Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Decade from Hell's silver lining: Craft beer

Time magazine called 2000-2009 the Decade from Hell.

The New York Times and Princeton's Paul Krugman played it by the numbers, or more precisely, number, denouncing the 10 years from Y2K to this year as the The Big Zero.

To be sure be sure, the past 10 years have been packed with enough high anxiety (from 9/11 through almost economic depression) near the starting and finish lines to last a century, while the middle years featured two ongoing wars, a disaster named Katrina and techno-changes (i.e. online social networking, blogs and YouTube) that burst onto the scene as rapidly as our scared pulses raced in 2001.

It certainly has been a decade to make you reach for a drink, to settle the nerves or marvel the innovations. And happily, beer has been a king of our collective glass – beers of all kinds, in fact, save those bland light lagers that seemed more akin to dial-up Internet than the adventurous frontiers borne of Web 2.0.

Craft beer, microbrew ... whatever we call it now, by whatever distinctions (brewery size, methods, or an overlap of both), it has definitely come on strong (a $6 billion industry now, with nealry 1,500 breweries nationwide) in the headwaters of the 21st century, with variety and consumer choice unseen since Prohibition, its repeal and the subsequent, long-lingering consolidation hangover that defined the fade of the 20th century. (Check out the fact pages from the industry group Brewers Association, the folks we nicked the graphic from.)

Over the decade, imperial brews widened their reach, from double IPAs that could be found in the late 1990s, to just about everything that seemed like it could use some amping up (imperial pilsner, anyone?). Although, imports were down nearly 10 percent through half of 2009, according to the BA, they are very much an indelible part of the package store shelf-scape, both exotic and straight-forward, and many of them are a continued source of inspiration for homebrewers and some Jersey pub brewers (Belgian browns at the Tun Tavern or Harvest Moon, for instance).

Good restaurants discovered it wasn't enough to have a well-represented wine list. They also needed beer lists that spoke to changing palates. Meanwhile, distributors, who could rightly or wrongly be faulted for once acting cool toward craft brews, have gotten behind them as an important market segment.

And those megabrewers? Well in the past they may have seen craft brews as viable enough to produce through arrangements that kept their brand names out of sight. But last year, about the same time the economy was withering like a parched suburban lawn in an August heatwave, Budweiser began pushing an American ale, marketing it with slogans draped in talk of dry-hopping and Cascades cones. That was on the heels of Anheuser-Busch (which, as we know, has a brewery in Newark) realizing it couldn't outrun a hostile takeover with InBev, and therefore made friends with a merger to create Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest brewer. The mash-up left Boston Beer and its Sam Adams brand as the largest U.S.-owned brewer, a turn of events notably ironic since AB buried the St. Louis family brewery of Sam Adams founder Jim Koch. (Cue Nelson Muntz and a round of ha-ha.)

Adding to AB's in-the-decade market moves is a wheat beer under the Bud Light trademark, a business model-defying development say some New Jersey craft brewers, who note the megabrewers aren't exactly setup to play to such niche tastes.

And speaking of New Jersey, since this is a blog about Jersey-made beer, brewers in the Garden State say the arc of the past decade goes from shakeout of a late 1990s craft brew bubble to more breweries and consumers. But on top that are fewer companies to distribute the beer, something that could be a crosscurrent to navigate in the coming decade, say some Jersey brewers.

Don "Joe Sixpack" Russell, Philadelphia's noted beer guide, points out that while the variety has surged, brand loyalty has ebbed. Consumers, he says, are drinking what's good, not what's advertised.

Additionally, Don notes there's a new generation of beer drinkers that has craft brew as a primary reference point. That is to say, craft beer has always been available to them, unlike their predecessors who recall the novelty of a Guinness nitrogen tap system coming to the corner bar, or even Sam Adams on draft.

There are also second- and third-generation brewers getting into the act, Don says, 20somethings emerging from college who homebrewed their takes on great craft beers and see themselves making their beers for wider audiences.

Happy New Year. The next decade beckons.

Highlights in Jerseyana beer
A brief list, and it's based more on recollection than research, which means it leans toward the more recent, rather than the past. Anyway, here goes ...

London calling: Flying Fish sends beer to Year 2000 Great British Beer Festival in the UK capital (we were there). But alas, the beer gets held up in transit and ends up being served at a subsequent festival elsewhere in Blighty.

Win some, lose some:
Cricket Hill Brewing opens in Fairfield in Essex County (2002), with a brace of brews – East Coast Lager and American Ale, as its flagships. Blue Collar Brewing in Vineland closes (2005); Heavyweight Brewing exits New Jersey (2006), resurfaces in Philadelphia as the brewpub, Earth Bread+Brewery; Iron Hill brewpub, started in Delware by a trio of Jerseyans, makes a long-awaited homecoming, opening a location in Maple Shade (2009).

Lights, camera, action: Climax Brewing and its owner, Dave Hoffmann, is featured in the film American Beer (2004). Hey Dave, you exist as a cast credit in the Internet Movie Database. You're a star.

Ten years after: Breweries and brewpubs that hit the double-digit anniversary: Climax (2004); High Point (2004); Ship Inn (2005); Triumph (2005); Long Valley (2005); Flying Fish (2006); River Horse (2006); Harvest Moon (2006); Original Basil T's (2006); Artisan (formerly Basil T's in Toms River, 2007); Trap Rock (2007); JJ Bitting (2007); Tun Tavern (2008); Pizzeria Uno (2008); Gaslight (2008); Krogh's (2009).

Festivals: The Garden State Craft Brewers Guild moored its annual festival at Camden's waterfront in 2005. That followed the closing of the former site, Waterloo Village in Sussex County. and some roving around some. The Atlantic City beer festival sprang up at the resort town's convention center in 2006, while JJ Bitting began sponsoring an annual festival in Woodbridge.

Gone but not forgotten: Beer Hunter Michael Jackson, the world's guiding light for beer, dies in September 2007. Sadness in June 2008 when Jay Mission, Triumph's director of brewing operations and a luminary in New Jersey craft beer, dies suddenly.

Hippo rescue: New Jersey lost two production craft breweries in the decade, and the tally could have easily risen to three, if a couple of finance guys with a taste for beer hadn't pictured themselves as in being the beer business. Chris Walsh and Glenn Bernabeo shook up the brewery's moribund product line and restored confidence in the brand.

Read all about it: New Jersey Breweries guide book is published (2008). An on-again, off-again idea, authors Lew Bryson and Mark Haynie tackle a subject made difficult by the fact that the Garden State's craft beer scene, in terms of producers, is more spartan when compared to our neighboring states.

National limelight: First there was a brew that saluted the New Jersey Turnpike and the Jersey pop culture what exit tie-in; then there was brouhaha over it when the New Jersey Turnpike Authority erroneously assumed the beers projected an image of drinking and driving. Nevertheless, the TA simmered down and Flying Fish's Exit Series beers captured national media attention and a gold medal at the Great American Beer Fesitval in 2009. The next exit, the fourth in the series and first in 2010, will be up north, we hear, and will land in your glass with a Belgian bent.

Clean break: Basil T's in Toms River, long a separately owned brewpub from the original Basils pub in Red Bank, completes the break, announcing in October 2009 a name change to Artisan's Brewey & Italian Grill.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A brew in search of a party

A few more details about the pale ale that bested a coffee porter to win the Office Beer Bar & Grill homebrew contest.

