Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Sunday, May 31, 2015

No More Working Late at the Office...

in Cranford, at least.

According to a tip from Beer Buddy Mike G., the former beer mecca will close its doors after 25 years today. In its place will come a casual pub called The Thirsty Turtle. No word as yet regarding an opening date.

The closing brings a nostalgic tear to The PubScout's eye for it was at the Cranford location that I met with and interviewed John Augustine in 1996. John, a former bouncer, became the head beer guy for all The Office restaurants, launching them into the beer spotlight as legitimate beer bars.

My story, From Bouncer to Boardroom, earned me an Honorable Mention at the North American Guild of Beer Writers Awards at the GABF in Denver.

So thanks for the memories, John and The Office. While its other facilities are still operating, those beer nuts from the Cranford pub will no longer be able to use "I was working late at The Office" as an excuse for coming home tardy.

Best wishes go to the new guys on the block, too. And though I will certainly make it a point to review the pub that will replace The Office, I'll have to find a new excuse.

"Sorry I'm late, dear. I was with The Thirsty Turtle," probably won't cut it.
Unless, of course, The Turtle is good enough keep me there a long time.

The PubScout

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Die Alte Schule Braumeister of Roselle Park

If you like good old-school straight talk and good, old school beer, get over to the Climax Brewery in Roselle Park, NJ on any Friday night. The place is open from 5:30 till 8:30, so I stopped by, and there was a steady stream of beer nuts pouring in, some from as far away as Pennsylvania. They were drinking and talking beer in a very relaxed, casual setting, enjoying the beautiful weather, music and the general atmosphere.

Dave Hoffman
That's where one of my favorite beer guys, Dave Hoffman, Die Alte Schule Braumeister, offers tastings and tours, along with some slammin' brews. His Helles Lager was outstanding, and his 6.8% Spring Bock was equally so.

And it's where, near the tanks or under the umbrellas, Dave holds court, ready to talk about anything beer-related--from his sacred Reinheitsgebot to regulatory red tape that poses obstacles to so many in the industry. And he holds forth on all topics--beer-related or not--with uncommon vigor. A typical Hoffmanism about flavoring beer with other 'stuff'--"If you can't make good beer with just water, malt, hops and yeast, ya got no business makin' beer."

We chatted about my recent trip to the Asbury Festhalle and Biergarten for that phenomenal 1842 Pilsner Urquell, because I knew he'd appreciate good beer in its purest form. That's when he informed me that very soon, he'd have ready a "banging" Czech Pilsner that would "knock my socks off."

I suggested that his beers would very likely go over well in the various biergarten settings of Asbury Park, Hoboken or Jersey City, and he seemed interested in the idea. Of course, running his own place as well as being the head brewer at Artisan's in Toms River puts some restrictions on his time, but busy people are usually the ones who get things done.

The "Petes" of Artisan's
If you're in the Roselle Park area on a Friday evening, stop by for some brew and banter. It will not be time wasted.

The PubScout

Friday, May 29, 2015

1842--Apparently a Very Good Year

Jen Lambert and Vaclav Berka
The PubScout has always maintained that you meet some of the nicest people around good beer--and in good beer places. That maxim held true Thursday evening when I visited (for the second time) the fabulous Asbury Festhalle and Biergarten in renascent Asbury Park, NJ. 

No need to look up "renascent." Just go to this place and try to find a parking space, and your search will tell you all you need to know about Asbury Park's rebirth. According to nice person #1, Jen Lambert, that's a sign of growth, and if it is, the Asbury Festhalle and Biergarten is on steroids. Jen is the event manager, in charge of social media for the place and her business partners, nice persons #2 and #3, Andi Ivanov and Ladi Sebestyan. Ladi and Andi opened their first NJ Biergarten hit--the Pilsener Haus-- in 2011 in Hoboken. You can read my review here. 

In that piece, I stated that the men had taken a big gamble, betting that the American public would warm to the biergarten mode of drinking and dining. That gamble has paid off big time, as the Festhalle is proving. And they're even launching initiatives to alleviate the parking problem by using mass transit discounts, bike racks and a golf cart-like shuttle called The Free Ride which makes a circuit from the boardwalk to downtown. Even new Uber users will get $20 off their first fare.

