Friday, September 12, 2008

Best in show

Four years ago, a pale ale put Mike Wenzel and Steve Moen in the winner’s circle of the New Jersey State Fair homebrew competition.

Last month, they proved you can mess with success and walk away champs again, winning best in show in the fair competition with another American pale ale.

The 38-year-olds, buddies since grade school and homebrewers for about a dozen years, will again brew at Krogh’s Restaurant & Brewpub under the supervision of the Sparta establishment’s brewer and chef, David Cooper.

Look for the duo’s Turnpike Pale Ale (5.8% ABV) to go on tap sometime in early 2009. Yeah, that’s quite awhile from now, but it’s probably the earliest David can work Mike and Steve’s brew into the pub’s rotation of seasonal beers.

(FYI: That's Mike at left and Steve below. Download a pdf list of winners here.)

Krogh’s is a longtime sponsor of the state fair homebrew contest, but the grand prize of brewing a beer with the pub’s 5-barrel system to be served to Krogh’s patrons is a recent feature of the competition (more precisely, it’s in its fifth year).

Mike, a Pequannock resident, and Steve, who lives in Jefferson, were the first winners of the grand prize, in 2004, claiming the guest tap handle with their Hay Bale Pale Ale. (Krogh’s, by the way, is their watering hole, when they’re not partaking of their own brews.)

Their 2008 winner – hoppier than its predecessor – was originally brewed for a Fourth of July party. What was left over became a contest entry, Steve says. (The guys, who memorialize their brewing efforts with a Web site, also took first runner-up with an IPA; friend of the blog Dave Pobutkiewicz, an accomplished homebrewer in his own right and one-time Samuel Adams homebrew finalist, was second runner-up with his weizen.)

David says the homebrew contest is good for both the hobby brewers and the bar. When the victory brew goes on tap, it becomes a big draw, as family and friends of the winners pour into the bar to get a taste. Plus, there's a huge pride moment for the homebrewers when they see others enjoying a beer they created. "I'm still amazed to see people drink my beer," David says.

About the Turnpike Pale Ale

  • Grain bill, hop profile and yeast: Mike and Steve created a base of pale and pilsner malts, and nuanced those malt flavors and color with some 20-degree Lovibond crystal malt and some munich malt. Amarillo was used as the bittering hop, with Cascade and Centennial in the nose. Another round of Cascade was used for dry hopping. The duo fermented with Wyeast 1056 American Ale yeast.
  • The name: In a place like New Jersey, you might think it’s nod to our nationally known toll road ("Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, they’ve all gone to look for America," sang Simon & Garfunkel). Guess again. Mike and Steve use the name in a more general or historic sense, sort of like Hamburg Turnpike, the moniker of a local road in Wayne. Steve says the two mused that if they opened a brewery it would be called Turnpike Brewery; hence Turnpike Pale Ale.
  • Recent notable brews: They did a bourbon barrel porter, aging it on top of some oak cubes, with two Madagascar vanilla beans (split) tossed in for some extra flavor.
What’s happening at Krogh’s
David says the pub’s wildly popular Oktoberfest beer will go on tap Sept. 26, a little late this year compared to past years, although David tries to time it to Munich’s Oktoberfest (which starts Sept. 20).

Beware: It goes quickly. The pub sped through 27 kegs of the fest beer in 27 days last year. And when it’s gone, it’s gone until next year. By the by, the fest beer will be followed by a cider ale made with cider from Windy Brow Farms, located in Fredon in Sussex County.

Meanwhile, Krogh’s is helping support veterans with promotions that run through Nov. 11, Veterans Day. (More details here.)

Also, look for the pub to mark its 10th anniversary next February with a doppelbock and some commemorative mugs. The bock has become the pub’s milestone beer, says David. It was brewed to salute Krogh’s fifth anniversary, and to mark the pub's 500th brew about three years ago.

In case you're wondering, Krogh's is now at about 750 brews. And counting.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Amethyst disappointment

Looks like Trenton is setting up roadblocks to discussion about the minimum legal drinking age.

Check out this Star-Ledger story. Senate President Dick Codey is calling out New Jersey college and university presidents on beer, wine and spirits, asking them to say just what their institutions' policies are regarding the beverages. Additionally, the Legislature plans hearings this fall on underage drinking on campus.

(Here’s a thought for lawmakers: How about taking another crack a runaway property taxes, and keep working on that until you fix it, that and the fact New Jersey is hopelessly broke and willing to hock our toll roads and bill our small towns for state police patrols to pay the bills.)

Codey’s action comes in response to the "Amethyst Initiative," a movement of college and university presidents asking for a discussion on the minimum legal drinking age, which as we all know, has been 21 across the country for the last quarter century, ever since the federal government blackmailed states into adopting it or lose highway funding.

AI does not call for the drinking age to be lowered. It seeks a discussion on the issue. College and university presidents who back AI have taken the position that telling and expecting the under 21s to not drink isn’t reallying pulling the oars when it comes to actually thwarting underage drinking. (There's also an argument that other countries akin to the US that have lower drinking ages don't seem to have our problems.)

Nearly 130 college and university presidents have signed AI. Here, Drew U, Montclair State U and Stevens Institute of Technology are the sole higher education institutions to back it. The rest of the state’s college and university chiefs have balked. (Predictably, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers has gone apoplectic about AI.)

Given the fact that AI calls for a discussion, we think Codey (who by the way, doesn't drink beer, wine or spirits) has adopted a panic response (if the Ledger quoted him correctly), connecting discussion of the issue to lowering the drinking age.

