Saturday, December 20, 2008

Carol of the Beers

Garmin's not the only one making something commercial out of Carol of the Bells.

This version is performed on harp, picked up as some royalty-free music (odd how royalty-free music is only free after you buy a license to use it.) By the by, one of the funniest takes on this Yule song came from Saturday Night Live in the early 1990s, the vocal part sung by a stressed-out son as The Carol of Intimacy on the Dysfunctional Family Christmas album: "Leave me alone! Please go away! I'm doing fine! Just get away!

Our idea to incorporate a beer motif was easier said than executed. The four-note drone was simple enough to set a new lyric to – Christmas is here, drink Jersey beer – but things got a little dicey with the part just before Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas refrain. No rewrite we came up with off the lyrics seemed to fit the tempo. (Trans-Siberian Orchestra has nothing to worry about.)

Oh well, what we have is close enough. Just don't try to sing along without a brew.

Yuletide is here, drink Jersey beer.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Hops & Hippos

Another new brew from River Horse.

Hop-a-lot-amus, an American double IPA, rolled out earlier this month as a draft-only beer, the fifth new offering from the crew in Lambertville.

We jetted up to the brewery in southern Hunterdon County on Monday for a sample.

We don’t review beers – too many people out there already do that, and like Lou Reed sang, “Does anybody need another (fill in the blank)?” – but here are some quick observations:

  • Dense, creamy head, citrusy hop taste, piney hop flavors in the finish, with some malt flavor occupying space in the middle.
  • Not a lot of hop in the nose, and the folks at the brewery say they’ll shoot for some more aromatic when they follow up this initial 30-barrel run.
Still though, the story here is a big, rich American IPA. So if you’re a fan of hop bombs, as this historically British style has become defined these days in the US, you’ll find something here to enjoy.

By the way, the hops are Perle, Cluster and Cascade as a finish, and the ABV comes in just south of 8%. A couple pints into this brew, you’ll feel the alcohol, but along the way, you really won’t taste it. The warmth hides behind all those hops.

River Horse is on a roll these days. Hop-a-lot-amus (credit co-owner Glenn Bernabeo for the name) comes amid the brewery’s well-received hybrid oatmeal milk stout (released as the third offering in the RH brewer's reserve six-pack series around Thanksgiving), and ditto for draft-only Dunkel Fester, which got snapped up fast early last fall to the brewery’s pleasant surprise.

And all of that came on the heels of a wildly successful Belgian Double Wit, the first new brew in ages from River Horse, which was more or less backpedaling, withering even, until Glenn and Chris Walsh bought the brewery and, you can pretty much say, rescued the place from closing.

By the by, as we noted in a previous post, the Wit, along with RH’s Imperial Cherry Amber, took home gold medals from World Beer Championship competition. (Despite the award and respectable enough sales, the cherry amber, because of some logistics in dealing with the fruit, will get a hard look before the brewery decides whether to reprise it.)

Speaking of awards, Dunkel Fester and RH Lager, tweaked this year into a reliable kellerbier, recently won silver medals from WBC. Like we said, River Horse is on a roll.

NOTE: If you’re a fan of the Double Belgian Wit (7% ABV), it’s coming back as part of RH’s regular flight of brews, available in six-packs at the brewery in a couple of weeks. It will be on store shelves at the start of March.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Scouting around

A quick and incomplete survey of the hosts of Christmas Taps … If you’re still in the throes of holiday shopping and actually going to malls and outlets, this information may help.

• Basil T’s in Toms River (across from Ocean County Mall): Dave Hoffmann has two holiday beers flowing, a raspberry and molasses brew, something new to Dave’s recipe catalog. It’s not quite a winter warmer, but it tastes pretty good, and at 4.5% ABV, you can have a couple and still sound coherent talking to the sales rep about that discounted flat-screen TV.

Speaking of winter warmers, Basil’s second seasonal is Old St. Nick (6.8% ABV), a beer Dave has made in the past and does at the behest of Steve Farley, Basil’s chef, whose palate tends toward Samuel Smith’s Winter Warmer. We had both beers, and if we’re backing up pints, Nick gets the call. That flat panel can wait until the 26th, when the price may be lower yet.

Christmas Eve is usually a time when you stay closer to home, unless you don’t mind being branded a procrastinator. But here’s a reason to step out on the 24th: Dave has a doppelbock coming on at Basil’s that day. Have lunch, relax, take a growler home.

One more brew coming soon: A straw-colored hoppy ale that’s a twist on Dave’s cream ale.

Meanwhile at his day job in Roselle Park, there’s doppelbock rolling out of the doors at Climax Brewing next week. Dave’s got bock in his genes, so you can set your watch to this one, it’ll be spot on (7.8% ABV).

ALSO: Hoffmann Helles is ready, and the porter recipe Dave dusted off last year for the first time in about 10 years is back this year as draft only. It’s a 5.5% brew with a tawny head that beckons. It has found a following in Pennsylvania bars, with New York and Jersey waking up to it. Dave brewed just 10 barrels, so if you’re near a bar that makes room for Climax tap handles, hurry.

JJ Bitting in Woodbridge: Cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla beans … sounds like a holiday mix. Bitting brewer August Lightfoot spiced a brown ale (5.5% ABV) that fits a pint glass and a growler jug. But variety is the spice of life, and August is pouring a chocolate cherry stout, too, so it sounds like a two growler tour at Bittings. Hey, why not, it’s the holidays.

Making for a trifecta on the taps in rotation at Bitting is Hop Garden Pale Ale (6% ABV). Let the name be your guide; it’s also on the handpump.

Coming soon: WHALES Imperial IPA. If you follow Bittings, you know this brew’s the scion of the Woodbridge homebrewers group. It’s about two weeks from being sighted on the port bow. August also has his Blackjack Oatmeal Stout in the pipeline and Barley Legal Barleywine, a 10% ABV brew that says sip first, ask questions later.

Pizzeria Uno (beside Woodbridge Center mall): Coffee Stout, a 5.8% brew to revv you up before you shop.

Trap Rock Restaurant & Brewery (near Short Hills Mall): A fireside beer – Willie's Winter Warmer (6.2%). Three varieties of crystal malt and a dash of spice to curl up with after fighting the crowds.