Though Lambert concedes there is stress associated with her role, she welcomes it, despite the task of insuring that 3,000 people a day on the weekends leave sated and happy. Which, of course, pretty much guarantees their return. 

When she's not doing those business duties, this smiling, convivial lass is a musical performer, and she'll be doing that gig on her birthday--July 1 of this summer. 

It was great seeing both Andi (with his patented fedora) and Ladi again, too. But why were they here?

Beer, man. 

And the beer this time was very special. Pilsner Urquell, made in Plzen, Czechoslovakia is considered by many to have been the first "craft" beer. The unusual (at the time) bright golden color was a big hit with Czechs, who take their beer very seriously and who have the highest per capita beer consumption level in the world. 

Bryan Panzica fills Ryan in on the subtle points of 1842 beer
So seriously, in fact, that Bryan Panzica, nice person #4 and Trade Quality Manager for the Northeastern Region shared this tidbit with The PubScout: At many Czech pubs and taverns, you will find lots of beer, but few hard liquors.

And, as a customer at many of them, you are expected to quaff said beer in large quantities. At the famous Golden Lion, for example, you must consume six half-liters in your first hour, five more in your second hour and four more in your third. If you fall behind, they will politely hand you your check--and your hat--and ask you to leave. Such protocol very likely accounts for the per capita beer record mentioned above, as well as the long lines at the rest room.

That's a serious beer culture, pal. Bryan, a Jersey City native and former master bartender, was well-informed on the subject, most articulate and extremely passionate about "taking care of the beer," especially in the pour. He adheres to Master Brewer Vaclav Berka's dictum that "The brewmaster may brew the beer, but the bartender's delivery of it actually 'makes' the beer."

A perfectly poured 1842 beer
And the beer we had today was a special shipment--less than two weeks in transit-- from the cellars of Pilsner Urquell. Unfiltered and unpasteurized, this special 1842 beer was remarkably smooth and extremely flavorful. It was not your standard Pilsner Urquell, which  is quite good in its own right. But this was better, much better, and at 4.4% ABV, almost tempting enough to get me to pass the "Czech Bar Test."

Maybe if Jen Lampert gave me a room upstairs to spend the night, I'd have had more, but tonight two was my limit, as I had to drive home. (Well, OK, Barmen Ryan and Nick, #5 and #6, forced me to have a delicious Ramstein Maibock when I first got there, but that doesn't count.)

Ryan and Nick
But I really had no room for more. Helping me absorb--and enjoy--that 1842 beer were Chef James Avery's culinary creations, a special three- course meal for just $18.42 (get it?). Mine included a large-portioned and delicious appetizer of Blumenkohl-Fried Cauliflower, Lemon Caper Aioli, paprika and parsley chips. Then my second course, another large plate with two huge, grilled pork sausages, mildly spiced and seared, and boiled in Pilsner Urquell and the all the trimmings. And then an Apfel Strudel in Caramel Sauce with Ice Cream. Even the Strudel went well with the beer.

Fully sated, I was barely able to turn around on my barstool to hear 6th Generation Brewmaster Vaclav (pronounced Vas-lav) Berka talk passionately, and beer in hand, about the craft he loves so much.

Vaclav Berka
In sum, a most worthwhile, informative and delicious event, thanks to Jen, Andi, Ladi, Bryan and Vaclav. 

And to Josef Groll, who started the Pilsner ball rolling in 1842. It was indeed a rare beer event, that, quite frankly, should be made less rare.

Let's see what we can do, Jen, Andi, Ladi, Bryan and Vaclav? 
For Josef's sake.

The PubScout

His Last Beer

I received notice of this story from a friend named Ellen. I share it with my readers, and you'll know why after you read it.

Life is not a Dress Rehearsal.

The PubScout

A beer, at last.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

This Thursday, Meet the Brewmaster of Pilsner Urquell at the Asbury Festhalle

It looks like the Folks at The Festhalle--you know, the place with pretzels the size of a steering wheel-- are not content with sitting on their laurels. Check out this event !