C’mon, Dick. You really think it’s that slippery of a slope? And to shoot down the idea of discussion – we’re talking discussion, airing things out, sussing pros and cons – isn’t very democratic. It’s also kind of nanny state, Trenton knows best (not).

Meanwhile, the state has built another wall to talking about the issue: NJ21, a bunch of state agencies and nonprofits dog-piling on the topic with a giant over-our-dead-bodies attitude toward touching the drinking age. But again, AI doesn’t say lower it; it says let’s talk about the minimum drinking age.

(And Dick, if you or your staff read this, and think we’ve just endorsed a lowered age, you’ve missed again. We never turned that card up.)

In der Küche mit Karen

High Point Brewing, as we’ve noted a couple times since July, rolls out the Austrian oak barrel this Saturday (2 p.m. at the brewery in Butler), tapping their 2008 Oktoberfest seasonal beer. (See our video from last year.)

If you’ve been to this open house, you've probably enjoyed some complimentary food while you got a growler filled and sampled the Märzen. The beer is the main attraction, the food is that little extra that makes you feel at home, and the folks who make it happen are those indispensable volunteers that every craft brewery could probably use more of.

Like Karen Ontell, who has stepped up to fill the vacancy of Jack Brunner, the familiar food guy at High Point events, who has another commitment on Saturday. (FYI: Karen’s a Bulter resident and of German lineage; her father is from West Berlin, yes from the dark time when the city was cut off from the free world and divided with the then-Communist East).

Karen used to work for High Point in the brewery's early days, doing promotions like beer dinners and representing Ramstein at charity events, and has known owner Greg Zaccardi since Ramstein’s been a label. Husband Howard volunteers at the taps (as did Karen at the bar during the August open house), filling growlers from a jockey box in the brewhouse.

She now runs Karen’s Pet Concierge and does theme-based event catering (have a Halloween party planned? She’s got your mummy covered – in filo dough).

Here’s a sampling of Karen’s menu for Ramstein Oktoberfest 2008 (we spoke to her on Monday, so the menu could change):


  • Soft pretzels, with of course, mustard
  • Potato soup
  • Mini-stuffed cabbages with dipping sauce
  • Chicken friccassee
  • Turkey and cheese on skewers with horse radish sauce
  • Potato pancakes with apple sauce
  • Salad
  • Butter cake
  • Cherry streusel cake
Worth noting
If you’ve ever cooked for 100 people, then you know there are a lot of kitchen hours that go into it. So, some credit is due for Karen and Jack.

While you’re enjoying the beer, conversation and food – the Gemütlichkeit – don’t forget to toast the chefs.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

After hop-picking, revisited

Meet the new video. Same as the old video.

Not quite ... New intro, new ending, new cover shot here and there in this re-cut of the Weyerbacher hops saga. The director's cut, ha!

It’s basically an updated version, with footage from their Aug. 23rd harvest day and a quick interview with Dan Weirback as he snipped bines and flung them into the bed of a pickup.

Shots of the young hop bines in the original cut have been replaced; likewise most of the shots of mature hop cones in the original intro – which came from footage of our plants – have been replaced with those from Dan and Sue's hop yard.

There’s also some additional comment from the Rutgers agriculture folks, John Grande and Ed Dager, who have our enduring gratitude for helping out with the piece. The Snyder Farm did its hops project several years ago, and no longer has them growing there in Pittstown in Hunterdon County. But it’s great to see the farm's research get put to new use and great that John and Ed were willing to revisit it.

Anyway, grab a hoppy beer, an IPA, and watch.

UPDATE: Upon checking Weyerbacher's Web site, we learn that Dan says the harvest yielded enough hops to brew three batches of the Harvest Ale, an IPA (6% ABV); it will be available in bottles, starting this Saturday (Sept. 13th). Alas, it's only available in Pennsylvania.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Calendar Notes

This Saturday – Sept. 13th – will be a busy one for beer fans. (Actually, all of September is.)

Pizzeria Uno (Metuchen/Woodbridge, located along Route 1) hosts its first-ever cask ale festival, featuring smooth unfiltered brews from Climax, Chelsea Brewing, Captain Lawrence Brewing, Troeg’s, Weyerbacher, and of course Uno, the only Uno in the USA that brews its own beers with the pizza it makes.

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Brewer Mike Sella says it’s a pay as you go event, starting at noon and running to the last drop (or thereabout). Have no fears, the per-glass prices will be reasonable, complemented with happy hour food prices during the event.

Mike says the cask fest, while definitely a first for Uno, is possibly the first such fest in the Garden State’s modern brewing history. So go, be part of history.

Also coming from Uno is their Oktoberfest, which goes on tap Tuesday (Sept. 9th), and a popular wee heavy that returns in October-November (and again around February).

You can also enjoy Mike’s beers at the Central Jersey Beer Fest (more on this one soon) on Sept 20th at Woodbridge's Parker Press Park and at the Manhattan Cask Ale Festival at Chelsea Brewing, Sept. 19-21.

Meanwhile, if you're the kind who likes to pack an itinerary, High Point will debut its 2008 Oktoberfest at the brewery in Butler at 2 p.m., also on Sept. 13th. (Again, more on that one in a day or two.)

And coming up, Oktoberfest in Philadelphia, Sept. 27th, where Flying Fish will be pouring Oktoberfish. (Yes, more details are on the way).