Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Leaving a Legacy--of sorts...

Parents send most of their life messages to their children by example. And as a parent, you always wonder if your message is getting through. When I began writing about beer in 1996, my three sons were young--9, 6 and 3, to be exact. Yet they were constantly exposed to good beer--at my table and on the road. I fully believe that by the time 5 years had gone by, they had visited more pubs, brewpubs and breweries, both stateside and abroad, than many adults.
It was my hope that by exposing them early  to quality beer, what it was for and how it was to be savored and enjoyed, they might avoid the pitfalls of high school--and more importantly--college binge drinking. I did not want to learn that they were part of a group that attached funnels to their heads.
I was buoyed somewhat when my eldest, Brett (above), went away to college and within a week expressed some shock that "these kids are drinking Natty Light!"
That choice, of course, was likely dictated by economics rather than beer knowledge, but I thought that perhaps my approach had borne fruit--of a sort. His own wallet being none too fat, I'm sure he sampled the watery wares of Keystone Light, et. al. from time to time.

But he has apparently progressed satisfactorily, if the picture here is any indication. He took a shot of his fridge before a gathering at his home to share with me what he had in his cooler. Apart from the top center and lower right, it would appear his early beer education was worthwhile.
When I questioned him as to the presence of Coors Light and Bud Lime, he said that they were for his non-beer savvy guests.
Which is one of three reasons I ever had Bud or Coors in my fridge. The other was that I wasn't about to waste good beer on those who had no appreciation of it--nor wanted any.
The third reason was it was very cheap.

A dad always likes to think he's made a positive difference in the lives of his progeny.

In the beer category, at least.

Good job, son!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Jersey Rising?--a guest column by Chris DePeppe

Chris DePeppe runs

New Jersey’s craft beer revolution is underway and a quick glance at some statistics suggest that this could be just the first ripple of a wave of new breweries and brewpubs in the Garden State. 


Vermont had a total of 24 breweries in 2011 and was the top-ranked state in terms of breweries per capita, with just over 26,000 residents per brewery. But half of them are bearded homebrewers so those numbers could be skewed. 

Incidentally, Mississippi was at the bottom of that list with only 2 breweries and nearly 1.5 million people per brewery. (They must have to get in line on Tuesday in Oxford to get a decent beer in Tupelo on Friday night.) 

As for New Jersey, well it sits at #42 on that list, just ahead of Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky and Louisiana, states that pull up the rear on quite a few national rankings that I won’t bother to detail here…but that are worth consideration. 

Texas, interestingly, is #45 on that list. But unlike those other red states, Texas was recently named the third-fastest growing state for craft breweries in 2012 by the Brewers Association, with 25 new breweries opening since 2011 for a total of 59 craft breweries now making better beer in the Lone Star State. That puts their per capita number at 425,000 people per brewery, so one might well expect continued craft beer growth in Texas. How that will jibe with their thriving gun ownership and capital punishment remains to be seen. 

It is interesting to note by the way that some of the other states ranked in the top 5 in terms of the number of brewery openings are far from newcomers to the craft beer game. California, Colorado and Oregon, states with established craft beer cultures that each support well over 120 breweries (California has 268), are still seeing more and more new breweries every year. So the growth of craft beer does not seem to stop once it takes root in a state, a trend that no doubt leaves the Big 3 mega-breweries more than a little nervous. 

So what does all this have to do with little old New Jersey? Well, at present, the Garden State currently has 26 breweries (as of 2011) with a few new ones slated to open soon. And that number is up from ?? in 2008, when NJ was the unofficial world capital of light lager. Trust me, I lived there. 

So let’s compare: Even if NJ had Connecticut’s per capita numbers (338,000 people per brewery), NJ would need 37 breweries - and Connecticut is way down at #33 on that list. 

Now, if you tried to match Pennsylvania’s numbers, NJ would need 64 breweries (150% more than the current total) just to keep pace with the increasing demand for craft beer being met just across a skinny river. 

But to be fair it should be noted that PA is unique for some historical reasons and legislative oddities. 

So let’s look elsewhere for comparisons. 

