Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Looks Like Walt C. is the guy to beat...

Masskrugstemmen at the Racquets Club
The PubScout is a big fan of stein hoisting competitions at his dinners, and apparently it's a craze that's catching on.

Called Masskrugstemmen in Germany, it's a very popular event at many Oktoberfest celebrations.

And those of you with strong arms might want to win a trip to Munich for next year's competition. Check out the details at Sam Adams' site. Be advised that you'll have to input your age to get into it, but it looks like great fun.

There's a separate contest for the ladies, too. For what it's worth, I wouldn't mess with Joann M., either.

Check it out. You could be going to Munich!

Of course, it looks like the people at Sam Adams use real beer, too. They can afford to. My events use water. Watch the Steinshaming video while you're there.

I hate to see even a little bit of good beer spilled.
Worse, I hate the nasty comments onlookers make when I go to lap it up.

The PubScout

Sunday, October 12, 2014

O-Fest Beer Dinners Are Some Racquet

Victoria offers up a Ramstein
Double Platinum Blonde
There is a first time for everything, apparently.

While The PubScout has hosted many beer dinners, Oktoberfest and otherwise, they have always been at restaurants, pubs or brewpubs that are open to the public. The one I hosted on October 11, however, was at a private establishment--The Racquets Club of Short Hills.

The result, however, was the same. Great food, great beers--all from NJ--some raucous singing and stories, German lessons, a laughing, loud and fun crowd and a Masskrugstemmen contest all combined to make a memorable night for all.
Now wrestling, Maria at 112 lbs.

The dinner was the brainchild of club bar manager Maria Varga, who, while having hosted wine dinners, had never ventured into the world of craft beer and food pairing. Her working relationship with Racquets Club Pool Manager John Foscolo, beer connoisseur and wrestling coach (how's that for a pairing?), made her contact yours truly. I explained that my mission was to make the general public aware that (if I may borrow from Shakespeare's Hamlet) "there are more beers in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." And they almost all go well with various foods.

Utilizing her floor and kitchen staff to efficient perfection, Maria came away with her perceptions about beer altered, and all for the better. She did note that the atmosphere at the first-ever beer dinner was markedly different from the usually sedate nature of the wine gatherings. So, whatever the opposite of "sedate" is, that's what this event was. And it was great fun.

A healthy mix of men and women, all club members, gathered to learn about how to taste beer, and more importantly, how to enjoy pairing it with food. Chef Jose's menu was creatively and excellently drawn up and delivered. It consisted of five courses, each course paired with a Jersey beer.

Course 1--Radicchio/Endive salad with beets, mushrooms, haricot vert and sliced eggs in a Charlotte Mustard was accompanied by Ramstein's Double Platinum Blonde
Course 2--German Potato Cabbage Soup (super, by the way) joined by Dave Hoffman's Oktoberfest
Course 3-- Wurst Assortment of Knockwurst, Bratwurst and Weisswurst with Braised Red Cabbage, paired with Ramstein's Dunkel Weiss
Course 4 (Entree)--Weiner Schnitzel with Spaetzle, Fines Herbs and Braised Brussels Sprouts. This excellent course was paired with Angry Erik's Vanagandr
Course 5 (Dessert)--Apple Cranberry Kuchettes (incredible!) accompanied by Carton of Milk Stout

Hoffman's Oktoberfest earned plenty of praise, but Angry Erik's Vanagandr, Ramstein's beers and Carton Milk Stout also gathered a healthy share of new adherents. More than one guest gushed, "I never knew beer could taste like this!"

Eight brave, game (and possibly beer-emboldened) guests, six men and two women, came up for the Masskrugstemmen contest, and their efforts were applauded by the attendees whose camera phones were clicking wildly away. The winner received a free invitation to the next beer dinner at the club, courtesy of Maria and Ken, the club manager.

Die Masskrugstemmen!
The Pub at the Racquets Club is ideal for such events, with its open, yet cozy layout, and the bar itself is on a kind of stage where great bars and great beer drinkers belong.

My only disappointment came from the realization that such great food and beer in such a great place was not open to the general public, though Ken advised that an entrepreneurial promoter could rent out the beer-dinner-friendly pub for more events like this. Still, those lucky souls who did come out had a "night to remember," according to John Foscolo, and another such session is in the works for the Spring.

I hung out at the "Wives' End" of the table

I don't know if there's a waiting list to belong to the Racquets Club, but you can't say you didn't have time to inquire. Just ask for Greg, Maria or Ken.
And you may be lucky enough to attend the next beer dinner as a member.

Provided, of course, that it's not sold out.
In that case, you can opt for "sedate."

Mother of FOUR?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Black and Blue: Poe's Place?

I had occasion yesterday to visit Easton, PA, and my usual stop when there is at Porters' Pub, a quintessential tavern with a remarkable beer list, a neat mug club and superlative food.

But this visit was a few blocks away at yet another tavern owned by Larry Porter called Black and Blue. It is one of the neatest drinking emporia I have ever patronized.

