Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Project Graduation: Effective deterrent to Youthful Alcohol Abuse?

            June means it's graduation time for high schools throughout the country. As predictable as senioritis is an event that many school districts build into their school calendars called Project Graduation. Usually organized by a group of caring and concerned parents, Project Graduation is designed to allow graduates to celebrate their achievements on their graduation night in a controlled, alcohol and drug-free setting.
            The real purpose, of course,  is to keep the children alive so their parents don't lose them to a tragedy on graduation night, a noble, sensible and practical goal. No parent wants to see his child's life snuffed out just as his real life is beginning. And to its credit, Project Graduation does what it was designed to do.
            For one night anyway.
            What happens the next night, and the nights thereafter (like those in college),
when the party urge is still there, but there is no controlled environment?
            The answer? Tragedies, usually.

            Some are immediate and some don't happen until months or even years later. The reasons for the tragedies are many, but principal among them is the way our society teaches its youth about alcohol--and especially about beer. When parents and nearly everyone else in authority tells them not to do it, you have a recipe for guaranteed abuse.
            Our society is, in large measure, to blame for crafting that deadly recipe. We have made this ancient, nutritious beverage a taboo rather than an adjunct to our lives. Beer is probably the world's favorite fermented beverage today, and for the same reasons it was to the ancients. It was--and is--a healthful, nutritious beverage, when enjoyed in moderation, and especially in conjunction with food. Fasting monks--who make some of the world's best beer--used it to get through fasting periods, all the while deriving
the nutritional benefits of "liquid bread."

            No sane person, however, denies that abuse of it can bring negative consequences. How, then, to educate against its abuse while accepting the many benefits beer can provide?  It is true that adults abuse beer, but it is very likely that they do so because they were not educated in its appropriate use when they were young. So the cycle continues.
            Regulation of the use of beer is absolutely essential. While many ancient cultures valued beer, only civilizations that history anoints as “great” regulated it. Regulation, however, does not mean denial as taboo, and that's what we’ve been saying for generations to our young people. The effects of that misguided policy are evident in the headlines--and the obituaries--of our newspapers.
             Hence, by their ignorance and ours, our young people compel us to initiate things like Project Graduation. Perhaps if we took a different tack--from very early on in youth-- a Project Education, if you will, we could obviate the need for one-night, stopgap measures like Project Graduation, which, for all its good intentions, is simply a temporary feel-good solution.

In Belgium, where beer occupies a status much as wine does in France, young schoolchildren are given beer during their recesses instead of milk. To be sure, it’s not a strong alcohol beer. In fact, it's usually around three or four percent, but it is beer notwithstanding and is thus far more nutritious than milk.
            More importantly, its distribution by the authorities indicates that it has a legitimate place in society. That's an important lesson for youth to learn, and it's not one that American youth are usually taught. American youth see beer as something to be done illicitly, because we have told them to "Just Say No!”
            Perhaps that is why most Europeans, especially those who have grown up with wine and beer readily available at meals, have come to see alcoholic beverages as a food complement rather than as an illicit drug designed to encourage--and excuse-- asinine and and often dangerous behavior.
            American culture waits until the magical age of twenty-one to say that beer is OK, which guarantees nothing beyond taking the excitement out of procuring and drinking beer on the day after the 21st birthday. By that time, perhaps the only lesson that has been learned (beyond how to lie about acquiring and using it) is that we drink beer for one reason: to get plastered.

            Sorry MADD moms. Simply put, America needs to rethink its approach, because the one we’re using has failed miserably.
            Does that mean that we should substitute beer for milk at every American elementary school? No--at least--not yet. For one thing, most people would say beer doesn't go as well as milk with cookies.
            But that’s only because they don't know that there are beers that go very well indeed with cookies. Like our many of our funnel-headed adolescents, these folks need Project Education, too.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Will Rising Hops Prices Spark a Return to Malt-forward beers?

Everyone knows how IPA's, Double IPA's and Imperial IPA's seem to be dominating the taps--and the beer news-- these days. As I asked in the very first issue of NJ Brew magazine four months back, have we overdone the emphasis on hops?

Turns out, that very emphasis may actually be hurting craft brewers, especially the little guys. Check out this story.

And here's another.

So, Mr. or Ms. Brewer, are hops prices having a negative impact on your operation/product or not?

Cheers! The PubScout

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

An American Pub for American Pickers

The missus is a big fan of that American Pickers show. Why, I don't know, but I'm sure the answer lies in some back chapter of the book "Understanding Women."

From what little I've seen of the show, two guys ride around the country looking for other people's junk. They try to haggle with the owners, many of them reluctant to part with their junk, in the hopes of making a profit on stuff that has been lying around collecting dust in some old barn. Reminds me of a sign I saw in an antiques store in Frenchtown: We Buy Junk and Sell Antiques. I don't get the attraction, but to each his own, I suppose.

