Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Hitting "The Brix"

The Brix City Boys--Joe Delcalzo and Pete Reuther
The first microbrewery in Bergen County—Brix City Brewing-- has hit the ground running. Owners and high school buddies Joe Delcalzo and Pete Reuther, like many now in the Jersey beer business, got their start as homebrewers. Working with a beermaking kit, they produced their first beer—a robust porter—and according to Pete, their first beer was a big hit among their circle of friends.
 “We thought it was pretty good, and when we took it to a party, everybody else did, too,” said the US Army veteran.
Considering that everybody at the party was feeling no pain at night’s end, Reuther and Delcalzo figured they had a winner.

Change that to winners, as the duo, along with Brewer Sean Foley, are cranking out close to seventy barrels a month in a variety of styles.

 Their “Porter Authority,” probably an homage to their first beer, is an outstanding example of the style, and was the first one Delcalzo offered The PubScout on a recent visit to their Little Ferry operation. Along with Gloria Belgian Blonde and Cheap Labor, a hoppy pale ale, the smooth Porter is part of the year-round lineup.

Five IPA’s—one for every taste-- also can be found in the rotating beers: Brews Willis (an American IPA), Just Another Double IPA (an Imperial IPA hopped with Citra) and its little brother Just Another IPA are three of them. Kill The King (KTK) is another Imperial IPA coming in at 8.7% ABV, and it’s joined by Chuck Bowman, a Black IPA hopped with Simcoe. On the day of our visit, The PubScout Tasting Team (The PTT) was offered a very tasty Belgian IPA as well.
A delicious and beautiful-to-behold Belgian Dubbel, a Belgian Tripel (unsampled) and a Czech Pilsner called Jaromir Lager (also unsampled) round out the rotation.

Belgian Dubbel

Seasonal offerings include St. Stephen, a saison, Brix City Marzen and a 9.5% Imperial R.I.P. Stout. Derek Wheater is a an American Wheat beer hopped with Sorachi Ace.
The team is also enamored of sour beers, and is considering setting aside at least one tank as a “Brett” tank.

The PubScout Tasting Team was impressed with most of the offerings, and Pete and Joe even brought out some “green” beers to sample.
Such a repertoire must keep Brewer Foley, a Rutgers Prep alum, pretty busy. But, as a former wrestler, he’s totally up to the task, even if he has to take occasional advantage of a suspended hammock in the brewhouse on occasion.

Some rest for the weary...
“Everybody here is busting their butts,” said Pete. “But we are on a mission to produce good, flavorful, bold beers. And we know that someday our hard work will pay big dividends.”

In many ways, the operation—and the name-- is itself an homage to Newark’s legendary brewing roots, and the entire back wall is a huge map of The Brick City in 1895, delineating with large numbered dots where most, if not all, of its famous breweries of yesteryear set up shop. The map is the handiwork of Pete’s dad, Doug. So impressive and nostalgic is it that The PubScout suggested they produce smaller, take-home handouts to give to those who visit the tasting room. They’d make a nice keepsake. As would bottles in the shape of bricks....

Newark's Breweries in 1895
Tastefully appointed, and bearing more of Doug’s artwork, Delcalzo and Reuther built much of the interior by hand, including a long bar which beckons the beer drinker to belly up. There’s even a Graffitti Cooler you can sign with a Sharpie in case you want to let future visitors know you were here.

Some visitors are clearly more artistic than others...
In addition to those beers mentioned above, upcoming offerings will include 1064 City Bock (sampled, and very tasty), Brix Barleywine and Silk City Stout.

Delcalzo and Reuther are planning to distribute their beers to more local pubs and restaurants, too. Currently, they can be found in forty-four establishments, and some of those places are among the “heaviest hitters” in Jersey when it comes to beer. You can see the list and locations here.
The PubScout Tasting Team
Just about a forty-five minute ride up the NJ Turnpike from Central Jersey, Brix City Brewing is well worth the visit, and if the owners’ plans for expansion come to fruition, there will be a Biergarten outside for fair-weather quaffing very soon. No food is available, however, but you can certainly bring your own munchies.

Amboy Tasters in the house!

