Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Monday, September 28, 2015

Bavaria Comes to Somerville

Mike Proske
Michael Proske,  Somerville's Baron of Bier and Wunderkind of Tapastre, launched another successful beer event on the streets of Somerville over the weekend. 

This time it was a two-day Oktoberfest which featured a host of breweries pouring their best beers. As usual, there were so many beers and so little belly space, especially if one took advantage of the many food offerings around the grounds provided by the Court House Sub Shop, Blue Salt Culinary, Hansel 'n' Griddle, Division Cafe and more.

As the pictures will attest, it was a popular event, what with dirndl-clad madschens pouring marzens,  lads leaping in lederhosen, brat-eating contests and even a periodic Masskrugstemmen contest for the strong of shoulder. The beer used in the steins is a closely-guarded secret.

There were other contests to engage the fest-goers, including a "Shoot the Boot" event which saw Hofbrau Hopefuls attempt to drain a liter-boot of beer. This particular event used non-alcoholic beer for the sake of safety.The beneficiary of Proske's efforts this year was the Food Bank Network of Somerset County, and you could subtract $2 off your entry fee if you brought along some canned goods to donate.
Shot of the Fest from the Tapastre Roof

Breweries present were Weyerbacher, Hofbraukeller Munchen, Sly Fox, Troegs Flying Dog, Lancaster, Abita, Neshaminy Creek, Penn Brewery, Sierra Nevada, Left Hand, Boulevard, New Holland, Cricket Hill, Scholarly, B. Nektar Meadery and the Downeast Cider House.

The PubScout was immediately drawn to the Sierra Nevada tap, where their outstanding OTO collaboration with Brauhaus Riegele was being poured, but having had it already, he eschewed that for a pint of Penn Brewery's Oktoberfest, which was excellent. So was Left Hand's and Bob's 47/Boulevard's versions of the seasonal favorite. Flying Dog's Dogtoberfest was also there, but also previously enjoyed.

Misses Masskrugstemmen

Abita's Oktoberfest offering was also sampled (without the benefit of the pierogi/hot dog meal depicted above), but the star of the show in my opinion was Neshaminy Creek's Punkless Dunkel. If you can find it, you will not be disappointed.

The diverse clientele included singles, groups and even families with small children, and they all seemed to be enjoying the event, including the new venue, which stretched right in front of Tapastre's building.

Proske continues to do right by our favorite beverage while remaining committed to community involvement and improvement. His efforts deserve a hearty thanks and a loud "Ein Prosit!"

The PubScout

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Small Venue, Big Purpose

JJ Bittings owner Mike Cerami must have a direct line to the weather gods or maybe even God Himself. His annual Central Jersey BeerFest, held in the relatively small confines of Parker Press Park in Woodbridge at this time of year, is known for bringing good weather with it. In fact, I've been going to this event for years, and I can't remember a bad weather day.

Twelve breweries were on hand: Bittings, Uno, Cricket Hill, Cypress, Tun Tavern, Long Valley, Demented, Forgotten Boardwalk, Captain Lawrence, Brooklyn, Clown Shoes and a newbie to the event--Fire Island. 

The crowds were enjoying the beers, the food stands, the Paint A Face, the Bouncy House and the bands as well as the great weather
--not too hot, and with a nice breeze wafting across this "postage stamp' park beneath the tracks of NJ transit.

I met NJ's own Gary Rosen, who brought five of the breweries in himself. Rosen likes this event due to the  relatively intimate confines of the site, a fact that limits the amount of breweries that can offer their wares. But there's an upside to that, according to Rosen.  "It's small, friendly and nobody comes here to get wasted. Everybody is nice here." 

I chatted with Uno's Brewmaster Mike Sella, who allowed that his hefeweizen was doing a land office business. All the vendors seemed to have healthy lines waiting to sample their liquid wares, and Bittings' own Bad Boy Oktoberfest-- a PubScout favorite-- was particularly busy.