Tun Tavern in Atlantic City (near The Walk outlet shops): Orange peel, cocoa, raisins and star anise in a Belgian brown: It’s Tun Noël, jump for the joyeux Tun Noël on the 18th. Using the same yeast Flying Fish ferments its Abbey Dubbel with, brewer Tim Kelly did five barrels of this 9% ABV ale, with an eye toward kegging off three barrels to put up for next year.

In the meantime, the Tun has a Vienna lager still pouring, a brew that returned from its debut in fall 2007. This year’s edition is a little hoppier, more attenuated than the inaugural batch.

Waiting in reserve: Tun Dark, a dunkel-like lager that Tim took home a bronze medal with in North American Brewers Association competition last summer.

Calendar items:

  • High Point Brewing in Butler has an open house on Saturday (12/13), the last one until March. Their Winter Wheat Doppelbock makes the visit worth your time. Alas, it’s unlikely they’ll have the eisbock on Saturday.
  • Gaslight Brewery & Restaurant holds its annual Victorian Christmas Dinner on Dec. 17th. The brewpub has more details at 973-762-7077.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas beer soundtrack

Yeah the economy is in reverse, the R-word was just used for real the other day, and Detroit’s Big 3, like Wall Street, was back in the cash soup line that formed at the doors of the US Capitol.

The retrograde certainly makes enjoying the holidays quite a challenge. But the bounty of great Christmas and winter beers on the shelves and brewpub taps can still lift your spirits, or at least give you a reason to tipple this season, if the economic cratering hasn’t already driven you to drink.

But beer is about more than just aroma and taste. It’s about other senses, too, whether it’s conversation or taking in the arts while you imbibe.

With that in mind, here’s a short list for a holiday/winter beer soundtrack, a collection of tunes – gems from Christmas past to be sure – suitable to trim trees by and sip those big, hearty ales.

Polka, polka
Think you don’t like polka? Check out Brave Combo, the Texas ensemble that ingeniously has fused a number of music styles (polka, samba, cumbia, ska) for nearly 30 years, and polka-played some rock standards (Purple Haze) with a straight face. Their score for the Yule is hip-cool:

Christmas in July … An up-tempo number that opens with the economy in a slump, and the president, who calls Santa up, knows just what will pick things up. Yep, it’s Christmas in July. (Lyrics here). Hey Mr. President-elect, your next Cabinet announcement/newser going to feature St. Nick?

Must Be Santa ... You’ll be singing along before this 2 1/2 minutes of accordion-fired call-and-response is over, especially if your wassail bowl has one of those 12% brews in it.

• Santa’s Polka … “Santa don’t get cold when he dances at the old North Pole-ka.” Nope, he don’t.

Jingle Bells … A double-timed, instrumental version of the secular standard that was copyrighted under the title “One Horse Open Sleigh” 150 years ago. Finishes as quickly as it starts for an apt turn upon the well-worn. Let Babs Streisand plod through all the verses.

Tchaikovsky, anyone?
Nut Rocker … Sometimes a starchy, classic melody yearns to breathe and cut loose. Think Nut Rocker, B. Bumble and the Stingers’ twist on Tchaikovsky’s March of the Wood Soldiers from the Russian composer’s celebrated Nutcracker ballet. Nut Rocker topped the British pop charts 40-plus years ago, while hitting 23rd in the US. It’s a quirky tune, instantly recognizable, but ends too soon. Still, the rumbling, bouncy piano lines alone justify the space on your iPod. Those bombastic prog rockers Emerson, Lake & Palmer, jumped on the Stingers’ hit at the start of the 1970s, with Keith Emerson banging out the keyboard lead on clavinet. Go with the Stingers' version, though.

Tin drums for Christmas
Soca Santa … Find your palest, lightest Christmas beer and pair it with this catchy, sunny number by soca/parang artist Machel Montano. “Soca Santa don’t want to ride no sleigh, in a big-time Toyota galavanting all day!”

Whither the weather
Baby, It’s Cold Outside … It doesn’t mention Christmas in the lyrics, but no matter, the legendary smooth crooner and Rat Packer, Dean Martin himself, put this classy duet on a holiday LP. (Sadly, Dean checked out of this mortal world on Christmas Day in 1995.) A standard from the 1940s, anyone’s version is worth a listen.

Get your mojo working
Good King Wenceslas … Mojo Nixon was a little like Frank Zappa – irreverent, bawdy lyrical social commentary – only Zappa’s inner musician was a serious composer and virtuoso guitarist and way more stylish than the psychobilly Mojo. Still, it’s worth having Mojo Nixon & The Toadliquors’ rendition of Good King Wenceslas. La la la la la la la/la la la la la la.

Speaking of kings
Blue Christmas … Yeah, looks that way with every RSS feed that’s filed. But we got beer and things to listen to, Elvis, so it’ll be all right.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving & beer with the bird

Cheers, prosit, sláinte and salut.

Thanks to everyone who availed themselves for video shoots over the past months, or those who opened their brewhouses for interviews, chats or photos. And thanks for the visits to the blog.

No doubt today’s a day for fine food. And beer. Here are some highlights off our menu:

Warmup: Brie and puff pastry, with River Horse Lager and a bottle of gose that’s been on hold for a week or so.

Salad: Organic toasted hazelnut and shredded carrot salad, with Weyerbacher Harvest Ale in the glass.

Main course: Fresh organic turkey marinated in Jim Beam, orange juice and molasses then roasted with an orange stuffing. Side of organic Gruyère au gratin potatoes. Ramstein Winter Wheat Doppelbock and Tröeg’s Mad Elf to sip.

Dessert: Homemade organic chocolate crème pie, Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock.

Best wishes to all.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Drink your milk (stout), Part 2

A quick follow-up on River Horse’s new Oatmeal Milk Stout

It’s robust, with a smooth but dry finish, nice body. For a milk stout, it’s not too sweet, but then again, it’s half oatmeal stout, so that makes sense, as far as the shared marquee and balance go.

Here’s the backstory on the beer's origin, from a chat with Jeremy Myers, RH’s assistant brewer.