Matt Lamm says he originally crafted his Morristown Pale Ale – a golden-to-orange West Coast interpretation – months ago for a softball team party.

It had become Matt's custom to treat teammates to some of his beer creations after games. So the team's pitcher tapped Matt, who took up homebrewing five years ago while he was a University of Delaware grad student, to come up with something for an end-of-the-season party.

However, that get-together never happened.

And Matt, 29, who lives in Morristown and works in the pharmaceutical industry, suddenly had 10 gallons of beer that he was pleased with; yet it was a beer that also had lost its wider audience. A recent night out for a beer with his girlfriend, Selin, at the Office's Morristown location gave Matt's brew a new mission (beyond personal enjoyment) when they spied a notice about the bar's homebrew contest.

Matt entered what he had on hand: a blonde ale brewed from an extract and the Morristown Pale Ale, an all-grain endeavor backboned with Briess pale malt and shaped with some crystal (40 Lovibond) and Vienna malt, then hopped with Cascades and Centennial in the boil and dry-hopped with Centennials. Matt also plucked some Cascade cones from a first-year bine he had growing in planter on his deck and tossed them straight into the boil.

The result was a 5.2% ABV brew at 59 IBUs that Matt just finished the last of a week or so ago. As part of his victory, he'll get to help brew a scaled-up version at High Point Brewing, one of the contest sponsors. That's tentatively scheduled for the third week of January, with the finished brew to go on tap at Office locations in sometime in late February.

As for that coffee porter, the contest's runner-up, Matt hopes he can take a crack at the recipe created by Peter Kennedy of SimplyBeer.com, or a lager. But for now, he's focused on the grand-scale reprise of his pale ale, which will be part of a soiree after all – a ceremonial tapping at the Office, a party his softball teammates just may be able to catch.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Beer wars winner

The war is over, and a pale ale won.

Matthew Lamm of Morristown (that's Matthew in the middle in the photo at left) and his West Coast-style pale ale – brewed with some homegrown hops – walked away the victor on Saturday in the Beer Wars homebrew contest, sponsored by The Office Beer Bar & Grill and High Point Brewing.

Matthew, who holds a PhD in material science and engineering and is a senior scientist at a pharmaceutical company, now has a date with the mash tun and brew kettle in Butler, where he'll assist the folks at High Point in scaling up his recipe for a commercial-size batch of Morristown Pale Ale. Though when it goes on tap at The Office's seven locations in Febreuary, you'll find it renamed under the restaurant chain's house brew label, which High Point brews under contract.

More than a dozen homebrewers competed in this inaugural turn on the contest. Let's hope it grows.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The season of giving

One of the funniest things you can listen this holiday season is Lewis Black's rants on Chanukah and Christmas (it's on his disc Anticipation).

It's his take on how "Santa's ass" is "tied to the economy" and how the jolly fat man could be a disarming politician, as well as observations on the overly practical gifts Lewis says he received as a youngster during Chanukah (like a pen and pencil set ... "how lucky for me that I have two eyes").

It's even funnier after a few pints of Ramstein Winter Wheat, Flying Fish Grand Cru or River Horse Double Wit. But you can judge for yourself ...

Meantime, if you're looking for ways to keep Santa's ass part of the economy or not be too practical, then take a look at some ideas that friend of the blog John Holl assembled for newjerseynewsroom.com.

Cheers.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The next front in Homebrewer War

It's on to the finals at the Office Beer Bar & Grill.

More than a dozen homebrewers made the cut Tuesday night in the opening round of the Office-sponsored homebrewer contest, and they'll now vie in the showdown Saturday afternoon/evening at The Office's Montclair location. The judging begins at 5:15 p.m.

Guest judges for the finals will be Greg Zaccardi, owner of High Point Brewing, where the winning recipe will be scaled up and brewed under contract for The Office; Ale Street News editor Tony Foder; Lon Lauterio of Nash Distributors; and Greg Stanton of Stew Leonard's Wines of Clifton. The Office staff judges will be Craig Godfrey, Ed Schwartz, Phil Butler and Dan Shea.

Friend of the blog Tom Eagan, who tracks his homebrewing and other malt adventures at Destination Beer, is among the finalists with his oatmeal stout. Good luck to all brewers.

Speaking of High Point Brewing, Saturday is also the Butler brewery's last open house until March 2010. The makers of the Ramstein beer brand debuted their winter wheat doppelbock last month. But we're still squarely in the season for that brew, which Gourmet magazine gave some props to as a fine winter beer, so expect to find it featured at the open house.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The new brewer at Bitting

If you've been stopping by for a pint at J.J. Bitting over the past couple of months, you've been sampling the brewing efforts of James Moss, a Pacific Northwester who's taken over the mash tun and kettle from August Lightfoot.

Long a familiar face at Bitting, August made an exit from the Woodbridge brewpub in late September (the last keg of his swansong brew for Bitting kicked last week).

James, 27, followed his girlfriend from Oregon to the Northeast (she just earned a master's in teaching at Columbia) and scored the Bitting gig after spotting a job posting on ProBrewer. Before relocating to Brooklyn (he trains it down to Woodbridge), James was trying to land a gig as a cellarman with McMenamins, the multifaceted Oregon-based brewpub chain. His resume includes a stint at a winery and time at the Ram Restaurant & Brewery near Tacoma, Wash.

Like a lot of craft brewers, James was a homebrewer before he was a commercial brewer. Turning pro was a goal he started bringing into focus about five years ago.

What's in store in Woodbridge
Bitting patrons will find the familiar mix of brews that have drawn them to a barstool at the former coal and grain company building situated beside the tracks NJ Transit's trains travel. James says he may sneak one of his porter or IPA recipes into the mix, but overall he plans to ease folks toward his brewing personality and brew interpretations. (For the record, he has an affinity for porters, oatmeal stouts, double IPAs and IPAs done with a Pacific Northwest slant.)

"Experimenting is one of the things I like about brewing. There's so many options to try," he says.

James just brewed Bitting's Barley Legal barley wine with the help of Tom Paffrath, who used to tend the kettle at Basil T's (soon to officially be named Artisans) in Toms River.

Look for that big brew to go on tap in early February. The Bitting winter warmer that James turned in goes on tap this month.

Cheers.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Update – Homebrewer contest

... The opening round will be judged next Tuesday.

We checked with Greg Zaccardi at High Point Brewing on Monday for some confirmation about the contest. So yes, the game is on, with the victor collecting the spoils of a $100 Office gift card, bragging rights, a commemorative tap handle, perhaps best of all for a homebrewer, the opportunity to help brew his or her recipe on a grand scale, namely at High Point in Butler.

The winning beer will go on tap at the seven Office Beer Bar & Grill locations, under the Office's house beer label.

Once again, here are the rules, and entrants should RSVP the Office at: beerwars@cbsteakhouse.com

  • All styles are welcome.
  • Criteria will be based on the quality of each beer and the commercial viability of a late winter beer to be sold in The Office Beer Bar & Grill, beginning in late January.
  • Entrants will provide the equivalent of six 12-ounce bottles for the event.
  • The restaurant winner will chosen by 50 percent guest votes, and 50 percent judges. Overall appeal is the single criteria.
  • Each restaurant winner must provide an additional six – 12 oz bottles, or the equivalent for the championship.
  • The winning beer will be determined by a panel of industry professionals.