But maybe Cerami's event is weather-blessed because of its annual purpose--to help someone in need, and this year the foundation that will be the beneficiary of Cerami's efforts is one called "For The Love of David." There was a phalanx of "Tricky Tray" items dedicated to the same purpose--combating autism.

I chatted briefly with David's grandfather, Louis Zannillo, who had a seat at the entrance. When I asked about his thoughts regarding Cerami's efforts for his grandson, his heartfelt comment was, "A thousand thanks would not be enough."

Cerami has been the prime mover of this festival and its laudable goals for many years, and he's received the thanks of not only other beneficiaries and city fathers, but of beer nuts as well. 

If a guy with a big heart is doing good things with beer, it only seems fair that God cuts him a break with the weather every year.

The PubScout

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Just Another Day at the Artisan’s BeerFest

Mandy Masskrugstemmen

For thirteen years, the good folks down at Artisan’s have been providing great food, drink and service in a classy setting with an exceptionally friendly staff.

And that’s on a normal day.

When Oktoberfest rolls around, they pull out all the stops. Irishman Steve Farley’s Special German Menu, German Dave Hoffman’s beers, and in a hat tip to his chef, a classic Irish Red Ale, a stunning, efficient waitstaff prancing around in dirndls and even an oompah band called the PolkaDelphians to enhance the atmosphere. Add a joke or two from a demented emcee, and the recipe is complete.
Kurt Hoffman
And for the past thirteen years, the main order of the night is fun. Repeated choruses of “Ein Prosit” with steins hoisted skyward, vigorous ein, zwei, drei g’suffas and ziggy-zoggy-oy-oy-oys are standard.

Farley’s food and Hoffman’s beer never disappoint, served Beer Hall style at long tables, with Der Braumeister offering tasting notes before each beer, as he does each year. But this year saw some new wrinkles, at least cosmetically.

Three rookie Dirndl Beauties joined the “seasoned servers” of Mandy, Karinn and Meghan. Dominika, Victoria and Mark, the first male ever to serve in the hallowed halls of Oktoberfest Artisan’s. Of course, he wore a wig and dirndl costume to better blend in with his female partners, but most revelers—and I emphasize MOST—were able to discern that he was actually a male. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

This annually big crowd was so bent on fun and frolic, that when the emcee left for a moment to visit the loo (beer does that, you know), a guest jumped out of his seat and led the assembly in a spirited version of “Sweet Caroline,” played in a previously unheard and rather avant-garde oompah-style.
MC Tempore
The Polkadelphians themselves were also new (one bore a remarkable resemblance to Troy Aikman), though part of the same organization that has performed in the past. Their repertoire was interesting and eclectic, to say the least; and the “Petes” (who are the owners) got so into it that Panagiati kept demanding that they play “Never on Sunday,” and “Zorba the Greek.” At one point, he jumped up and called out “Stairway to Heaven,” until he was led away by his concerned family and security.

He did stay long enough to watch the traditional Tapping of the Oktoberfest Keg by a handsome lass named Emily, a former soccer star at St. Peter’s College. Exhorted by the crowd to “Whack the Tap,” she did just that and Dave’s classic Oktoberfest Lager spewed forth into waiting pitchers.
The "Whack-a-Tapper"

One might ask how this particular Oktoberfest dinner could reign supreme in NJ in terms of  attendance, and one might find those answers in the details above.

But the best way is to go to an Oktoberfest Dinner and become part of the special atmosphere that Artisan’s generates for this event.

Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait till next year now for that.
And I’ll need that time to recover.


The PubScout

More pics!

Ein Prosit!

Dave Hoffman

Polkadelphians Mike and Tom "Troy" Aikman
Peter just before being led away...
The Veteran and The PubScout

Friday, September 18, 2015

Slam, Bam, Thank you, Ma'am!

Der Braumeister, Dave Hoffman
He's one of a kind, for sure. And I doubt that anyone anywhere knows more about beer than he does. Or has as much passion for it.

