Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

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

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Station Bar & Grill Rebirth in Garwood

Station Bar
You could be forgiven if, after walking into this bar for the first time, you thought you might have stepped into the Boston Bull and Finch—aka the “Cheers” bar. There is a large square bar area with loyal customers in the bar seats, some booths and tables around the outside and an apparently tightly-knit cadre of employees making sure it runs right.

That was my first impression after having been invited to visit by comely Kristen Kelly, who was working the 36 taps (pouring some really good beer) this night. Kristen had visited my PubScout Page on FaceBook. She had been apprised about my regular blog (the one you're reading right now) by a customer, but went to the FB page to extend the invitation: “Hey, I work at a craft beer bar in Garwood.  TheStation Bar and Grill. I was wondering if you'd be interested to come and check us out some time.”

 I had never been there, but a few of my friends had, and they recommended it, too. So off I went for a special event on October 9—a tap takeover by Flying Fish. FF was offering a slew of their great beers—Exit 4, Exit 16, Abbey Dubbel, HopFish IPA, Extra Pale Ale and the outstanding RedFish. I had heard nothing about the food, but I figured I’d find something.

With nothing to lose, the missus and I headed up to meet our friends "Yellow School Bus" Ron and "Pope" Mimsy Adamson for a bite and a brew, whose home is maybe three minutes from the place. I introduced myself to Kristen, and we took a seat at a side booth. 

That’s when the night took a decidedly serendipitous turn. Our server, a pretty bundle of energy named Carrie who looked far younger than her actual years, came and introduced herself.

After making suggestions (hers was to order “Brian’s Brother’s Wings), taking our orders and bringing us our beer I began my usual chit-chat with pretty, efficient waitstaff. She offered information about the place, the owner, Brian Cruikshank and herself.

Carrie (Center)
But we forged a lasting bond immediately when she informed us that she was a kidney transplant recipient. As my readers know, my eldest son is on dialysis and waiting for a donor in North Carolina. With my mouth and that of the missus agape, the serious forging began. She was a veritable treasure trove of information and help, and we exchanged contact info, vowing to stay in touch.

Our food came out. Brian’s Brother’s Wings were delicious--and exactly as Carrie had described. If Carrie suggests something, get it. Ron and I made short work of them, which in retrospect was probably why I couldn’t finish the gargantuan, juicy, perfectly cooked “best burger around” that Carrie had also suggested. For the record, the RedFish went perfectly with both. 

Great--but big--burger!
The missus allowed that her crabcakes were delicious, Ron exclaimed about the incredible tenderness and flavor of his Rib-Eye Steak, and Mimsy enjoyed her Filet Mignon with a big smile.

Ron and I ordered up two excellent Exit 4 Trippels, and I was pleased to meet with a few former students, Rob and Sue (who worked there, but looked the same as she did in high school), a very beer-savvy customer named Paul who designs the Friday Night Flights for Brian, and Brian Cruikshank himself.

Brian Cruikshank
 I chatted with Brian for a bit, and learned that it had taken him two years of hard work to turn the bar into a welcoming, bustling place where “everybody knows your name.” He spoke very highly of his clientele, and shared an anecdote about a day early on in the process which saw both his ice machine and his air-conditioning go on the fritz.

He came out of the back where he usually works with a dejected look on his face, and when his customers asked what was wrong, he told them. Apparently, the exasperation and frustration in his voice was clear. But his customers immediately took to their cell phones, made contacts with folks who could help and within twenty minutes, a slew of repairmen walked in to fix the problems. If they were smart, they took their compensation in food and beer, but that’s just me. “That’s the kind of people who come here. And that’s what makes me want to do right by all of them,” said Cruikshank, who trusts his front staff to handle all the beer related issues.
Lovely Lindsay brings an Anderson Valley Stout
In terms of his beer and beer lines, he is certainly doing right by not only his old customers, but his new ones. Assiduous about cleaning his lines and rotating his taps, his beer offerings are nothing short of excellent. Go here to see what’s available. Ron ordered a third— Anderson Valley Pinchy Jeek Barl Bourbon Barrel Pumpkin Ale, which is kept on year round due to demand—and he said it was excellent. My dessert was an Anderson Valley Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrel Stout served in an appropriate glass can. Cruikshank does things right, for sure.