With a decor reminiscent of La Belle Epoque, the place exuded character and depth. The bathtub in the vestibule containing beer-related periodicals (like NJ Brew) lets the visitor know early on that this is not your buddy's sports bar. Dimly lit, except at the bar, the drinking areas had overstuffed chairs at a fireplace as well as tables for two and four.

And it has absinthe. Once illegal in this country (due mostly to temperance movements and myth), it is no longer, and entrepreneur Larry Porter jumped on the opportunity to stock it, making Black and Blue the largest purveyor of la fee verte--the green fairy--in the tristate area. Unsurprisingly, this pub also has an extensive and admirable beer list.

Edgar Allan Poe
Hence, it was not difficult at all to imagine Edgar Allan Poe at one of these tables with a glass of absinthe, his marvelous pen and mind busy at work (though whether he actually imbibed it at all is questioned by serious biographers).

Technically, of course, Poe died long before La Belle Epoque, but Black and Blue is a place in which his brooding melancholy would likely have found solace. I know I found it, especially with a wide variety of absinthe, which I had never tried, on the menu. For the record, mine tasted like licorice skim milk. It was quite good.

Many people think Poe was a drug addict and an alcoholic (read this link for more), but, being a student of his work, I seriously doubt that the precision of his poetry and complex sentences could be accomplished while under the influence of anything much stronger than tea. And the reality is that his constitution was not well suited for alcohol consumption at all, hence a small amount could have a large impact on him. That's especially possible with absinthe, which is notorious for high alcohol content. The one I ordered (and thoroughly enjoyed) was called Vieux Carre, and it was 138 proof. That's kick-ass by anyone's standard, and it would have absolutely rendered Poe both inebriated--and literarily incapacitated--had he romanced it.

Vieux Carre Absinthe
In any event, Black and Blue, located right across from The Courthouse, also boasts a very creative and delicious array of foods to have with your absinthe, beer or tea. I opted for an appetizer called Wild Boar Brat with a fig mustard that was delivered on a slab of polished granite, topped by a house made large pretzel. It was absolutely fabulous, though not overly large in portion, which would allow room to sample the other delicacies on the menu. Porter is a devotee of fine food as well as fine beers, absinthes and spirits, and he shares that passion with his customers.

I sat in an overstuffed chair in a darkened room near a fireplace on the night I visited, and there were five decorative skulls on the mantel. I asked Larry if this deco was for Halloween, and he responded no, that it was "year round." I suppose I can be forgiven if Poe and The Raven came to mind. But it was neat as heck to sip my absinthe and recall some of those famous lines which I have committed to memory:
"Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December, and each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor..."

Be advised. Though its food and beverages are varied and delicious, this is not your typical pub. Interaction among customers is encouraged, as is personal reflection if you are there alone. It was oddly comforting to me to sit alone and absorb the unique ambiance of this establishment. In fact, it made me want to write this column.
And as I was finishing it, I realized that yesterday (October 7) was the anniversary of Poe's death. Spooky, no?

But will this column do for my career what The Raven did for Poe's?


The PubScout

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Where Washington Quaffed--and Andre Waited

Major John Andre
As a lover of old taverns (not to mention the beer available therein), I was intrigued by a recent news article on the oldest of them, and then subsequently drawn to Tappan, NY to visit the Old 76 House.

Supposedly one of the oldest--if not THE oldest--taverns in America, this historic building, built in 1686, simply exudes history. From its old brick exterior to its dark, wide-planked floors, to its monstrous, hand-hewn beams and actual period bric-a-brac, this place should be in the dictionary next to the phrase the kids like to use-- "back in the day."

Except in this case, the "day" is during the American Revolution. And this tavern was in the thick of it, to hear owner Robert Norden tell the tale--which he does animatedly and exceptionally well. Norden, whose now-deceased father (also Robert) owned NYC's oldest tavern--Fraunces Tavern, grew up amid tavern history and was the architect hired to restore the Old 76 House to its colonial glory. Apparently, he liked the job he did so much, he bought the place.

The Old 76 House, Tappan, NY
It is clear that Norden loves the tavern, and to listen to him talk about it is to travel back to the days of George Washington, Nathaniel Green, Benedict Arnold and British spy John Andre. Norden held our table of bikers spellbound while telling of Andre's capture. Two "cowboys" (which didn't mean then what it does now) accosted him and he was being relieved of his fine footgear when the cowboys noticed some papers had fallen from Andre's boots. Those papers were the plans concocted by traitor Benedict Arnold to give over West Point to the British. The rest is, well, history.
Benedict Arnold's picture in the tavern

And it was in the very room where we polished off pint after pint of delicious Tavernkeeper Ale (which is actually a lager made by nearby Defiant Brewing) that Washington declared April 19, 1783  the real Independence from Great Britain Day, because that is when Great Britain officially recognized America as a free and independent nation.