The next time The PubScout Tasting Team hits "The Brix," that’s exactly what we’ll do.
If you want to join the Team, send a request to 

Cheers and Hoppy New Beer!
The PubScout

Monday, December 21, 2015

Lots to Like at The Office in Summit

The PubScout's involvement with The Office Beer Bar goes back nearly two decades. That's when my story, "From Bouncer to Boardroom" (formerly "Working Late at The Office") came out. A former bouncer named 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. Now owned by 40 North Restaurants, the emphasis on craft beer and a quality dining experience has remained.

When I covered the rebranding of the Morristown Office in2014, I was duly impressed with the ambiance of the place, the quality of the food and, of course, the variety of the beer.

The recently revamped Summit facility is clearly another success story for the brand. Decidedly different in interior design than its unique, multi-level sister pub in Morristown, the décor of Summit Office is at once welcoming, visually compelling and, like its sister, very conducive to a great pub experience.

Airy and intimate, it reminded The PubScout of a high-end English Country Manor House. The bar is larger than the one in Morristown, too, and differently arranged—complete with a neat, compact, snug-like corner section. Specially treated windows allow patrons to see out on the busy street, but prevent curious passersby from looking in—and drooling.

Like a number of successful Central Jersey pubs--Kilkenny House (Garwood), Hailey’s Harp & Pub (Metuchen), JJ Bittings (Woodbridge), The Rail House (Rahway), The Office is near the local train station—in fact, directly across the street. That alone can mean plenty in terms of capturing clientele, especially for those who have left their own work offices to seek libation and victual in an Office of a different nature.

In fact, affable Divisional VP Steve Baliva, whom I met previously in Morristown, allowed that the train stop location allowed the old Office to do a pretty sound business, and there was substantive discussion about the wisdom of closing down for six months to revamp. But given what The PubScout’s visit revealed today, it shouldn’t take long to make up for lost time.

There was a third croquette, but I wasn't quick enough
to capture it on the plate
The food was nothing short of superb, but that’s to be expected considering who’s in the kitchen. ALJ graduate and Corporate Chef Kevin Felice, who was on hand for the Morristown Opening, was the culinary captain for the Summit event. Go here to read about Kevin's importance to the company. Even more intriguing, there will be dishes available at the Summit facility that will not appear in Morristown—and vice-versa. 

Though the actual establishments may vary in title—from The Office Beer Bar and Grill, to The Office Tavern and Grill, they are all part of the 40 North family. For that matter, so is another PubScout favorite pub called The Black Horse Tavern and Pub in Mendham. There are Offices in Montclair, Ridgewood, Bridgewater and Westfield, in addition to Morristown and Summit.

But I digress. Our food was excellent. The missus—aka The Crab Croquettes Queen—allowed that hers were phenomenal, and the portion size required her to transport some home. Same with her very fresh salad, which was served in what seemed like a small wading pool. No wonder The Office doggie bags are as big as shopping bags.

None was needed by yours truly, however, whose American Classic Hamburger came out perfectly done to order, and in a manageable, bite-able size. Its ingredients were also very fresh. My plate was cleaned.

From among the forty beers on tap, the missus opted for an Allagash White, and I got to tap the first Forgotten Boardwalk Funnel Cake on Nitro ever served in the new place. District Beer Manager Kendra is a loyal devotee of Jersey beers and has at least five on tap at all times. Today, in addition to the Funnel Cake, there was Kane Head High, Carton Boat, and Magnify had two in the form of Search Saison and Vine Shine. Even some outstanding can offerings like Dale’s Pale Ale and Six Point Resin were available. 

The missus had no room for dessert, but mine came in the form of a Troeg’s Mad Elf. If I have to explain that, you lose whatever beer cred you think you have.
The place has a 150-person capacity in the winter, but once summer comes, an additional thirty-five spots will be utilized for alfresco dining. The only possible negative, which seems to be a common problem in cities and towns with great beer bars, might be the paucity of parking nearby. If you’re not lucky enough to snag one of the few directly in front of the place or nearby around the corners, you might have to hoof it a bit, which I did, new hip and all.

But don’t let that deter you.
A good pub is worth a little extra effort to get to, and with a friendly staff, excellent ambiance, delicious food and forty quality beers on tap The Office in Summit certainly qualifies as that.

And, if you wanted to, you could always take the train.