What if NJ aimed to meet Virginia’s totals? VA, being notoriously backward-assed in terms of their beverage laws, is certainly no easy place to open and operate a brewery. AND, in terms of population density and demographics (education and income for starters), the Old Dominion is a close cousin to the Garden State. 

Virginia has 42 breweries and 190,000 people per brewery. NJ would need 46 breweries to compare, so 20 more
breweries/brewpubs than now would put us in their class, which is below 30th and solidly in the bottom half of the national ranks. Maybe we can aim higher. 

How about Massachusetts? Mass is close in size to NJ (45th and 47th respectively) and just a few spots behind NJ in terms of population (NJ is 11th most populous state). Mass has 42 breweries and a capita/brewery figure of 156,000. For NJ to compare in terms of # of people to #s of breweries, to a state of comparable size and median income such as Mass, there would have to be 56 breweries in the Garden State, more than double the current total. 

Oh, and did I mention that NJ has the highest median income and the 6th highest % of college graduates of all 50 states? Considering that the typical craft beer consumer makes $50K or more (75% is the estimate) and has a college degree (about half), New Jersey would seem like a logical craft beer hotbed. 

And just for kicks let’s factor in the fact that NJ is ranked #15 nationally in terms of restaurants per capita. Were Jersey to reach that level with our craft breweries, we’d need 74 breweries currently brewing in the Garden State, putting us in the top 20 per capita. Now that’s respectable. 

So here is a state with the highest population density in the country, with the highest median income; a state that supports as many restaurants per capita as Colorado or Oregon and more than Pennsylvania; but still a state that is lagging far behind when it comes to its quantity of craft breweries (and is last on that list among the top 10 median income states). 

AND while I may be biased, I’d submit that NJ is also a uniquely diverse state with dozens of attractive and well-heeled boroughs, scores of historically significant townships, plenty of beach resort towns and famous destination spots…in short, a bunch of great locales for brewpubs and breweries. 

And yes, as you can probably guess, my bet is that NJ will be one of the fastest-growing craft beer states in the US over the next few years (if the bureaucrats don’t screw it up) and I have no doubt that there will be 50+ breweries licensed in NJ within the next decade…and maybe much sooner with a little encouragement. 

The questions I have are why did it take this long and what is holding us back? 

Perhaps it is the intensity of the mega brewery marketing in Shore bars and the flood of light lager propaganda that dominated the beer scene for 50 years. 

It may also be the result, partly, of a hard-to-quantify geographic link to our ancestral beer-as-commodity roots. My granddad delivered Knickerbocker, your uncle drove a Ballantine truck, etc. In PA that lineage of beer loyalty within families was powerful but it played a very different role since some of those iconic PA breweries like Yuengling and Rolling Rock (whose pony bottles you’d find in your uncle’s fridge in the basement in Altoona) were still operating in PA in the 1990s. So it was less likely that a typical beer consumer was already a Bud or Miller man. (Yuengling is still going strong and their Lager still acts as a key crossover beer that keeps mega-brewers from applying their marketing submission-hold on towns like Philly). 

And maybe our loveable ABC could be a bit more supportive? Just a thought. 

But now that craft beer has started to take hold in the Garden State, New Jersey would be the rarest example if the growth seen in places like PA and Texas were not replicated here. 

While we may never convert those swill-drinking masses who pack the beach bars for cheap Bud/Miller/Coors, it is worth noting that more and more of those bars are seeing the value of adding Flying Fish, Cricket Hill, Carton, Kane, East Coast and other Jersey beers to their beer list. 

Because there is one valuable marketing advantage that New Jersey breweries have going for them that perhaps no other state’s breweries can as confidently claim: Jersey people like Jersey stuff. Maybe it’s the result of being the butt of so many jokes from outsiders, but we tend to rally together to support all things Jersey. 

Let’s all raise a glass of Jersey beer and toast the continued health of craft brewing in this great state. 
See you at the bar. 

Pints for Prostates Packs the Pub

Megan and Kathy
Some folks, like yours truly, had to park two blocks away from Molly Maguire's Blackpoint Inn, what with River Rd. and the Municipal lot filled to capacity.
But the walk to the packed pub was certainly worth the reward. Four outstanding Ommegang beers with accompanying cheeses, standing room at the bar, open mic night, Steve Farley in the kitchen, Megan and owner Kathy Maguire at the door to greet you--what's not to like?