Craving some stout lately, and having a free day in a holiday week, we went through half of the just-purchased sixpack, from lunch to dinner: one fridge cold, the second about 45 degrees, and third near 50-55.

Here’s our advice: Let the beer stand, warm up just enough, that’s where it really rounds out, and the sweetness gently unfolds, gets kind chocolaty and roasty. And for a beer that clocks in at 6.7% ABV, you really don’t notice it being on the bigger beer side.

We tasted one of the pilot brews of the stout back in October. Comparing then to now, the pilot seemed silkier, but this incarnation has a better overall balance, tastier.

As noted previously, this brew marks a triumvirate with RH’s brewer’s reserve beers. And it’s worth pointing out, too, that RH brought home World Beer Championship gold medals with the other two in the series, Double Belgian Wit and Imperial Cherry Amber.

Is there a hat trick in the making?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Drink your milk (stout)

This just came out, the third installment in River Horse's brewer's reserve series.

We got a sneak taste last month at the brewery's Oktoberfest, just before it was scheduled to be brewed. It's in the glass now, going pretty good with a spicy chicken dish for lunch.

More words to come.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Joy to the wort

Yes, Virginia, there is a Samichlaus.

It exists not just as a single, cheerful, grand beer, annually brewery-gifted to the masses at Yuletide, but in the hearts of everyone who welcomes the moment to throw arms around old friends and clasp hands, meeting in the pub at Yuletide.

Alas! How dreary it would be if there were no Samichlaus. It would be as dreary as if there were no alehouses at all. There would be no friendship bonds made ’round pints and banter, no laughter, no cheer to make tolerable this existence. We should have no pleasures, except in Sports Center and widescreen TV. The forever light by which camaraderie fills our world would be extinguished.

OK, enough of that, before the literary license gets revoked. And apologies to Francis Pharcellus Church, the longtime-gone New York Sun, and Don “Joe Sixpack” Russell, whose account a couple years back about touring Austria’s Castle Eggenberg Brewery, home to the actual Samichlaus (Swiss-German for Santa Claus) beer, opened with a turn of phrase upon Church’s classic editorial.

The point is, Yuletide fast approaches, and regardless whether your elves are Mad, breaking Bad, Seriously Bad (even Criminally Bad), or Santa’s showing his Butt, you’ll find no truer cheer than to celebrate the holidays and friendship over a pint of beer.

Mulled, honeyed, fruited or just brewed extra rich and alcohol-robust to bring a warming smile, ’tis the season for these beers, and Don, already a renowned beacon for all things malt and hops, is lighting the way again, as our beer fridges become nothing short of advent calendars.

Don availed himself last week for a chat about his latest book, Christmas Beer: The Cheeriest, Tastiest and Most Unusual Holiday Brews, and talked about the inaugural Yuletide beer festival at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, set for the Saturday sandwiched between Christmas and New Year’s. (FYI: Don's a co-organizer of the festival.)

Yuletide beer guide
Three years in the making, Don’s latest beer treatise is the product of world travel, sampling the products of brewing traditions that date back nearly two millennia. If Joe Sixpack’s Philly Beer Guide was Don’s spring equinox (released last March), this book is the winter solstice, and bound to be enjoyed for its capturing exotic, unusual, or one-of-a-kind beers in a single, handy volume. (The book’s available through Don’s Web site, or Amazon, but we say support the beer scribe – buy directly from him.)

Christmas and beer, perfect together?
Absolutely, Don says. Christmas beer isn’t a definable style, yet it embraces an impressively wide variety of flavors. And when it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, there’s a celebratory mood in which people try new things and want to enjoy fine foods. Beer owns a place amid that terrain.

Plus, Christmas beers are special in that many have interesting backstories, lore or cultural ties. Take for instance, Anchor Brewing’s Yuletide offering, Our Special Ale, its commemorative, dated labels and secret recipes that ensure each year’s edition is unique unto itself. For sheer pop culture, think Ridgeway Brewing (South Stoke, England) and Seriously Bad Elf, banned in two states (one being Connecticut, thankfully not New Jersey), for the red speck on the label that, upon close inspection, is Santa Claus in a reindeer-hauled sleigh.

Beer folks are good folks
Some of the most cherished friendships are struck over beer. But sometimes, because of the everyday and pressing commitments of family and work, those friendships get revisited only at Christmas. Don mentioned forging such friendships at a brewpub in tiny hamlet in Norway.

The festival
Yes, Virginia, Philadelphia is earning yet more stripes as the best beer city going. While the lineup of 50 US and international Yule brews and winter warmers is still being worked out, the Dec. 27th festival promises to say Fröliche Weinacht and Joyeux Noël, as easily as it does the Dickens-like wish of Merry Christmas.

You’ll encounter some familiar brews, notably Tröeg’s Mad Elf, an 11% ABV cherry and honey Belgian-style strong ale to which Don gives supreme props (we say, for a beer with such warmth, this is surprisingly easy-drinking brew; but it’s a sipper, of course, not a chugger). But you’ll want to keep your taste card open because the event does promise variety.

Among Jersey beers, look for the yeast-spicy Flying Fish Grand Cru Winter Reserve and possibly High Point’s Ramstein Winter Wheat Doppelbock, a rich and chocolaty beer that finishes with hint of raisin. Or River Horse’s Belgian Freeze (if Don’s online column about his favs for the Yule season can be taken as a measure of how the fest list might shape up).

Don will give a talk at a VIP session of the festival (tickets are premium priced but include complimentary copy of his book, an hour of sampling, a three-course lunch and Christmas beer rarities).

In a recessionary time, the ticket prices may seem expensive, but we’re willing to say it: Christmas comes only once a year. And, hey, c’mon, it’s beer.

The W’s

  • What: Christmas beer fest.
  • When: 1-4 p.m., Dec. 27th (VIP admission, 12:30 p.m.).
  • Where: UPenn's Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, 3260 Spruce St., Philadelphia.
  • Wallet: $75 in advance, $90 day of; VIP session, $125 in advance, $150 at door.
  • Web site:

Friday, November 21, 2008

At last, Harvest Ale

This was worth the trip.