The PubScout

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Brewer's Apprentice: Making Beer a Social Event since 1998

Proprietor JoEllen
When I first wrote about The Brewer's Apprentice in Freehold--lo, almost eighteen years ago--the business was located in a different spot. You can read that story here.

And, apart from the location, not much has changed. Business is pretty good, according to JoEllen, "considering the many choices people have available today regarding where to spend their beer dollars."
Apparently, the fun of making it and bottling it yourself is still high on the list, especially if you do it with others. 

The PubScout Beer & Bikers Club is a FaceBook organization dedicated to, well, beer and bikes. Its mission statement reads:

The PBBC (PubScout Beers & Bikers Club) is an organization of friends who both ride motorcycles and who are responsible and mature enough to enjoy a beer during a stop, especially for lunch. 

This club DOES NOT encourage wanton drunkenness or excessive drinking while operating ANY motor vehicle, but it accepts the fact that responsible adults are perfectly capable of making responsible decisions about enjoying adult beverages--especially good beer--during a ride. 

Modern day Do-Gooders and Temperance Leaguers ... should not apply for admission to this exclusive club. If they do, however, we shall raise a pint to denying you admission at our next meet up.

The PBBC hard at work...

The Club just finished its second very successful Brew Session at the Brewer's Apprentice (taking advantage of an excellent Groupon Coupon) and though we got there by four-wheeled conveyances instead of two (you can't transport large amounts of beer in saddle bags), we had a great time. 

More importantly, we brought home ample supplies of some really great beer. Each recipe yields six cases of twelve 22 oz. bomber bottles for a total of seventy two bottles of the freshest beer you can buy. And better yet, YOU made it.

Na Zdravi!
You used the house ingredients--malt, hops, yeast and water. You used their equipment--kettles, grain bowls, grinders (if necessary) and scales. They package up your product and store it until it's fermented and ready for bottling. Then you come down with the bottles you either saved or purchased, sanitize them, fill them and cap them. 

Of course, the temptation to sample your product during this "arduous" process is very great, so don't be surprised if you're a bottle or three short--as we were. That kind of camaraderie is what adds to the fun, and occasionally allows you to make new friends by proudly sharing your beer with perfect strangers--who are just brewing their own.

Better than yard work...
It's an excellent way to socialize and get your own good, fresh beer in the process. 
Certainly better than raking leaves. But at least when you DO have to rake them, you have a reward waiting for you when you're done.

The PubScout

Friday, October 30, 2015

When it Comes to Beer, No Monkeying Around Here

Kaz (R.), the Birthday Boy
My middle son turns twenty-five in the next few days. Like most parents, I wonder where the hell the time went, but I don’t fret about it either.

Especially since I introduced him to the pleasure of good beer when I could still pick him up. He’ll be spending his birthday out of state, but he spends a prodigious amount of in-state time in Jersey City where his ladylove resides. Since he knows what The PubScout does, he suggested that I visit The Iron Monkey. So I suggested we all visit the night before his departure to celebrate.

I didn’t know what to expect, but it sure wasn’t what I expected. I had heard good things, especially about the beer list, but I had not seen the level of advertising that other beer places in a revitalized Jersey City seem to generate—and there are many splashed across the pages of print and social media.

The narrow, four-storey building sits on the corner of Greene and York in the prestigious Paulus Hook section. From most locations near it, the magnificent NYC skyline dominates the scene and commands attention.

In contrast, the entrance to this pub (where forty-two beers are on tap and hundreds more available in bottles) is rather nondescript. In fact, absent the beer signage, a passerby might think it a corner bodega.
But that impression is immediately dispelled upon entering. A narrow room, a darkish, loud bar (though the place was hardly at capacity) was bounded by a long wooden staircase, which, we learned, would transport a thirsty quaffer three flights up to an open rooftop with spectacular views—and brews. As this was not an hospitable evening weather-wise, we opted to stay indoors, but that roof must be a hopping place in good weather.

 After being greeted by the affable manager Kevin Ortega and his boss, Maggie, we proceeded to the second, somewhat quieter level for our session. The beer list was impressive—especially the draft selections. The Birthday Boy ordered up a Lost Abbey Red Barn, while I went with Port Brewing’s Wipeout IPA.

