Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

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

No comments: