Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tun Tavern homebrewer contest

The Tun Tavern in Atlantic City has details on the homebrewer contest it's sponsoring with The Press of Atlantic City's At The Shore entertainment publication.

The top prize is a chance to scale up your recipe and brew it on the Tun's 10-barrel system under the guidance of brewer Tim Kelly. The finished beer will be served at the Atlantic City beer festival, April 1-2 at the Atlantic City Convention Center. It will also be on tap at the Tun.

If you're interested in entering here's what you need to know:

  • Entrants must submit six bottles of their homebrew (or the equivalent of 72 ounces).
  • All bottles must be clearly labeled with the homebrewer's contact information (name, phone number and email) and the style of beer.
  • Entries must be dropped off at the Tun Tavern by Monday, Feb. 7. (The Tun is located in same building as the Sheraton hotel, across from the convention center. The phone number there is 609-347-7800)
  • Judging will take place Thursday, Feb. 10.

Meanwhile at Cricket Hill

The brewery says it's turning a homebrew recipe into a 2011 specialty brew (see brief here). The Russian imperial stout is the creation of homebrewer Bill Kovach and will become one of the reserve beers the Fairfield brewer releases four times a year in bomber bottles.

Kovach's brew was crowned champ out of 33 entries in a homebrewer contest sponsored by Cricket Hill. His American pale ale also landed him in a three-way tie for second place.

A Russian imperial stout marks a step away from the beer philosophy and business model on which Cricket Hill was founded 10 years ago.

Although it has in the past included a maibock among its seasonal offerings and some whiskey barrel brews, the core of Cricket Hill's lineup has generally been session beers: its East Coast Lager, American Ale and an IPA that trends on the lower side of alcohol content, to name a few.

The brewery has even branded itself as making transition beers for people ready to step away from lighter beers, like Bud and Miller. So an imperial stout – which would be, generally speaking, twice as strong as some of Cricket Hill's year-round brews – could indicate a transition for Cricket Hill itself.

w w w Port 44 Brew Pub dot com

Port 44 Brew Pub in Newark now has a presence in cyberspace.

Folks at the restaurant-brewery, New Jersey's newest beer-maker, put out the word this week that the site was up.

It trumpets what's pouring from the Commerce Street establishment's taps, as wells as offering some background details about those house-brewed ales. That's a standard practice for any brewery's dot-com existence, of course. (The food menu is also on the Web site, another SOP item; the site does have one glitch right now. It's rejecting attempts to sign up with the brewpub's mailing list.)

New on that on-tap lineup is a rather hearty Newark Bay IPA (Amarillo hops, 7.9% ABV). The others you'll recognize as Port 44's flagship brews.

In an interview back in November, Port 44 brewer Chris Sheehan lamented the brewpub was still playing some catchup after opening in the spring without its Web presence having been worked out.

Chris also noted a second point with regard to getting up to full speed: growlers, or a lack there of.

Well, situations resolved: ... There's a Twitter and Facebook presence to boot. And Port 44 is filling growlers now.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Coffee stout nightcap

Time to close a chapter: This video is from the release party held back in November for the coffee stout brewed at Iron Hill by homebrewers Scott Davi and Jim Carruthers as part of the Maple Shade pub-brewery's Iron Brewer competition.

And in this installment of the saga, we get to the bottom of how Scott and Jim's IH-brewed beer came to be called Luca Brasi, after the outsized thug Don Vito Corleone would dispatch to convince someone the offer on the table was indeed one that couldn't be refused.

Looking beyond this moment, though, pro-am brewing ventures are widening in the craft beer world. Boston Beer and its Samuel Adams brand, of course, sponsor the well-known LongShot homebrewer contest in which two winners at-large nationally plus a company winner see their beers brewed for the annual LongShot six-pack. (Dave Pobutkiewicz of Morris County, at left with Boston Beer's Jim Koch, was a LongShot finalist three years ago.)

The Colorado-based Brewers Association and American Homebrewers Association have been at the pro-am thing going on four years now, tying it to the Great American Beer Festival.

Here in New Jersey, High Point Brewing has sponsored homebrewer competitions with the Office Beer Bar & Grill, with winners producing their scaled-up recipes at the Butler brewery, and the finished product going on tap at Office locations.

River Horse Brewing in Lambertville toyed with the idea of sponsoring a competition a couple of years ago, but opted against it. Meanwhile, the Tun Tavern in Atlantic City has something in the works for a pro-am beer to be served at the Atlantic City Beer Festival next spring. (Last winter, the Tun welcomed an editor from The Press of Atlantic City newspaper to help brew a dunkelweizen that was served at the Celebration of the Suds, as the AC fest is known.)

But in the Garden State, it has been the New Jersey State Fair and Krogh's brewpub in Sparta that are the old hands at homebrewer contests in which the winner brewers on the small, but still pro-level equipment at Krogh's to make a beer for the brewpub's taps. In fact, just such a State Fair championship launched the beer career of Brian Boak, whose Belgian brews and imperial stouts are contract-brewed by High Point.

Hordes of pro brewers got their start as homebrewers (nearly all of Jersey's craft brewers can make that claim). Homebrewer contests celebrate that lineage and make the bond tighter.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Perusing NJ's regulations

Food for thought:

As detailed in the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control's handbook, you only have to be 18 years old to buy beer (wine and liquor as well) for the purpose of reselling it.

But you have to wait three more years to legally taste it. Seems out of balance, no?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Exit 13 follow-up

So if Forrest Gump drank this beer, would he say, "Life's like a box of chocolate stout ..."

Anyway, FF folks put word out today that cases of Exit 13 have been hitting their exit, on their way to stores in New Jersey, and should be available soon.

Shout-outs to Dave Kovalchick (loading bottles) and Greg Genovese (loading the boxes) in the video.

Aggregator moment: Graft beer

This item out of Chicago by Crain's is rather interesting.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Maybe it's Star-Ledger + beer = boring

what? Beer and food pairings are boring.

Don't take our word for it, just follow the link and the comments.

Guess the folks at Boston Beer who have championed enjoying food with beer have been wrong all along. Food and beer pairings are boring. Not to mention Garrett Oliver from Brooklyn Brewery, who seems to have wasted a lot of time on The Brewmaster's Table. Alas.

Guess the folks at the Brewers Association have been on a misguided mission for the past three years with SAVOR because food and beer pairings are boring. Ditto for Sigh.

Guess White Dog Foundation and in Philadelphia and Victory Brewing in Downington, Pa., have been barking up the wrong tree with the Brewer's Plate for six years, uniting great regional cuisine with beers made within a 150-mile radius. Beer and food pairings are boring. Zounds! Flying Fish, River Horse, Triumph, Climax, Boaks and Iron Hill must have all got suckered on that one.

Speaking of Iron Hill they must have been led astray, coaching their staff to know about food and beer, and how they complement each other. Damn it all! Food and beer pairings are boring!

OK, enough sarcasm.

Craft beer enthusiasts, and not just the geeks, know food and beer go better together than wine and food, and let's hand it to wine, because it does an admirable job with food. It's just that beer, in its creation, welcomes more ingredients – hops for starters – into the fold than wine, resulting in a more expansive gamut of flavors that fit with more kinds of cuisine than its fermented cousin wine.

