Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Friday, July 31, 2015

What's A Motto?

Plenty of beer makers have used mottos or slogans to sell their beer, or at least to help people remember it. My personal favorite in that list above comes from John Courage (It's what your right arm's for).

Charlie offers an Amber
But during a recent visit to "New-Brewer-On-The-Block" Cypress Brewing, I asked host-owner Charlie Backmann if Cypress had one.

"We do, but I can't remember it. Something about three great guys making great beer...I don't know...we made it up during a tasting session. You'll have to ask Bill (Lutz) when you tour the back."

As it happened, a wet (which proves he was working) Bill Lutz emerged from the back on brewer business, and after introductions, I ask him the same question. He couldn't remember, either. Must have been a hell of a tasting session. 

But you won't need a motto or a slogan to remember Cypress after trying it, either at the brewery in Edison or at various drinking spots in Middlesex County. Hailey's Harp in Metuchen, Charlie Brown's, Quaker Steak and Lube on Route 1 in Edison and Miller's Ale House on Rt. 9 in Woodbridge have all beaten a path to the door of the green cypress tree with the beer mug light above the door.

Charlie is one-third of the trio of owners. Bill Lutz is another and Jay Kijowski is the third. Charlie, who works so many hours that he wonders if he ever goes home, took me on the requisite tour, and what I learned was astonishing. These guys built the entire place form floor to ceiling--including the cooler, tasting room furniture, bar and bathroom--in seven months. 
Bill Lutz (L.) and Charlie Backmann (R.)

Even more amazing was the electronics Jason, whose day gig is being the IT guy for Ray Catena Automobiles, invented (patent pending) and built to monitor the entire brewing process. And Bill Lutz designed the entire kettle system. If their future wasn't in brewing, it certainly could have been in construction.

But beer was where they wanted to put their marbles--and their efforts-- from the early, heady days home brewing on Cypress Dr. in Colonia. Charlie actually was studying law, all set for a career in criminal justice. But his father told him he "made good beer," and the call of the wild hops beckoned more strongly.

Offering a variety of beer styles, Cypress has something for everyone, from a bouncy, refreshing hefeweizen to a chewy Double Chocolate Imperial Oatmeal Stout made with more than four pounds of real cocoa per batch. A Blonde, a Red, an Amber, two IPA's, A Saison made with Rye and an "award-winning" English Nut Brown round out the rest of the current roster. Charlie was getting ready to start his Octoberfest the next day, and plans on using eight full weeks to bring it to the handmade bar by the third week in September.

The comfortable--also hand-built-- tasting room filled up substantially as the night wore on. Even two local high school wrestling legends, now celebrity coaches, found their way to the "Tree"--and not for the first time. Whether drinking pints or flights, the clientele all seemed to know the gregarious Charlie, chatting with him as he consumed the dinner brought into him by his girlfriend.

Hefe, Rye Saison, DIPA and Nut Brown
The PubScout liked all the beers he tasted, but the Amber called him back for a second pint before the night was through. First sip was unremarkable; second sip piqued my interest. And I was hooked by the third sip.

So the word is apparently getting out about what Cypress is doing, now to the tune of about 500 bbl per year. And according to Charlie the minute a 30 bbl system becomes available, it's going in, which means expansion of the floor space somewhere down the road.

Oktoberfest is going in here today!
Which proves that a catchy motto or slogan is not required to sell beer. 

As Charlie finally allowed, "If your beer is good, you won't remember your motto." 

Which, I suppose, is as good a slogan as any other.

The PubScout

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Captain Craic and Crew Taken Over at Hailey's

Captain Craic with his Magic Shillelagh
If you ever wanted to know why Hailey's Harp & Pub in Metuchen is doing a land office business, look no farther than Captain Craic--aka Chris Flynn--and his Maven of Malt, Moshe Atzbi.

From Beer Senates to bus rides to major beer happenings like the one that occurred last night at the pub with the Southern Tier Tap Takeover, they keep the joint alive as a destination for fun.

And their faithful customers love every minute of it, packing the place nightly. NJ Transit passengers getting off at Metuchen have just a 100-foot walk after leaving the train to enjoy a real Irish pub experience.

Malt Maven Moshe and guests

Southern Tier's Robert Muscatello, along with sidekicks Leila Mezaber and Brian Abry brought some of the Lakewood, NY brewery's outstanding beers to the taps, and even had other notables available for tasting at a separate table.

On tap were Sonnet, Tangier, Gemini and a special Mokah from 2014. On the table were Compass, Unearthly and Creme Brûlée. The PubScout, accompanied by his sons Cody and Kacy and NJ's own supermarket guru Matt Casey, enjoyed all of them, but was particularly taken with Sonnet and the 2014 Mokah. Beer Nuts Marc Lobur, Natalie Lay and Eugene Tawiah were also bellied up to the bar.
Robert, Leila and Brian

Moshe also made a batch of wings using the Mokah, and they were excellent. But that's not surprising, considering Moshe's talents in the kitchen.

