Saturday, September 20, 2008


We’re off to the Central Jersey Beer Fest today. But before leaving, it’s worth taking a few minutes to point out what’s ’round the corner.

New Jersey Breweries book signing, with Lew Bryson and Mark Haynie
When: 5-7 p.m., Friday Sept. 26th
Where: Flying Fish Brewing, Onley Avenue, Cherry Hill
Wallet: Free, unless you’re buying a book, which you should if you don’t have it already (Here’s a thought, buy an extra copy, mail it to Governor Corzine’s office, slip in a note: Now is the time to revise New Jersey’s arcane laws concerning beer. Signed, New Jersey Craft Beer Drinkers.)

Last time we stopped by FF, they had their 2008 Oktoberfish on tap for the brewery tours. That’s reason enough to swing by. But, seriously, on the heels of Lew and Mark’s book (released last July), it’s a perfect time to embrace all that the Garden State has by way of breweries and brewpubs, and to lend a voice or show some solidarity in the hopes that the industry can continue to grow.

By the by, Lew and Mark will be signing copies from 1-3 p.m. at Borders on Route 73 in Marlton the next day. See Lew talk about the book here.

Oktoberfest in Philadelphia
When: 1-5 p.m. (special noon VIP tasting) Saturday, Sept. 27th
Where: 23rd Street Armory (in Center City)
Wallet: $45 for general admission. $15 for designated drivers. $75 for the VIP tasting

This event (see more details here) fills the void left by the city’s loss of the Oktoberfest at Ludwig’s, the German restaurant on Sansom Street. (It was sold. High Point Brewing was often a part of the festivities at Ludwig's.) Flying Fish will be among the 50-plus beers being poured at the armory event. Proceeds go toward Philly Beer Week 2009 (March 6-15), and the breast cancer research drive Mugs for Jugs. Get a Maßkrug and help out a good cause. Seems like mugs and jugs have long association with beer, something not lost on Frank Zappa. (Rest in peace, Frankie, you're very much missed.)

Basil T’s-Toms River
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 3
Where: Basil T’s Brew Pub & Italian Grill, Hooper Avenue and Bay Avenue, Toms River
Wallet: $65, all inclusive, so you get food and brew
Music: Firehouse Polka Band

We had hoped to hit this last year, but had a work commitment that meant getting up with the chickens the next day, something that a night on the town doesn’t mesh well with. So we regrettably had to pass. This year, we hope to be there, to sample the Oktoberfest and catch the mädchen in dirndls.

The dinner is hosted by beer writer Kurt Epps and brewer Dave Hoffmann. As many people know, Basil’s-Toms River is Dave’s moonlighting gig, an easy trip down the Garden State Parkway from his mainstay of Climax Brewing in Union County.

River Horse Oktoberfest
When: Noon-5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Oct.11-12
Where: Back lot of the brewery, 80 Lambert Lane
Wallet: Pay as you go event
Music: 519 South Band

Oktoberfest 2007 was the first event that Glenn Bernabeo and Chris Walsh had at their disposal to start selling the new image of River Horse. They’d only taken over a month before as the new owners. And they did quite a job.

And they’ve been on a roll since: new beer styles coming out of the brewery, more events, a bigger presence around the Garden State and in neighboring Pennsylvania.

Last year’s RH Oktoberfest drew a healthy crowd, as did the two-day festivities at the brewery during ShadFest. This year’s fall festival should be on your calendar. And, as always, when you’re finished on the Jersey banks of the Delaware, take a moment to hit Triumph's brewpub in New Hope. Locally made beer on two sides of the river within walking distance really makes this area a special treat.

Garden State Craft Brewers Guild OktoberFestival
When: 1-5 p.m., Sunday Oct. 19
Where: Newark Bears Riverfront Stadium, Newark
Wallet: $40 in advance; $45 day of festival. See Web site for details

First things first. Yes, this is on a Sunday during football season. But the Giants game will be on the Jumbotron at Bears stadium, so you won’t have to miss Big Blue. The Eagles have a bye week so you’re good there, too. The N.Y. Bretts, er, uh, Jets are on the road in Oakland, with a 4:15 p.m. kickoff, so that might be the only wrinkle with this fest being on a Sunday (unless you have tickets to the Giants game, like friend of the blog Tom E. does. Enjoy the game, Tom).

Anyway, we’ve run into a lot of North Jersey people (just last weekend, in fact) who mention they’d like to see a guild festival closer to their neck of the woods. Happily, here’s the answer. And if you noticed on the guild’s Web site, there will be cask ale, in addition to the Märzens. That alone might be reason to go.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Don't forget Andy

Shame on us.

We nearly forgot to point out that Andy's Corner Bar in Bogota is one of the places in New Jersey that does Oktoberfest right.

And that happens on Saturday, Sept. 20th, which as we know is the start of Oktoberfest in Munich (we'll be in Woodbridge, good beer there, too. Has us cursing the scheduling conflict. See what we mean when we said September is a busy beer month?)