So I took advantage of a rare Friday night off to pay a visit to the Climax Brewery's weekly Tour and Beer Tasting. The place was packed--even more than usual-- with beer nuts, Cub Scouts, Band Parents and others helping to raise some money for the Roselle Park HS Marching Band. There was music and beer instruction, but most importantly, there was beer. And it was flowing freely.

Climax Brewing is the oldest microbrewery in the state of NJ, and Dave Hoffman, the Father of NJ's Microbrew Scene, has been making some amazing beers since it opened in his dad's old machine shop.

Tonight, for example, he had his Pumpkin Ale, IPA, his world famous E.S.B. and his most recent Oktoberfest available. Some folks, like Sue here, chose to put whipped cream on their Pumpkin Ale, which server Kenny said made it taste more like Pumpkin Pie. I'll take his word for it, but I had mine plain--and it was "slammin' !" (Of course, whenever I can sample Dave's classic IPA, I do, so that was first.)

And then I had his most recent edition of Oktoberfest. Dave's O-Fests have been excellent over many years, but this one was "bangin' "and the best he's ever made, IMHO. If I didn't know better, I'd think Dave was actually German.

He'll proffer his O-fest and a Pumpkin Porter at Artisan's Oktoberfest Dinner next Friday. That dinner, which is equally "slammin' and bangin' " still holds the distinction of being the best attended, most fun in the state. You can contact them for reservations, but The PubScout would suggest you hurry, as its particular brand of craziness sells out quickly.

Combining SuperChef Steve Farley's culinary wizardry, Hoffman's beer alchemy and the very pleasing presence of Artisan's Dirndl Beauties, the dinner holds the NJ record for attendees at 115.

Just a word of warning:
The emcee, who has been doing this for fourteen years, has decreed that while there will be levity galore, there will be no political jokes allowed. He says he's seen too many of them get elected. 

It should be a great night, what with great food, great beer, beautiful women and a real, live Oompah Band  combining to produce a memorable evening.

Call this number--(732) 244-7566 to reserve your spot! And get ready for a slammin, bangin' time!

The PubScout 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Shannon Rose to Close

It will be "last call" at the Woodbridge Shannon Rose Pub on September 15! Check their FaceBook page! Details to follow...

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Captain Craic's Crew: Picking Up Where They Left Off

Well, that certainly didn't take long. After two months of a self-imposed hiatus from the Beer Senate feature at Hailey's Harp and Pub, Captain Craic (Chris Flynn) and his crew hit the ground running.

The first Beer Senate of the season was dubbed a "Tier Senate" because Southern Tier was in the house and on the menu with four beers for the thirsty Senators to evaluate. Harvest, Tier de Garde, IPA and the classic Pumking were poured to complement Moshe's always-interesting menu.

Ann and Ken--Beer Senate Newbies
A Pasta Pesto made with butter-braised brats and arugula (which added some delightful pepperiness) came out to Harvest, described as an ESB, but, like its forbear from England, Bass Ale, technically an IPA. It was a great, well-balanced beer which could easily qualify as sessionable, albeit with an ABV of 6.9%. No matter. The match worked very well.

The traditional wing course was a Poblano/Mole coated offering that matched up with Tier de Garde--new to The PubScout--but an exceptional beer. So exceptional, in fact, that it lost out to the 800-lb. Beerilla in the house--Pumking--by just one vote as the best beer of the night. Yours truly had them tied at the end of the evaluation.

A regular IPA also appeared, and it was not the mouth-puckering variety so beloved by today's younger beer nuts, but it was certainly drinkable and had a nice little hop bite at the back end.

Of course, Southern Tier saved its flagship beer--Pumking-- for last to accompany a remarkable dessert one Senator described as, well, "orgasmic." She shall remain nameless to prevent sex-maniac challengers from deluging her with offers. It should come as no surprise that Pumking is responsible for 20% of ST's total beer sales year round.