Participants must comply and agree with the following conditions:

  • 21 years old or older
  • All participants must be present at the time of judging
  • The winning recipe is to be provided, and the winner will relinquish any commercial rights for the winning the recipe.
  • Employees of The Office Beer Bar & Grill and our vendors are not eligible to enter.
*EDITOR'S NOTE:
If you've entered the contest, shoot us an email at beerstainedletter@yahoo.com ... We'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Porter pilgrimages

For a while, Charlie Schroeder at Trap Rock had been mentioning to us the Colonial Porter he was putting on tap at the brewpub.

Getting some of that for Thanksgiving seemed like a good idea. In fact, having porters – plural – on the dinner table sounded like a doubly-good idea.

So yesterday, a course was set for Charlie's digs in scenic Berkeley Heights to sample a pint of the 6.5% ABV porter jazzed up with a gallon of molasses. It will accompany some Big Vic's Short Order Porter picked up Monday at Basil T's brewpub in Red Bank.

Charlie says the porter evolved from a brown ale he did a little experimenting with, namely by adding molasses to it to deepen its character. The molasses transformed the beer (and its chocolate malt) into a smooth brew that Charlie further shaped with the addition of the black malt "to balance some of the sweetness out instead of using more hops."

"It was something that happened by accident," Charlie says. "It started out as a brown ale that I wanted to make taste better by adding molasses, but then it turned out to be a porter."

It was a great pint at lunch. Gonna be good with dinner, too.

Also pouring at Trap Rock are a rye pale ale, Thorny (5.7% ABV, named after a grounded red-tailed hawk cared for at a raptor rehab center in Millington) and winter warmer that are worth a try. Ditto for some aged strong ale, Virgil (8.5% ABV, named for a turkey vulture that arrived at the raptor center in the mid-1980s). It's a beer Charlie brews once a year and sets aside a keg to age for eight months to a year. (You won't find Virgil on the brewpub's beer list, so ask the bartender about it. However, the quantity is limited so hurry, and alas, it's not available in growlers.)

The rye in Thorny, Charlie says, "acts almost like another hop. It's spicy. It's mimicking a hop, and by putting it with other hops it really gives it an interesting flavor profile you normally wouldn't get if you just added hops, a different hop."

He brewed Willie's Winter Warmer (6% ABV) using three different crystal malts, including a crystal rye malt, stacked on a base of pilsner malt. "It's like an Anchor Steam. It's a San Fran lager yeast fermented at an ale temperature, low 60s, and I used the different crystal malts," Charlie says.

Over at Basil T's in Red Bank, brewer Gretchen Schmidhausler has a honey brown ale that will be coming on, as well as the brewpub's Red Ribbon Ale seasonal made with star anise. But Big Vic's porter is on tap now, and it's quite tasty. There's note of sweetness to it as a pint by itself, but combined with food, there's a roasty quality that emerges. It's delicious beer, a two-pinter easily. But judge for yourself.

Homebrew in the queue

This announcement tumbled into the email queue today, and what follows is the actual email text. We didn't get a chance to reach out to the folks at High Point about it. But anyway, here it goes:

Do you have aspirations to be the next Beer Baron? If so, The Office Beer Bar & Grill is hosting the perfect competition for you! The Home Brewers Wars - sponsored by High Point Brewing Company, makers of Ramstein Beer - will answer the question: who is the best amateur brewer in New Jersey?

The first round of competition, "The People's Choice," will be held on Tuesday, December 8th, beginning at 8 p.m., at all Office Beer Bar locations. Homemade beers will be judged by customers and professional brewers alike, with a victor emerging from each of the seven Office locations.

On Saturday, December 12th, the seven finalists will face off at 5 p.m. at the Montclair Office Beer Bar, where judges from High Point Brewing Company, Nash Distributors and High Grade Distributors will choose the best home brewer.

The winner will receive a $100 Office gift card, have the chance to spend the day working with the brewers at High Point to create their recipe from scratch, will receive a commemorative tap handle and plaque and the first keg will be tapped during a ceremony in late January. The winner's beer will then be sold throughout our restaurants for beer lovers to enjoy.

So head down to the basement and start brewing! Please RSVP to beerwars@cbsteakhouse.com if you plan to submit a beer.

THE OFFICE BEER BAR & GRILL HOME BREWERS WARS RULES

All styles are welcome. Our criteria will be based on the quality of each beer and the commercial viability of a late winter beer to be sold in The OFFICE BEER BAR & GRILL beginning in late January. Entrants will provide the equivalent of six – 12oz bottles for the event.

The restaurant winner will chosen by 50% guest votes, and 50% judges. Overall appeal is the single criteria. Each restaurant winner must provide an additional six – 12 oz bottles, or the equivalent for the championship. The winning beer will be determined by a panel of industry professionals.

Participants must comply and agree with the following conditions:

  • 21 years old or older
  • All participants must be present at the time of judging
  • The winning recipe is to be provided, and the winner will relinquish any commercial rights for the winning the recipe

Employees of The Office Beer Bar & Grill and our vendors are ineligible.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More tales of stout on a half shell

Flying Fish's use of oysters in a stout may inspire homebrewers to put bivalves in the boil, too. But a couple of homebrewers from Monmouth County's bayshore turned in an oyster stout four months ago.

Shucks, that's a couple months before FF folks officially tipped their hand about where and what the next Exit Series beer would be.

Bill Comella of Highlands says he likes FF's Exit 1 Bayshore Oyster Stout, but it was Ventnor Brewery's Oyster Stout that inspired him and his co-brewer, Bobby Soden, members of the WHALES homebrew club, to get shellfish (OK, bad pun) with a 10-gallon batch of foreign export stout. The pair brewed on a three-tiered system fashioned from half-barrel kegs and used oysters bought at the Lusty Lobster seafood market in Highlands.

"We just put 'em in a big sack and dropped it in the boil with 10 minutes to go," Bill says. "Then we ate the oysters. There was more stout in the oysters than there was oyster in the stout."

And the beer? "It came out great."

The Ventnor Bill refers to is in the United Kingdom, not the Ventnor south of Atlantic City. The latter, as we know, is tangentially world famous as one of the yellow properties in Monopoly (Ventnor Avenue, price $260; rent $22 unimproved, $1,150 with hotel); the former is located on the Isle of Wight, famous in rock 'n' roll history for a multiday music festival in 1970 that was bigger than Woodstock 1969 and was one of Jimi Hendrix's last live performances.

Bill discovered Ventnor Brewery's oyster stout while in Amsterdam a few months back. The brewery went out of business last March, a victim of a seasonal economy and stingy bankers who wouldn't float it a loan to hold it over until the economy emerged from its winter doldrums.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Barristers, beer and a new book

Add one more title to the bookshelf on New Jersey beer.

Mike Pellegrino, a lawyer in Denville and appreciator of better beer, is the author of Jersey Brew, The Story of Beer in New Jersey. Don't think of the 160-page book as an examination of current beer trends and the state's craft beer scene.

Besides beer, Mike is a fan of history, and his book is an intersection of the two. The Garden State craft beer scene is but a coda to the remembrance of all the labels once brewed in New Jersey, like Krueger (the nation's first canned beer), Ballantine Burton Ale (imagine some bar talk on Burton ale at a Garden State watering hole in 1985, and not in a historical context ... no way; it was unheard of again until the mid-1990s) and Camden Bock Beer. (There's 110 images of old labels in the book.)

The part of the book likely to prove most appealing to readers is the Garden State's colorful defiance of Prohibition (January 1920-December 1933), which New Jersey was dragged into kicking and screaming. The state rejected the temperance movement as it was visited upon state legislature after legislature, and only bowed after the 18th Amendment to the Constitution poured it down the state's throat like a bitter cocktail.