Almost three months ago, Weyerbacher Brewing, Easton, Pa., came out with a harvest ale that brewers there had dosed with Nugget and Cascade hops grown by owners Dan and Sue Weirback on their Lehigh Valley farm.

It’s the hops-growing project we video-chronicled back in August, an intrepid endeavor that now lets Dan and Sue add “agri-consultant/hops specialist" to their resumés, should any other craft brewer tempted to sow the soil seek some how-did-you-do-it advice.

Fount of ideas
Weyerbacher is a brewery that doesn't stand in one place too long. And planting an acre of hops fits their explorer identity. They have a flight of brews you'll always find on the shelf, but they love to push new ideas and styles, dressing up their packaging with artwork that's reminscent of the LP record's early 1970s era, when album cover artwork was as expressive and expansive as the music.

Their harvest brew, as far as the label goes, doesn't exactly follow that arc, but then this was a brew that depended on Mother Nature to do her part, namely allow that acre of nurtured hop bines to produce enough cones in a first-year growing season. So early on, it was a gamble whether there would be a beer at all, and hence a simpler label, compared with, for instance, the drama and intrigue of Insanity, Prophecy or Heresy. But isn't harvest time an inherently simple moment anyway?

A 6.2% ABV India pale ale, the brew met those freshly picked, still wet, hops in the hopback, in the limited run brewed for release in the Pennsylvania-only market.

Happily, and thankfully, Dan saved us a case, which we picked up yesterday. Indeed, it was worth the wait. Tasty, citrusy hoppy, kind of resinous, almost chewy, but above all, a quaffable beer, two bottles downed upon arriving home.

Sometimes when you have a beer that’s all about hops, you’re temped to keep swirling the glass to kick up the aromas. This one is definitely that kind of swirler, but the pleasure is in churning up some foam, taking a bite of that, and following with a hearty swig.

The backbone is definitely IPA, with some maltiness on either side, and some bitterness in the finish that’s neither harsh nor overwhelming. But the beer’s more earthy-complex thanks to the fresh hops added for a signature flavor, straight from that hand-picked harvest on that August Saturday afternoon.

Next up
Dan says they're now working on Fireside, a 7% ABV brown ale with 10% smoked malt, just enough to rauch things up for the snows of January, but not too much that you won't reach for another. Where there's smoke, there's Fireside.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

State of beers, Part 2

Here’s an update on Hometown Beverages, from the phone conversation we had Monday afternoon with Chris Curylo, who formed the start-up company with Bob Selsky.

A couple of Brooklyn guys relocated to Little Silver (Monmouth County) and who happened to become friends during a softball game, Chris and Bob spent a couple of years exploring the Jersey beer landscape as the legwork to their forthcoming rollout of a trifecta of lagers aimed a folks shy toward EBS's, IPAs, power-hopped double IPAs and monastically ordinal (dubbel/tripel) Belgian ales.

They’ve done some localized marketing, but this weekend’s Poconos festival at Split Rock will be the true debut of Hometown Beverages' beer. Next month will see the session brews available in bottle, then draft in January. Eventually, Chris says, the company would like to borrow a page from Sly Fox and Oskar Blues and put the beer in cans.

Plans also call for the contract-brewed, state-named lagers – Jersey, an amber at 4.7% ABV; Pennsylvania, gold, 5.1%; and New York, reddish, 5.7%; to be soon followed by a lighter brew, Hometown, a 3.9% lager. Chris declined to specify the contract brewer until the beer is on the shelves (such information is usually fine print on the label anyway). When asked to ballpark a comparison flavor profile, for say New Jersey Lager, Chris says Yuengling may come to mind for some people.

(FYI: Hometown will only have Pennsylvania and New Jersey Lager at Split Rock; Chris also says the company has struck a deal to take New York Lager to Port St. Lucie, Fla., for the Mets’ spring training and fantasy camps.)

Bio info
At 43, Chris is lawyer with a penchant for riffing and power chording down the neck of a cherry red Gibson SG, the classic double-cutaway axe that Eric Clapton slow-handed on Cream’s Disraeli Gears and Pete Townshend windmilled with the Who. (Forget Angus Young, we’re rooted in the ’60s). Also in his 40s, Bob enters the beer business from a marketing background.

Unlike a lot of beer venturists, Chris and Bob aren’t coming to market by way of their kitchens, homebrewers dreaming of taking successful recipes beyond family and friends. They're two guys who enjoy the pleasures of craft brew and other beers; Chris notes he even enjoys the strong beers. But he says that when he and Bob surveyed the landscape, they felt a beer you can start the night and finish with wasn’t to be found.

Hence, their foray into easy-drinking lagers – bigger than Bud but still less strident than Sam Adams for instance – produced under the banner Hometown Beverages, a nod to traditional values of neighborhood and community. A pushback against extreme beers? Not at all, says Chris, simply an alternative to big beers and the sometimes challenging yeast-inflected flavors of some craft styles.

Undaunted where others failed
When craft beer really got rolling in New Jersey in the mid- and late-1990s, other folks had similar ideas: Long Beach Island Wheat Ale, brewed by Hoboken Brewing for the short-lived Shore Brewing out of Harvey Cedars on the north end of LBI; Jersey Premium Lager Beer, a brew contract-produced at the Lion in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., aimed solely at the New Jersey market, nowhere else. (That beer, as Chris stresses, is not related to Hometown's lagers.)

Those enterprises went down in the subsequent industry shakeout that also saw the vanishing of Mile Square (Hoboken production brewer), Cedar Creek (a tiny Egg Harbor City brewpub), Red Bank Brewing (lager production brewer), Joe’s Mill Hill Saloon (tiny Trenton brewpub; the bar remains in business) and Joshua Huddy (a Toms River brewpub named for the Revolutionary War militia captain hanged by a mob of British loyalists near Sandy Hook). And there were others.

But Chris and Bob are confident their two-year preparation and some grass-roots marketing will better position them in the region’s very competitive beer scene, one that longtime Jersey brewers can tell you is unfriendly to the point where a California beer can get Garden State shelf space faster than locally produced brews.