Chris, Justin and Mike

Chris, Justin and Mike (Mustard) DeJohn, Belgian yeast devotees all, enjoyed Ommegang Gnomegang (The outstanding collaboration beer with La Chouffe) and Biere D' Hougoumont (a malty, delicious  biere de garde) in the welcoming atmosphere of what a pub is supposed to feel and sound like.

Of course, Ommegang Rep Megan Maguire (no relation) also had Hennepin and Art of Darkness on hand, as well as official Game of Thrones/Ommegang glassware and a very cool Game of Thrones keychain for supporters of Pints for Prostates.

Megan Maguire

It is said you learn something new every day. Yesterday I learned the names of two cheeses I never knew existed: Munster Gerome and Humboldt Fog.
I also learned that Ommegang and Shore Point Distributors are actively involved in supporting Pints for Prostates, a cause worth supporting--and even better when supported with good beer, good people and in good pubs.

Like it says at the top of this blog.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Good Beer Doing Good Things

Molly Maguire's Megan and The PubScout
I may be heading down to Molly Maguire's Blackpoint Inn in Rumson tonight, and for a few reasons. First, it's a neat pub with a great beer selection and an outstanding chef--Steve Farley. Second, one of my favorite breweries--Ommegang--will be taking over some of the taps tonight. Third, they will be doing that for a very good cause--to help in the fight against Prostate Cancer.

The event is part of a national network called Pints for Prostates. The website says that Pints for Prostates

"is a grassroots campaign that uses the universal language of beer to reach men with an important health message. Founded by beer writer and prostate cancer survivor Rick Lyke in 2008, the campaign raises awareness among men about the importance of regular health screenings and early detection by making appearances at beer events, social networking and pro bono advertising....Pints for Prostates partners with healthcare providers, organizations and suppliers; brewers, restaurants, retail stores, beer industry groups and other interested parties to get critical information to men."

There is no shortage of information, treatment options and support for other insidious forms of the disease like breast or pancreatic cancers. Prostate Cancer deserves the same treatment. Check out the CNN video here.

What better way to get the word out to my fellow male beer drinkers than by using beer as a vehicle? Drinking beer (in this case, Ommegang) and helping raise men's awareness of this disease seems a marriage made in heaven.

As a prostate cancer survivor myself, I fully support his effort. And if you have any questions about my excellent treatment and results at ProCure in Somerset, NJ just ask!

Cheers! The PubScout

Monday, May 13, 2013

Get in on the Ground Floor

If you ask Gregg Hinlicky to draw you a pint today, you probably wouldn't be able to drink it. That's because Hinlicky is better known in NJ beer circles as The Brewer's Artist. He's drawn excellent pictures of beers, brewers at work in their natural elements and beer related stuff for--lo--these many years.

His hoary, albeit handsome, face even graces one of Climax's Beer Bottles. In fact, one of his works features Dave Hoffman and dad Kurt hard at work in the brewery.

But if you ask him to draw you a pint in 2014, you might actually get something you can drink. Because Gregg is launching a new Jersey Brewery at the Jersey Shore called Bulkhead Brewing. Not only that, you could become a ground floor "part owner."

Check out the link at Bulkhead Brewing for more info. Even though he deigned to put my face on canvas (claiming he doesn't do "Neanderthals"), the PubScout wishes Gregg & Co. all the best in this new venture.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Now Batting: Ted Williams at Tapastre

Anyone over the age of thirty knows that Ted Williams was arguably baseball's greatest hitter. The Red Sox hired him as their hitting coach after he retired, which would seem a smart move. Except Ted had some difficulty in translating his considerable prowess into others. Because his hitting came so naturally, he couldn't understand why others couldn't duplicate it.

So it would seem with 29-year-old Michael Proske of Tapastre in Somerville. He has an exceptional talent for recognizing great beer, and his tapas-type bar has a winning draft lineup. Along with his Head Chef Victor Sguera, they also have a thing going that all beer and food lovers should know about.

Since 2006, Tapastre is located downstairs in an architecturally gorgeous building that dates back to 1840. It's a welcoming, comfortable, clean and upscale pub with a twist on food. Tapas-style dictates smaller portions with big flavors that are often meant to be shared. So Michael put together a tapas-style beer dinner--his fourth, actually--and I was invited to attend his most recent.

Michael, Victor and Carlos

Following the "less is more" principle which seems to be trending, Proske and Sguera hit this one out of the park, in my humble opinion. Five tapas-style courses were accompanied by Proske's hand-picked beers--all available on tap--and every pairing was not only on target, it fulfilled precisely what a truly great pairing is supposed to do. One item not only complements the other, but actually enhances the flavors of the other. And astonishingly EVERY pairing did that. You can view those pairings here.

Proske opts for a laid-back beer dinner style, going from table to table to personally explain the pairings and answer any questions his customers may have about either beer or food. On this particular day, there were two seatings: one for 6:30 and one for 8:30, each hosting approximately 20 patrons. That makes for easier distribution of the products, and that distribution is smooth and seamless, thanks to dedicated waitstaff like the ever-smiling  Kristyn Allena, a 7th grade math teacher who moonlights at Tapastre.


Tapastre has also increased its menu to include soups, salads and sandwiches, and if their regular fare is anything like what I tasted, make a beeline for this outstanding, subterranean gem. In fact, I took the liberty of suggesting to Michael and Victor that some of the food for the beer dinner should be incorporated into the regular menu. Take that Chateaubriand, for example. Perfectly cooked, very flavorful and melt-in-your mouth good. The Thai Crab Cakes with the Lime Sauce did something I didn't think possible--it enhanced an already great beer from Ramstein, the Double Platinum. And the Rustic Apple Cake was nothing short of incredible. Proske actually took a measured risk with this pairing, using a saison. Saisons are not usually dessert beers, but using Allagash Interlude was a Ted Williams stroke of pure genius.

Michael and his Mom, Suzanne

Certainly just the beer offerings alone would justify regular trips to Tapastre, as "Ted Williams" changes his beers as it suits his fancy. If you'd trust Ted to know which ball to hit, you can trust Michael to know which beer to put on.

I confess that when Proske wouldn't reveal the beer dinner pairings ahead of time, asking us to "trust" him, I had some reservations. Now the only reservation I have is for the next Beer Dinner at Tapastre, which I will apprise you of when I learn the date. Do yourself a favor and reserve a spot.

George Drank Here!

The Durham Boat (the very kind George used to give the Hessians a memorable Christmas present in 1776) at the Festival entrance did not augur well. Unlike last year, when she produced one of the ten best days of the year, Mother Nature threatened to be far less accommodating for beer lovers who flock in droves to this riverside event at Washington's Crossing State Park on the PA side.
 But the stormy forecasts produced little rain at the event where 64 breweries from around the country proffered their wares to a thirsty, happy group of beer-revelers. At just about 3:30, rain sent beer nuts under the tents for about 15 minutes, and then the skies cleared again.
As always, certain brewers had longer lines than others. Surprisingly, (or maybe not) Avery kicked before the two hour mark, and the lines at Southern Tier were equally as long as the lines to the porta-potties. Also as usual  a handful of solid food vendors peppered the area, and lots of folks could be seen balancing a Nomad's pizza in one hand and their two-oz. serving glass in the other. Others had the pretzel necklaces for sustenance in case the lines got too long.

In a very welcome and interesting twist this year, the organizers invited the Brewers from Pennsbury Manor to provide ongoing demonstrations of colonial brewing practices, and their presentation, made in period gear with period accoutrements was fascinating. Their product, which Doug Miller of the PA Historical & Museum Commission graciously allowed yours truly to sample, was darned good. One needed only to pirouette to the Bavarian Pretzel stand behind and acquire a huge pretzel sprayed with Madeira to be at one with George Washington himself.

The festival itself, headed by Glenn G.W. Blakely, owner of Isaac Newton's Pub in nearby Newtown, PA, is designed to assist the Friends of Washington's Crossing Park in their quest to maintain and preserve the historic area. Glenn and his fellow patriots opened the festivities with a Huzzah-filled volley of shots across the river from the Durham boat at the entrance. The video is here and the participating breweries are here.