Beer and food pairings boring? Hardly. It's very much where beer, namely craft beer, belongs, especially right now, amid an era of wonderful beer choices. Otherwise, we might as well settle for Pringles and a Coors, or Bud and Doritos, instead of crab bisque made with a bourbon reduction complemented by a pint of Climax ESB; pork loin with a dunkel from Triumph; jambalaya with Flying Fish Farmhouse ale.

Yes, Virginia, better beer deserves better food.

Perhaps what the Star-Ledger thinks is, writing about beer and food together is boring, overdone. As if taking the days from Thanksgiving to Christmas and playing beer advent calendar is a fresh peach at the top of the tree, not easy, low-hanging fruit.

But that's not an entirely fair comment, because suggesting beers for the yule season has been done well many times in the past. Just like suggesting great beer for great food.

The fact is, beer and food always fit comfortably side by side, can seamlessly exist in the same breath. Because they can go in the same mouthful.

Sláinte. And bon appétit.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Exit 13: chocolate indulgence

Chocolate stout met glass at Flying Fish today, where the packaging crew at the Cherry Hill brewery began bottling Exit 13, the sixth installment in FF's limited-batch specialty brew series.

The labels that tell you it's a chocolate stout get added next week in the second step of the packaging process. (The lone labeled bottle of 13 at top right was pulling photo-op duty. The beer hits store shelves sometime in December.)

But the beer's chocolate cred is truly in its flavor. And waiting beneath a super-dense head of deep-tan foam is a big, fat chocolate taste that would make hedge fund manager/cocoa market mogul Anthony "Choc Finger" Ward take notice.

Exit 13 was made with 580 pounds of Belgian chocolate, 200 pounds of cocoa nibs and 1,200 Tahitian vanilla beans.

"You can definitely pull that chocolate right out," head brewer Casey Hughes says, after offering a taste of Exit 13 from the brewery's holding tank. "When a lot people think about chocolate, they don't think about the vanilla that's actually in it ... That's why we have vanilla beans in there, to bring out that chocolate flavor."

The folks at Flying Fish planned a total of 150 barrels of the chocolate stout. Today's bottling made a dent in a run of 1,250 cases of the 750 milliliter bottles that have been a signature of the Exit Series.

Chocolate lovers may want to consider the box of 12.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Another look at Newark's Port 44 Brew Pub

Port 44 Brew Pub continues to find its footing with the lineup of house ales it has been producing for three months now.

It can take a little while to find the sweet spot with the newly installed brewhouse, some time to nail down the efficiency of the equipment as far as mashing and hop utilization go.

But brewer Chris Sheehan (pictured at left) says he's getting comfortable with the results of his recipes for Port 44's flagship brews that include a golden ale, red ale, wheat beer and a stout named for New Jersey bootlegger Abner "Longy" Zwillman.

The wheat beer, Siren's Wheat, will help serve as a fundraiser for college scholarships for children of police, fire and EMS personnel. Chris says the inaugural batch had an unintended hop signature that overrode the wheat flavors, so some tweaking is order.

But he says his Goldfinch golden ale and Devil's Red have hit the mark. "I'm locked in on those recipes," he says. (A pomegranate wheat and a winter seasonal strong ale were among his brewing plans earlier this month.)

Port 44 opened back in the spring with guest beers on tap and began turning out house ales in August, figuring in the crowds that hit the nearby Prudential Center for concerts and New Jersey Devils and Nets games into its business model.

A few lingering things remain to get squared away, Chris says, such as setting up a Web site, purchasing an inventory of growler glassware, and acquiring a keg washer so serving tanks won't stay tied up too long by a single beer.

"It's still a work in progress," Chris says.

Chris plans to have the keg washer custom-made with the help of a metal fabricator from the city's Ironbound section. Then the brewpub's stock of 30 Hoff-Stevens kegs can stirred into the mix to get more house brews on tap. (Brews from Cricket Hill and New Jersey Beer Company are two of the guest brews that remain on tap for now.)

"We have eight taps here but I have five serving tanks," he says. "The other three taps I want to fill with my own beer instead of having guest beers."

In the meantime, Port 44's second-floor bar area has been pulling in private parties from the corporate crowd in Newark (Prudential and Verizon, for example), as well as students from Seton Hall law school.

"We've been doing a fair amount of business that way," Chris says.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Exit 13 release set

The next stop in Flying Fish's Exit Series gets bottled on Friday, with a release event set for 7 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Pub on Passyunk East in Philadelphia.

Folks at the Cherry Hill brewery say the release event for the chocolate import/export stout that is Exit 13 (Port Newark-Elizabeth) may be your only chance for a while to sample the beer on draft.

The chocolate stout – the sixth in series of limited-batch brews that kicked off in April 2009, was made with 580 pounds of Belcolade dark chocolate (the port at exit 13 of the New Jersey Turnpike is the ingredient's entry point into the US), then aged with 200 pounds of cocoa nibs and 12 pounds of of vanilla beans.

The exit brews have been a Garden State study for FF head brewer Casey Hughes, who has dug into the back pages of Jersey to research ingredients for the brews.

With Exit 1, a stout released a year ago that used Delaware bay oysters, the brewery messages on the bottle labels took on a somewhat historical tone regarding the regions the brews represented, and in turn offered craft beer enthusiasts an engaging glimpse into New Jersey culture.

But Casey thinks he's the one with the leg up on Jersey lore.

"I'm learning the most from this, because I probably know more about Jersey exits than anybody now. I can go up the highway and say, 'This happened at this exit, this happened at this exit ...' from just researching all the stuff."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Another shot of caffeine & NJ proposed ban

As forecast, federal regulators threw a flag on caffeine added to alcoholic beverages, taking aim at concoctions like Four Loko and Joose that feature a sort of Jekyll-Hyde combination of ethyl alcohol (12% ABV) and caffeine jolt (three cups of joe).

The Food and Drug Administration warned the makers of those beverages, in addition to Massachusetts-based New Century Brewing and its Moonshot beer (4% ABV and 69 milligrams of caffeine), that caffeine is an unsafe additive in their beverages and their beverages are being marketed contrary to federal regulations. The upshot: they risk seizure of their products and a halt to production.

But it gets doubly worse for the beer industry's Rhonda Kallman, founder of New Century (and a figure known for helping launch and establish Boston Beer and the Samuel Adams brand): the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is frowning harder on caffeine in alcoholic beverages than the US Food and Drug Administration is in its warning of last week. Her company apparently could end up getting knocked out of business. (Moonshot's Web site was inaccessible on Sunday.)

Here in New Jersey, there are bills in the state Legislature that would ban the sale of caffeinated alcoholic beverages, including beer (keep reading).

The two bills – an Assembly version and identical Senate version – were introduced by Assembly members Valerie Huttle and Ralph Caputo, and Senator Kevin O'Toole, toward the end of October. The Assembly version has been referred to that chamber's Consumer Affairs Committee.

The legislation casts a wide net and lumps in beer, while defining a caffeinated alcoholic beverage as "any prepackaged alcoholic beverage that has been supplemented by the manufacturer with caffeine or other stimulant that is metabolized by the body as caffeine."

What's not indisputably clear (think lawyers arguing fine points) in that wording is whether brewing with coffee, chocolate or other caffeine-bearing ingredients could amount to supplementing the beverage. Logic – and craft brewing practices, for that matter – would tell you no. So would the FDA.

But it's not specifically spelled out.

That's a reason the Colorado-based Brewers Association, the craft beer industry trade group, has asked federal regulators for some clarification (and rule-making), since states can pretty much make whatever rules that want to control alcoholic beverages manufactured and sold within their borders. While the FDA wags a finger, states can slam doors closed.

