Saturday, July 19, 2008

Biergarten beer in the Garden State

n the glass this week, some growler beers we picked up on a jaunt across the north and central parts of the state …

From High Point Brewing, a really great kellerbier (5.5% ABV) and an abbey red (6.5%); from J.J. Bitting brewpub a tasty bitter (5.7%).

High Point’s draft-only keller comes via a request by the folks who bring you Brooklyn’s top-notch beer bar Spuyten Duyvil (Dutch for spitting devil) and BBQ restaurant Fette Sau (auf deutsch for fat pig), two establishments where Ramstein beers claim tap handles and the keller goes by the name Ramstein Fette Sau Pils.

Greg Zaccardi, High Point’s owner, says the Duyvil and Sau’s owners were looking for a brew that was off the beaten path, yet invited you to relax and enjoy another round without feeling six beers plowed.

High Point happily took the challenge and produced this excellent unfiltered pilsner, which is probably the best beer we’ve had all summer. The brewery had a few extra kegs left after filling the Duyvil/Sau order and put ’em tap for tours and growlers. A biergarten beer in the Garden State, as Greg says.

Interestingly enough, the Ramstein keller’s origins echo those of the brewery’s Oktoberfest. That beer also came via special request from a restaurant, and fortunately for everyone, has stuck around. The Oktoberfest brew is now in its seventh season, one of a number of lagers – maibock, amber lager, golden lager – and a pale ale that High Point brews to round out its lineup of wheat beers.

Also while at High Point this week, we grabbed some Project X, a Belgian red brewed for the Harvest Restaurant Group, which has establishments across North Jersey (and owns Trap Rock brewpub in Berkeley Heights.) Think Chimay red with this drinkable brew, produced with yeast from Trap Rock.

Meanwhile, sometimes you have to scratch an itch, and for us that quite often means a Brit ale. J.J. Bitting’s Best Bitter does just that; it happily reminds us of a homebrew we made over and over and over in the ’90s that we dubbed Cross-eyed Mary, a hop-and-malt homage to Jethro Tull’s Aqualung album that won us a few compliments from tailgating friends at Tull shows.

Hey, August, we still have the label we made for Cross-Eyed Mary (we even have one signed by Ian Anderson) in case you want to rename your brew. Ha!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Central Jersey Beer Fest 2.0

We popped up to Woodbridge for a chat with J.J. Bitting Brewing owner Mike Cerami and his brewer, August Lightfoot (pictured below), for a handful of reasons, one being to enjoy a Best Bitter on the handpump (it’s got this creamy, dense head that clings to the sides of the glass, a great beer for English ale fans like us).

But the headline on our mind was an update on plans for a second Central Jersey Beer Fest, the Indian summer answer to the state’s more widely known craft beer event held in June, which seems to be anchored on the decks of the USS New Jersey in Camden, something that’s made a few beer drinkers north of Interstate 195 flinch at the travel distance and say, “Pass.”

The folks at J.J. Bitting got the Central Jersey festival rolling last year with the blessing of Woodbridge town hall, attracting two other brewpubs (Atlantic City’s Tun Tavern and Pizzeria Uno in nearby Metuchen) and production brewer Climax Brewing (Roselle Park) to pour with them at the event. Turnout at Parker Press Park was great (see video from last year here), and those in the crowd were quite appreciative to have a festival not too far away.

Version 2.0 of the festival is set for Sept. 20 at the park, which is within walking distance of the NJ Transit train stop. The lineup right now looks like Climax, Cricket Hill, River Horse and Pennsylvania brewer Weyerbacher, as well as J.J. Bitting. Mike says he’s still doing some follow-up on invitations to other brewers, so hopefully more will follow suit.

Note: The festival on the battleship is sponsored by the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild, while the Woodbridge soiree is organized independently of that group (although J.J. Bitting is a guild member). Still, the Central Jersey fest has a lot of promise as a craft beer event (the town itself worked the festival into its lineup of Main Street happenings) and is worth the trip. And yes we know the guild has an October festival planned for Newark. We're saving that for a future post.