As fate would have it, the day of our visit was the anniversary of the hanging of John Andre by Washington just in back of the house. And as fate would also have it, today was Sunday Brunch day, and the bikers got to select from an array of foods that would make a cruise ship maitre d' jealous. Delicious Eggs Benedict, Succulent Omelets, Roast Beef, Pork, Chicken Marsala, fruit, vegetables and salads and bread goods were all available in seeming perpetuity.

Owner Robert Norden regales us with history

While it may sound strange to some who have followed this column, I never had ale or lager with my breakfast, but there's a first time for everything. My Tavernkeeper Ale complemented my food perfectly. As Biker John said, "This beer would go with anything!"

Katerina and Inalit
The staff, including sultry hostess Inalit and the lovely Katerina--herself a biker since age six--were most accommodating and pleasant.

Though Major Andre did not do actual "hard time" while a prisoner in the tavern, I somehow doubt that his experience was as pleasant as ours. So much so, that every member of the group declared they would be coming back to the Old 76 House. It's about an hour from Central Jersey, and well worth the trip.

The actual door that imprisoned John Andre

Just make sure your boots have no secret papers in them.

Or this door could be yours...

The PubScout

Big Props to Three "Jersey" Brewers

The Great American Beer Festival in full swing
Author's Note: Following the links in this story will enrich your appreciation of it.

The annual GABF is history now, and Denver can return to normal (whatever that is).

But big props are certainly due to Kane and Flying Fish, the only two Jersey breweries to bring home those coveted Gold medals, according to news releases.

In actuality, however, there is a third "Jersey" winner of Gold. Tom Baker, who with wife Peggy, owns Earth, Bread and Brewery in Mt. Airy, PA (Philly) won Gold for his Perkuno's Hammer Baltic Porter. Tom earned his brewing bones in Jersey, however, when he launched Heavyweight Brewing in Ocean.

Tom and Peg
It was there in the year 2000 that he and Beer Nut Lew Bryson gave birth to Perkuno's Hammer, a Baltic Porter that was a big Jersey hit way back then. Read that Perkuno's Hammer story here. It's almost like being present at the birth. Some great writing there...

Heavyweight's tanks also saw the creation of a fantastic Alt/Stickebier called Stickenjab, brewed by Tom Baker in conjunction with the NJ Association of Beer Writers, founded in Princeton's Triumph Brewpub by Gary Monterosso, Mark Haynie, Lew Bryson, Jim Carlucci and yours truly.

The PubScout applauds all those who are doing wonderful things in the beer world.

But let's not forget those who write about it, either.
For how else would the world know what to drink?

(And how ugly is that dude on the bottle? No wonder the beer was retired.)

The PubScout

Friday, October 3, 2014

Now That's a Decent Deal

$15 for a brew, a shirt and an authentic German Food Buffet with all those good eats above? And those beers are nothing to sneeze at! Looks like my friends at the Old Bay are doing it up right!

The PubScout is there!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Smooth Sailing for Paragon Tap & Table

After a September "shakedown cruise" which helped this establishment gain its "sea legs," Paragon Tap & Table seems to have found a safe harbor in Clark.

Lured by Michael DeSimone's promise of Oktoberfest Beers and a special 5 PM cask tapping of Ramstein's excellent Marzen, I headed into the place at about 4:45. The bar area had plenty of available seats, both at the bar and at the tables. Twenty-one colorful taps beckoned to the Beer Nut.

First Pour!
So I sidled up to watch Mike tap that bunghole, a task which he carried out with great facility, though not much fanfare. Not that fanfare for this beer was necessary. There's a reason why gave it a 97, and the proof was in the drinking. I was honored to have the first glass of this outstanding example of the style, and by the time I had finished half of it, those empty seats were almost all filled, keeping bartenders Paige, Dana and Craig moving.

Twenty-one superb beers are on the PT&T draft menu, and the bottled collection brings the total to over 60. Paige, on board for just two weeks, handed me my Ramstein very nicely.


Even nicer, happy hour prices were in effect. While the beers are what drew me, I also recalled how delicious Chef Eric LeVine's food was at the soft opening, and I got ten absolutely tender and delicious wings for just $6. Half were of the "Beer Glazed" variety, and the other half were called "Seven Dusted," being dusted with seven spices.

To accompany those wings, Craig Schiedlo poured me an Ommegang Scythe and Sickle Harvest Ale which complemented those wings perfectly. Craig, usually assigned to the Morristown Tap and Grill was featured in my blog post about the soft opening.


He is the quintessential server: friendly, efficient and very beer knowledgeable; and apparently his higher-ups recognized his value in the new digs. So he has been re-assigned to PT&T. Good move, management.

The PubScout was further rewarded with a surprise hug and kiss from a gorgeous chef, and then bartender Dana proffered a Weyerbacher Autumnfest. It was also very good, and encouraged good conversation at the bar with an old friend, Larry, and a new friend, Larissa.

By the time I headed out, the place was packed and in full swing, which included live entertainment. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, including those behind the bar.

I predicted in my last column about Paragon Tap & Table that it would have a long honeymoon.

I love being right.

The PubScout