Next month, they're letting you decide.

Hometown Beverages Company facts
Employees: 10.
Offices: Route 71 in Manasquan, with mail drop in Oceanport.
Portfolio: Four lagers, including a light brew.
Eventual plans call for opening a brewery in New Jersey.
Web site:

Monday, November 17, 2008

State of beers

The ranks of New Jersey beer producers is growing.

Add to your list Hometown Beverages, based in Oceanport (home of Monmouth Park racetrack, which hosted the Breeders Cup last year).

We have a call in to Chris Curylo, one of the founders, who was in meetings today in New York with partner Bob Selsky. We hope to talk to Chris later in the afternoon.

Chris and Bob hail from Little Silver – a small Monmouth County train stop town along NJ Transit's North Jersey Coast Line. Here's the backstory on their foray into Jersey beer.

According to an email from Chris, their plan is to launch their contract-brewed tri-state lagers – named New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania – in December. And on the Nov. 12th post at MyBeerBuzz blog, we saw Hometown Beverages was among the breweries listed to be at the Split Rock festival in the Poconos this weekend. (NOTE: Split Rock's brochure doesn't list Hometown Beverages, but there's no telling when it was produced or if updated.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Semper Fi, Part 2

Here are additional photos from the Tun Tavern and its salute to the US Marines' 233rd birthday. Here's the direct link to Photobucket.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Live Blogging From Tun Tavern: Semper Fi!

9:46 p.m.
Just spoke with Torin Barnes from Beachwood and his friend Kyle Minichino from Pine Beach in Ocean County (both 2004 grads of Toms River High School South). They just got out of the Corps, Torin a a month ago and Kyle a year ago. Torin did two tours in Iraq.

"It's an awesome event (the birthday bash)," says Torin, who was drinking the pumpkin spice lager on the beer list. This was Torin's first-ever trip to the Tun Tavern. His father, an Air Force veteran stationed in Germany, homebrewed, so that's been a guiding force for Torin's beer palate.

Beyond the Marines, Kyle's looking to teach history in high school, and Torin heads to Stockton State College in January, looking to get into medical school after undergrad work.

9:30 p.m.

Menu item: A fighting force travels on its stomach, and what military menu would be complete without chipped beef on toast (shit on a shingle)? It's here along side the Tun's hot wings and other munchies that go great with beer.

8:30 p.m.
Just spoke with Monty, who says the Marine Corps birthday bash is a tradition at the Tun, going back to when he opened it more than 10 years ago. Monty served in the Marines in the 1980s. He says the Tun bash draws Marines from all around the tri-state region and beyond. (One year, a couple of Marines came up from New Orleans area and bought over 250 growlers to take with t
hem. It took a couple of days to fill the jugs.)

The crowd is now singing the Marine Corps Hymn, the third time tonight the pipers and drummers have played the Corps' anthem, ending with a loud collective Ooo-rah!

8:20 p.m.
Mark Haynie, co-author of the New Jersey Breweries book is here. Mark says sales of the book are going pretty good. If you recall, the book came out in August. Mark says he and Lew Bryson, his co-author, plan some more signings soon, possibly next at Cricket Hill Brewing in Fairfield.

Meantime, Mark is hosting a beer night at Somers Point firehouse. Food and beer, and the conviviality that are both.

8:01 p.m.
It's Nov. 10, and it's the United States Marine Corps birthday.

What better way to salute the Corps than to blog from the Tun Tavern, birthplace of the Marines?

As many a military history buff knows, the Marines were formed at the Tun Tavern in Philadelphia in 1775, at a site that's now Penns Landing and where I-95 cuts through. We're at the Tun Tavern in Atlantic City, the brewpub/restaurant started by former Marine Monty Dahm.

The bagpipes have just skirled a welcoming Marine Corps Hymn followed by God Bless America. Brewer Tim Kelly just tapped a pin of cask-conditioned Irish Red Ale. The crowd is cheering and we're drinking and saluting 233 years of Marine Corps heritage.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Birra frontiera

Looks like there's a new zone in Europe for beer pilgrimages.

We've seen the drays and rams when Young's was outside London, know loads of people who beer-tour Belgium, talk to brewers with professional ties to Germany.

But the New York Times has a piece on what may be the next hot ticket for craft beer: Italy.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Holy flurcking shnit!!!

Hey homebrewers, do you know your ABC?

Yeah, those state beer police you never thought you had to worry about when you struck a mash in your back yard.

Turns out the State of New Jersey requires a permit to brew at home, 15 bucks. Son of a &%$@$!!! This is something we stumbled across while poking around on the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control’s Web site.

Here's the form in all it's glory, but you can also find online here.

First off, do they enforce this? Thankfully, apparently (or hopefully) not. Haven't read about, nor heard of, anyone getting pinched for it. No one we initially asked today knew about it. And we never, ever had one, nor did the nice folks at the Red Bank homebrew supply shop on Monmouth Street ever say “you need this” when they sold us the starter kit 15 years ago. (For the record, we didn’t call ABC about it. Not going to, either. Beyond this blog post, why alert them to an army of homebrewers defying them?) However, Dan Soboti of the Gaslight brewpub in South Orange, which also has a homebrew supply shop, says the permit has been around for quite some time, but shop owners aren't required to check patrons for them. Dan says they keep copies on hand for patrons to deal with on their own. (For the record, Beercrafters in Turnersville was unaware of it.)

We thought it may have been something new (1/08 – January 2008? – appears in small print below the signature line), but then it seems old. Who except the most Internet/graphically challenged person would create a modern application form using ugly-ass Courier New as a typeface? (FYI: Courier New resembles typewriter fonts, that's old school, baby.)

Secondly, what the f*%k?!?! How is it the State of New Jersey can shake you down to use your kitchen and back yard for the same ingredients as bread, just because you’re adding yeast at a different moment? OK, yeah, you intended to make beer from the get-go when you bought 12 pounds of Maris Otter pale malt and a pound of 40 Lovibond crystal, but still, what the f*%k?!?! In your own home? In this country? In a state with Colonial/Revolutionary heritage, where making beer at home is damned near birthright handed down by Founding Fathers? Richard Stockton and William Paterson are probably rolling over in their graves (assuming anyone in Ben Franklin's orbit automatically tipped a tankard).