Gregg Hinlicky
Anyway, last week, I met NJ Brew magazine publisher Gregg Hinlicky in the Freehold Court Jester Pub. The three-story, narrow (and very comfortable) pub is actually the former Freehold Public Library. Having been to and reviewed the Court Jester in Matawan, another place where books--along with exceptional beers-- seem to be a theme, I can't say I was surprised. And Henry, the barman, knew his beers, which makes for an even better beer nut experience.

While Gregg and I discussed magazine issues of great moment with great beers in front of us, my eyes were drawn to some of the bric-a-brac on the walls of the Freehold place. I immediately thought that those American Picker guys would freak in this place. Check out some of these pics:

While I am not all that drawn to "picking," there is something about an old pub that simply resonates in my soul, and this pub--and its bric-a-brac-- made that happen. And there was no sign of dust on any of these signs.

It's a great place to quaff and eat, and it has a pretty impressive collection of craft beer--31 choices to be precise. It is, in my humble opinion, a throwback bar that will make you feel very comfortable. There is street parking as well as parking around back. There is alos patio dining available, weather permitting.

Watch your step as you enter the Men's Room so you don't trip into it as I did. And don't be surprised if you see Mike and Frank nosing around in the place. Probably won't be a major pick for them, as I doubt anything on the walls is for sale. But at least they can get good beer and good food.

Cheers! The PubScout

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Tale of Two Taverns

One of my simple pleasures is riding my motorcycle, especially on gorgeous days. There is nothing as soothing as the rumble of the big 1300 V-Twin as I cruise along two-lane country blacktop along a river or canal, or even on the slab (that's a multi-lane highway for you car folks). Wind in the face, sun on the arms and peace in the heart. No music (except for the songs I sing in my head), no stress (except for huckleberries who don't pay attention to their driving) and, most of the time, no definitive destination. If a road looks interesting, I take it just to see what's on it and where it comes out.

Heck's Angels bikers in Bethlehem, PA
It's why you don't see motorcycles parked outside the psychiatrist's office. Pubs? Different story.

I read a story online this morning about a Monmouth University professor and his class doing an archaeological dig around a now abandoned Revolutionary War tavern in the Pine Barrens.

Being a tavern buff, I decided to head down to check out the Cedar Bridge Tavern, located down a dirt road off Rt. 72 in Barnegat. After 70-some miles on the GSP and some country roads, my iron horse negotiated the tree-shaded dirt road called Old Halfway Road perfectly, with me trying to figure out how the road got its name. When I crossed a small bridge (Cedar Bridge?), I burst into a sunlit clearing in full view of what used to be a rest stop for Revolutionary travelers and soldiers. You can read the full story at the link above.

I dismounted and walked around the old place (which is under video surveillance) trying to imagine what it must have been like when the tavern was filled with thirsty, hungry customers from a time long gone by--tankards of ale clanking, Brown Besses leaning against the wall, and the conversation so unique to taverns of any age. My reverie was only broken by the knowledge that it was way past lunchtime, and my belly was voting for victual. That would require visiting a second tavern.

Cedar Bridge Tavern
As I headed back north via backroads, I considered various pubs en route as fitting places for my lunch stop when I came upon a sign that read 195-West. I knew that 195 West ended at Rt. 29, which just happens to go up the Delaware River on the Jersey side. My lunch destination became immediately clear: Patriot's Crossing Tavern in Titusville, right on the river. I have written about this pub previously here.

The vision of a Dirt Wolf and Tony's Sweet Garlic Chili wings--I'll dare to say there are none better-- at the bar was like a siren's song. And upon arrival, a real, live, smiling, enchanting siren named Farrah was handling the bar duties. Their beer menu changes regularly and the tap choices are excellent. if nothing there suits your fancy, check the coolers. Beer Nut Paradise.

The rest is, well, history. Two taverns in one day, with one feeding my history hunger and the other satisfying my real hunger and thirst. The day goes in my "memory bank."

Patriot's Crossing's is now officially one of The PubScout's favorite lunch stops.

Give it a shot; it might become one of yours, too.

For sure, I'll be back.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Garrett Oliver to Host Benefit Beer Dinner

Anytime an event can combine beer and historical preservation, The PubScout is all for it. So when Kim Benou contacted me and apprised me of this event, it was full speed ahead--which, given the compressed time frame, is a sound strategy. But a face-to-face opportunity with Oliver doesn't come along often.

 Delve into the art of pairing beer with food at a special Beer Pairings Dinner hosted by Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at the Brooklyn Brewery and a 2014 James Beard Award Winner.  The event will be held on Thursday, June 26, at the Mountain Lakes Club to benefit the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms.  Guests will enjoy a remarkable night of craft beer, fine dining and intimate conversation with Garrett, as he guides guests through a four-course meal expertly paired with Brooklyn Brewery beers, including some special offerings.  Tickets are $100 per person ($40 per ticket is tax deductible).  Reservations are required and seating is limited.  For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit the Stickley Museum’s website at or call 973-540-0311.