Mike says beer was openly sold in New Jersey during the Terrible 13, and federal agents who prevailed upon the illegal taps to enforce the law were hard-pressed to pressure those caught to rat out where the beer came from. Under Prohibition and a corresponding gangster era, there were even some innovative and sneaky ways to move beer around, such using fire hoses. (Sounds sort of like beer baron Homer Simpson and the booze-filled bowling balls sent to Moe's Tavern when Springfield went dry.)

Besides being a chronicler of New Jersey beer history, Mike's also an independent defender of the state's modern craft brewers. A recent op-ed piece he wrote for the New Jersey Law Journal examines the disparities between how the Garden State treats its vintners and brewers.

The Nov. 9 article in the journal, for which Mike is an occasional contributor, picks up on an oft-made point about post-Prohibition beer and wine, namely the greater freedoms wineries enjoy compared to brewers. That would include the sharp differences in the costs of brewing licenses vs. vintner licenses, and the state's almost inexplicable unbalanced approach to on-premise sales of beer and wine. The state blesses generous sales at the winery, while, as we know, craft brewers get handcuffed with the per diem limit of two sixpacks per person at the brewery tour gift shop.

Roll into that regulatory chasm the fact that wine can be sampled at packaged goods stores, but if you want to know what a beer tastes like before you buy, go to another state (or to the brewery on a tour day). It's not going to happen at the point of purchase here, much to the ire of brewers, who rather strongly believe that consumers who get to try will buy, not just their brands but any brand that can be sampled. (It's a rather sad irony, too, that part of the expressed mission for New Jersey's Alcoholic Beverage Control agency is to foster competition. Yet, something so simple as an in-store tasting of beer remains illogically and archaically verboten.)

To make such a widely observed point may seem like treading old ground. But for the craft brewing industry, the advantage of what Mike's article offers is the targeted audience of a professional journal that intersects with the people who make the rules. Understand that as: Some folks in Trenton may see it, read it and decide to correct the course and change the rules to be fairer, more business-friendly.

"If you didn't have ties to New Jersey, why would you open a microbrewery in New Jersey?" Mike says. It's easier, he notes, to set up shop in neighboring Pennsylvania or New York, where the rules aren't designed to stifle entering the game, while the New Jersey beer markets remain within reach.

"We set ground rules that make it clear, don't try it here," he says.

FURTHER READING:
You must subscribe to the Law Journal to read it online, so here's Mike's article in jpeg form (click to enlarge).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

If there's winter wheat doppelbock ...

Then that High Point Icestorm eisbock is only a string of winter days away.

OK, maybe that's oversimplifying, since it's only mid-November, and the requisite below-30 degree temperatures to convert the doppelbock to eis have yet to pay visit to New Jersey. But have faith that it will happen, and Ramstein Winter Wheat will find its rich, velvety alter ego.

High Point turned loose the 2009 version of its Winter Wheat on Saturday with a signature, ceremonial barrel tapping before a capacity crowd at the brewery. (The turnout in Butler was exceptional, given that the weather was drizzling a rain that didn't clear up.)

The doppelbock's scheduled to be bottled this week, says owner Greg Zaccardi, who's fresh off a trip last month to the Mondial de la Biere festival held in Strasbourg, France. (High Point shipped over its Blonde and Classic wheat beers for the fest.)

Speaking of that trip to the Alsace region of France, High Point was approached with offers to export the Ramstein brand to Sweden, France and Germany. It's a high compliment, but one that's a bridge too far right now.

"Our production capacity really doesn't lend itself to being able to support that in a good way," Greg says. "We're keeping the lines of communication open. As we grow, we want to include them as well, because consumers in Europe, for centuries, have appreciated the style of beer we brew. It would be foolish for us not to bring beer to an area that really enjoys that type of beer."

Greg says there's every reason to be patient and re-examine the idea after a year's time. But it's more important to grow within High Point's local markets, those places where brewery has immediate interests. "We could just export and pat ourselves on the back, but you need to go beyond the one-night stand," Greg says.

Shout-out
At these beer releases, you run into a lot of familiar faces, and get to meet a lot of new people.

For Amanda and Bryan Stuht from Landing in Roxbury Township (Morris County), the wheat doppelbock release was their third Ramstein open house, putting them solidly on track to becoming regulars at the events.

Beginning homebrewers, they're avid beer enthusiasts with an appreciation for all styles (although Amanda will profess to a preference for hefeweizen). In addition, they enjoying a beer excursion whenever possible, like to Rattle N Hum Bar in Manhattan ... and High Point on a gray November day.

Cheers

Monday, November 9, 2009

Send in the Marines

November is a military month, and there are a couple of things to highlight for this week.

Tuesday at the Tun Tavern, the 234th Marine Corps birthday bash is being held, beginning at 7 p.m. Think, beer, camaraderie and a chowline in Atlantic City.

This annual affair draws a pretty big crowd, and it's Tun Tavern owner Monty Dahm saluting his fellow teufel Hunden – Devil Dogs.

Brewer Tim Kelly will have a pin of Leatherneck stout to complement the Tun's tap lineup that features Devil Dog Pale Ale and All American IPA, the latter of which is often dry-hopped with some Cascade hops grown in New Jersey.

If you're familiar with US history, and US military history in particular, then you know the Marine Corps was formed at an 18th century Philadelphia watering hole called – what else – Tun Tavern. Like most grog houses, it was a place to meet and conduct business. When the brain trust of the Colonies decided the best interest for the crown-ruled 13 was armed rebellion, well the Tun, on Nov. 10, became ground zero for signing up stout-hearted men to the cause of consigning George III to the status of ex-monarch.

That was 1775. This is 2009. The original Tun burned down almost 230 years ago. Its site, alas, is now pavement, as in I-95 cutting through Philly, part of Eisenhower's legacy as president (not Army general), the interstate highway system. A heritage-themed restaurant is at the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Va. And of course, there is Atlantic City and Monty's Semper Fi homage to the Corps.

You don't have to be a Marine to show up and salute the cause.

Meanwhile, PubScout Kurt Epps offered an item last week about Pizzeria Uno's expression of gratitude to those in uniform. Check out the link to the right for tribute video done by Kurt's sons.

Carry on.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Turtles, South Jersey and beer

Across deepest South Jersey, there are only three commercial breweries. Two of them are brewpubs – the Tun Tavern in Atlantic City and Iron Hill in Maple Shade – while the third is production brewer Flying Fish in Cherry Hill.

Ben Battiata and Becky Pedersen are toiling to boost those ranks to four with Turtle Stone Brewing Company in Vineland, in Cumberland County. A 10-year homebrewer turning pro, Ben took the Siebel brewing sciences course in 2007 and represents the mash tun side of the business; Becky tends the business side. (FYI: The photos are courtesy of their Facebook page.)

A guy who likes to talk beer and has been nurturing this brewery idea since 2006, Ben took some time on Friday to update Turtle Stone's progress toward a projected 2010 opening of what will be a production brewery.

His description of where things stand is not unlike an airport with aircraft circling, waiting for a place to land. The planes: a used brewhouse he and Becky were able to acquire sits in Oregon, while the companion equipment – six fermenters and tanks – are being stored locally until they have a definitive place to touch down. The equipment came from a now-shuttered Rock Bottom brewpub in Braintree, Mass.