As we know, craft brewers sometimes use ingredients like coffee and chocolate – and their signature flavors – to shape the flavor profile of a beer, unlike Kallman's Moonshot. (Kallman conceived of the addition of caffeine as a boost.)

Jersey brewers are taking the view that any caffeine that winds up in a coffee porter or chocolate stout is an incidental byproduct of the brewing process, not a direct addition of caffeine to the beer.

And that's backed up by the FDA, which said its warning wasn't directed at those alcoholic beverages that only contain caffeine as a natural constituent of one or more of their ingredients, such as a coffee, but rather malt beverages to which caffeine has been added as a separate ingredient.

Still, for craft beer enthusiasts, it could be worth writing the sponsors of the New Jersey legislation (A3437, S2423), asking for delineation (assuming this measure picks up speed) and that the state not take bona fide ingredients away from Garden State brewers.

Valerie Huttle:
1 Engle St.
Suite 108
Englewood, NJ 07631
(201) 541-1118

545 Cedar Lane
Teaneck, NJ 07666
(201) 928-0100

Ralph Caputo
148-152 Franklin St.
Belleville, NJ 07109
(973) 450-0484

Kevin O'Toole
155 Route 46 West
Suite 108
Wayne, NJ 07470
(973) 237-1360

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The buzz about caffeine in booze

US Senator Chuck Schumer, an opponent of caffeine in beverages containing ethyl alcohol, says on his Web site that federal regulators (the Food and Drug Administration) plan to declare caffeine an unsafe food additive to those beverages.

What's stuck in the New York Democrat's craw? Alcohol and caffeinated energy drinks like Four Loko and Joose. His Web post of today cites students getting into trouble (specifically, passing out and having to be hospitalized) after consuming Four Loko, and other concerns about alcohol abuse.

Schumer contends such beverages are jacked up with about half a pot of coffee and almost half a six-pack's worth of beer per serving (which is a big, fat can – 23 ounces), and are therefore unsafe. Meanwhile, Four Loko's maker says it will yank caffeine from the drink.

But that leads to this: The Brewers Association announced today that it will ask the federal Tax and Trade Bureau, the folks who have a say in approving beers that end up on the US market, to "conduct rulemaking on alcoholic energy drinks." (The BA's news release can be found here.)

Seeking to safeguard the use of coffee and chocolate in beer (think coffee porters and chocolate stouts etc.), the Brewers Association is petitioning the TTB to put the hammer down on synthetic and pure caffeine as an additive to alcoholic beverages (wonder if this could ground Moonshot, although that brew adds natural caffeine) while keeping coffee, chocolate, herbs, tea, spices and other caffeinated ingredients as options on the shelf for creative brewers.

The Brewers Association points out that many states are already walking point on this topic, and can easily do so because after Prohibition, they were granted wide latitude to regulate alcoholic beverages on their own. The result across the country is the familiar quilt of differing rules, and in this case, a developing patchwork of different rule-phrasing that pretty much adds up to saying the same thing.

The Colorado-based BA would rather see everyone on the same page and a consistent standard crafted that "would remove the products of concern from shelves without creating unintended damage to the hundreds of craft brewers."

Says Brewers Association President Charlie Papazian: "Responsible brewers have successfully used coffee, chocolate and tea to add interesting flavor and complexity to their beers for decades. In fact, the Aztecs brewed a corn, honey and chili-based beer that contained cocoa. Many craft brewers build on these traditions today using coffee, tea and chocolate. On the other hand, the addition of artificial caffeine not from a natural ingredient source has no heritage or tradition in brewing. We support a ban on the direct addition of caffeine."

How does it affect New Jersey brewers? Well, Jersey brewers have and still do brew with coffee and chocolate.

Consider this: Basil T's in Red Bank took home gold and bronze medals from the Great American Beer Festival for using coffee in a stout; Iron Hill in Maple Shade just this month released a coffee stout; and Flying Fish, which brought porter back to its flight of brews as a seasonal using espresso coffee, plans to release a Belgian chocolate stout in December as the next installment in its Exit Series.

And that's just an off-the-top accounting of such brews in the Garden State. There are certainly others.

Ultimately, it would be folly and unfair if the FDA painted in too broad of strokes and took bona fide ingredients, like coffee, out of brewers' hands because it was aiming at something else.

Man-up, Miller Lite, lose this ad campaign

On the heels of their preposterous triple-hopped campaign (can't even taste the hops, so why boast?), the vortex bottle that reminds you the beer, too, sucks just like a vortex, Miller Lite (tastes plain, less thrilling) imbues you to man-up and drink light beer.

It doesn't add up to man-up and pick up something that has no flavor. More like dumbing down.

And for the record, good beer isn't at all about machismo, and life's too short to short yourself on flavor.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Tun Tavern's Marine Corps birthday salute

If you've been inside the Tun Tavern for even half a second, then you know the Atlantic City brewpub's decor is US Marine Corps.

It's hard to miss the scarlet and gold Corps flag on the wall, life-size jarhead statue just off the bar and the World War II-era images on the doors to the head, among loads of other memorabilia.

But more to the point: If you know US military history, then you know the brewpub borrows its name from the Philadelphia tavern where the Marine Corps was founded in 1775, seven months after the skirmish that was the opening volley of the American Revolution.

Every Nov. 10th, Tun owner Monty Dahm, a former Marine, throws a birthday party for the Corps at his brewery-restaurant in the shadow of Atlantic City's convention center. (This year will be the brewpub's 13th tribute.) It's a generally well-attended affair, and attracts current and former Marines from far and wide.

(Incidentally, Nov. 10th is also famous as the date the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior in a storm in 1975. The doomed freighter is honored with a Cleveland-brewed porter that bears its name.)

Brewer Tim Kelly usually has something on cask for the night, in addition to the Tun's flagship brews, like Devil Dog Pale Ale and Leatherneck Stout.

Semper Fi.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Luca Brasi sips with the fishes

The buzz could be caffeine, but probably not.

It' s more like the buzz is all about the coffee stout that will go on tap at Iron Hill on Tuesday (Nov. 9).

As the first champs of Iron Hill Maple Shade's Iron Brewer homebrew competition, Jim Carruthers and Scott Davi brewed the stout, named Luca Brasi (à la Godfather Don Corleone's enforcer), about a month ago at the brewpub under the supervision of IH head brewer Chris LaPierre.

The stout was just given a jolt of whole dark roast coffee beans in the serving tank on Wednesday, and some cold press dark roast coffee gets added on Friday.

In the video, Chris explains the origins of the Iron Brewer contest (2010 was the first year for the Maple Shade location), which is a byproduct of that big, big beer IH makes, the Situation.

It's a pretty good situation to find yourself in, so look for it to come back around next year; the competition, too.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Remember, remember the 5th of November

A look at Guy Fawkes Night at the Ship Inn in Milford, New Jersey's British-themed brewpub.

This video was shot at the Ship's Nov. 5, 2008, observance of the annual holiday that finds Britons celebrating the failed plot to blow up Parliament with three dozen kegs of gunpowder, take down King James I and spark a revolt.

This project sat on the shelf for a couple years, in hopes of finding a New Jersey university professor or some other individual versed in the Gunpowder Plot and England's tug of war between its Catholic subjects and Protestant crown.