If you go, let me know!

The PubScout

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Big Doings at Carol and Ed's Place

Ed & Carol--R., Celebrating at McGillin's 150th anniversary
Carol and Ed Stoudt have long been recognized as two of the "elder statesmen" of the craft brew scene. Before Carol throws a firkin at me, that's not a reference to age, but to experience in the craft beer world.

And it's because of events like this at their Adamstown, PA compound. Celebrating the longest day of the year, the folks at Stoudt's have a great microfest planned for you, and there'll be another in August, in case you have other things to do Saturday, like visiting Stonehenge.

Check out the buffet menu:

Approximately 40 beers from fifteen breweries will be there, and, having visited Stoudt's on more than one occasion, I can vouchsafe that you'll find very good pairings and a whole lot of fun, especially if Ed gets the Chicken Hat out. Oh, and be sure to get some of Ed's Artisanal Bread.

The Stoudts are fun folks and their beers are outstanding. Likewise their Microfests. You will not be disappointed!

The PubScout

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Re-Branding The Office in Morristown

The PubScout's involvement with The Office Beer Bar goes back some seventeen years. That's when my story, "From Bouncer to Boardroom" (formerly "Working Late at The Office") came out. John Augustine brought The Office chain into the world of craft beer, insisting that everyone who served it knew what they were serving and why. The current ownership of The Office chain has changed from when Augustine was in charge, but the emphasis on craft beer has remained.

More recently, some beer tastings and a beer dinner at the Bridgewater Office  have been very well-received.

So when I learned that The Morristown Office was re-opening after an extensive (and expensive) renovation, I had to make the trek up 287 to check it out.

I'm glad I did.

Morristown, like Hoboken, is decidedly upscale. And handsome, well-attired (and apparently well-heeled) folks of both sexes traverse its sidewalks lined with fine bars, shops and eateries. But Morristown, unlike Hoboken, has streets that have actually been paved and resurfaced within the last 100 years, which makes traversing them better for both cars and drivers. And to my knowledge, the detestable practice of "booting" cars is not done as it is in the Mile Square City. Parking-wise, three quarters will get you 90 minutes of street parking time, which doesn't border on the usurious.

Das Boot
First, the physical plant of this now two-floor Office was completely gutted. The owners spared no expense to re-fit it properly, including all the decor and accoutrements that were custom designed for just this place--with artwork, beer boards, stools and chairs being updated. This two-level beauty, with al fresco dining at the street level as well, is a treat for the eyes. The dramatic bar and its forty beer taps are every bit as attractive as the TV's embedded in it.

Kevin Felice--Executive Chef
But what about the palate? The menu items are extensive and not wildly expensive--all made under the capable hands of Executive Chef Kevin Felice. (Is there any place you won't find an ALJ high school grad in a power position?) 

Because of the nature of the occasion, some of the Office's hierarchy were in the house, like VP Steve Buliva, GM Steve Hedden (there's always a wrestling connection, too, as one of his relatives wrestles for the storied South Plainfield program) and Marketing Manager Kathleen Janssen, whom I had met previously at the Bridgewater Office. The men were more than accommodating and friendly, not officious or condescending in the least; Kathleen was equally so and nothing less than radiant. 

Kathleen Janssen

Ditto the servers, like Dawn, the barstaff like Cat and Patch (I didn't ask how she got that name) and every other employee in the place who wore constant, genuine smiles. 

I soon learned that their attitudes filtered down from the top in the form of a quite friendly and unassuming guy who owns the entire chain of 40 North Restaurants
--Mr. Michele Scotto. Mr. Scotto, an Italian immigrant, opened his first pizza store adjacent to the Ed Sullivan theater in NYC fifty years ago and is celebrating that benchmark come September 11. No pretense, no "big-shot" attitude with him. Just a warm and friendly guy with a comfortable avuncular presence. He and his sons and grandsons are "hands-on" owners, insisting on a quality upscale/casual experience for their customers in every way.

Mr. Michele Scotto
After grilling Kathleen about the place and its 95 employees, I asked her what I should order.
"The Crispy Chicken Sandwich is to die for, but if you're into burgers, the tavern burger will amaze you," she said. "It has a homemade special sauce on it that's so secret, Kevin won't even let me know what's in it."

So I called Kevin over and asked him outright. Perhaps, remembering the inconveniences of after-school detention, he told me. But my lips are sealed.

At Kathleen's suggestion, I ordered the chicken sandwich, then asked my server Dawn what beer she would recommend with it. "Allagash White would work," she offered, and she was right. It appears that emphasis on beer education from John Augustine's days is in full vigor. The pairing was absolutely delicious. My table neighbors had raves about their selections, as well. 