A saison, containing Grains of Paradise and with notes of orange, ginger and pepper, the Red Barn was quite good (I stole a few sample sips). But as the days grow shorter and the nights grow cooler, my thirst for saisons wanes. I noticed Port Brewing’s Wipeout IPA was available, so I ordered one before our food arrived. It was delightfully delicious, and it gives Pliny the Elder a run for its money. Beautiful color, fascinating nose and it bombards the palate with a variety of flavors from pine to citrus to tropical fruit, all balanced nicely on a healthy malt backbone.

Port Brewing Wipeout IPA

Our server Ryan brought the first one in the requisite tulip glass, but he made a significant improvement with the delivery of the second. And I enjoyed that one just as much.

The food was very good, well prepared and nicely presented, and priced a la Jersey City, if you get my drift. There was an attractive Crème Brulee Cheesecake on the menu, and the birthday boy decided to split one with his lady. 

But my dessert had been reserved on the beer menu forty-five minutes earlier—a Saucony Creek Chocolate Cherry Schnickelfritz. An Imperial Milk Stout made with lactose for a nice smoothness, it was exceptional and filling, though at 210 calories, probably far less damaging than the cheesecake. A schnickelfritz is supposedly a rebellious child, and a few of these at 8% ABV could create some mischief for sure. Not to mention DWI’s. So I only had one. But I’d have it again for dessert after Thanksgiving or Christmas Dinner. Or after the can of split pea soup I’m making tonight.

Chocolate Cherry Schnickelfritz
The Iron Monkey is owned by Stephen McIntyre (who is responsible for the incredible beer selection), and it has been in business since 1996—ironically the year I began writing about craft beer. So why didn’t I visit this place sooner?

It’s an intriguing building with an equally intriguing layout, and I should probably research its history when I get some time.

But for now, I’ll have to be content to return to The Iron Monkey to do my research. It fits The PubScout’s requirements of Good Pubs, Good Beer, Good People quite well.

If any of you schnickelfritzes want to join me, sing out.


The PubScout

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Chester's Publick House: Perfect Stop on a Perfect Riding Day

The gorgeous back roads of Somerset and Hunterdon Counties beckon motorcycle riders from April through October, and when a perfect Autumn day occurs, two-wheel time is compulsory. This past Sunday was just one of those days, and the Borough of Chester, where Rt. 206 intersects with County Rd. 513 was chock full of visitors, most using four-wheeled conveyances, however.

That would account for the fullness, at least in part, of the parking lot of Chester's Publick House. What the old building, which offers lodging, has inside would likely account for the fullness of the House itself. A decent beer list, a varied (if somewhat pricey) menu and some great ambiance attracted tourists, pumpkin pickers and day-trippers galore.

After eighty miles or so of two-lane twisty blacktop roads, it was time for a P&P stop. Already jammed with people, with more coming in, I doubted there would be space. There were, however, two seats at the bar, where the barmaid Victoria was busily trying to meet the food and beverage demands of the guests.

I ordered up a beer I had never tried--Erdinger's Oktoberfest--because, well, it's that time of the year. It did not look like any Oktoberfest beer I knew of. Pale yellow in color, with the distinctive characteristics of a classic German wheat beer, I asked Victoria if she indeed had brought the right one. She allowed that she had. It was tasty, if atypical, but it did go extremely well with my Lentil Soup. 

As would the house-made bread I ordered, had it come out with the soup--which it didn't. But Victoria explained that as it was made in house, its delivery would take a bit longer. When it did come, it was totally worth the wait. It was one of those breads that you eat so much of before your meal, that you might not finish your meal at all.

You can read the history of this old pub here. That it has some haunted history as well makes it even more appealing to those whose interest in spirits goes beyond the liquid variety.

After lunch, an Alvarez in the sunny parking lot under cloudless blue skies readied me for the second half of my perambulations. There's just something very therapeutic about motorcycle riding on blacktop roads ablaze with Fall colors that seem to permeate the senses, already primed with the comforting growl of 1300 cc's. It's called Wind Therapy for a reason, and may be why you rarely, if ever, see a motorcycle parked at a psychiatrist's office. 

Unless it belongs to the doctor.

The Publick House is a lot less crowded during the week, according to Victoria, but on this day, Yogi Berra's classic comment made perfect sense: "Nobody goes there any more; it's too crowded."

Apparently, "nobody" was not familiar with it.

The PubScout