Jersey Date
While we’re talking about J.J. Bitting, Lew Bryson and Mark Haynie will hold their first Garden State signing party for their just-released New Jersey Breweries book on Aug. 1, from 5-8 p.m. (the kickoff is July 27th in Philadelphia), right around happy hour. Salut!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

New! Jersey's breweries get book treatment

Fourteen years in the making ... 1994, that's the headwaters of the Garden State's era of microbrewing, with the founding of Climax Brewing in Union County and High Point Brewing in Morris County.

The taps were opened, and more would flow, whether pub or production brewery. And they're all in Lew Bryson and Mark Haynie's freshly poured book, New Jersey Breweries (148 pages).

We got our hands on a copy a little sooner than the July 27th kickoff at the Grey Lodge (thanks, Mark). We've read it once and are taking another spin through it.

It's a fun read and makes you wish brewing in the Garden State were more vibrant, especially when you tally up the brewery attempts that turned bitter and toast the successes that make you say "I'll have another."

But more than anything, it guides you through what New Jersey brews, from North Jersey, across to the Skylands, down the Shore and back to the Delaware, as it says, "New Jersey and beer, perfect together."

Put that in your pint glass and drink it, Tom Kean.


Sunday, July 13, 2008


This just in: Reuters and the New York Times report Anheuser-Busch has relented and agreed to a takeover by InBev, to the tune of $50 billion big ones. Cash.

The new name of the company? Anheuser-Busch InBev, the mother of all brewers on planet Earth.

Honestly, we like our name idea better.

Bine of the times

More pictures (shot July 13th) ... Not much to add on the homegrown hops front but to quote fellow hobby-grower Ray Gourley of South Jersey: "They are fun to watch grow."

Useless trivia/botany lesson:
Hops grow on bines (with a B, not V), if you want to know the technical word for their long flexible stems with tiny bristles that let 'em latch on to things and climb. When you see the word in writing, it always looks like a typo, given that V and B keys are side by side on the keyboard.

RH factor

Calendar note:
River Horse rolls out a second offering in its Brewers Reserve series, this time an imperial cherry amber ale, at the High Street Grill in Mount Holly on Tuesday (July 15th; check the restaurant’s web site for the time).

We got an advance bottle of this a month or so ago. Seemed like it could use a little more cherry, but we were enjoying some spicy Thai food when we tried it, so some beer flavors may gotten dwarfed by the food. Plus, our bottle came from a pilot batch, so we’re betting the finer points have been worked out since then.

You may recall, RH’s Brewers Reserve series began with a well-received Belgian Double White back in March. Owners Glenn Bernabeo and Chris Walsh say there’s more in the brewers reserve to come down the road.

The High Street has earned a reputation as a restaurant that puts a lot thought and care into how beer and food complement one another. If you go early, pop in over at Red White and Brew, a great packaged goods place that specializes in craft beers (including some Jersey-brewed craft beers from the state's northern half that a frustratingly hard to get in South Jersey). RWB is a no-sweat stroll from the restaurant.

Meanwhile, followers of Bucks County Brewing’s PennBrook Lager, a River Horse brew marketed under a Pennsylvania moniker, may be interested to know RH has taken steps to ensure the amber brew’s availability in New Jersey and Pennsylvania where RH distributes.

River Horse struck a deal with Lion Brewery in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., to contract brew PennBrook, a beer geared more for people looking to step up from Bud or Coors to something fuller-bodied, yet not exotic, imperial or hop-heavy. (FYI: Lion currently contract-brews Yards, while their new Philly brewery is under construction.)

For RH, PennBrook was sort of an on-again, off-again brew, based on production capacity, and that sometimes kept it out of the hands of those who were looking for it. And although it’s not the magnetic type of beer that mesmerizes the beer geeks, Glenn and Chris thought it was an important enough brew in the RH lineup to give it the boost that a deal with Lion could provide.