Alas, these days it's become a little difficult to find someone who studies European history, and British history in particular.

This year, the Ship Inn marks the Guy Fawkes event tonight, Nov. 3rd. The brewpub is still taking reservations for the dinner, which costs $40 and includes a free pint of beer. If you're not into the dinner, you can still enjoy a pint or two at the bar.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Carving a different kind of pumpkin beer

Six-packs of pumpkin beer hit the store shelves long before autumn and the first leaves fell from the trees, while a few pub brewers held off, waiting until late this month to tap their versions of the seasonal and eclipse the annual Märzen invasion that is Oktoberfest.

As is typical with this gourded rite of fall, most of the pumpkin beers in the patch this year have been ales, with fruity aromas rippling with spices that entice the senses before the first sip washes over the palate.

Except one. It's a lager.

At Atlantic City's Tun Tavern brewpub, the pumpkin beer is crisp and brisk, like the fall season itself, with just enough spice and zest suspended in a clean lager profile that allows the delicate flavor of the 230 pounds of roasted pumpkin that brewer Tim Kelly used to come through.

"Most of the pumpkin beers you get are ales," Tim says. "They're heavily spiced, like pumpkin pie. A lot of them don't even have pumpkin in it – because what people equate is the spice – and that's fine.

"I like a good pumpkin beer. Weyerbacher has a bronze-medal imperial pumpkin ale. It's delicious; I love it. But really, how many of those are you going to sit down and drink? They're more of a dessert beer – you're going to have one."

However, Tim's version, even at 7.6 percent ABV ("imperially evil for Halloween," he calls it), beckons a second round. Perhaps a third. And that's by design.

The Tun's pumpkin lager comes from Tim's days of homebrewing and an idea that rests on the notion of less is more.

"I went for a lager yeast as opposed to an ale because ales generally lend a lot of their own characteristic flavors to beers, particularly through fruity esters, whereas lagers tend to be clean," he says. "Pumpkin is a very subtle flavor, if you can taste it at all. I wanted to make a beer that tried to bring the pumpkin out. I didn't want to mask it with ale flavors, so I wanted to ferment it clean with a lager yeast, spice it very lightly."

Tim introduced pumpkin lager to Tun Tavern patrons in 2007, during his first year in Atlantic City. It didn't exactly wow the crowd, whose tastes trended toward the ale and its pumpkin pie bouquet. But a funny thing happened the subsequent fall: when Tim made the ale those patrons pined for, most wistfully remembered the lager version.

"I made it the first year and heard nothing but complaints from all the people who wanted the sweet, spicy ale," he says. "So the second year I made the sweet, spicy ale and heard nothing but complaints about where's that wonderful lager you made last year."

So the lager's back, in all its smoothness, just in time for Samhain, and a little beyond. (Tim supposes pumpkin brews have a three-week window in which they're in demand. Thus, he brewed accordingly.)

As a lager, the brew leans a little toward steam beer, a warmer fermentation to let the yeast have a bigger say in the finished product. But Tim steps the process down from 63 degrees after three days to about 55, reining in the yeast signatures that, within ales, help buoy the aromas of the traditional pumpkin-friendly spices (nutmeg, clove, ginger, cinnamon and allspice).

"I'm not trying to go totally clean with it, but I am trying to avoid a lot the esters and other ale characteristics," he says.

Right now, the pumpkin lager joins another of Tim's homebrew recipes gracing the Tun's taps. A couple weeks ago, his wee heavy Scotch ale debuted. At 7-plus percent ABV, Tim's is quite rich, with deep folds of caramel and just a hint of warmth on the back of the throat.

"It's the first time I've made it here. I tried to be as traditional in the production of it as possible. I fired up the kettle before the wort went into it, so I got some good caramelization off that (and added) a little bit of peated malt to it," he says, suggesting the beer be allowed to warm up some in the glass before drinking.

Looking ahead, Tim and brewer Gretchen Schmidhausler of Basil T's in Red Bank plan a collaboration brew, "something with a dark chocolate, with some end notes like cinnamon and a hot pepper, like an ancho or pablano, something along those lines." (Last month, Gretchen marked a decade as Basil's brewer.)

Until then, there's a pumpkin beer that stands out in the patch.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Jersey beers in Europe

Jersey brewers get a European audience.

Climax, Cricket Hill and High Point sent beer to the three-day Mondial de la Biere, held this past weekend in Strasbourg, France.

The Jersey brews were part of the event's American beer tent, which included a sampling of craft beers from across the US (Troegs, Weyerbacher, Allagash, Sierra Nevada, Left Hand, Smuttynose, Boston Beer and Blue Point, to name a few).

Roselle Park-based Climax sent its Hoffmann Oktoberfest and its IPA, while Cricket Hill ponied up its Colonel Blides ale as part of its flight of brews.

"We sent over the Colonel because that's a really an English-style beer. We figured Europe, English style ... it works out even though the French and English don't get along. We sent over the East Coast Lager; we sent over the American Ale," says Cricket Hill founder Rick Reed. (Mondial's Web site lists the CH beers as the Fairfield brewery's summer ale, IPA and fall seasonal.)

It was a repeat appearance for High Point, which sent its Ramstein Classic dunkelweizen to the event. Last year, Butler-based High Point sent its Classic and Blonde wheat beers.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Found on Facebook

A pumpkin done up as River Horse Brewing's Hipp-0-Lantern.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Oktoberfest glances

Scenes from the Oktoberfest dinner at Artisan's brewpub in Toms River and the brewery-backlot soiree put on each fall at River Horse Brewing in Lambertville. (Footage was shot on Flip camera, which doesn't seem to do too well in low light.)

That's Kurt Hoffmann, father of Artisan brewer Dave Hoffmann, cutting a rug, and River Horse brewer Chris Rakow playing guitar.

One bit of news out of River Horse: plans call for the fall seasonal Hipp-O-Lantern Imperial Pumpkin Ale, out this first year as a Brewer's Reserve, to be back next year under its own dedicated packaging. River Horse has launched at least a couple of beers this way, its Double Wit and Hop-a-lot-amus Double IPA come to mind.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A glass from the past

Ol' Blue Eyes had just shuffled off this mortal coil the Thursday prior, and that Saturday, Real Quiet would add to a Kentucky Derby win, earning a second jewel of the Triple Crown.

Across town from Pimlico Race Course, the Great American Beer Festival had arrived in Baltimore for a May 15-17 stand, far, far away from its Denver base.

And that was that. It won't happen again. (It didn't exactly go that well.)

This is what the Brewers Association had to say when asked about the possibility of ever trying it again:

"We do not anticipate taking GABF on the road in the future. Among other considerations, the sheer size of the event makes that an extremely challenging prospect. GABF will take place in Denver for the foreseeable future."

One thing about the Baltimore event was certain: A worse weekend – Preakness weekend – could not have been picked. There was literally no hotel space in the city and for miles around.

If that was bad planning, there was some bad execution, too. The brewers hospitality lounge was stocked not with real food for the beermakers and their helpers, but snacks, i.e. tortilla chips and pretzels. (At least that was the situation on the opening night.)

That's not a slap at the Brewers Association.

The BA gets points for going on the road with the GABF, and it rebounded (nine years later) with SAVOR, the food and craft beer pairing held in Washington, D.C. (The 2011 SAVOR is set for June 4th.)

So if you went in '98, savor your GABF-East memory, but think SAVOR for craft beer.