Prizes were awarded by Leila who had earlier distributed free raffle tickets, with the usual cries of "shake 'em up!" ringing through the pub. 

Cody, Natalie and Kaz

But a rousing good time was had by all, for sure. 
And that's not surprising either, considering who commands the Good Ship Hailey's.

The PubScout

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A Little Quicker-Picker Upper

There are so many things that are positive about beer. Its color, its nose, its taste, its mouthfeel, the many ways it pairs with food its health benefits--in all, there are so many reasons to love beer.
And I've found three more.

The PubScout

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Skyway Robbery

I had to fly to NC last week. If I didn't fly, it's a ten and a half hour drive from Jersey, which, as I get older, gets less and less appealing. So the relatively short flight--just over an hour from the Garden State--is a darned good deal, provided, of course, you know when to book it. If you don't and you're not made of money, the long ride seems like a smarter deal.

What doesn't resemble a deal in any way is what the airline (which shall remain nameless, though I suspect all of them are pricey in this regard) is the cost of enjoying a decent brew at 35,000 feet.

Here's an ad from the placard in front of my seat. I believe a person's beer choices are their own. Beer is not a snobby drink, and those who denigrate the choices of others violate that standing principle. Drink what you like.

But there's no way The PubScout would order the one on the far right at ANY price, and he'd have to be desperately thirsty on a flight far longer than an hour to order the one in the middle, the one on the far left is a damned good beer. And enjoying one while flying in the afternoon might have been a nice experience, despite the necessity of having to use the Sky-Loo afterwards.

But not at $7 a can. I mean, who do these airlines think they are--Pro sports stadia and/or concert venues? NYC high-end restaurants? Highwaymen? The IRS?

Nope. Sorry. I slid the placard back in its place, pulled my ball cap down over my eyes and took a nap until we touched down in NC. And the brewpub/brewery scene in that state is simply exploding, so there would be plenty of places at my final destination where my $7 could get at least two outstanding brews, like the one below.

As I age, there are fewer things worth waiting for--especially if there's a line.

But good beer is not among them.

The PubScout

Saturday, July 11, 2015

"Candy Store" for Beer Nuts in NC

So, for the past five days, I find myself in hot, humid Huntersville, NC on a mission for my son who still needs a kidney transplant. The house where his intended donor and I are staying is blocks away from a place called Crafty Beer Guys.

Catchy, says I. And outward appearances make the joint look like a residential house. But you know what they say about outward appearances.

Because inside it's a candy store for beer nuts. Hundreds and hundreds of bottles of really fine craft beer, arranged from specialty beers to monster stouts, to monster porters and browns, to IPA's, pale ales, ciders and more line the walls. Pardon my digression, but if you're an IPA fan, try a large can of Ass Clown's Citra Ass Down, which clocks in at 8%. 

It's like exploring the home of a new friend, who, for a donation, will let you take his beer home. And it also has a bar where you can saddle up to ride some great brews from the fourteen taps while you're there. Samples are available.

So impressed was The PubScout on his first visit, that he has been back EVERY day since to pick up some excellent beers for consumption in the home of our gracious hostess, Tammy. A dizzying array of twelve ouncers, bombers and more beg for investigation--and eventually adoption.

I swore I would come back to do a story on this place, hoping to include commentary from the principals, but I get distracted and just wind up carting out some great beers to consume at "home."

I will eventually get back there and back to "business," but I can't promise when. In the meantime, satisfy your curiosity by check ing out their various online presences here, here and here.

The prices are reasonable, all things considered, and the staff is most accommodating. Though the PubScout is a big fan of air-condtioning in NC's 90º humidity during the summer, I saw lots of folks gathered outside at the picnic tables enjoying their favorite brews at this dog-friendly place. I'm told that many will walk to a cafe two blocks away, order take-out and then transport it directly to the Home of the Crafty Beer Guys.

Because, at bottom, it's a lot like going to a friend's house for a casual getogether. AND your friend has a serious bar, as well as a serious collection of beers. If you bring your dog, I assume you stay outside.

Because you shouldn't be giving man's best friend candy--or candi sugar.
That's reserved for you.

The PubScout

Friday, July 3, 2015

Joe Sixpack--Not Your Father's Beer Writer

Joe Sixpack (aka Don Russell)--and Not Your Average Beer Drinker-- has a very interesting story about the latest fad drink called Not Your Father's Root Beer.