Asbury Festhalle to host “Meet the Brewmaster” 
with Pilsner Urquell’s Vaclav Berka  
Barrels of unfiltered and unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell will be on tap with special  Festhalle pairing menu

ASBURY PARK, May 22, 2015: Asbury Festhalle & Biergarten, the Jersey Shore’s first authentic Austro-Hungarian biergarten located in downtown Asbury Park, announced today four special kegs of unfiltered, unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell are en route to the Festhalle for a special “Meet the Brewmaster” event with Pilsner Urquell’s Brewmaster Vaclav Berka.
The event takes place from 5-9 pm in the main halle at The Asbury Festhalle & Biergarten on Thursday, May 28.

All beer that makes an oceanic voyage from Europe to the United States is pasteurized as required by law to endure the changes in temperature and length of the journey. Four, six-day-old kegs departed Pilsner Urquell’s brewery days ago to board a special express plane to the states. By the time they reach the Festhalle they will be just under two weeks young.

Berka, who hails from a generations-long line of brewmasters, visits the states once a year for special events like this. On Thursday, expect the legendary brewmaster to talk about the rich history of Pilsner Urquell, the first pilsner, considered amongst connoisseurs as the original craft beer. Customers will be able to drink Pilsner Urquell the way it was originally brewed, 172 years ago – unfiltered and unpasteurized – for as long as the four kegs last.

“Pilsner Urquell unfiltered and unpasteurized is the way they drank it in 1842, they way they drink it in Pilsen today, and the way we offer it to you, air-shipped directly from the brewery,” said Pilsner Urquell Trade Quality Manager Bryan Panzica.

For an additional $18.42, (the date Pilsner Urquell was founded) patrons who purchased one of the limited, authentic pilsners can partake in a prix fixe pairing menu of select appetizers, entrees and dessert from the Festhalle’s Executive Chef James Avery.

“It’s a rare, unusual event. Four kegs of unfiltered, unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell are available in the United States at Asbury Festhalle & Biergarten. Pilsner Urquell was very cool to send such a special beer to us to be served out of our authentic 130-year-old Pilsner Urquell tap. The only other way to get would be to hop a plane and fly to Europe,” said Managing Partner Jennifer Lampert.

“All other pilsners are ultimately derivations of the authentic Czech pilsner,” Panzica said. “This is Pilsner Urquell in its original form as it was served 172 years ago, and we know that because of our parallel brewing process.”

In the parallel brewing process, brewers use the same ingredients to brew in 20th century equipment with another batch brewed alongside in traditional equipment to match flavors and aromas.
For more information, visit their website.

And, speaking of steering wheels, it appears they are listening to the voices who tell them the parking situation needs a remedy. Check out these initiatives and discounts!

‘Festhalle Parking Plan’ initiative seeks to reduce parking frustration

• Patrons who ride NJ transit receive 10% off their total bill
• 60 feet of newly installed bicycle racks encourage patrons to ‘ride oil free to the Festhalle’
• Restaurant has signed on as a stop on The Free Ride, a summer long boardwalk-to-downtown shuttle
• New Uber users get $20 off their first ride with promotional code

ASBURY PARK, May 1, 2015: Asbury Festhalle and Biergarten, the Jersey Shore’s first authentic Austro-Hungarian biergarten located in downtown Asbury Park, today released a multifaceted initiative in an effort to help ease parking woes in downtown Asbury Park, where an ever-growing number of thriving retail shops, restaurants and bars continue to attract visitors and guests to the world-renowned seaside locale.

The four-pronged approach offers discounts and incentives to those who leave their autos at home.
Patrons who ride NJ Transit train or bus lines and can present day-of proof of receipt to receive 10% off their total bill. Customers must present their validated NJ Transit time-stamped bus or rail ticket when placing their order to receive the discount (limit one per customer; cannot be combined with other offers).

In addition to offering mass transit riders a 10% discount, Festhalle owners have newly installed 60 feet of bicycle racks in the front of the restaurant to help encourage patrons to ride their bikes to Asbury Park, have signed on as a stop along The Free Ride route, and are offering a $20 off coupon code for first-time Uber riders. 

Now operating in its second year, The Free Ride offers free boardwalk-to-downtown shuttle service during the high season. The cars, similar to extended open-air golf carts, carry up to five passengers and operate from 11 AM to 8 PM seven days a week from mid-May until the weekend after Labor Day. As a stop on the route, Festhalle patrons will be able to hop on and off The Free Ride Carts and experience all of Asbury Park.

Customers are encouraged to ask staff members at the establishment for more information on how to acquire the Uber code good for $20 off their first ride.

“While parking in Asbury can be frustrating it is a clear sign of the long-awaited revitalization of our City by the Sea,” said Festhalle Managing Partner Jennifer Lampert.

To get to the Festhalle: Take NJ Transit rail to the Asbury Park stop & head towards Main Street. Walk south on Main Street to Cookman Avenue. Head east on Cookman Avenue for two blocks and turn right at Press Plaza [Emory Street]. Turn left on Lake Avenue and the Festhalle will be on your left.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Ties That Bind on Father’s Day

It's a month away, but it's not too early to start thinking about Father's Day.
Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are decidedly different, and not just because of their gender roles.  

Mother’s Day evokes deep sentiment, probably because of the special bond that exists between mothers and their children. Most children start forming a bond with their mothers at conception, and the bond strengthens and grows throughout the gestation period. 

And, like it or not, that’s a bond we fathers just don’t have. Oh, we can share in the love that’s growing, but it’s not growing in our bodies. We can marvel at the surreal movements as we watch baby’s limbs make ghost-like scrawls across mom’s abdomen. We can even be amazed (though never jealous) as we feel the “kicks” baby is sharing inside that sacred home. But we cannot feel that eternal, primal bond that only mothers get to feel, even after baby has vacated the womb and emerged to a place where we can actually hold it.

That’s why mothers never get ties for Mother’s Day. They get nicer, more meaningful, more sentimental, more emotional gifts, because, well, they’re mothers.

Not that most dads mind. Most dads won’t care if we don’t get a round of golf at Augusta from our progeny. Nor do we mind getting less sentimental gifts…like ties. That’s just the way it is with dads and their children.

But if the dad in your life is a cerevisaphile like The PubScout, you can show your appreciation for the missing bond in a number of ways, and many of them come in four-packs, six-packs or bomber bottles. If you’ve been paying even the slightest bit of attention, finding some beers that your dad likes shouldn’t be hard, especially with the proliferation of breweries around today. If you want to “go the extra mile” for the guy responsible for making you, a growler or two from his favorite breweries would work beautifully, and if you’re into beer, you can share it.

If he’s proud of his association with beer, even T-shirts proclaiming that are good choices. Check these out from Brew-Tees, for example. With this deal, he gets a one-of-a-kind design from some of the most popular craft breweries in the world, and he gets a new one every month. If you do order, mention that you read it here.

If his tastes run to such things (like mine do), a few good cigars might be in order. After all, he probably gave out a bunch of them when you emerged from your weatherproof 98.6º cocoon. Father’s Day is a great time to pay him back with some good ones, not the Phillies or Dutch Masters he probably gave away. True, it’s not the most sentimental or emotional of gifts, but he’ll appreciate it for sure.

In fact, even the slightest awareness of things your father appreciates  (besides not having to bear you in his abdomen for nine months and expel you from an orifice with some rather astounding stretching capabilities) would be good.

There are other things you can get to show your appreciation for his role in your being, too. But in reality, most dads would be happy to just get a card, a hug and a big “Thanks, Dad!” from their children.

And dads should say thanks, too. But to God.

From being a bedside witness to three births, I have come to know this immutable truth:
God must be a man, because he spared us the ordeal the missus says was “the most horrible, wonderful experience of her life.” 

True, we didn’t get “the bond” or "the wonderful," but neither did we get the"horrible." And dads don't do "horrible" well at all.
Worth the trade-off to me, especially if I have a beer and a cigar to reflect on my good fortune.

Happy Father's Day!
Cheers! The Pubscout

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Location, location, location--Mac's Speed Shop

If you're like me and you want to post a pic to FaceBook, the site often asks for a location. Which is fine if you happen to be in the location you're posting from, like, say, a pub.

But rarely will your location choices be "Your Home" or "Your Son's Apartment." So the locator picks out nearby places, and you pick whichever one suits your the churches and synagogues near my house that often serve as my beer worship spots.