The landing strip: Vineland's industrial park, off Route 55. Ben says they have their eyes on a 6,000-square-foot unit there, while another unit in the park that's two-thirds the size is their fallback option.

The focus for this month is getting the keys to one of those units (they prefer the larger one). Not to oversimplify (after all, there is licensing and other regulatory details to be addressed), but once that's done, you'll see a brewery coming together. Ben says a spring 2010 debut is optimistic, but still quite doable.

The beers
If the dominoes keep falling into place correctly, you'll likely see Turtle Stone building its beer foundation with a stout (6% ABV) done up the American way (a little hoppier at 70 IBUs, and not finishing dry), backed with a honey blonde ale accentuated with green tea and jasmine flowers.

The name
Don't think animals, think indigenous tribes of North America. In American Indian lore, turtles were symbolic of the earth, of land and shelter. Still, it's hard to overlook the menagerie represented in New Jersey's craft brewing industry: Fish (Flying ones), hippos (River Horse), crickets (Cricket Hill – despite the sport of cricket connection, they use a cricket in the logo), and now turtles.

The town
Amid the craft brewing industry's rise in New Jersey, Vineland was home to Blue Collar Brewing, founded in 1999. Blue Collar went out of business not too deep into this decade (after about five years of operation).

Historically speaking, Vineland is somewhat of an ironic choice for a brewery, whose product runs counter to a tenet held by the city's founder, Charles Landis.

Landis, a lawyer turned land baron, snapped up 20,000 acres near Millville in the mid-19th century with the notion of creating a town in his vision. As such, the sale of beer, wine and spirits was banned within the boundaries of his planned settlement.

Also, the name Vineland comes from grapes. The soil was suitable for vineyards, except given Landis' disdain for ethyl alcohol, the grapes weren't pressed for wine, but juiced à la Welch's.
Landis is also notable for founding Sea Isle City in Cape May County and infamous for shooting a newspaper editor in the head, mortally wounding him, and walking on a verdict of temporary insanity. Oddly enough, the newspaper had published articles questioning the sanity of Landis' wife, not his.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Imagine this in New Jersey

A posting on Pro Brewer Web site from last week: Brooklyn Brewery gets 800 grand from the state of New York to expand.

Wasn't (isn't?) New York wrangling with some budget issues to the point where the state's governor, David Paterson, had pitched taxing some soft drinks to pay for things?

New Jersey has a serious red ink tsunami waiting in the wings, too, but if the State of New York, in a weakened economy and with its dysfunctional legislature and shaky finances, can find the dosh to grant to a brewery, can't/shouldn't New Jersey treat its craft breweries as a growth industry?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

New AHA Web site

In the bricks and mortar world, this would be the equivalent of a growing locality landing its own ZIP code.

The American Homebrewers Association has trotted out a brand new site for homebrewers, whose interests were previously catered to within the city limits of Beertown. (The homebrewing button on Beertown now directs you to the new site.)

Charlie Papazian, the chap whose name is synonymous with homebrewing, explains more about the new digs here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Today's date

How convenient for a calendar illustration?

By the by, it's not just today's date; it's the birthday of the blogger.

Time to celebrate. With Jersey beers, of course.

Ciao.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

One more item

This blog was featured on another site midweek last week, so a word of thanks is in order to the folks over at The Beer Club.

Scott and the crew there have been inviting bloggers to draw up brief bios to be posted on the Beer Club. We appreciate the invitation and now get the chance, finally after a busy end to October, to reciprocate and give BC some mention.

Beer is culture and community, whether online or in the pub. And it's a great community.

Who's your guide?

It's none other than John Holl, the Jersey journalist who contributes reporting and analysis on craft beer to newjerseynewsroom.com.

The focus of John's efforts is a guidebook about craft and pub breweries throughout Indiana, another title in the Stackpole Books breweries series pioneered by Lew Bryson (who's also co-author of 2008's New Jersey Breweries with Mid-Atlantic Brewing News columnist Mark Haynie).

John is working on Indiana Breweries with
Nate Schweber, a name you may recognize from the print and Web pages of The New York Times, where John also wrote for several years. Nate also fronts the band NewHeathens.

Publication of Indiana Breweries is scheduled for June 2011. John says the next few months will be spent touring Indiana and gathering string, then, of course, getting down to brass tacks and shaping their reporting into the book's chapters.

The Hoosier State is familiar ground to John, whose news reporting cred also includes a stint at Indiana's capital city paper, The Star.


" There are more than 30 brewpubs and breweries in the state, and I'm really looking forward to revisiting many of them. I was a staff writer for the Indianapolis Star in 2003-2004 and spent a lot of time driving the state and visiting a lot of fine breweries," he says.

Besides having a chronicler from The Garden State, Indiana beer has something else in common with New Jersey. Like Jersey, it sometimes doesn't command the attention it deserves.


"Indiana beer is often overlooked by people, who focus on beers from Missouri to the West and Michigan to the northeast, but the Hoosier state has some really great places," John says. "We're hopeful that this book will encourage people to hit the road and visit not only the breweries but the towns and attractions in the area."

Any Hoosier beers that would appeal to Jersey drinkers?

"I think there is such a diversity among the Indiana brewers that even people with very particular tastes will be able to find what they want," John says.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Bayshore, Oysters & Beer



Flying Fish's Exit 1 Bayshore Oyster Stout, the third installment in the Cherry Hill brewery's limited-batch Exit Series beers, ships to New Jersey distributors and retail outlets this week.

We're gonna go out on a limb and say that this brew will go quick, faster than the two previous Exits, 11 and 4, the latter of which winning a gold medal at the Great American Beer Fest in Denver last month. (Folks at Flying Fish think their titular ingredient may be a learning curve for some beer drinkers.)

Why do we think Bayshore Oyster Stout will be a hot exit? Well, the first two are craft beer movement fusion styles: Exit 4 is a big Belgian trippel given an American accent, while Exit 11 is an assertively hopped wheat ale. But Exit 1 is a more accessible beer style, even if the category does command some explanation or clarification thanks to the bivalve in the name.

Although Belgian brews of all stripes are quite popular these days, for some folks the bigger ones can be a challenge, and for others at total turnoff. (A month ago, while at one of the Jersey brewpubs, we overheard a couple of guys who'd just walked up to the bar talking about Belgian beer, with one of them describing the taste as "turpentine." Then they both proceeded to order the house light beer. C'est la vie.) And wheat can't be beat for some really great flavors. (Remember a year or so ago when Budweiser called on comic Rob Riggle to suggest a cloudy beer was inferior? Wonder how that wheat'd up Bud Light fits within that assertion?)

But this member of the Exit lineup is a stout (an export one). It's big, but not too big; yet it doesn't shrink, either; plus, we're heading into colder weather, a time when people go for a heartier beer ... like a stout. And those oysters from Jersey's Delaware River Bayshore that were added to the kettle? A fishy idea and taste? Hardly. But they are a flourish, with the calcium from their shells making for a dry signature to balance some sweetness in this beer and back up the roastiness that's customary to stouts.

On top off all that, Exit 1 is traveling a path paved by Exits 4 and 11, so there's some beforehand buzz welcoming the next spot on the Jerseyana map that the Exit Series explores.

That's why we think this one could be an exit Flying Fish will have to revist, maybe even become a beer version of pork roll, so to speak, you know, that instantly identifiable slice of New Jersey that Garden State residents embrace like offspring and expats pine for and even have shipped to them cross country.

