Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Eleventh Hour

A beer festival is like a big potluck dinner … That kind of reminds us of Homer’s advice to Bart: “Son, a woman is like a beer. They smell good, they look good, you'd step over your own mother just to get one!” Anyway, we were saying festival, potluck etc … The point is, one thing you want to know about a festival is who’s bringing what.

Well, we’ve got some answers, albeit a partial list, but it can help you navigate Saturday’s 11th Annual Garden State Craft Beer Festival aboard the USS New Jersey.

We’re not going to go into the how-to’s of festival tasting, i.e. beer styles to start with before working your way to heavier styles. Or remind you to keep up your water intake. A lot of that’s been covered in the past by so many other beer writers. (Think back to Don “Joe Sixpack” Russell’s take last March before the Philly festival.)

Plus, so much about beer – flavors and favorites, ales vs. lagers – is as individual as an iPod, so we’ll just say what we know about the beers that'll be going into your logo’d commemorative tasting glass. (A barrel-sized thanks to the brewers – many of whom were up to their elbows in prep work for the festival – for fielding our emails and calls asking for their beer lineup.).

So here’s what we know:

The Brewpubs

• Tun Tavern (Atlantic City):
The Tun has a new brewmaster, Tim Kelly, who invites you to check out some Devil Dog Pale Ale and the Tun’s summer staple, hefeweiss. Tim also promises to have something else to wow the festival crowd with.

• Pizzeria Uno (Metuchen):
Make your bock maibock, says Uno’s brewer Mike Sella. His golden bock (7.2% ABV), fashioned with Hallertauer and Saaz hops, is among a flight of beers that includes the brewpub’s year-rounds Ike’s IPA, Gust N Gale Porter, plus a dark mild.

• JJ Bitting (Woodbridge):
Like lager? Like a dark lager? Still like a lager when it goes goth? We do. And we’ll be looking for this schwarzbier, Bitting’s Black Magic. (Totally tangential trivia: The USS New Jersey was launched in 1942, the same year that christened the Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer tune “That Old Black Magic,” a song that would go on to chart for boatloads of singers, including Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Louis Prima.) Other brews Bitting will have in tow: Bierstrasse Hefeweizen, Bitting’s Best Bitter and J.J.’s Raspberry Wheat.

• Long Valley Pub and Brewery (Long Valley):
If you, like the USS New Jersey, call South Jersey home, chances are you haven’t been to Long Valley. It’s worth the trip up, for both the brewpub and the scenic part of Morris County the pub draws its name from. In the meantime, brewer Joe Saia is sending a crew to Camden to share some Lazy Jake Porter, a gold medal winner at the Great American Beer Festival. Rounding out Long Valley’s N.J. festival lineup is Grist Mill Golden Ale and an IPA that cuts an English jib.

• Harvest Moon (New Brunswick):

It doesn’t take a Rutgers math major to figure out an IPA that has Hops2 (that's squared) in its moniker means you’re in for an exponentially hoppy drinking experience. The equation here is German hops + American hops + English varieties for dry hopping = Harvest Moon’s Hops2 Double IPA. Brewer Matt McCord plans to have enough of the IPA on hand so hopheads, and anyone else with an adventurous palate, won’t be denied. Ditto for the casual beer drinker.

The Production Breweries

• Cricket Hill (Fairfield):

Co-owner Rick Reed once told us he thinks a well done American lager is a style that's becoming a little bit forsaken. Perhaps that’s why the Cricket has one, aptly named East Coast Lager, a refreshing brew that has found a niche in our fridge. Look for it, plus their American Ale, Hopnotic IPA (another one of the Cricket’s that is usually in our fridge), and the Colonel, that is, Colonel Blide's Altbier.

High Point Wheat Beer Company, aka Ramstein (Butler):

What’s that old saying, that bit of advice for success, “Do what you do best …” Well, High Point’s name says it all: Wheat Beer. Greg Zaccardi used to work as a brewer in southern Germany, and took a lot of that Deutschland bier ethic and sensibility back home to create some great German style wheats and lagers. Look for Ramstein Blonde, High Point’s take on the traditional unfiltered weiss, and Ramstein Classic, a dark wheat that beer writers 10 years ago dubbed the future of dunkel wheats. See for yourself how that claim holds up.

• Flying Fish (Cherry Hill):

The Fish is the big fish when it comes to Garden State craft beers, and will probably crack the 10,000-barrel mark this year. We remember when they were just starting to swim and recall the Saturday open house in October ’96 when the mash was struck for their very first Abbey Dubbel. Fish folks say they’re bringing a bit of everything to the festival. We hope that means HopFish, their really creamy and tasty IPA, in addition to their ESB and quenching Farmhouse Summer Ale (which we turned our neighbors onto).