Rob and Amanda
The Station Bar and Grill not only met, but exceeded my expectations, and it fits in perfectly with The PubScout’s motto—Good Pubs, Good Beer, Good People. 

By all means, go. It won’t be long before everybody knows your name, too.

Stop by my Facebook PubScout Page to stay current and say hello!

Sometimes you wanna go-- where everybody knows your name....


The PubScout

Sella Sets Sail with Cask Event

Brewer Mike Sella is back at the helm for Uno's on Rt. 1 in Metuchen, and after a short time getting readjusted to the job he did so well for nearly fifteen years, has set his first Cask Ale event since returning.

The event will be held on Saturday, October 17 from noon to "whenever, " and it will feature some very popular beers from some very popular breweries. 

On hand will be:

  • Demented Brewing, featuring a brown ale made with espresso beans called "Moon Reaper."
  • Biermeister Dave Hoffman from Climax will have his Baltic Porter there.
  • The Biermistress, Gretchen Schmidhausler, is sending up some Pupkin from Little Dog.
  • Two Ton Brewing will offer an Imperial IPA
  • 902 Brewing will bring a Pale Ale
  • Cypress Brewing will do a double chocolate oatmeal stout on coconut
  • And Kane will send both Head High and Drift Line.
And of course, Sella will have a few surprises of his own making.

The "Regulars," recently released from confinement, in action at Uno's Bar
That's a pretty impressive list, underscoring the great respect other NJ brewers have for Sella, another of the many "good guys/gals" that populate the NJ beer scene.

Taps open at noon. Food deals will be available and plenty of hop-forward/fall backward Beer Nuts will be on hand to participate. Hope to see you there next Saturday!

The PubScout

Friday, October 9, 2015

New Hope's Triumph--12 Years later

The kid is now 22...
With my then pre-teen in tow, I visited and reviewed Triumph's second brewpub on its opening day back in April of 2003. With its huge silver tanks overlooking the bar, the New Hope facility was said to have cost in the $2 million range, but it was playing off the long-term success of Princeton's unique brewpub, just the second such to open in New Jersey after The Ship Inn in Milford. 

There were questions then. Would it catch on? Would it thrive in this "catchment area" and bring a good ROI? Would it be as successful as the first?

Brendan Anderson in the Princeton pub
Yes, yes and yes. According to Head Brewer Brendan Anderson, the New Hope pub produces just as much quality craft beer as the busy Princeton one, and there's even a new brewpub gestating in Red Bank which Anderson expects to be up and running within a year. His job is to oversee the brewing operations at all of them.

In the New Hope facility, he works with a Somerset County, NJ guy named Matt Suydam of the legendary Suydam Farms.

With a history dating back to 1713, the farm still provides produce for local restaurants, and it was the site of a nano-brewery experiment some years ago. Growing its own hops, the small operation originally called Great Blue Brewing actually produced a Scarlet Red Ale, but nano-sized production was not sufficient to slake the passion or the thirst of Farmer Matt, who had home brewing experience. So he applied for the spot at Triumph a few years ago; he's been there ever since. And he's loving it.

Matt Suydam and Brendan Anderson
The PubScout tried and enjoyed Matt's Oktoberfest, and sampled a Kellerbier and an Alt. Both were drinkable--maybe even sessionable--  although the alt did not have the usual darker color of the style.

The food was up to Triumph's usual high standards, and with a slight chill in the air by the river, the Potato Leek Soup warmed my cockles. The Potato Pancakes were delicious, and both paired up very nicely with the Oktoberfest.

Then Brendan told me about some beers Triumph was doing in collaboration with Dad's Hat Rye Whiskey Distillery in Bristol, PA.  They already produced an IPX, essentially their amped up (8%) Bengal Gold aged in those rye barrels. 