About the video
First, a word of thanks to Bivalve Packing Company in Port Norris and Eric Powell from Rutgers University's Haskin Research Lab, also in Port Norris. Additionally, gratitude goes to oysterman Everett Marino, beer writer Lew Bryson, the folks at Flying Fish and Profile PR in Philadelphia.

Aside from highlighting Flying Fish's latest specialty brew, the video sketches a past-to-present look at New Jersey's oyster industry, which was a booming trade during the early part of the 20th century. As the waters of bayshore and the Maurice River have risen, the oyster industry has receded. But it's very much hanging on, thanks to some effective management practices applied to the fishery.

In a word, it's still a Jersey pearl.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Moe's microbrewery


A microbrewery on The Simpsons ...

Not since Moe Szyslak partnered with Marge Simpson a few seasons back to turn his Springfield tavern into the Nag & Weasel pub (My place could be British instead of armpit-ish, Moe sang at the time), has the town's watering hole been the center of so much hilarity.

The closer to Sunday night's annual Treehouse of Horror trilogy borrowed from Sweeney Todd and had Homer's blood making its way into the microbrew that Moe dispensed on location. (FYI: You can fast-forward the video by clicking on a point in the timeline.) The pink-tinged pints that patrons consumed had them seeing a sunnier side of life and Moe doing his usual cravenly mackin' on Marge when Homer's outta the way (a little more hemoglobin, and your wife will be disrobin').

Moe, as ardent Simpsons fans know, is based partly on the late boxer and bar owner Louis Red Deutsch, whose Jersey City joint, the Tube Bar, was the target of prank phone calls by a couple of locals in the 1970s. Deutsch's profanity-laced retorts were taped, and the audio hilarity later became widely circulated.

Woohoo.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Gushing gourd

If a barrel is 31 gallons, and a firkin 11, then how much is a pumpkin?

From the looks of the one Iron Hill brewer Chris LaPierre tapped, about 2 gallons (or so) of nicely spiced, harvest season ale.

Chris ushered in the pumpkin ale era with the Wednesday evening tapping. That's the visage of Groucho Marx on the pumpkin below, by the way.

"We started with the grain bill for an amber ale and took 250 pounds of long neck pie pumpkins, roasted them in the convection oven until they were golden brown – I had to show up at 5 o'clock in the morning because I had to be out of the kitchen before the kitchen staff came in and got ready to cook ..." Chris says.

The roasted pumpkin went into the mash. Spices – cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, clove and vanilla bean – were added at the end of the boil instead of finishing hops. The result is a great pumpkin ale at 5.7% ABV.

But wait, there's more.

"The imperial pumpkin ale is coming out in a couple of weeks. It's much bigger – more pumpkins, more malt ... we also added four gallons of molasses," Chris says.

That brew will be a little over 9% ABV, "a little bit darker, bigger and a lot stronger," Chris notes.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ramstein in France

If you know anything about High Point Brewing, it's that a thread of Old World Europe runs through the Butler brewery's signature beers.

Owner Greg Zaccardi trained to be a pro brewer in southern Germany, and his Ramstein brand is all about wheat beers and lagers made in that Old World tradition, a taste of Europe made in America.

This weekend, High Point will come practically full circle with its Classic and Blonde wheat beers being served to Europeans in Strasbourg, France, at the three-day Mondial de la Biere, the widely known world beer festival that's held annually in Montreal, and now has a continental reach.

At the Oct 16-18 event, Greg will give a presentation, The History and Evolution of American Microbreweries, and participate in a panel discussion on the what the future holds for brewers. (The junket is an invitation-only affair, and Greg's trip was coordinated through the Ale Street News.)

American brewers, Greg says, dedicate themselves to making beers that weren't available to US consumers a quarter century ago. And though if you play your cards right, you can make a living as a brewer, but it's passion for the product and putting it in the hands of a receptive public that drives the US craft brewer.

"People can taste the difference and are willing to spend for the difference," he says.

With regard to the to roundtable topic, Greg says the brewing industry has become quite automated, with computer-controlled processes from mash tun to fermenter to packaging. "In a large-scale production brewery, the role of brewer will be played by the IT guy."

And while we're on the topic of High Point, it's worth noting that the brewery's 2009 Oktoberfest beer was rated tops on Beeradvocate. That's the good news; the bad news is the beer is nearly all gone. You might find it at some of High Point's draft accounts, but folks armed with growlers hoping to get them filled with the märzen at the brewery will be disappointed.

And speaking of Oktoberfest, PubScout Kurt Epps has a wrap-up and photos from Pizzeria Uno's celebration held on Monday. And on Sunday, Long Valley weighs in with its annual Oktoberfest.

But hang on, there's one more event: Iron Hill's got the gourd. At 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday (Oct. 15), they'll be tapping a pumpkin filled with this year's rendition of pumpkin ale to hail the release of that beer.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Planes, grains & automobiles (lighthouses & boats, too)

A four-day road trip with Cape Lookout, North Carolina, as the destination ...

How do you get New Jersey beer out of that? By trawling for beer along the Outer Banks.

Briefly ...
Many miles south of Kill Devil Hills, Cape Lookout's sesquicentennial was observed Saturday (Oct. 10) with, as honored guests, the descendants of the lighthouse keepers and members of the US Life-Saving Service (which eventually became the US Coast Guard) who served at Lookout.

Our lineage goes back to 1859, when light thrown from the current beacon's whale oil-burning wick first swept the surrounding waters of Cape Lookout. Hence, we set out for the southern shores of North Carolina, where you can still find wild horses and a lighthouse done up in diamonds of black and white.

Plenty of 19th and 20th century maritime history, lots of East Carolina cuisine (i.e. pork barbecue), but not much craft beer at hand, save for a sixpack of Highland Brewing's Kashmir IPA and a couple of liters of Weeping Radish picked up in Jarvisburg, North Carolina, on the way down (the Radish was a destination for beer friends of ours in the mid- to late-1990s, when it was in Manteo on the Outer Banks; that location is now closed).

(A quick call to Charlie Schroeder at Trap Rock in Berkeley Heights put the inadvertently overlooked Outer Banks Brewing Station on the return trip itinerary. Charlie vacationed at the Outer Banks last summer. After a four-hour drive up from Morehead City on Sunday, there was good beer to be had.)

Jersey Connection
Outer Banks Brewing is ensconced in a wind-powered white building trimmed in red, its shape a fresh architectural take on Life-Saving Stations found along the coast at the turn of the 20th century. Located along the southbound lanes of busy Route 158, the brewery's so close to where the Wright brothers revolutionized travel that you could get hit by a prop blade. (The pub brews an alt called Altimeter.)

The beer's good – pub food, too – and the brewery's wind-generated electricity isn't a curiosity but a philosophy (a tenth of the pub's power needs come from wind-generated electricity).

Twenty-five minutes into our pint of chocolate stout, beer traveler Randy Boyles made a pit stop en route home to Advance, North Carolina, settling in for a lunch and grabbing a half liter of Outer Banks Moondog ESB and two-liter growler of the pub's brown ale to go.

And here's the Jersey connection: Randy races yachts, his vessel being a 30-footer called the Rocket J (as in Rocket J. Squirrel, better known as Rocky the Flying Squirrel, whose image graces the side of the boat).

One of the Rocket J's six crew members for those regattas on the Pamlico River and Pamlico Sound is Tom Hughes, father of Flying Fish brewer Casey Hughes.

So you can imagine that Randy has an appreciation for Flying Fish.