I've tried it, but could only manage a sip. Overly sweet it was, with a metallic finish that, to me, wouldn't pair well with anything, including hot dogs, potato chips or yard work. But it must have struck a chord with the public, because it's in the enviable position of being everywhere and nowhere at the same time. 

That's some serious marketing right there.

But this is some serious journalism, folks. 

If our media went after stories about politicians--from either party--like this, the nation would be better served.

I'm hoisting a pint to Joe Sixpack today.
Cheers! The PubScout

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

This Just In--Everything Old is New Again?

Brewer Mike Sella toiled at his craft for fourteen years at Uno’s on Rt. 1 South in Metuchen. While there, he not only produced great beers that were enjoyed by many, he spread his love of the craft beer culture through his dedication to regular, very successful beer dinners and well-attended cask ale fests. Well-liked by everyone, Mike’s departure was bittersweet for many. They were happy for him, as you won’t find a nicer guy, but they knew that his particular style of beer making would no longer grace Uno’s taps.

When he left to assume the brewer’s duties at then Basil T’s (now Birravino), he stepped into an entirely different beer-making environment. Though he continued to make beers that were enjoyed by patrons of the restaurant, the restaurant owner was focusing on the acquisition, promotion and sale of fine wines to accompany his top notch food and service.
Recently, Mike was notified that his services would no longer be required, and he was out of a job doing what he loves.

But, as could be expected, not for long. I sat down with him for this exclusive interview after learning the good news.

If you know Mike, you know he’s a man of few words. “Taciturn” and “Reticent” are probably under his high school graduation picture. So getting him to respond to any question at all with more than a sentence—or in some cases, a word-- was my biggest challenge.

PubScout: Well, this story had a happier ending than anyone expected. Does that include you?
MS: Well, yes, of course. I sure hope that me coming back will make some people happy but, none will be happier than I am. I'm really fortunate that this opened up when it did. 

PubScout: How difficult was it for you to make the decision to leave Uno’s?

MS: It was not an easy decision to leave at all.  I didn't leave because I didn't enjoy working there.  I made a lot of friends there. Lenny, of course, is still there, so it'll be great to work with him again.  Doug and Joy will hopefully be showing their faces. Coach still drops in when he visits from the land of Dogfish Head.  Nick and Doreen are still around.  Bob and Mary. Tom, Harry. It'll be great to see them a bit more often.  I never disappeared. I still dropped in once in a while, but now I'll see these people more often again which is great.

PubScout: Talk a bit about what challenges you faced at Birravino.
MS: I'd really rather not talk much about Birravino.  At this point it’s water under the bridge and I'll probably say something that I'll regret, or at least wish I had just left unsaid.

PubScout: Was the decision to let you go a complete surprise, or were there red flags?

MS: Total shock

PubScout: It had to be demoralizing to learn that you were let go. Were those dark days?

MS: I'd say stressful more than dark.  My wife is great and she did her best to keep me going in a positive direction.

PubScout: What other opportunities were offered or did you explore?

MS: I had one other concrete offer, and I feel bad that I'm not going to be helping those folks out, but that was just a part time offer.  I wish them the best, but there was no way I would or could pass this up.

PubScout: How long were you out of the beer making business before this new/old opportunity arose?

MS: Two months or so since I was let go.

PubScout: How did this return to your brewing roots come about?

MS: I was actually walking out of the place that had just offered me the part time job.  I hadn't even gotten to my car and my phone buzzed.  It was Zac [Conner] letting me know that he was getting ready to move on and that the job was open again.  I reached out and luckily found that they were receptive to bringing me back.  I didn't burn any bridges when I left the first time so there was not animosity on either side.

PubScout: Is the Metuchen Uno’s still the only one of all the 150+ franchises world-wide to produce its own beer on premises?

MS: Yes, it’s still the only Uno's with a brewery.

PubScout: Are you planning on introducing any new beers to the tap list beyond the old faithful standards?

MS: Sure. I'll do some new along with some of the old standards.  I've got something that I'd really been wanting to try for a few years now.  It seems like something that would be perfect for summer but by the time I get started, it’s coming up on pumpkin or Oktoberfest time.
Beer Dinner Girls...
PubScout: Will you start up those successful beer dinners again?

MS: I’m game if [manager] Jeff is.

PubScout: How about the cask fests?

MS: I'm sure the cask events will continue.

I had more (nosy) questions relating to Mike’s experience at Birravino, but Mike, understandably, deigned to answer them, remaining a class act to the end.

He was notified today that he is back in the Uno’s brewhouse where he started almost sixteen years ago. He'll be there one week from today. 

He seems to be very happy about this turn of events.
Almost as happy as his loyal patrons.

Good luck, Mike Sella!

Cheers! The PubScout