From fledgling Flying Fish to Pinot Noir

Flying Fish hit a milestone this week, brewing a 5,000th batch of beer – a chocolate stout that will mark the sixth stop (Exit 13) in its well-received Exit Series of brews.

Since brewing began in August/September 1996, thousands of barrels of beer have been kegged or bottled and sent out the doors of the Cherry Hill brewery to markets in Delaware; Maryland; Pennsylvania; Washington, DC; and of course New Jersey.

A few brewers have come and gone during those 14 brewing years, while current (and longtime) brewer Casey Hughes is a well-known face of Flying Fish to many people. Also in that decade and a half, FF has picked up some national recognition for its Belgian-style beers, high honors for its Exit 4 American Trippel and Abbey Dubbel.

To mark the occasion of the 5,000th batch, it seemed fitting to track down the brewer who helped launch the brand that founder Gene Muller conceived as a "virtual microbrewery" on the Web in 1995 and grew into New Jersey's largest craft beer name at 12,000 barrels annually.

Joe Pedicini, a Berkeley Heights native, came to Flying Fish in spring 1996 from Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon, and joined by assistant brewer Rick Atkins, struck the first mashes that would become the extra pale ale and extra special bitter with which FF entered the marketplace. (That's Joe at left with his 18-month-old daughter, Una.)

A quite tasty porter, the Abbey Dubbel, a Belgian farmhouse ale and Hopfish IPA would round out the lineup during Joe's two-year stint at FF. The porter, bottle-conditioned back in the early days, was phased out several years ago, then brought back as a winter seasonal imperial espresso porter. While the recipes – chiefly the hops used – have changed for the XPA and ESB, those beers are stilll cornerstones of Flying Fish's beer offerings and were among the brews legendary beer writer/explorer Michael Jackson sampled during a brewery visit when FF's beermaking operations were a mere six months old (see top photo; that's Joe on the left, Gene Muller at right).

Now calling Brooklyn home, Joe has turned his zymurgist's attention to winemaking, an interest he developed from both his family heritage (from Italy's southwest coast) and spending some of his post-FF days working for New York auction houses, connecting buyers to rare wines.

For his own label, Montebruno, Joe produces small-batch artisanal Pinot noir, using Oregon grapes grown organically and sustainably. His first commercial batch of Oregon Pinot noir was bottled in 2003, and these days he spends a lot of time shuttling between the Willamette Valley and New York. On the heels of bottling some vintage 2009 in Oregon, Joe took some time last week for a Q&A, reminiscing a little bit about Flying Fish and discussing Montebruno Wines.

BSL: Where did you come up with the name Montebruno?
JP: Montebruno is a tribute my grandmother on my mother's side; it's her maiden name.

BSL: Wine is in your heritage. Your father made wine, right?
JP: On my father's side, the region where they emigrated to the States from is called Campania. They all had vineyards and made wine. It was just an ordinary-life kind of thing; they didn't own a private-label winery, but they'd grow grapes and make wine for themselves and sell grapes to a local cooperative.

BSL: Talk a little about how you chose Oregon vineyards.
JP: I sort of researched places in the country, other than Napa Valley and California, places that would be interesting to grow (grapes) and make wine that would be unique. At first, my research took me to the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. Then I considered going back and visiting some of the family vineyards in Campania, and then I realized that I have this beautiful network of friends and now family in Oregon.

So I said to myself, I really love Pinot noir and I have roots in Oregon because of how much time I spent out there. So I started looking back in that direction and managed to find these great sites I've been working with, and took my production from 50 cases in 2003 (pausing briefly) I just got back a few weeks ago from Oregon where I bottled 850 cases of 2009.

BSL: Your focus on wine is not that far from the approach of craft beer, as far as scale goes, it seems.
JP: It's kind of along the lines, if you can compare it in the beer world, it's very much a hand-crafted, small-production process. Just about every aspect is done by hand.

BSL: With the grapes themselves, you're actually inspecting and hand-selecting what gets used?
JP: Absolutely. I have several vineyards that I lease. There are blocks within these vineyards that are exclusively used for my label.

All the fruit that I source is grown sustainably, bio-dynamically or organically. I'm a huge supporter of that, and it's a big movement in Oregon right now. The approach isn't supposed to end at the farming of the fruit once it's in the winery. Everything that I do is done in a very Old World, sort of bio-dynamic approach where there's no additives, there's no preservatives. There's no means of doing anything funny to extract something that isn't there naturally in the grape. It's really just a pure expression of the fruit that was sourced from a beautiful, beautiful site in Oregon.

BSL: Can you talk about the uniqueness of wine as it relates to its place of origin?
JP: In the wine world, the interesting thing about it is, there is a sense of place in what you're making. You have this fruit you harvest from a place, and you turn it into wine, and there is a sense of identity where that fruit came from and there's no other wine that can taste exactly like it.

BSL: Let's turn our attention to beer. You still have an appreciation for great beer ...
JP: Oh, God yeah.

BSL: What are some of the really good beers that you think are on the landscape now?
JP: There are so many great producers. I would hate to be specific and leave anybody out. It's really more about the mood I'm in. Sometimes I still love a properly poured draft Guinness, and I still love a nice hoppy (pauses) There's a brewery here called Sixpoint that makes a Bengali IPA that's really nice. They are successfully growing in a market that was dominated by Brooklyn Brewery for so many years.

It's amazing when we think back to just a few years ago how different the landscape was with beer and how lucky we are right now. There's just so many great producers now, so many great choices.

BSL: Do you still have occasion to brew, either at home or commercially?
JP: I still brew at home. My brother-in-law has a nice little set-up at his apartment. Actually yesterday we brewed what's going to be a cask bitter ...

BSL: What do you think of the explosion of hops, all these different varieties of hops?
JP: It really seems, especially out West, they're just trying to make these IPAs bigger and bigger and hoppier and hoppier. They're kind of hard for me to drink. I think they're a little bit out of balance. I look forward to the day when things come back to reality a little bit.

BSL: Let's talk about Flying Fish. You might be surprised to see just how big the brewing and packaging space has become. What do you recall from the start-up days?
JP: I met Gene at the microbrewers conference up in Boston in '96. When he decided to hire me, that space was empty. It was just offices in the front and a big warehouse in the back. The conference was in March, and during that summer we just started bringing equipment in and setting it all up. I always appreciated the fact that Gene just totally trusted my decisions, as far as formulations and procedures of the brewery and how to run things there. I looked at it like it was my own brewery.

BSL: Talk a little about getting the brewhouse going and working out the bugs.
JP: The first time we fired up the system (to test it), there was a little bit of a glitch in the grain handling process. We ended up leaving behind a certain portion of the grist that was supposed to go into the mash tun back in the hopper and we weren't aware of it. When we took our initial gravities, they were way lower than we anticipated. That was the hop angel. The second batch, we made a pretty successful XPA. We wanted to do a large-scale batch using the yeast strain we chose; we wanted to make sure it met the profile we were looking for.

BSL: Flying Fish has grabbed some acclaim of late with the Exit Series beers themed to the Turnpike exit identity often associated with Garden State residents. Have you had occasion to try any of the Exit Series beers?
JP: You know, I have not. I've seen them and I think it's a cool marketing concept, and I'm really happy they're still doing some great experimentation. I think one of them was a (Belgian) Trippel, wasn't it?
BSL: They called it American Trippel. It was a gold medal winner last year at the Great American Beer Festival.
JP: They won a gold last year? Oh, that's awesome.
BSL: The Abbey Dubbel won silver the year before.
JP: That's awesome.