Tony and Kristin Caine
As at most beer festivals, the taste buds go into shock after the first 50 or so 2-oz. samples, but there were some fine offerings that generated long lines. Green Flash Le Freak was one and Yard's, offering their outstanding GW Porter and TJ Tavern Ale was another, in addition to those aforementioned. Husband and wife team Kristin and Tony Caine (yes, they met in a bar) handled the busy drafts throughout the day.

There are always breweries at this vent that the average beer drinker doesn't usually get to sample. My eye, inexplicably, was drawn to one called Naked Brewing.  The brewfest being a generally classy event, I did not get my hopes up too high. But any disappointment evaporated after chatting with the very personable and enthusiastic Kathy and Jennifer. Kathy's husband Brian is the VP of Brewing and their beer was very tasty indeed.
Jennifer and Kathy

In all, and in the face of an angry Mother Nature, Glenn Blakely and friends provided another memorable May outing at the riverside. And, truth be told, what's a little rain when you consider what George and his embattled, beleaguered troops had to contend with there to give birth the good ol' USA?

I'll drink to that any day.

More photos here.

Cheers! The PubScout

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Look! Up in the Sky! It's a Bird! It's a Plane! No...It's Your Beer!

Perth Amboy nativeTy Fedak

I'm going to have to start cutting my pal Ty Fedak a commission for turning me on to truly significant beer news. Of course, I first have to get paid to do that, so he'll have to wait.

But in the meantime, enjoy the story about your future beer coming down by parachute.

Who says all drones are bad? (Though how these babies will check ID remains to be seen...probably another drone...)
Cheers! The PubScout

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Pilsener Haus--Alive and Doing Fine

Yours truly went to Hoboken's Pilsener Haus the day it opened in 2011. I interviewed Andy Ivanov and toured the grounds, smelled the aromas, drank in the ambience, sampled the food and beer and pronounced it a future hit.

Die BratBurner Bar

The PubScout decided to hit the Haus's Maifest celebration to see how well the place is doing, and by every measure--food, beer, ambience and overflow crowds--it's doing very well, thank you.


Samantha, who has been with the PH since opening day, said that, Maifest aside, this was "a typical Saturday for us." That meant crowds of people inside and out enjoying the 60 beers and food, lots of sunshine in the biergarten and children of all ages, strolling and strollered, just like in Die Faderland.
There have, of course, been some changes. Andy, for instance, now has managers to take some of the load off him, allowing him to lead a more normal life. "If I didn't have them, I would not be a very pleasant person," he allowed. And there's an upscale, upstairs club called The Kolo Klub which, apart from being available for special events and

Kolo Klub
hosting various shows, has a Manhattan-style Mixology Motif, creating many new and unusual mixed drinks. The Kolo Club opens to the public on the weekends at 8 PM.

Ironically, the grand opening of this classic German Biergarten two years ago was threatened by an unusual Northeast weather event that nearly flooded the place out. How could Andy Ivanov or Ladi Sebestyan anticipate that two years later another unusual weather event named Hurricane Sandy would deposit six feet of water in their authentic biergarten? But, showing the pluck of those driven to succeed, the staff worked tirelessly for twenty days to rid the place of Sandy's remnants. "You don't wait for the government or outside help," said Andy. "You get in there, roll up your sleeves and do what needs to be done to open up."

And open up they did. With a stellar collection of sixty German beers and food to complement them, the folks at the Pilsener Haus buzz around the place like bees in a hive. But far from being dispassionate, they are genuinely friendly--as are the patrons, young and old, who populate the sunsplashed outdoor biergarten as well as both interior rooms.

Kenny and his maibock
Keep in mind, however, that this is Hoboken, and unless you come on two wheels, like Kenny and I did, parking will be, well, just this side of insane. Andy Ivanov can't worry about stuff like parking, or even the recent water main breaks that have plagued Ol' Blue Eyes' city in recent weeks.

"I've got enough to do right here," he says.
And he is apparently doing that very well.

The PubScout