While traveling to Philadelphia recently on business, Randy, who confesses to the kind of beer snobbery that makes a lot us craft beer enthusiasts, met up with Casey for a stop at Monks Cafe in Philly, and got to try FF's Exit 4 Tripel and Exit 11 Wheat Ale.

Flying Fish was still on his mind when he pulled into Outer Banks.

"I was here because enough people come down from the North, I thought there was an outside chance I might find Flying Fish down here. But I haven't yet. I haven't found it in North Carolina. I don't think it's come this far south," Randy says.

Yet.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Basil T's, the Oktoberfest in Toms River

Aside from the brewpub's name change, the news out of this year's Basil T's Oktoberfest observance in Toms River (held Oct. 2nd) is the return of Tom Paffrath, the guy who made the beer before Dave Hoffmann took over as brewer. (Tom is the guy hoisting the mug.)

Tom's tenure followed that of Gretchen Schmidhausler, who as we all, know tends the kettles and fermenters at the original Basil's in Red Bank.

Tom handed the brewing duties over to Dave several years ago, after his parents' deteriorating health meant he needed to spend more time with them. Now, Tom's coming back to lend a hand, since Dave also owns Climax Brewing in Roselle Park, and sometimes it gets a little tough to be in two places at once. (Case in point, toward the end of September, Dave was shuttling between both locations in a week that saw him get virtually no time off.)

Besides Toms River, you may encounter Tom at J.J. Bittings in Woodbridge, where he'll also help out, now that brewer August Lightfoot has opted to step away from the grind of a one-man brewing operation.

Meanwhile, if you went to this year's Oktoberfest, then you took part in the last fall festival under the Basil T's-Toms River banner (and enjoyed emcee Kurt Epps' wit, and the charm of the Dirndl Mädchens). Come the start of 2010, the original Red Bank location will have the Basil's name all to itself.

Artisan Brewery & Italian Restaurant will be the new name in Toms River, something that's worth having a big bash for. And that's not a swipe at Red Bank, either.

It's just that the folks in Toms River, the brothers Gregorakis, have worked hard to establish their own identity, relying in part on Dave's beer and Steve Farley's kitchen know-how, all while sharing the Basil's handle with another restaurant that has different ownership and no connection at all (as in the two are not a corporate franchises).

That's not necessarily an easy thing to pull off, when you consider maybe only the beer geeks and diehard patrons were the folks armed with the knowledge to parse the two Basil backstories.

In any case, the Gregorakis brothers are excited about the change, and we hope they kick the new chapter off in style.

And, if you missed this year's Oktoberfest, well there is always next year's ... at Artisan.

See more photos from the night here.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Live blogging from Basil T Oktoberfest

Dirndl madchens are milling about, and the Fire House Polka Band is setting up.

It's a little more than an hour before festivities will start and a good time to have a warmup pint of fest beer.

5:59 p.m. ... Just talked to emcee Kurt Epps of PubScout fame, brewer Dave Hoffmann, his dad, Kurt, and Roger Freitag, who supplies oak barrels for Oktoberfest events.

6:51 p.m. ... Talking to Kurt Hoffmann ... Kurt's fest hat sports a plume from a chamois he shot himself 9,500 feet up a mountain in Austria.

7:43 p.m. ... It should be noted at this point that 2009 is final the Oktoberfest in Toms River under the name Basil T's ... Hello Artisan, a name that touches on the great things served here, beer and food from, the hands of artisans.

7:54 p.m. ... Quote of the night: In all fairness, the bus boys should be wearing lederhosen. Said in respose to the servers wearing dirndls.

8:10 p.m. ... Several choruses of "Ein Prosit," an excellent shrimp cocktail and a hefeweizen ... The night is going quite well.

9:20 p.m. ... The best wurst has been served and the Oktoberfest beer is being poured, while the Fire House Polka Band -- oompah tuba, accordian and guitar -- runs through the "Roll Out The Barrel" and the crowd merrily sways with mugs in hand (schunkeling as it is called).

10:05 p.m. ... A survey of the crowd ... The Pauls -- Paul Unkert, the well-respected luthier who made Eddie Van Halen's "Frankenstrat " guitars during the 1980s, and Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine. By the by, Paul Unkert now makes guitars in Toms River under the brand name "Unk."

9:40 p.m. ... The main course arrives: a fork-tender sauerbraten from chef Steve Farley, complemented by spatzle, potato pancakes and applesauce, and red cabbage, of course. Another chorus of "Ein Prosit," and all is well.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Roundup

Reminder
Basil T's in Toms River, soon to be known under the moniker Artisan, holds its Oktoberfest dinner on Friday evening (starts at 7 p.m.). It's a multi-course dinner by chef Steve Farley, paired with several beers from brewer Dave Hoffmann. PubScout Kurt Epps keeps the event on pace as emcee.

Upcoming
The Garden State Chapter of the Brewery Collectibles Club of America holds its fall show on Sunday (Oct. 4) at the Polish Cultural Center in Clark.

It starts at 10 a.m., and speaking of Dave Hoffmann, you'll find his Climax beers being poured there.

River Horse

River Horse's annual nod to fall will be held the weekend of Oct. 10-11, noon to 5 p.m. both days. As usual, it's pay as you go with the lineup of RH flagship beers; proceeds benefit Twin Rivertown Project.

Missing from this year's Oktoberfest beer lineup is Dunkel Fester, the dark larger RH did last year as a fall seasonal. Co-owner Glenn Bernabeo says the brewery had to sacrifice the seasonal to keep up with demand for RH's mainstay beers.

For instance, for 2009 the brewery nearly doubled last year's 7-barrel production of Summer Blonde.

The brewery also slipped a special project into its production, brewing the winning beer for a homebrew contest connected to the Office chain of restaurants. Glenn says the brewery hopes to boost capacity soon by adding additional tanks.

Given all of that, if you were a fan of last year's oatmeal milk stout, fret not. It's due back in Novermber, while RH's Belgian Freeze comes out this month.

Recap
If you made it to last weekend's cask ale event at Pizzeria Uno, then you saw a great model for scaling down beer fests: a low-key, pay-as-you-go affair with access to good food. Some of the bigger festivals (like Atlantic City) have become drunkfests, while the beer festival idea in general has become overplayed. It makes sense to rein things in a little, downsize and bring some focus.

Speaking of the Uno event, a shoutout goes to Kai Todd of Somerset County, who took the time to talk to us about the beers he was sampling, and Jersey beer in general. (Kai say he's considering adding his voice to the beer scene discussion with a Web site. There's always room for another perspective.)

Constructive criticism
We won't pound this too hard, since we couldn't make it up to the Woodbridge event held in mid-September. But a lot of folks told us about the long lines at the gate and beer staind, and the event running out of beer. Sounds like the Central Jersey Best Fest hit a growing pain, one that limiting ticket sales and boosting the $20 admission price to $35 could solve. (Thirty-five bucks is a common price, and quite frankly, 40 is not out of the realm of reason.)

Granted the Woodbridge festival is a charity event, so if organizers (J.J. Bitting brewpub is the main one) are worried that capping ticket sales will limit the amount raised for the dedicated charity, that can be addressed by having an informational booth to explain where the proceeds are going and to solicit donations. The festival's been a sensible fall addition, and the park where it's held is a great location. Some fine-tuning should help.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Gold Fish

From judging at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver ...