Rob Muscatello
Worth noting, also, was the excitement level of the thirty-five returning Senators. Usually, the guest speaker (in this case, ST's Rob Muscatello), gets to speak to a relatively attentive crowd up until, say, the third beer pouring. Last night, the din from the Senators began when Rob rose to speak, and never receded. Rob's a nice guy, but the only time I actually heard what he said was while he was standing next to me. He also brought some special beers for tasting--a 2014 version of Pumking and The Warlock, ST's outstanding Pumpkin Stout. 

And then a hush fell over the crowd. But that was only because they wanted to hear Rob call the numbers on the raffle tickets.

Kent and Rena

As usual, I got to meet some nice folks, and Anne, Ken, Kent and Rena were happy to participate in their first-ever Beer Senate. I doubt it will be their last, though they may ask for a table closer to the guest speaker next time.

In sum, another success for Captain Craic, Moshe and the Brew Crew. The next Senate in October is dubbed "Masquerade" and will feature a totally blind tasting.

First deaf, now blind.
Should be interesting.

The PubScout

Thursday, September 3, 2015

George Washington Slept Here, or Across the Way

The Black Horse Pub
Whatever it is that attracts my soul to historic pubs is a mystery to me. Maybe it's because I perform as a re-enactor. Maybe it's because I'm related to Thomas Jefferson, or--tangentially, at least--to his daughter, Maria, as my ancestors were her slaves.

But a sense of history descended upon me in--of all places--the parking lot of the Black Horse Restaurant. I parked the Blue Eagle between the tavern (where Washington supposedly stayed and which dates to 1742) and the recently raised "Pub" which was clearly a barn before it was established as a pub thirty years ago.

The Pub is in a positively cavernous, welcoming and light-filled room (at least around 2 PM). Dominated by an inverted Tree of Liberty festooned with American flags, the Pub is not shy about advocating its heritage and links to America's gestational period. To the left, upon entering is a bar surrounded by more intimate booths and tables, and to the right is a proper dining room dominated by a massive hearth.

Affable and accommodating Manager Adam, who is responsible for the beers on tap, welcomed me warmly, and was most helpful in providing historical data regarding the premises.

The Tree of Liberty
The tap beers were not numerous, but their quality spoke volumes about Adam's commitment: Dale's Pale Ale, SA Octoberfest, Guinness, Dogfish Head 60-Minute, Yuengling and Blue Moon. There are even more in bottles as the link above will show.

I ordered a medium-rare Classic Pub Burger with Swiss Cheese, Lettuce, Tomato and Onion. It came out cooked to perfection, was delicious and matched up perfectly with my SA O-Fest.

Again, I got to chatting with the staff--barman Javier and server Doug--and learned that yet another historic pub has a connection or two to the paranormal, perhaps explaining the attraction I had in the parking lot.

The Black Horse Pub is no fast-food joint, so don't expect bargain-basement prices. Still my entire tab with tip was under $20, so it's a great place to stop for a bite when you're in Chris Christie's hometown.

And though George Washington may have slept here (or over there), I'm pretty confident the Gov has eaten and quaffed here. 

So should you.

The PubScout

As The Krogh Flies...

After a beautiful ride on clean, two-lane, twisty blacktop in Northwest Jersey, I stopped for lunch the other day in Lake Mohawk, aka Sparta, NJ. It is no accident that the stop put me in front of one of my of my favorite places in Sparta --Krogh's Brewpub. 

As usual, I had an outstanding BLT and an excellent complement to it, Brogden Meadow Pale Ale.

I also got to chatting a bit with affable owner Bob Fuchs and his beer-knowledgeable son/bartender, Matt. 

Since I promised to keep the substance of that chat quiet (for the moment), I don't think I'm breaching confidentiality by sharing this with you:

BIG changes are coming to the quaint pub at lakeside that will significantly alter the brewing landscape in Northwest Jersey. The news will be shared as soon as Bob Fuchs gives me the signal. 

Until then, head on up to the sign of the crow and enjoy the consistency in food and brew for which they are famous. 

And don't worry. This quintessential pub is not going anywhere.

Which, I suppose, is as good a bit of news as beer and pub lovers could want.

The PubScout