BSL: Beer Hunter Michael Jackson made more than one visit to Flying Fish, but you were there for his first tour of the brewery and sampling of beers back in March 1997.
JP: He was very complimentary; he really liked the ESB. He said 'Man I could put down a few pints of that.' I thought that was a good compliment. It was a nice reward, coming from the standpoint of, here we are, we have this new product and new brewery, we're putting in massive hours, and we're really busting our asses, and then he comes by, tastes the beers and he likes 'em, and it makes you feel good about all the effort.

BSL: Finally, what's next for you in the wine world, where do you take Montebruno?
JP: There's lots of cool vineyard sites becoming accessible, and we're sort of assessing that and we're hoping to maybe get a 10- or 15-acre property that we can call our own.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Beers to swell by

Aggregator moment again ...

The online magazine The Daily Beast reaches out via email to Beer-Stained Letter with a link to their post on "The 50 Most Fattening Beers."

Here's what they say are the tops for straining the belt and some others that are a little friendlier (the list doesn't mine the craft vein all that much, but The Beast does say they pulled from the big domestics; and alas, their yardstick was most calories and carbs for least amount of alcohol content).

Top Worst:

  • Boulevard Brewing's Unfiltered Wheat Beer (155 calories, 35 carbs and 4.4% alcohol)
  • Leinenkugel's Berry Weiss (207 calories, 28 carbs, 4.8% alcohol)
  • Grolsch Blonde Lager (120 calories, 15.8 carbs, 2.8% alcohol)
Least Worst:
  • Schaefer (142 calories, 12 carbs, 4.6% alcohol)
  • Guinness (125 calories, 10 carbs, 4% alcohol)
  • Blue Moon Pumpkin Ale (180 calories, 14.7 carbs, 5.8% alcohol)
Make what you want of it. But if you're seriously looking at calories and beer, take a glance over at Peter Kennedy's Simply Beer.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The route to Exit 13 ...

Was paved with 4,999 batches of beer at Flying Fish.

Exit 13 (Elizabeth), an import/export chocolate stout, is batch No. 5,000, with production beginning this week using Belgian chocolate. Due out in December, it's the sixth beer in the Exit Series and the second stout to be brewed in the Exit lineup.

A year ago this time, Flying Fish turned out an export stout made with New Jersey oysters (the first actual Garden State ingredient) that's still grabbing some attention, even though it's getting hard to find on store shelves. Exit 1 Bayshore Oyster Stout was featured in the Atlantic last month.

Elizabeth, by the way, was home to nearly a dozen breweries between 1878 and 1939, with City Brewery Company becoming City Products Company during the 13 years of Prohibition. (After the enactment of the 18th Amendment, breweries did what they could to survive, some making soda, others making near beer, while others made malt extract for brewing at home.)

Given that Flying Fish just rolled the brewing hit counter to 5,000, we have something special planned in a couple of days to mark that milestone.

Meanwhile, there's a new face at Flying Fish. Mike Donohue, formerly of 21st Amendment Brewery in San Francisco, returned to the East Coast (his dad taught school in Camden) as FF's second-shift brewer, an overlap shift that's been in play at FF for two-thirds of the Cherry Hill brewery's 15-year existence.

Mike replaces Lawrence George, who took a brewing job in his home state of New York. The Flip video below is from an Oct. 2 Saturday afternoon tour. It was Mike's first occasion to meet and greet Fish fans.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Here a fest, there a fest, everywhere a fest

A busy weekend gets rolling on Thursday in Jersey City and wraps up in along the Delaware in Lambertville and in a place once known as German Valley.

So hang on, because here it comes:

Jersey City hosts its fifth annual Oktoberfest from 4 p.m. to midnight along Grove Street. As far as beer goes, this one is the domain of Samuel Adams Octoberfest and Yuengling. They're obviously not Jersey brews, but Sam Adams Octoberfest on draft is worth putting in your glass.

If you're a fan of this event, you can do your part to introduce the organizers to some of the home-state fall seasonals: Flying Fish's Oktoberfish, Hoffmann Lager Beer Oktoberfest and Ramstein's Oktoberfest. Toss in River Horse's Hipp-O-Latern Imperial Pumpkin Ale, too.

The thing to note about the event is, it wasn't that long ago that a pass down Grove Street was a tour of a moribund city neighborhood – empty store fronts and boarded-up buildings. Some condo development plus the addition of bars and restaurants has helped revive area, turning up the buzz on South Grove.

Down the Shore, Toms River has a brewpub, Artisan's, making those who live in the county seat of Ocean County lucky that fresh beer is only as far as a trip to the corner of Bay and Hooper avenues.

On Friday, Arstisan's pours a flight of its house-made beers, paired with a five-course meal that is chef Steve Farley's interpretation of hearty German cuisine, from appetizers to a main course of braised short ribs (with spätzle, applesauce, red cabbage and potato pancakes) that gets paired with brewer Dave Hoffmann's Oktoberfest beer.

Beer writer and PubScout Kurt Epps emcees, and the Fire House Polka Band provides the entertainment.

Saturday is the busiest day of the week, featuring a cask ale event in Middlesex County and two other Jersey brewer events.

Uno Chicago Grill & Brewery in Metuchen holds the fall answer to its spring cask ale event. It's pay as you go, with a purchase of tickets at the bar that are redeemed for pours of beer in either 10-ounce or pint portions. Food orders from Uno's menu are also available for purchase.

This marks the fifth time Uno brewer Mike Sella has assembled a lineup of great ales that includes cask versions of some of his house brews and beers from the tri-state region and beyond. In March, the event featured the likes of Weyerbacher's Hops Infusion and Blithering Idiot (Easton, Pa.); Sixpoint's Bengali IPA and Righteous Rye (Brooklyn); and Uno's Scotch Ale and Gust N Gale Porter; this time Mike will have a casked Oktoberfest out there as part of the house offerings.

"We've had something from Tröegs each time ... Weyerbacher, River Horse ... I always have something from Climax, and I will again. Last time we had two from Sixpoint, which I may be able to come up with again. Last time they actually helped us out, and the guy who owns the Brazen Head (bar) in Brooklyn helped us out. He loaned us two of his pins, and that's how we got (Sixpoint) in."

On prior occasions, the event has been spread over two days. But there's a caveat here: Its popularity has become such that the beers have sold out on the first day. So figure on Saturday being your best shot. It begins at noon.

Follow your compass a little bit north and west and you'll find a preview of High Point Brewing's Winter Wheat Doppelbock at the brewery's monthly open house and tour, from 2-4 p.m. Other beers available for tasting and growler purchase will be Ramstein Golden Lager and Blonde. The doppelbock usually comes out in November and is the beer that High Point uses to make its incredibly good Icestorm eisbock when winter finally arrives. The brewery announced Wednesday on its Facebook page that its top-rated Oktoberfest beer had sold out. Alas, if you missed it you have to wait until next year.

Speaking of Oktoberfest, the weekend wraps with a pair of fall observances – River Horse Brewing's two-day gig in the brewery's back lot, and Long Valley Pub and Brewery's annual fest on the patio of a centuries-old stone barn that houses the brewery and restaurant (which underwent some renovations last year.)