When I ordered a Dogfish Head Midas Touch for dessert, I noted that it came in the appropriate glassware. I asked Dawn how she knew to put that beer in that glass, and she stated candidly, "I didn't. That stuff is all computerized when we put the beer order in." Beverage manager Russell Zimmerman must be a visionary. Neat.

So what are this bar's prospects for success? Very high in my opinion, given its business model, its attention to small details, its food, its servers and its management. Not to mention its "catchment area" of Morristown. 
"This is the brand now," says Kathleen. "This is the future of The Office. We purposely hired passionate foodies and beer nuts. Everything is created in-house. And our original 87 seats became 178 seats." 

Dawn, Cat and Patch

The formula must be working, because at opening day lunch, the customers just kept filing in, and I didn't see too many empty seats. She also said she plans to host some beer dinners in the future which will likely increase traffic.

Next on the list for major renovation are the Summit and Ridgewood facilities. If those plans turn out anything like the Morristown place, more and more people will be telling their spouses the line I coined as a headline in the old Beer and Tavern Chronicle way back in 1996 :

Sorry, honey, I'll be "Working Late at The Office."

The PubScout

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Would you or wouldn't you?

Joe Sixpack
If you are reading this column, chances are you've been to a beer festival or five.

My beerwriting colleague and Philly drinking pal Don Russell (aka Joe Sixpack) shares a story about a rather unusual one here.

Give it a read, and then answer the question in the title.

Personally, I'm at the age where I realize I look much better clothed. The pointing and the laughing in my direction would take the fun out of the experience for me.

But if such is your thing, Hugo Furst. I'd cover the story.

The PubScout

Monday, June 9, 2014

Gotta go some to top this beer commercial...

Yes, this commercial for Sapporo beer is a few years old.

No, The PubScout is not a devotee of Sapporo, though he would drink it before ingesting many mainstream beers.

But the bottom line is that this commercial may be the best beer commercial. Ever.
Though I first saw it moons ago, it is impressive still.

The PubScout

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Reigelsville Tavern--Civilization in Pennsy North of New Hope

Pennsylvania is a wonderful state. Motorcycle riders need not wear helmets (though why anyone would opt for such "freedom" gives me pause), and you can still smoke in bars and restaurants--at least most of them. It has many fine motorcycle roads in close proximity to Jersey, like the legendary Rt 32 and Rt. 611, which follow the scenic Delaware River's meanderings. That the turning point of the American Revolution emanated from PA also gives it a special place in the hearts of American patriots. Hessians and Brits--not so much.

Lambertville from New Hope
My beer buddy Paul Mulshine recently penned a column about the cigarette wars in which he discusses, among other things, the recent "war" between Jersey's Lambertville and PA's New Hope when it comes to smoking in bars. Bottom line: New Hope recently banned smoking to recoup customers from Lambertville.

While both towns are pleasant to visit during a weekday, this biker assiduously avoids them on the weekends, because, as Yogi Berra once said, "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded." Just trying to drive Rt. 32 through New Hope on a fine Saturday or Sunday will add large chunks of time to your trip. And all you're likely to see while you wait in traffic is people standing outside bars and restaurants doing what they now cannot do inside.

What's a guy who wants a break, a beer and a cigar to do? Try heading further north, where 32 ends and 611 begins. Cross into the Keystone State at Stockton, Frenchtown or Milford, and take 32 north. You'll come to a pleasant little burg called Riegelsville on the Pennsy side. Having stopped regularly at the Reigelsville Inn for beers and burgers, I noticed a bar just south of the town called the Reigelsville TAVERN. It usually had a large collection of motorcycles parked out front. Apart from the One Percenters' biker bars, that's usually a good sign.

But a "biker bar" this is not. I stopped in today on my trip south from Easton, PA on a gorgeous riding day. I dismounted, grabbed an Alvarez Robusto from my bag and found a shady seat on the patio. Within ten seconds, a gorgeous, dark-haired, dark-eyed server named Katie was at my shoulder.

I asked, "Is it OK to smoke this cigar out here?"

"Absolutely!" she exclaimed, flashing a genuine Hollywood smile. "I'll bring you an ashtray. What can I get you to drink?"

"I'll have a Goose Island IPA," I responded, and I sat down, opened the Alvarez Robusto, clipped the tip and lit up.

That sequence of events would not have happened in either New Hope or Lambertville.

Which is why I was in Reigelsville, and why I'll be going back to sample more of their fine beers and, according to bikers on the patio, the exceptional food.

The PubScout

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Got Bottles?

We all know what magic brewers work to fill beer bottles. But these guys work a little magic, too.

I say we help provide them with a constant supply of their instrument of choice: Beer Bottles.

(But not the one to the right...that's a collector's item.)

The PubScout