two beers available this day were a Red and a Gold, with the Gold being far the better brew. The Red was simply so-so, and even the gold, which was advertised as an IPA, didn't really come close to the style, but it had fullness, body, flavor and balance enough that I'd recommend it as a good session beer. And I never did get back to chat with Tomas.

Another bar that was a must-visit was a place called The Porch. If you love craft beer in all its diversity, do not miss this place. It's in a former mansion called the Porter mansion. Be forewarned, however, that you'll need to acquire your victual elsewhere, as there is no food served here. Chris Shultz, the amiable, free-spirited owner, didn't want the hassles of staff, kitchen regs, etc. He simply dreamed of opening a bar that had the finest beers available, and that he has done exceptionally well. A glance at some of the photos on the right will attest to the wide range of offerings. On my visit I opted for DogFish head's My Antonia. Two, to be precise. And I drank them seated next to a lovely young couple named Chris and Taylor. Taylor, a stunning beauty, initially drank wine, but I browbeat and embarrassed her sufficiently that she went the beer route after one glass. When I asked Chris which beer was his best seller, he answered emphatically, "Magic Hat #9, without question."

Of course, the bar everyone wants to visit while in Key West is Sloppy Joe's, the emporium which was supposedly the favorite haunt of one Ernest Hemingway, a drinker who had a writing problem. Hemingway's house, located a few blocks away, is situated across from the Key West Lighthouse, and legend has it that the light from that imposing structure helped to guide the Nobel Prize winner home on many a night when he was "in his cups." Also according to legend, there were few times he was not in that condition at Sloppy Joe's and elsewhere. I had a Key West Sunset Beer from the tap that was unremarkable beyond the fact that it helped me down my chili-cheese dog ($4.50), which was quite remarkable. After a few choruses from the house band of "You Can't Drink on Stage in Maine, But You Can F—k a Moose," it was time to go.

Another interesting and unique bar is the Green Parrot. It has a nice beer selection—and Magic Hat #9 is included. I don't know why, but MH#9 did taste exceptionally good to me in Key West. Must be something cosmological. The Parrot has the distinction of being both the last—and thus the first—bar on US Rt. 1. Those of us from NJ who see US Rt. 1 as an often-clogged, traffic light and accident-beset highway can't help but be surprised at its rather humble and ignominious terminus/genesis.

There was one other bar that I had planned to "experience" but upon entering the top floor of the Garden of Eden in the afternoon, a "clothing optional" bar, there was little visual stimulus to pique my interest. I guess all the nude patrons come out at night, and I had heard that many are aging baby boomers who don body paint. For sure, I wasn't going in there when it was dark, no matter what beer was available.

For The PubScout's money, I'd have to say that The Porch should be on every beerlover's "Must-Visit" list for the simple reason that the quality and selection of beers is astounding, and the ambience is excellent. But side trips to the other places—and ones I did not get to—can bring memorable rewards, too. The weather in early May is delightful, but I'm guessing July/August is a whole different meteorological model. That may alter your beer habits substantially.

You may even wind up putting ice in your Miller Lite like Mike Streeter.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

©Kurt Epps 2011 All rights reserved

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Key West bars...

Coming soon... reports from some great, some good and some so-so bars of Key West from my recent visit...stay tuned!