Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ein Prosit, Ramstein

Gemütlichkeit (geh MOOT' lik KITE'): noun. Geniality; friendliness. ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: German.

We’ll get back to the deutsch in a minute. First things first.

You know you’ve hit on a good idea when you see someone else doing it.

This weekend was a busy one for New Jersey beer lovers: Pizzeria Uno’s cask ale event and High Point Brewing’s debut of its Ramstein Oktoberfest 2008 falling on the same day.

We tried to figure out how to do both equally, but alas, there was no easy solution, since we had planned to do some coverage of Ramstein, and it was 45 minutes away, along the Morris-Passaic County line.

We ended up spending a very short time at Uno, in Metuchen, or Woodbridge, depending on how you want to map it – and believe us, we really, really, really wish it weren’t this way, because cask-conditioned beer simply cannot be beat; it is to die for – then hit the Parkway-78-287 combination to arrive in Butler in time for the High Point/Ramstein open house. (That's a shot of the casks at Uno.)

But we weren’t the only ones.

Halfway into the Ramstein event, we looked up and saw a couple who had been sitting to our right at the bar at Uno, just an hour earlier.

Meet Fred and Doris Kirch of Freehold, regulars at Uno and followers of the High Point/Ramstein brand as well.

Fred said they had been anticipating the release of Uno’s Oktoberfest; hence their stop there about noon. But they also wanted to make a return visit to High Point. So they doubled up on the day. Like we did.

We feel validated. Great minds … yada, yada, yada.

But at the same time, we seriously wished we could have made a day of Uno’s event. We sampled some kick-ass smoked porter from Captain Lawrence Brewing, and did an obligatory turn on a cask version of Climax ESB. (Dave Hoffmann makes great beer, and when we say obligatory, we mean how could we pass it up? Also, Dave, we stopped at Liquor Mart for your Oktoberfest, but they hadn’t received it yet. We’ll be calling.) Sigh, too much to pack into a day.

Take-home beer
We will say this, Uno’s Oktoberfest and Ike’s IPA were our take-home beers. Uno brewer Mike Sella turned in an excellent Märzen, and if you’re anywhere near the Woodbridge-Metuchen-Edison area, you’d be crazy to not stop at Uno for a pint or some take-home while it lasts. (Seriously, Mike nailed it; this is good beer.)

As for Ike’s IPA … If you’re into assertive IPAs that still answer with malt, then this beer will make you quite happy. It’s hoppy, but drinkable, flavorful without being coarse, like some takes on IPA can be nowadays. Plus, it leaves a nice hop smack on your lips. And the best thing, it’s one of Uno’s flagship beers, so odds are you will find it on tap anytime you stop by. Which you should.

Meanwhile, in Butler
Märzens are among our favorite beers, and the Ramstein event has become one we’ve calendared. High Point’s Oktoberfest (6% ABV, and yeah, we know their tap handles spell it Octoberfest) is among the best we’ve tried. (Last year, at Deutsche Club of Clark, we got to sample some unfiltered, golden Paulaner Oktoberfest from two oak barrel’s worth flown in from Munich.) Of course, German beers are their focus, but High Point never disappoints. But alas, the Oktoberfest is only available on draft (check with the brewery for locations).

Greg Zaccardi, High Point’s founder, says the event drew 185 people, the largest crowd for this open house. HP went through six kegs of its Märzen, as the legions queued up with their growlers.

Back to the deustch. Like the beer, there was plenty of conviviality, the social part that is beer, the Gemütlichkeit.

Food is part of that, and the volunteer-prepared food spread at High Point’s open house was enough to spoil you.

So, some shout-outs. First to Karen Ontell (at left, with her mom) for that food and the hard work that went into creating it. Great job, Karen. (Remember, she does theme catering; reach her at

And to the Nutley crew of Thomas Pluck and John Milkewicz, loyal Ramsteiners, who’ve made the trek to Butler for open houses several times before (like last month for the eisbock. That's Thomas in the olive green shirt below, John in red.)

Thomas is the keeper of the Pluckyoutoo blog. Movies, beer, hotdogs and boobies. Sounds like the bases are covered, in this Internet-express-yourself age. John stood out to us by virtue of our editing video of last year’s Ramstein Oktoberfest event. Watching footage over and over makes for faces you don't forget.

John’s holding a growler in the foreground at 1:33 and 1:57 minutes into the piece, in some b-roll footage. (We knew we saw him from somewhere!) But more importantly, John’s a Marine Corps reservist, and pulled some duty in Iraq (at the sprawling, multitasked airbase in al-Anbar Province), so a toast to you there.

Apparently a diehard Ramsteiner, John, a lance corporal, shipped out for Iraq just days after popping in on the 2006 High Point Oktoberfest open house. He's been back for a while. Glad you’re home, John, back in Jersey.

Also, a nod to Bryan Jenkins, morning anchor with News12 New Jersey. Karen and Howard Ontell ran into Bryan during a Jamaica vacation and stayed in touch with him afterward, forwarding him emails about Ramstein events over the following months.

Great to see you could make the big one, Bryan. This is Jersey craft beer at its best. Spread the word: Think Jersey, drink Jersey.

And finally, to the Star-Ledger photo staff guys who knew where the good beer was that day. Can you capture Gemütlichkeit with a lens?

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