Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

How's Rinn Duin? A Chat with Jacqui Town

Jacqui Town/Rinn Duin Brewing
To answer the question posed in the title--pretty well, thank you very much.

As effervescent as one of her distinctive brews, Jacqui Town popped in to Hailey's Harp and Pub in Metuchen on Monday. Her purpose was to allow Owner Chris Flynn (The Wizard of Brainy Boro) and Beerman Moshe "McMoe" Atzbi to sample some of Rinn Duin's beers for possible inclusion on Hailey's Tap Row.

Jacqui, who self-distributes the product from her three-month old brewery, was steeped in brewing at age 6, having watched her dad homebrew. Dad Chip, a mortgage banker, and Jacqui, in sales, had always talked about going into brewing their own beer, and an interesting, twist of fate set their plans into motion.

In the span of two weeks, both Jacqui and her dad lost their jobs. Undaunted, they looked at each other and said, "Well, it's now or never." And, after a sound business plan was presented to various banks, they were in business. Both are now fond of saying, "We were lucky enough to lose our jobs."

At TCNJ, she earned a B.A. in Marketing and Sales, an investment in skills that are certainly paying dividends now. But perhaps more importantly, she minored in Chemistry, and it was in the "alchemy" aspect of beer-making that she became immersed. So immersed, in fact, that the local water used to brew her beer is altered to taste like the various water supplies of London, Dublin and Edinborough which are used as bases for three of her UK-styled beers.

Camera-Shy Chris Flynn
In their 6500 square foot plant--5500 sq. ft. of which are occupied by the brewery operation--neither Jacqui or her dad "get their feet wet." They hired Brewer Jason Goldstein and two other employees to do that, and they handle the operational oversight, distribution and sales end.

Originally, the name of the brewery was supposed to have been Blackthorn, but that name might have caused issues with the UK's Blackthorn Cider. So Rinn Duin's name comes from a castle in Ireland where the Town family was the last to live off the land. The tap handles are finely crafted miniature shillelaghs that many wish to adapt for use as gear shifters. But you can't get Trinity (a peat-smoked Scottish ale), Sandpiper, St. John's Red, Pota Ciafe (Dry Irish Coffee Stout) or their upcoming seasonal, The River Toms (English IPA) from a car's gearbox. So let's leave the taphandles where they'll do the most good.

Interestingly, all of Rinn Duin's flagship beers fall into the session category, with Sandpiper having the highest ABV at just 5.1%. The River Toms will take home the honors at 6.8% when it appears. "We got a lot of compliments on our beers, but many of our fans started asking when we were going to 'push the envelope' a bit, so enter The River Toms," said Jacqui. "And many have said that our beer tastes 'old-fashioned,' which we take as a compliment." The brewery uses premium UK ingredients and Nottingham yeast, which will become a house strain eventually.

Moshe, Kevin and I welcome Jacqui to Hailey's
Jacqui's efforts have seen Rinn Duin grow rather quickly in Ocean and Monmouth Counties, and today was her second official foray into Middlesex County. Hailey's has already had her Sandpiper Brown Ale on tap and it sold out in two days. Chris Flynn, Moe and I agreed that her St. John's Irish Red and the Sandpiper would make fine additions to Hailey's already impressive tap list, making Hailey's the first pub in Middlesex County to acquire the brand.

I asked Jacqui where she'd like to see Rinn Duin in terms of growth in five years. She allowed that she'd like to see her beers become well known staples throughout New Jersey and begin to enter the Philly and NYC markets, and that she's currently distributing more than she expected.

Her biggest complaint about the business? "Not having much time to myself," she offered. "When you focus on high quality in product, service and distribution, that's the tradeoff." But she also admitted that she loves working with her dad, and her passion about what she does continues to grow.

She'll have to share a bit of that passion as she plans to be married in a year. Here's hoping she gets some time off for her honeymoon. Her future husband Tom jokes that he will likely assume the coveted role of "beer-slave."

So what does Jacqui enjoy beyond the Rinn Duin brew kettles? Her Jersey faves are Carton Boat, Kane Driftline and Flying Fish Octoberfish. Regionally, she likes Founders and Captain Lawrence beers. She also expressed an interest in attending an upcoming Hailey's Beer Senate session, so she, Chris and Moshe will put some plans together.

How a typical Hailey's Beer Senate--held the second Tuesday of every month-- will affect her remains to be seen. Most who attend emerge forever changed.

Cheers! The PubScout

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Take a Break at Patriot's Crossing

One of the many joys of riding a motorcycle in western NJ is finding a good pub at which to take a break and shake your booty a bit. One of my favorite spots is on Rt. 29 in Titusville, NJ just across the river from Washington's Crossing PA. It's called Patriot's Crossing.