Flying Fish's Exit 4 American Trippel, the inaugural beer in the Cherry Hill brewery's bomber bottle-sized specialty brews, picked up a gold medal at the biggest beer party in the US this weekend.

Maybe now the folks at the New Jersey Turnpike Authority will graciously accept the fact that New Jersey gets some accolades, not just sarcasm and standup comic punchlines, thanks to FF's Exit Series beers, which are a nod to the Turnpike's place in state and pop culture.

The brew that is Exit 4, as we all remember, is a fusion of Belgian and American tastes, and it won top honors in the category of that interpretation. (Belgian beer styles have been good to Flying Fish. The brewery's Abbey Dubbel went silver last year.)

Also, Flying Fish's IPA, Hopfish, won a bronze in the classic English Pale Ale category.

Meanwhile, Long Valley Pub & Brewery's Lazy Jake Porter took home a silver for brown porter. Lazy Jake has been in the winner's circle before, bringing home GABF gold nine years ago.

Triumph Brewing (which wraps up its two-day Oktoberfest blast in New Hope on Sunday) won a pair of gold medals with its Pennsylvania locations (hefeweizen from New Hope and kinderpils from Philly). Alas, no medal for Triumph's Princeton brewpub.

Similarly, Iron Hill, which opened an eighth location in Maple Shade last summer, won gold and silver with brews from its Delaware properties (schwarzbier and raspberry torte).

Congrats to all.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Benefit at Firewaters Atlantic City

A calendar item coming by way of beer writer Mark Haynie, the New Jersey correspondent for Mid-Atlantic Brewing News ...

From 2-7 p.m. on Sunday (Sept. 27), Firewaters bar in the Tropicana casino is holding a benefit to help cover medical expenses for one of their bartenders, Jackie, who has a rare digestive disorder that causes her to reject foods of almost any type.

Jackie's 26, and unfortunately as is the case with a growing portion of the country's population, she's without medical insurance. She's had surgery to treat her condition, and that's left her with some big bills.

There's a $20 cover charge with food and drink specials, plus a Chinese auction and prizes. Brewer Tim Kelly from the nearby Tun Tavern is sending over a pin of dry-hopped red ale, and Mark is kicking in some offerings from his impressive beer collection. If you're an Eagles/Giants/Jets fan (everyone's playing 1 o'clock games), fret not, there's a TV or two.

For the uninitiated, Firewaters specializes in casting a wide net for beer, bottle and draft. In Atlantic City, Firewaters and the Tun Tavern stand alone as the places for good beer.

An FYI: Firewaters isn't located in The Quarter side of the Tropicana. It's probably a little easier to hit from the casino's boardwalk entrance.

AOL dumbs down homebrewing



This is from AOL, which comes to the statistical conclusion you can save money on beer by making your own. The premise isn't inaccurate, but the presentation is so naive as to be misleading. (Obviously, it's mainstream Internet content, a lot of which you shouldn't take too serious, or serious at all for that matter).

As we know, most dedicated homebrewers aren't looking to shave 30 cents off the cost per bottle. As we know again, most seasoned homebrewers are more sophisticately equipped than our video hosts here, who, judging from their processes, are on their way to make some funky, undrinkable beer.

On the one hand, this could draw some people into homebrewing and better beer. On the other, there's no getting around it, making good beer at home (and doing it consistently) is much more involved, quite a bit of work. Coming at it from the Hints from Heloise angle of saving three dimes per serving is just dumb.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

One more real thing

It's in the comments portion of yesterday's post, but just so it gets noticed here's the update from the kind folks at Hunterdon Distributors about Saturday's cask ale event at Pizzeria Uno.

Says Hunterdon: In addition to the Nugget Nectar, Troegs is sending their new seasonal, Javahead Stout. Smuttynose should have their Big A IPA and Pumpkin Ale ... doesn't look like Yards is going to make this one.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What's old is new?

Another nod to PubScout Kurt Epps, who points out the Star-Ledger is recycling features, only this time using a video camera to do it.

The Ledger descended upon The Brewer's Apprentice in Freehold to pick some low-hanging fruit. Kurt points out he did this story 11 years ago, and the Asbury Park Press (our alma mater) did it back in the 1990s, too.

What's different now? YouTube's ascension, from 2005 forward.

Some folks fancy calling this new media, which is accurate enough if you're in the industry or academics and need a term to wrap your mind around. But you can also take it as a euphemism for how the Internet has upended newspapers and eaten their lunch.

The Ledger and some others have inanely called it video journalism. Accurate again. But we can't help but remember that at the time of JFK's assassination 46 years ago, folks in television news were witnessing their slice of the broadcast journalism pie grow exponentially. (You can almost hear the broadcast veterans grinding their teeth at the phrase video journalism; what were they making from Dallas, slides? Animations? Cave paintings? Never mind the news reel footage shown in movie theaters back during World War II and before.)

Whatever. The nomenclature evolved because of short memories and tunnel vision. We're taking a swipe at the Ledger for a few other reasons, too.

One, Kurt's right. And two, the Ledger's production (and it must be stressed, we're not picking on Brewer's Apprentice) is just gathering apples from the ground, no ladder in the tree. All it does is talk about going to make beer outside the traditional brewery setting, i.e. homebrewing by proxy. There are plenty of homebrew clubs – folks who actually brew at home – in New Jersey with some seriously talented and innovative brewers, including one who was a national finalist in the 2007 Samuel Adams LongShot homebrew contest (something we pointed out, to no avail, to an editor at the Ledger back then).

Also, making beer – whether at home or in Butler, Roselle Park, Cherry Hill or Lambertville – is no mystery. There are boatloads of how-brewing-is-done videos on YouTube, and some are from New Jersey. If the Ledger were looking to do some real video journalism, it could have focused on the fact that New Jersey requires homebrewers to get an onerous annual permit, which practically no one does (except Brewer's Apprentice won't make your beer without it), and which practically no other state requires (according to the American Homebrewers Association in Boulder, Colorado). The permit is 15 bucks; it used to be 3, and requires your homebrew to not leave your home, something else that doesn't happen.

Sigh.

But we're not just griping for gripe's sake. We've shot plenty of newsy video about New Jersey beer. So here's where we blow our own horn:

The real thing

Cask ale was the real thing long before Coca-Cola ever thought about it as a marketing slogan.

And the real thing will start pouring at Pizzeria Uno (Metuchen) on Friday evening as a warm-up to Uno's third edition of its cask ale event, which is officially timed to start at noon on Saturday (Sept. 26th).

It's pay as you go, priced by the pint, and there's Uno's pub fare menu you can order from. As far as the beer goes, there are a some gems on the lineup (this is from the Beeradvocate posting):

Jersey brews

  • Climax ESB
  • Flying Fish Abbey Dubbel
  • River Horse Hopalotamus Double IPA
  • Cricket Hill's American Pale Ale
  • and a brace of brews from the host's playbook: Station House Red and Oktoberfest.

Keystone State brews
  • Troeg's Nugget Nectar
  • Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA and Imperial Pumpkin Ale
  • and some offerings from the ever-respectable Philly brewer, Yards.

Brews from afar
  • More flying wildlife: A duo from Colorado brewer, Flying Dog (Gonzo Imperial Porter and Snake Dog IPA).

Cask ale is a real treat, lots of flavors come rolling out when the carbonation is natural and dialed to the gentle setting. Not to mention the great aromas that really emerge.

Uno is on Route 1 (on the southside of the highway), and easy to find. Just point your car toward the Menlo Park and Woodbridge Center malls.