Thirdly, it gets worse. Read the permit: The beer you make is for consumption only at the address where you made it. So if enforced, that could mean no giving it to friends, taking it to parties, or son of a &%$@$!!! going to Homebrew Day! (The application even asks if you have any ownership stakes in or employment at a brewery, and requires it be named.)

Consider this a tax (voluntary, if unenforced) on homebrewers (and home winemakers, because guess what, there’s a permit for that, too! Son of a &%$@$!!!). Not to mention an intrusion into your home. Or more cynically, it's a backdoor tactic for knowing who's got booze so the Nanny State can ferret out anyone who has the capacity to serve to minors. But we won't go there.

Enforced or not, it needs to go, be stricken from the books. Everyone knows New Jersey is broke, but hitting homebrewers for an apparently one-time 15 bucks ain’t gonna cover the red ink by any stretch of the imagination. Or fund ABC.

New Jersey's commercial beer regulations are known to be overbearing, business-strangling and otherwise screwed up. But what the f*%k?!?!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

In the Bears' den

Some thoughts on the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild festival last Sunday ...

Best thing: The guild did two events this year – a North Jersey festival, at that – instead of the usual single, summertime festival that has essentially found a home over the past three years aboard the battleship/museum USS New Jersey in Camden.

The fall fest’s location, the Newark Bears stadium, proved more than viable: plenty of space, shelter in case of rain, and a boatload of seats in case you wanted to sit for a while.

Tied for best thing: A real ale/cask-conditioned beer station, where the 10 participating Guild breweries could feature live-beer offerings in one stop. This was a worthy addition, a way to break up the monolithic set-up of brewery, brewery, brewery. It’s also a selling point. We hope it carries over to next summer’s festival, then repeated in the fall.

Good thing: The festival had a theme. OK, so it was a no-brainer, Oktoberfest, but themes speak to deeper planning than just setting a date and putting tickets up for sale. Themes add to the marquee (that selling point) and create specialty attractions for festival-goers.

Another good thing: Mass transit to Newark. It was a cinch by train.

Yet another good thing: Great weather. Blue skies, sunny and comfortable. Not hot, not cold. Obviously out of everyone’s hands except Mother Nature’s, but still you couldn’t ask for better fall weather.

Buzzkill: Attendance. It was low by a lot of people’s standards, less than half of what the Guild’s summer festival did. But that shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. We’ll explain why in a minute.

Buzzkill No. 2: Some Guild members, notably Long Valley, Ship Inn and J.J. Bitting, skipped the festival. Long Valley has had some doubts about the bang for the buck, and stayed away from June’s festival, too. We don't dispute their argument, just hope this fall fest can spark a new interest. Meanwhile, this has been a hectic year for the Ship’s brewer, Tim Hall, just too much going on to worry about the festivals (the Ship was likewise absent in June). But it was curious that Bitting passed.

Another buzzkill: Festival held on a Sunday, during football season (and there may not be a simple solution to this, given the brewpubs' schedules and some other issues). During the festival, the Giants-49ers game was on the big, outfield TV screen, but the distance made it look small; plus, you couldn’t see the chyrons of scores from the other games going on. Simpsons moment: “Moe’s Tavern, home of the world’s biggest small-screen TV …” Trivia moment: Bartender Moe Szyslak is modeled in part on Jersey City bartender Red Deutsch of Tube Bar fame.

Bottom line: Have faith and look forward to a 2009 Guild Oktoberfest, thanks to some foundations laid this year.

So yes, we’re saying that even pulling off this festival qualifies it as a success, despite a turnout that could throw a log on the fires of critics wont to point out the gate didn’t do a blockbuster return. The key point is North Jersey is an underserved demographic, when it comes celebrating Jersey-made beers and the Guild getting across that message. It's a circumstance made more puzzling when you consider most of the Jersey craft brewing action happens above Interstate 195. So this is the start of new push to turn things around, find some equillibrium.

The venue is something Dan Soboti of the Gaslight brewpub has chased for a while, for either the summer festival or follow-up second festival. The difficulty, Dan says, has been changes, time and time again, in the front office of the Bears. Whenever he’d get some momentum rolling, one of those changes would send him back to the starting line.

By the by, Dan counts himself among those who saw the turnout as a downer. But, like Greg Zaccardi of High Point Brewing, he concedes the compressed time between getting a final greenlight for the festival (mid-September) and the day of the event left little time to get the word out and build a buzz among beer enthusiasts.

But ask either brewer, and they’ll tell you the location worked well, and the gate can be boosted with sufficient advertising and advance ticket sales at Guild breweries’ open houses and tours. That’s something that wasn’t in the cards this time out.

Speaking of …

  • The Gaslight’s Web site has undergone some redesign and should be up and running by the end of the month. The South Orange brewpub has a Halloween party set for next Friday, featuring their pumpkin ale, Prince of Darkness dark mild, Warrior ESB (hopped, of course with Warrior hops), and Abbey Normal Belgian dubbel. Plans are also taking shape for their Victorian Christmas dinner in mid-December.
  • High Point’s November open house comes early this year, on the 8th. They’ll be rolling out the ’08 Ramstein Winter Wheat Doppelbock, a big beer with a big following. The Butler brewery’s open houses are held on the second Saturday of the month; hence the heads up about it falling early next month.
  • The Tun Tavern’s buffet Oktoberfest ($24.95 per person) is 1-5 p.m. this Sunday at the brewpub in Atlantic City. Brewer Tim Kelly says he just filtered a pumpkin lager that will be served along side his Märzen. The Tun will also have a keg each of Hacker-Pschorr and Paulaner Oktoberfests, thanks to an assist from their beer distributor (remember, AC is a convention town, so the Tun keeps some tap space set aside for mainstream brews). Next month, look for a cask-conditioned Irish Red, dry-hopped with East Kent Goldings. Tim just got a pin, and hopes to make a monthly cask ale feature (like a happy hour).

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Off to the next one

The start of a fall classic? Could be.