Patriot's Crossing Pub
After 75 miles on two wheels on a beautiful Saturday, I needed three things: lunch, a good beer and a bathroom, and not necessarily in that order. (A bouncing motorcycle does predictably strange things to a geezer's bladder.)
Patriot's Crossing has all those amenities, and if you're lucky enough to catch Jen behind the bar, listen to her recommendations for beer and food.

'Twas she who suggested the Victory DirtWolf DIPA to me, and though I usually prefer malty over hoppy, there was a sincerity in her voice that prompted me to acquiesce. I am glad I did.
The DirtWolf was very nearly perfect in every aspect of the style, and it was served at precisely the right temperature. When considering what to eat, Jen asked if I liked wings, and when I indicated in the affirmative, she patiently explained the subtleties and nuances of each offering--and there were many.

I finally settled on "Garlic Chili" wings at Jen's suggestion (without the bread crumbs, also at her suggestion), and the choice was fabulous. Not hot at all but deliciously sweet, the wings matched up superbly with the DirtWolf.
Had I not been on two wheels, I might have stayed for a second Wolf, but at 8.7% ABV, that's not a chance I'm willing to take.

Patriot's Crossing is  a neat place in a neat location. Situated directly on the canal, there's an outdoor dining area that is sure to please in pleasant weather.

In addition to Washington's Crossing State Parks in both Jersey and PA, the pub is not far from New Hope, PA, or Lambertville, NJ, both favorite tourist spots. And both are packed with them on sunny weekends, which could make for long wait times at pubs and restaurants in those towns.

The solution? Patriot's Crossing. Get your DirtWolf--as well as some other outstanding beers-- and your wings (mine cost a total of $12.79), fill your belly and then head up to do the tourist thing.

Cheers! The PubScout

Monday, April 21, 2014

Beer-wise, The Court Jester is No Joke

Finding it necessary, recently, to meet a buddy roughly midway between my house and his, I looked for a pub or good beer bar in the area. A few came up, but as I had visited them, I opted for a place I had never heard of: The Court Jester.

With twenty-five beers on tap, it beckoned; and its website revealed an interesting food menu as well. So I took a shot.
Turns out that there are two Court Jesters, one in Freehold and one in Aberdeen (nee Matawan) owned jointly by Mike Page and Ryan Jones.

Located in a mall on Rt. 34, the Matawan Jester’s rather unassuming storefront belied its downright cavernous interior, walls lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Surrounded by so many books, I thought I had
inadvertently wandered into the Library of Congress. The atmosphere is most conducive to either bar interaction or private side discussions. It was a bar in which The PubScout felt immediately comfortable.

Ample bar seating and different rooms and levels make the place most inviting, though I was told that the Matawan site is considerably larger than the Freehold site.
Eleven-year manager (and fellow MSU Alum) Mark Ricca greeted me cordially at the door and began to fill me in on the Jester’s history.

Mark Ricca and Kyle Norek
The Jester was born in 1995, and has steadily increased its clientele in that time. “We get a great dinner crowd of varied age groups and a great late night bar crowd, a diverse group, with folks in their 20’s represented as solidly as those in their 50’s.
Another thing that has steadily increased, according to both Ricca and his high school buddy bartender Kyle Norek, is the number of patrons seeking better beer. The Jester’s ownership listens, and that accounts for the 25 tap beers available. Not only that, but the Specials Menu includes direct beer pairing suggestions, and if a specific beer is tapped, the knowledgeable waitstaff is sufficiently educated to suggest another that will pair as well.
The menu (which I haven’t sampled yet) has a wide variety of starters, salads, burgers, pizzas and fajitas, as well as full dinners of steak, chicken seafood and BBQ ribs.

The beer menu had many beers I had tasted, as well as some I hadn’t—like Captain Lawrence FreshChester Ale, Evil Genius Purple Monkey Dishwasher and Magic Hat Elder Betty. Sam Adams Nitro Boston Stout being available, I went with that.
Rich Page is responsible for deciding which beers get featured, as well as what food gets ordered. Apparently Rich is on top of things, as even long-time server Heather commented on the dramatic increase in craft beer orders.

Smiling Heather
The PubScout will definitely revisit the Matawan site and absolutely scope out the Freehold site for the purpose of evaluating the food and beer pairings as suggested, and to determine how the beer menu has changed. The PubScout looks forward to a return.

The PubScout

Monday, April 14, 2014

There's Some Fine Beer Here, by George!

Fewer than 20 days remain until one of The PubScout's Favorite Brewfests takes place on the banks of the Delaware River in Pennsylvania.

The Washington Crossing Brewfest seems to grow better each year, and if the list of breweries in attendance this year is any indication, such growth will continue.

George Washington himself (out of costume)
The festival takes place rain or shine, though shine is decidedly better. If it shines, my biker buddies and I can take two wheels on some of the best backroads in Jersey and PA to get there. Still, even in the rain, the tents provided make for great opportunities to meet new beer nuts.

But if you plan to attend, you need to purchase tickets ahead of time. The website allows you to do that, as well as listing the names of some pubs that currently have those tix on sale.

And don't forget to read the rules of the brewfest. The organizers don't want to have to put you in a Durham boat and send you across the river to Trenton.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

You Meet the Nicest Folks at Beer Events

Honest to God.

The PubScout stopped into one of his favorite brewpubs--the Harvest Moon in New Brunswick--for a special beer event: a massive collaboration among some nine major cognoscenti of NJ's beer scene. In addition to Mike Kivowitz of NJCB, Al Buck of East Coast Yeast and Moon brewer Kyle McDonald, beer aficionados packed the downstairs area to sample some really outstanding collaborative brews.

The first was a Dark Rye Saison, and it was nothing short of fabulous. New Brunswick City Planner Glen Patterson, his wife Chris and I struck up a major conversation--and not just about the beer. The state of education today was a major focus, as Chris teaches English in New Brunswick HS.

Glen and Chris Patterson

Then there was VT grad Moreo Rivera (a freshman when those horrific shootings took place), whose father plays sax for none other than Billy Joel, and who would be playing the national anthem at the Bosox/Yanks game this very night.

Moreo and Karen

Lovely Karen would
seek Assistant Brewer Jeff's help to eradicate beer spilled on her just-purchased NJBC T-shirt

Karen and Jeff clean her shirt...

The only time I ever saw the downstairs of The Moon this packed was during a ceremony for NB firefighterJimmy D'heron, who gave his own life to save 15 people he did not know during a fire.

 And while the dark rye saison (at about 8%) was the PubScout's fave, the Simcoe Coffee Double IPA and the Mosaic Rye Pale Ale with Zythos Hopped offerings were most intense.

But, good as they were, the beers are simply vehicles that get beer lovers to interact, and that's exactly what happened.

And it should happen more often.

Kudos to those who collaborated for this superb event!

The PubScout

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Recuerde que la Sexta de Mayo!

Yeah, yeah, I know. "Sexta" means sixth in el Espanol. And everybody gets hyped about the day before, which is Cinco de Mayo. But if you refrain from the ubiquitous Cinco de Mayo come-ons, you can take advantage of a true celebration on May 6.

Because two Jersey beermakers (Trap Rock and Triumph) are collaborating on that date for a (what else?) Mexican beer dinner at Trap Rock in Berkeley Heights.
 You can get all the info you need right here.

And as the dinner will be held in the Garden Room only--which seats only 47--you might want to get in on the action early. The food will be top drawer and the beer--well, it won't be Corona.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

It's May! The Month of "Yes, you Mai (Bock)"

Vanessa Redgrave in 1967
(She doesn't look like this today, 
but who among us looks like we did in 1967?)
The ancient rhythms are stirring again, just as they did for Queen Guinevere in the classic film--Camelot.
To be candid, the weather hasn't been exactly springlike.
Though anything above 50 is an improvement over the doses of global "warming" this winter shared with us. It was, assuredly, a winter of stouts, porters, tripels and quads around my house.
But, also assuredly, spring is coming, and with it the entry of one of The PubScout's favorite beer styles--the Maibock.

And, though there are surely others that will delight a malt-maven's palate (Rogue Dead Guy is one) my favorite is this one. Einbecher Mai-Ur-Bock.

For starters, it's a strong spring beer, more malt-forward than hoppy (IPA nuts be warned), sweeter and higher in alcohol. Einbecker checks in at 6.5%. Most are tawny to golden, though helles bocks are known for being lighter in color. A pale malt nose and bready, earthy, toasty notes show why this is a favorite of mine among German seasonals. Some beer cognoscenti describe it as having "buttery, caramel scents," and I wouldn't argue. My only complaint is the 11.2 oz. bottle.

Others, like Altenmunster Maibock, have an almost lemony, peppery quality (from the hops) to accompany the honey notes. Gordon Biersch makes one--a Blond Bock--that has more pronounced hop notes than a maibock lover might expect. Hofbrau Munchen's product is a bit higher in alcohol (7.2%) and just a tad more bitter in the finish.

Here are some others that deserve a shot: Primator Maibock, Abita Andygator, Abita Bock, Fort Collins Maibock, Narragansett Bock, Smuttynose Maibock, Anchor and Victory St. Boisterous.

And NJ brewers have also made outstanding maibocks: Ramstein (with a Bourbon Barrel Aged offering), Flying Fish and Cricket Hill. Harvest Moon supposedly has a maibock brewing as we speak.

Search your local liquor locker to find more, because most maibocks will not disappoint malt mavens in the merry month of May. (And how is that for alliteration?)

Unless, of course, you're a DIPA, Imperial IPA slave of the Hop Monster.

But hey, drink what you like.
I always do.

The PubScout