Festival Details

Admission: Tickets are $35 and still available online through or at the ship's ticketing office, 856-966-1652 x107. Price includes keepsake tasting glass and self-tour of the battleship.
Entertainment: Music by the Cabin Dogs.
Food: Vendors will sate your appetite for the right price (seriously, there will be stands where you can buy food).
Parking: Garage is located at the Camden waterfront complex; shuttle buses will be available to the battleship.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A shot – not so long now – at beer fame

They call him ESB Dave.

Dave Pobutkiewicz (pronounced POE' • but • KEV • ich) picked up that nom de bière thanks to his two-year quest to clone Fuller’s marquee brew.

It helps, too, that the initials for extra special bitter distinguish him from several other Daves in his homebrewer club, the Defiant Homebrewers, who meet at Defiant Brewing Company just across the state line in Pearl River, N.Y.

But if you ask what his favorite beer style is, ESB Dave will tell you maibock, or helles bock, as beer aficionados also know it.

“There’s so much challenge to making a light-colored, full bodied beer,” says the 39-year-old from Pompton Lakes in Passaic County who has homebrewed for 11 years.

Now, Dave has another reason to enjoy a helles bock. His interpretation of the style scored him a berth in the finals of the 2007 Samuel Adams American Homebrew contest.

With that honor, Dave – who’s one of two finalist from the competition’s Boston regional judging – and finalists from the San Francisco and Chicago regionals get an invitation to the Great American Beer Festival (Oct. 11-13) in Denver.

That’s where Boston Beer Company will announce two winning homebrewers, whose beers will be brewed by Boston Beer for the next Samuel Adams LongShot variety pack.

A third homebrew, from the Samuel Adams employees contest, will be chosen to round out the nationally distributed sixpack through voting by attendees at the GABF.

(The variety pack is made up of two bottles of each beer. The current variety pack, featuring brews from the 2006 winners, includes an old ale, a Dortmunder style export and a boysenberry wheat ale.)

Boston Beer’s brewmasters, beer judges from the Beer Judge Certification Program, and other qualified judges put their palates and noses to good use to select the finalists. The company announced the final four from the more than 1,700 entries last Friday.

Dave found out a little earlier in the week in a phone call from his homebrewing compadre, Chris Baas of Midland Park in Bergen County, who entered an alt and kölsch in the contest. (Chris' alt finished in the top 10 of the Boston regional judging, by the way.)

“He said are you sitting down, Sam Adams just called me,” Dave says, describing what he thought was the introduction to a bittersweet moment: his losing and Chris setting his sights on Denver.

But it was the other way around. Chris was calling to inform and congratulate his friend.

Chris, a finalist in a separate Samuel Adams’ homebrew competition last year, shipped both of their entries to the Boston judging – just a day before the mid-May deadline. But he didn’t have Dave’s phone number handy, so he listed his own as the contact. When the Boston Beer folks called Chris, they were actually looking for Dave.

Chris describes his friend as a "meticulous brewer" whose toughest critic is perhaps himself. "He’s so critical of his own beers. He doesn’t make flawed beers. We all keep telling him his beer is good," says Chris.

Dave, a service technician who helped install the coolant lines at Defiant Brewing ("I'll work for beer," he jokes), says he almost didn’t have enough of the bock to enter. The 5-gallon batch – tweaked and refined from a previous take on the bock – was so good, he came close to finishing it in the month or so before the contest deadline. The Sam Adams folks would need seven bottles; Dave got down to eight, cutting it that close.

Dave and Chris, who’s also a beer judge, are no strangers to beer competition.

Chris has been in the winner’s circle in Best of Brooklyn and other contests. Dave has watched his own brews, such as an imperial stout and Belgian strong ale, finish in the top three. He also took a first place in New Jersey State Fair competition with a hefeweizen, just getting edged out of the best-in-show award.

But right now, Dave’s looking forward, busy compiling the details of his bock recipe and biographical information that Boston Beer has requested.

Not to mention setting his sights on 2008.

About Dave’s maibock

Grain bill: Pilsner malt, light munich malt and a half pound of wheat.
Hops: Spalt and Saaz with IBU in the mid-20s.
Original gravity: 1.070 (17.2° Plato)
ABV: Just under 6.5%
Water: Dave used bottled water in the brew. “My (tap) water is ridiculously hard; I didn’t want to harsh the bitterness with that,” he says.

About Defiant Homebrewers

The club has about 20 participating members and meets the first and third Wednesdays at Defiant Brewing Company (brewmaster Neill Acer) in Pearl River, N.Y., in Rockland County.