High Point and their 2008 Ramstein Octoberfest (yes, they spell it with a C) will be a featured brew at Andy's, with the oak barrel tapped at 2 p.m. Ramstein beers are a fixture at Andy's, have been for quite a while, in fact.

Of course there's a German menu – the best wursts you can find, plus all the side dishes and trimmings that keep you happy. (Food will be served from 2-7 p.m., while the beer will flow until the 2 a.m. closing, or of course, like any bar must do, last call in anticipation of closing time.)

Andy's is well know for its impressive beer list – it's really one of the best beer bars in New Jersey – and on Saturday, the 16 taps (10 inside, six outside) will pour only Oktoberfest or pumpkin ales.

Here's a taste of the beer list ...

  • German: Ayinger, Erdinger, Hofbrau and Spaten. Trivia tidbit (via Wikipedia, so yeah, take it for what it's worth): The Hofbräuhaus in Munich inspired a worldwide famous song, and the phrase "eins, zwei, g'suffa" ... Hmm, we always thought it was a count of three, but anyway ... There's also Weihenstephaner Fest in bottles.
  • Our favorite O-fest: Ramstein. High Point makes great beer, and they're good people.
  • Credit where credit's due: Samuel Adam's Octoberfest. Some folks think Boston Beer has gotten too big, but let's not forget Jim Koch's doggedness in creating a beer brand 20-plus years ago that remains a big part of the rising tide that still floats a lot of microbrewer boats.
  • Regionally brewed festbiers: Sly Fox, Lancaster.
  • Smashing (good) pumpkins: Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Dogfish Head Punkin Ale.
Aufwiedersehen! Tschüss! und Mach's gut!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Central Jersey Beer Fest 2.0

It’s back, it’s bigger, and yeah, as all promos for sequels boast, better than ever.

The Ws and the H
What: Second Annual Central Jersey Beer Fest
When: 1-5 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 20th (Rain date is the 27th)
Where: Parker Press Park in Woodbridge
Why: It’s for charity; plus it's one of Woodbridge's Main Street events
Weather: As of now, the forecast is picture-perfect: sunny in the mid-70s
How much: Twenty bucks. Tickets are limited (Phone number is 732-634-2929)
What you get: A souvenir glass and unlimited sampling (which means, you can enjoy small pours of the brews; however, don’t get drunk or be dickish. That will get you – rightfully so – shown the door. The 2007 event was family friendly and commendably free of bad behavior; help keep it that way)
Hungry? Yes, there will be food vendors (plus live music)

Last year’s inaugural drew 650 people, depsite only four featured breweries: JJ Bittings (the event organizer), Climax Brewing (Roselle Park), Pizzeria Uno (Metuchen/Woodbridge) and the Tun Tavern (Atlantic City). It was a crowd pleaser, answering a thirst for a fall beer festival in the Garden State. (Watch video of the 2007 fest.)

This year, the lineup has doubled, with Jersey brewers Cricket Hill (Fairfield) and River Horse (Lambertville) and Boak Beverage (Pompton Lakes), joining the returning 2007 lineup.

Brian Boak, a familiar face and volunteer at High Point Brewing (Butler), started Boak Beverage on the strength of winning top honors in the New Jersey State Fair homebrew contest a few years back and the fact that plenty of people liked his beer. High Point contract brews for Brian, and he self-distributes in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. This is his first festival, and he'll feature his core brands, Monster Mash Imperial Stout (the state fair winner) and his Belgian turn, Two Blind Monks.

Rounding out the beer lineup are Weyerbacher Brewing (Easton, Pa.) and Hunterdon Distributors, which will bring draft and bottled beers from out west: Lagunitas, Boulder Brewing, Stone, Rogue and Flying Dog, and Smuttynose from the Granite State.

Point of order
That latter part of the list raises the question, is this a Jersey brewer fest? Yes and no. Yes, in that the foundation of the festival is made up of Jersey-based brewers, and no, since this fest is independent of the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild (although five of the home state brewers are guild members). The guild will hold a fall festival at the Newark Bears stadium on Oct. 19th (that’s a Sunday; more about that one soon).

OK enough parsing. The bottom line is, version 2.0 of the Central Jersey Fest grew, fattened up and looks to easily outdo the inaugural version.

We chatted briefly with August Lightfoot, brewer at JJ Bitting brewpub (which is a stone’s throw from the park), who said he’s bringing his 2008 Märzen (it's not on tap at the pub yet, hint, hint), an imperial IPA inspired by the WHALES homebrew club, his raspberry wheat and a standby keg of porter.

Some more styles to expect: Tim Kelly of the Tun Tavern plans to bring a Belgian wheat, possibly a pumpkin spice ale (it was being filtered on Tuesday), and an IPA dry-hopped with Jersey-fresh Cascade and Nugget hops (grown by Tim’s friends, Ray Gourley and Kathy Haney).

See you there.

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?