The folks at River Horse know how to entertain, and twice a year – at Lambertville's ShadeFest and the brewery's Oktoberfest – they make a show of it. Like ShadFest, the fall event is a pay-as-you-go affair, with a brew in a commemorative pint glass available for purchase for 7 bucks and refills for $4.

At ShadFest, brewer Chris Rakow was running the fretboard on a Paul Reed Smith guitar, fronting his band as part of the entertainment. Look for that again this weekend, plus plenty of food from vendors.

And don't forget, Triumph Brewing's New Hope brewpub is just a short stroll over the bridge to the Union Square plaza.

Meanwhile, Long Valley's party settles in with a pumpkin ale and Oktoberfest brews on its patio on Sunday, beginning at noon, with music from Mama's Stew. This event has quite a following and is usually well attended.

Officially a part of Washington Township in southwestern Morris County, the Long Valley hamlet was known as German Valley from its founding during Colonial Days until World War I, when a German reference to anything in this country was certain to invite a backlash of hostility and prompt a name change. (Incidentally, World War I, and the subsequent anti-German sentiment, were catalysts for the advent of Prohibition, with the dry factions ardently pointing out that most of the brewers in the US at that time were German or of German lineage.)

And then there is this item from Peter Kennedy over at, a tasting of Garden State beers (Ramstein, New Jersey Beer Company, Boaks Beer and Cricket Hill) from 3-5 p.m. Sunday at Halo Lounge, in Rutherford. The event benefits the Meadowlands Museum.

Tickets are 40 bucks and can be purchased by contacting the museum (201-935-1175 or e-mail

Lastly, NJBeerEvents has a calendar round-up here.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Everything orange

Aggregator moment, redux ...

Jersey John Holl writes at of Oktoberfest's seasonal competition, pumpkin beer.

And a swing by Iron Hill-Maple Shade this weekend revealed that brewer Chris LaPierre will be tapping a gourd full of pumpkin ale on Oct. 23rd. Three versions of the ale will be pouring that day.

Among the two imperial versions that day: A bourbon barrel-finished one that was brewed in September 2009 with molasses and Belgian candy sugar. It sat in the barrel a couple of months, Chris says.

And he notes: There's only one sixtel of it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A beer book built around flavors

Three years ago, during an interview with the US Beer Drinking Team at a Beer Institute gathering, Boston Beer's Jim Koch was asked what beer he'd drink if his Samuel Adams brand were unavailable to him. Deflecting the question, Koch said, "I'll remember what my (brewmaster) dad said, 'Jim, all beer is good. Some beer is better, but all beer is good.' "

Craft beer writer Andy Crouch of BeerScribe – he's also a BeerAdvocate columnist and a Boston-area lawyer – doesn't necessarily share his fellow New Englander's take on beer as a whole.

"I don't know that all beer is necessarily good," he says during a telephone interview. But Crouch, whose new book, Great American Craft Beer (Running Press), hit the shelves in August, says there is some really great beer being made in nearly every state of the US these days, in practically every compass point. A much wider reach than its predecessor, The Good Beer Guide to New England (2006, University Press of New England), Crouch's latest book navigates the American brewing landscape in more than 300 beer profiles that will surely tempt readers to reach for a brew along the way.

And for those keeping score, among the 200 or so breweries spotlighted in Great American Craft Beer, New Jersey's Flying Fish (and its 2008 GABF silver medal-winning Abbey Dubbel) and High Point Brewing (Ramstein Classic and eisbock) get mention among the profiles and style notes.

Andy took some time last week for a Q&A, discussing how the US has become a brewing nation like never before and reminding us that some beers can be appreciated for their fewer – not more – ingredients.

BSL: Why did you write this book?
AC: I'd written a previous book called The Good Beer Guide to New England. That was a travel guide to the region in which I live. And then I wanted to write Great American Craft Beer, I wanted to try and broaden the audience for American craft beer, break beer down, not so much by style and incredibly geeky detail, but do it in a way that was much more approachable for people, build a book around flavor, flavors that people are already familiar with. I think we got to do that with this book. I'm hoping the public agrees and enjoys it as well.

BSL: This may seem like a silly question, but you actually did taste every single beer that's profiled in the book ...
AC: The book is based upon beers that I have tasted over the past 10 years or so. I've been writing about craft beer for 10 years, so I'm very familiar with all of these brands and have tasted them a number of times over the years, and more recently talked to some brewers about some beers that had a particularly good reputation that I had not tried yet. So that's where the reviews in the book come from.

BSL: How many beers are actually noted in the book?
AC: There are about 350 beers that are covered and profiled in the book.
BSL: From how many breweries?
AC: That is a good question. I don't actually know the full answer to that. But I would guess the number is somewhere around 200. There are beers from almost every single state. I think there's one or two states that might not be listed. We tried to get a good cross-section of everything across the country.

BSL: The question then becomes, where in the United States is there no beer?
AC: There are certain states that have taken longer than others to come along. There are some southern states for which craft brewing is still not particularly well represented. There are some states like South and North Dakota that are fairly limited. North Dakota might be another state that doesn't have an entry. They frankly just don't have a lot of brewing going on there. Certainly there are going to be some places that are underrepresented ...

BSL: As far as the United States goes, are we the global stage for beer nowadays?
AC: Yeah, I think that really has become the case. The US right now is really quite a leader in brewing in a way it really hasn't been perhaps ever in its history. Right now, some of the most exciting things happening in the world of beer are indeed happening here in the United States. We have probably the widest breadth of styles and different kinds of beer of every conceivable style, including many that have never existed before, and have some world-class brewers who really are on par with some of the greatest brewers that the classic brewing nations have to offer.

BSL: Craft beer drinkers like to seek holy grails. They like beers that are sort of touchstones; they like to go to them. So do you envision this book as sort of a travel companion?
AC: I think it can be. But in this day and age I don't know that people have to particularly travel too far in a lot of parts of the country for great beer. Great beer seems to be more and more coming to them.

BSL: Beer is a way of traveling to places without actually having to go to them. Certain styles represent certain geographic regions of the country and the world. That's more true now than ever, right?
AC: I think so. Beer and brewing is really about place. While I think it can be done, I don't think sort of armchair drinking is the way to go. As brewers start to move around the country with their distribution into new markets, certainly the book can work as a guide for individuals who want to learn more about particular styles or particular breweries. But I also recommend that people get out and visit these breweries as well because the beer tastes best when it's tasted fresh. And I also don't think beer can be fully divorced from the surroundings in which it comes from.

BSL: Doesn't it say something about beer's place now at the table that you're defying convention, so to speak, by explaining beer to people, the complexity, parsing the flavors? Because the notion that beer is bubbly, slightly bitter and supposed to be yellow (in color) ... That's still ingrained in a lot of people's viewpoint.
AC: Well, the big brewers spent a lot of money over decades drilling into people's minds that beer was not about flavor, was not about the differences in the products themselves, and they sort of became these very much interchangeable widgets. If you were at a bar and a particular beer kicked, and the pub owner didn't have any more of that particular brand, he wouldn't bother to change the (tap) handle. They would just throw on whatever else they had and nobody was the wiser. Nowadays, you really can't do that. People are getting around to trying all these different beers and beginning to realize flavor is where it's at. I think it's time we start talking about (it) in that way, even though for a good portion of the population this is going to be something new to them. So I think the book tries to approach this, not just from a beer geek perspective – though I think there's plenty in the book to satisfy that audience as well – but also just to introduce and try to broaden the audience for craft beer.