The Garden State Craft Brewers Guild pours at its inaugural Oktoberfest event today, from the confines of Riverfront Stadium, home of the Atlantic League baseball's Newark Bears.

Not to feed the North Jersey-South Jersey biases, but a lot of people above I-195 are happy to again have a Jersey-brewer festival that's closer to home.

Whatever the case, here's a look at the Guild's summer festival on the battleship.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hi-ho, Silver!

Congrats to Flying Fish for winning a silver medal in Denver at the Great American Beer Festival over the weekend.

FF placed for their Abbey Dubbel, a brew that a while back won kind words from the late Michael Jackson, the Beer Hunter himself.

Bishop’s Tipple Trippel, from Main Street Brewery in Corona, California, took the gold out of the 53 entries in the Belgian-Style Abbey Ale category.

At 7% ABV, the Dubbel is the biggest beer in FF's year-round lineup. (BigFish, a 10% ABV commemorative barely wine, tops the Dubbel as, indeed, the biggest Fish in the brewery's pond.)

FF's Web site says the Dubbel was first released in January of 1997. We seem to recall its inaugural brew on a Saturday in the fall (October?) of 1996, a brew day that also served as an open house, a couple months or so after beer started flowing for FF.

Folks who popped in at the brewery in Cherry Hill that day got to try their hand at an essential element of the commercial brewing experience – cleanup! The handful of beer aficionados got to help dig out the mash tun, but were rewarded with some samples of FF's Extra Pale Ale and ESB, first two styles under the brewery's belt.

FF's Web site lists demerara sugar as one of the adjuncts in the Dubbel, but we seem to remember Belgian candy sugar at some point (or more like we remember seeing sacks of candy sugar stacked in the brewery.)

Nonetheless, congrats. Next year, gold.

Speaking of MJ, congrats also goes out to Lew Bryson, who was named one of the three Michael Jackson Beer Journalism Award recipients. Lew won for trade and specialty beer media.

The complete winners list can be found here.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Dark beers, new frontiers

We shot up to Lambertville on Saturday for a return visit to River Horse Brewing’s Oktoberfest observance.

But that’s only half the story. The lead is what’s going on with RH. The hippo’s got a new swagger.

Sure, the O-fest was fun, and if you’ve never been to one of RH’s two-day affairs, you should go. Good bands (519 South rocks, no lie), good food, good time. That's Rich Dalrymple (above right) sporting the lederhosen. Rich just returned from a two-year stay in Hamburg, Germany, for work purposes. (He had to skip Oktoberfest in Munich this year, but was there last year.)

Rich gets rock ’n’ roll points for exiting Germany via the Reeperbahn, the city’s happening nightlife district that's also famously remembered as the place where The Beatles honed their chops before going on to wider glory.

Rich says he made one final tour of the Reeperbahn before catching his flight to the States.

But the story here is the beer.

When Glenn Bernabeo and Chris Walsh, two beer enthusiasts from the finance world, took over RH a little more than a year ago, they knew there would be some changes to come under their stewardship. To their credit, Chris and Glenn spent some time getting a feel for the topography before making those changes.

That’s the backstory. What’s new is this: gold medals, dark beers and new frontiers.

For instance, RH’s Double Belgian Wit and Cherry Imperial Amber, the first two installments of RH’s Brewer’s Reserve series (a stout will be the third; more on that in a bit), each won World Beer Championship gold medals. The wit was popular enough to earn a place in RH’s regular beer lineup. The cherry, well, we recommend you try it. Some nice flavors unfold with this beer, and cherry is just one.

But there’s more.

Dunkel Fester, RH’s draft-only dark lager for the autumn, proved so popular that demand outpaced availability (RH did a limited brew of one tank with Fester). Rest assured, that lesson has been taken to heart and Fester will come back in 2009 in bottles, too.

(Fester was in a lot of glasses on Saturday, and one chap we talked to had this to say upon being told of the bottling plans: They better!)

Did we mention there’s more?

Down the road, look for a double IPA, featuring Perle hops. But next month get ready for Brewers Reserve 003, an oatmeal milk stout that we got an advance taste on Saturday. It’s silky smooth from the oats, roasty in a lot of places and sweet in between. The fusion of oats and milk was the brainchild of Jeremy Myers, RH’s assistant brewer since May.

A Penn State grad, Jeremy’s a product of Lambertville, and comes to the brewery by way of Churchville, Pa. When he’s not helping brewers Christian Ryan and Tim Bryan, he’s probably working with his screen printing business, Jump Start, in Philadelphia.

Jeremy’s friends had a hand in RH’s new packaging (photo above): Jon Loudon did the layout on the new variety packs, and Bruno Guerreiro designed that hippo with some attitude.

Wait, there’s even more.

Tried RH’s lager lately? They switched to a Danish yeast and are bottling and kegging the beer unfiltered. It has a biscuity signature and gentle hop smack, quite drinkable at 4-and-change ABV. (The lager and Fester were the beers we had seconds of on Saturday.)

RH ... new swagger and making a splash.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

More fests, g'suffa

Oktoberfest has ended in Munich; the 16-day bash in Bavaria wrapped up last Sunday.

Not so on our side of the Atlantic.

Fest beer will be with us for a little longer, and so will the conviviality that’s a hallmark of the celebration. With that in mind, here’s what’s coming up ...

RH has been hitting some high marks with new beer styles it added to its lineup just this year (think Belgian white and a cherry-finessed imperial amber). So by way of advice, RH’s event could be your last chance to grab some Dunkel Fester, a draft-only autumn seasonal that proved to be a huge hit soon after its release a few weeks back. (Co-owner Chris Walsh told us at the Sept. 20th Woodbridge festival that Fester was almost gone, but the brewery was holding some back for this weekend.)

In the Valley
Last year, the legions of Oktoberfest fans put away six barrels of Long Valley brewmaster Joe Saia’s copper-hued fest beer. That’s 186 gallons served up at last year’s annual pig roast in the side parking lot of the pub, housed in a scenic, two-century-old, stonewalled barn located in the Morris County community founded by Saxon immigrants in the 1700s.