Barrel Aged IPX--8%
But he suggested another. Called Barrel-Aged Brunch Stout, the bottle-conditioned beer is aged in rye whiskey barrels from the distillery. Anderson added, "It's not available quite yet, but will be in the coming weeks. It was aged in Dad's Hat barrels for seven months and was bottled roughly one month ago. [It's been] conditioning ever since. It's [a] work in progress!"

I carefully transported a 750 ml bottle home in my saddlebags and assembled a topnotch, three-man tasting team for an evening evaluation. we evaluated the beer in a minimum of five categories (color, nose, mouthfeel, flavor and finish) with a total of 25 points achievable per evaluator. Two team members rated it 21 out of 25, and one gave it a 25. 

Evaluating the Barrel-Aged Brunch Stout
One, who viewed this 8.7% ABV beer looking down into the glass with light overhead, described the color as "Coca-Cola-ish," though holding it up yielded an opaque impression. A strong, high-alcohol nose-(which did not indicate how very smooth it would be on the palate) was so pleasant that this evaluator sniffed again before each sip. And, make no mistake, this is a beer to sip casually with good friends from snifters around the fireplace on a chilly Autumn night. Or you could get the same effect sitting in Triumph's comfortable outside seating area as the sun goes down and the river damp rises. 

If you're a stout-lover, you''ll enjoy Barrel-Aged Brunch Stout.
Even if you never have it at brunch.

Clearly, good things are (still) happening at Triumph.

The PubScout

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Catch a Tiger by the Tale...

After five days of rain, wind and Joaquin-fueled angst (and after dealing with the residual effects of a 50th high school reunion weekend), the weather gods finally dealt me a nice day, so I determined to get out on the Blue Eagle for some overdue WT. (That's "wind therapy" for you four-wheelers.)

I figured I might catch some deciduous trees doing their fall foliage thing, and while the woodlands were not yet totally aflame in color, here and there patches of flora were igniting, especially along the canal in Somerset County near the villages of Griggstown and Rocky Hill.

Setting my mental GPS, I was bound for Blawenburg, headed for Hopewell and navigating to New Hope.  When I got to the intersection of 206 and 518, I noticed, for perhaps only the 250th time, a bar and grill called the Tiger's Tale. It's been there since 1985, having gone through a few iterations with other names.

Must be a college kids' hangout, I thought, what with Princeton University only four miles down the road. But as I was hungry (and always up for a brew), I decided to stop for lunch.

The Tiger's Tale is decidedly NOT a college kids' hangout, and according to affable, young barman Nick, the clientele is generally 30 and up. The bar is spacious yet comfortable, and there are side rooms for table dining as well as a few booths in the bar section. Even better, Manager Manolo told me there were twenty-one imported and domestic beers on tap, and more in bottles.

I ordered a River Horse Hipp-O'Lantern, and while perusing the menu, I couldn't help but notice the gigantic sandwich platters being served to two guys next to me. I guessed they were 45-55 years old based on the topic of their conversation (business, leverage, etc.), not to mention the fact that their noses weren't buried in their smartphones and they were actually talking to each other.

So I asked them if they were regulars here, and they said yes. And they added, "because the food is phenomenal."

It sure looked good on the menu of the day, but lots of menus sound good. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, they say.

I was this close to ordering the Sautéed Calves Liver and Onions, but I ordered a cup of Shrimp and Corn Chowder Soup and a Liverwurst sandwich on rye instead. While a liverwurst sandwich (even with Boar's Head Liverwurst) is just that, the soup was absolutely the best soup I've had in many a moon, and I was sad that I hadn't ordered a complete bowl. That it paired up nicely with my Hipp-O'Lantern was an added bonus. And the bill being under $20 was nice, too.

In short, I had passed by this place many times on my many rides in search of twisty, winding, empty two-lane black top, always promising myself that I'd stop in one day. I'm glad I did. 

And I'll be back. Maybe even for this charity Stein-Hoisting Event.

 I might get the Calves Liver, too.
But I'm definitely getting a pail of the soup.

The PubScout