For nearly three weeks I've been in and around Cornelius, NC where my son lives, and the first place that pops up when I post something from his pad is a very nearby place called Mac's Speed Shop. Sounded like a cool name, so I went with it.

Then I went to it.

Be still my beating heart. The first thing I see as I pull into the lot is the unmistakeable front row parking only for motorcycles. Chalk up one point already. Then as I make my way in from the back lot, I have to navigate around some cornholers having a grand old time on the patio. (Just a side note; as a boomer--I do wish they'd call that game something else, like "Bean Bag Toss...)

Then I walk in and I read the small print under the word Mac's: Beer, Bikes and BBQ. Chalk up three more points.

Then I meet up with the manager--one Jeremiah Grindstaff--who shows me the beer list for which he alone is responsible. He says, "I drink more beer before 10 AM than most people drink all day, but somebody's got to know what they taste like." 

There are fifty-one rotating beers on tap, and more than 150 in bottles. And they are organized beautifully on the menu. You can check them out here. That list is worth at least six points, and there's your ten.

But add another point for some excellent Shrimp and Grits, washed down with a Left Hand 400 pound Monkey, and that makes it an eleven on the "Cool Pub" scale.

My family and I got seated immediately, but I'm told that's because it was a Tuesday night. The weekends are packed, and sometimes with celebrities.

There are five locations so far, with a new one coming soon, according to Manager Grindstaff, (who does no such thing, according to his servers). Congenial and very beer savvy, Jeremiah loves what he does and does it well at the Lake Norman location.

Beer, Bikes (with preferred parking) and BBQ, and the ability to enjoy a good cigar outside while watching cornholers, er, beanbaggers. What's not to like? 

It's The PubScout's kind of place.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Throwback Time at Uncle Milf’s

Now don’t get your knickers in a twist at the name above. According to everyone, it stands for “Man, I Love Food.”


But since I’m spending a good amount of time in the Tar Heel State at present (most of it in medical facilities) the occasional respite in a pub or tavern is most appealing, and this one was very near to my lodgings at the Hotel McVay. It also came highly recommended by the hoteliers.

That’s as it should be, because this throwback tavern has nothing fancy about it. The exterior is so nondescript that you might ride right by it without knowing you’ve passed up a great experience, or the picture of Uncle Milf himself peering over a fence with a “Kilroy Was Here” look.  It’s official name is the Lake Norman Tavern, though (for my usual sophomoric reasons) I prefer the name above.

Apparently in place since many of its current customers were just kids, the tavern recently asked its customers what they wanted to see in the way of changes. The responses came back with "bigger print on the menu"(which should tell you something about the loyalty and age of many of the clientele) and more craft beers. Those requests were accommodated.

 Once inside, you will not find fancy lighting, designer seats or a bank of forty-plus Hi-Def TV’s, no upscale interior and no line of gleaming craft beer taps that stretches the length of the room. It does have a few pool tables and games off to one side for those so inclined, but its décor, like its exterior, might never be described as “visually stunning.” It is, however, most comfortable and welcoming.

Taylor and Rebecca flank The PubScout
 There was a decent beer list, both on draft and in bottles, and most beer lovers would be able to find something to suit their fancy on it, and quite a varied menu. The servers were extraordinarily pleasant and efficient. That they were visually stunning didn’t hurt, either.

If you’re up for a Brew and Burger, the choices are many, but on this night, I decided on a Sweetwater 420 and a classic Southern dish—Shrimp and Grits. I’m certainly not a connoisseur  of this particular dish, but I know what I like—and I liked this immensely. Shrimp were perfectly done, spices were deftly applied and the overall rating was a 10. Couldn’t finish all the grits either.

It has a “Cheers-esque” kind of atmosphere, and our dining partners, who recommended the place and visit often, met up with someone they knew—again—and struck up a nice conversation. That’s another thing about the South…friendliness comes with the territory, and it sure is part of Uncle Milf’s.

It was a great place to visit, and if I made my home in the Mooresville area, it would definitely be high on my “Go-To” list. If you’re in the area, check it out. 

You won’t be disappointed. It's like NC Blue Dot says: "If North Carolina had neighborhood taverns, this would be it."