Now in its 12th year, the event draws anywhere from 800 to 1,500 people, but there’s plenty of room to accommodate 2,000. If you go, expect a German menu served along with the pork, four other beers to choose from, including a cask-conditioned pale ale, and of course live music. (Parent alert: There’s also activities for kids.)

Joe’s Oktoberfest is actually fermented with an ale yeast, but done at a lower temperature to produce a beer that’s closer to the crispness of lager, with the signatures of the German malts and balanced bitterness of Tettnang and Saaz hops coming through. (FYI: Joe’s got five beers, including his Lazy Jake Porter, in competition at the Great American Beer Festival, which starts tomorrow in Denver. Lazy Jake took home a gold medal three years ago.)

Märzen by the sea
In Atlantic City, Tun Tavern brewer Tim Kelly describes his 2008 Oktoberfest beer, Tunfest Lager, as a slightly smoky brew, with a hearty 6.3% ABV. So what do you pair with a full-bodied beer like that? Try a buffet, a band and a live, remote broadcast by WAYV radio station.

Here’s the Tun’s Oktoberfest menu:
  • Cucumber salad with sour cream
  • German potato salad
  • Sliced weisswurst over red cabbage
  • Chicken with potato dumplings
  • Meatballs in a mushroom cream sauce with spätzel
  • Beer-basted bratwurst with sauerkraut and mustard
  • Apple strüdel/cobbler with whipped cream

Check with the Tun for pricing and if reservations are required.

And toast the season.

Bis später.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Party with this Guy

Actually, the party gets the better of Guy. But you’ll still want to be there to see it.

The Ship Inn, the British-themed brewpub in Milford, is now taking reservations for its annual Guy Fawkes Night (35 bucks per person, includes banquet), set for the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 5th.

It’s a night of good food, good ale, mirth and merrymaking. Period costumes are encouraged.

Students of UK history will remember Guy as the guy who was nabbed red-handed in a cellar of Parliament in the early morning of Nov. 5, 1605, a torch in his mitts, about to light the fuse to enough gunpowder to launch the House of Lords into orbit.

As you can imagine, such treason was dealt with harshly. Guy and his co-conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot, if they hadn’t already been run down and dispatched in the name of King James I, met their fates at the hands of the executioner the following January.

In Britain, the foiling of the plot is still celebrated with a bonfire and fireworks (squibs). At the Ship, Guy will get burned in effigy in the parking lot, weather permitting (can’t have a stiff wind blowing hot ashes around), then everyone enjoys a banquet fit for, well, a king.

The Ship’s in the process of securing its permit for the open flame, a minor routine procedure before dealing with the traitor.

Brewer Tim Hall, who's of British lineage and whose family owns the pub, says Guy Fawkes Night has been a tradition at the Ship since 1985, a decade before the brewery was added and the Ship became the first New Jersey brewpub.

Speaking of the brewery, Tim has turned out a brown ale, Broken Silence, that’s a tweak here and there of a past brew called Dark Charger. The update produced a more robust beer at 5.7% ABV.

But the important thing to know is when you buy a pint of Broken Silence, proceeds of the sale go toward fighting ovarian cancer, which Tim’s mom, Ann, died of last summer.

Good beer, good cause.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Oompahs and umlauts

Some scenes from Basil T’s Oktoberfest dinner last Friday in Toms River, a winning combination of food and beer.

Oh, and the Mädchen servers bringing the dinner courses and beer were pretty delectable, too. Good job on the night. Danke schön.

(FYI: The pictures open large, and if you're one of the people who asked for a photo, just pull whatever you want off the page and save them to your drive.)

If this fest celebration gets any bigger, they’ll have to get a big tent and move it to the parking lot, where the Firehouse Polka Band can turn up the heat.

Last year’s crowd of 50-plus doubled this year, and, alas, some forlorn folks learned the event had sold out.

Think next year. Plan early.

The huge jump in turnout – in a troubled economy, no less – tells you a few things: Great beer, great food and a great time don’t take a back seat.

Credit for Friday’s menu goes to Chef Steve Farley and brewer Dave Hoffmann, who was obviously enjoying a celebration of his deutscher roots:

Light touch
The opening culinary salvo for the crowd's reception: Bavarian shrimp cocktail paired with Barnegat Light, an easy drinking lager.

Side pocket

The night's appetizer: German ravioli – Steve’s translation of Schwäbische Maultaschen – with veal and vegetables, demi-glace and crisp caramelized onions.

Whatever you want to call it, Dave gave it high marks, with a favorable comparison to his mom’s.

Maultaschen goes well, by the way, with Dunkel Hefeweizen. If you know Dave’s wheat beers, you know they skew toward banana aromas, not clove.

This one was a tasty steppingstone toward the night’s featured beer.

Teaming up
Hey, BMW and Rolls Royce have a joint venture, so why can’t you pair the best wurst you can find in New Jersey with an India Pale Ale, the British origins of which beer writer and emcee Kurt Epps traced for the night’s crowd.

The weisswurst, bratwurst and bauernwurst came from Schmalz European Provisions in Springfield (Union County). And of course, no one passes on the chance to riff on the best/wurst line. Just ask Kurt. And that IPA, well if this weren’t Oktoberfest …

Roll out the barrel
After a Munich-style ceremonial tapping of an Austrian oak barrel – the coopering was courtesy of Roger Freitag – the night’s Märzen flowed, a hearty match to the smoked pork loin and spätzel.

(With Dave's heritage, you'd expect nothing less than a topnotch fest beer, and he does not disappoint, with either of his versions that New Jerseyans can get their hands on. His toasty-rich Climax Brewing version, eponymously named Hoffmann Lager Beer Oktoberfest, has been out for a while now. Basil's put the pub's Oktoberfest on tap at the end of last month. Both go quickly, so grab your stein.)

Finishing touch
Black forest cake and a pumpkin porter closed the night. That porter rocks, by the way, and was one of our take-home beers.

Basil’s does Oktoberfest right. So maybe that tent isn’t a bad idea.


Basil's makes The Star-Ledger ... Columnist Paul Mulshine (he's the fellow sitting on the far right in the photo above right) filed this for Tuesday (10/7). Thanks for the mention, Paul.