BSL: Do you think Budweiser is a dying brand?
AC: There's always going to be a place for the macro brands. They obviously have an economy of scale; they are humongous producers, so they have a lot of clout in the distribution system and obviously in marketing, so I think they'll be around for a long time. I don't think we're going to see them go away. But I think brands such as Budweiser – it's having its own trouble ... been on decline for the better part of a decade. You know there's been the new campaign recently that they're going to try to give away Budweiser free on a particular day. You know that is a tough gig for the folks at Anheuser-Busch InBev. But with that said, light beer continues to sell particularly well, so I think those light beer brands are going to be around for a long time. (But) even the big breweries realize, that while they may not be losing a whole ton of market share to craft beer, they are losing dollars to craft beer, and they're beginning to play a lot more, much more, in the craft beer market, and I expect we're going to see a lot more of that in the years to come.

BSL: You profile two New Jersey beers in the book, Flying Fish Dubbel and High Point's Ramstein Classic. With Ramstein Classic, you refer to dunkelweizen as a little understood category. Why do you think dunkelweizen is that way?
AC: I think German styles overall tend to be a little bit misunderstood, and dunkelweizens in particular. They mix two styles that aren't really that well understood by consumers. With the advent of Blue Moon by Coors, they're beginning to understand sort of cloudy, yeastier beer, such as Belgian-style wit beer, and German-style hefeweizen a little bit more. But dunkel is something they never really understand, so when you mash these two together ... I would say even in Germany when I travel there, this is not a style necessarily particularly well understood. I think it's one of those ones where you mix some sort of caramel malt flavors with some toasted flavors, with some unusual banana and clove notes, it's kind of an odd drinking experience. But I think it's one that's pretty wonderful and pretty interesting across the board. But I think the public generally doesn't quite know what to do with these beers sometimes.

BSL: With extreme beers, the super-hopped and higher alcohol, do you think they are starting to play themselves out, are people coming back around to something that's a reliable beer, one they can always have in their glass and be comfortable with?
AC: I think that has played itself out to some extent. As to how far, it's sort of hard to say. I think that people are beginning to come back around a little bit to wanting a flavor experience they can revisit with some frequency. A lot of the times, these big beers, as you noted earlier, tend to be sort of holy grail beers where people seek them out and move on to the next conquest. It was a very interesting experiment. I'm glad that we went through it and got to experience it. But nowadays, I think, people are hopefully coming back a little bit more to their senses and wanting some more everyday, drinkable, approachable beers. Whether that's with lagers or session beer or ones with simpler numbers of ingredients, I think it's hard to say. As I said in the book, just because your beer is simpler in ingredients doesn't mean that it doesn't have complexity and character in its own right. Some brewers can do fantastic things with a single hop variety, or one or two malt varieties, as opposed to having to always put in 18 different kinds of hops, eight different kinds of malts and fermented in barrels with four yeast strains. Sometimes simple is better, and it certainly can be as characterful as some of the crazy complex offerings we've enjoyed over the last few years.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Office trolley

An aggregator moment ...

Nate Schweber
, whose name some folks may recognize from New York Times bylines, takes a beer snapshot of Westfield for, and highlights the Union County town's watering hole, the Jolly Trolley, which sets up pints these days under its corporate banner, The Office Beer Bar & Grill. (The item also is in today's news feed column on the right; Nate also fronts the band New Heathens, who have a couple of albums to their credit – Hello Disaster and Heathens Like Me.)

The Office wades into craft beer deeper than just being a chain of craft beer friendly bars. The folks there also sponsor competitions for the brew-it-yourself crowd, Homebrew Wars, in which winners get to go commercial and make scaled-up versions of their beer at High Point Brewing in Butler.

A West Coast-style IPA turned in by Ian Burgess and Brett Robison landed in the winners circle of the most recent Homebrew Wars. The beer is scheduled to go on tap at Office locations during the week of October 18th.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Great minds collaborate – maybe jam, too

Do a Web search on brewing collaborations and you'll find plenty of brewers and breweries that have put their collective minds and talents together to produce imaginative beers.

Oregon beer-makers Deschutes Brewery and Hair of the Dog Brewing have a collaboration brew due out in 2011. And here in New Jersey, Flying Fish's Exit 6 Wallonian Rye is the effort of the Cherry Hill brewery working with Nodding Head (Philadelphia) and Stewart's (Bear, Delaware) brewpubs earlier this year.

We're thinking of another collaboration that COULD (all caps because it hasn't even been brought up) produce a great beer and a musical tie-in to boot: River Horse in Lambertville and High Point in Butler, two breweries whose mash tuns are manned by quite capable guitar players.

First of all, neither brewery has been approached with an idea to collaborate (that we know of), so let's make that clear. We're not reporting something, we're suggesting something.

The collaboration would work this way: Pick a beer style (a weizenbock or a dunkel of some sort), refine the idea, brew it. Chris Rakow, guitarist-brewer at RH, and Bryan Baxter, guitarist-brewer at High Point, take things a step further and put their musical minds and fretboard chops together on a tune, too.

Easier said than done of course. But imagine the rocking release party for the beer.

Beer Here? Where have you been, SL?

Not to go too far with this, because having more voices in the village square that is craft beer is a great thing.

And that's a sincere comment.

But The Star-Ledger of Newark and its online entity do deserve a thumbs down for their sudden interest in the craft beer scene with the column Beer Here and for not knowing that Port 44 Brew Pub in Newark is New Jersey's newest brewery.

SL says New Jersey Beer Company is the newest. The North Bergen brewery fired up the kettle this past spring. Port 44 began brewing its lineup of ales in August. It's a quibble yes, but isn't SL a Newark newspaper?

A couple more quibbles: The recycled use of "New Brewski" as a nickname for the state. That moniker was tossed out in 2008 when SL launched its monthly magazine, Inside Jersey, which featured a column that pretty much slammed the state's brewpubs. (Afterward the magazine seemed to care more about wine than beer, save an article by Jersey Brew author Mike Pellegrino about Jersey's beer past, and a back-page item about the Krueger brewery and canned beer being born in the Garden State.)

And didn't SL sponsor the beer festival at Monmouth Park over Labor Day weekend? (That was a festival, that while it had contract-brewed beers with state ties, none of the craft brands actually brewed at home were represented; yet Beer on the Pier last week in Belmar had five Jersey-based brewers there.)

Sadly, this seems more like a dash for advertising dollars (look for the SL hotdog mobile to show up at every festival on the calendar) than genuine interest and a keen read of the marketplace, since New Jersey has had a viable (and yes, now growing stronger) craft beer industry for 15 years.

But newspapers are slow to react (which is why they're dying, and this newfound love of beer sort of reminds us of how the Asbury Park Press newspaper cold-shouldered Bruce Springsteen until he was obviously too big to ignore. However, it's not always the case: Eric Asimov and The New York Times didn't wait until the Brewers Association announced that craft beer was a $7 billion a year industry).

In all fairness, this is the early goings for SL's effort. Stay tuned.

FOOTNOTE: Yes SL did do that silly beer-tie in to the NCAA tournament (March 2oo9 comes to mind), and Climax Brewing owner Dave Hoffmann's Helles got a nice bounce from it. But we seem to recall that tasting panel put styles like IPAs, pale ales and imperial stouts side by side in the same judging session. Make no mistake, Dave's beers are solid and he deserves props, but folks who are seriously into beer would call a foul for the mashup.

Speaking of growlers ...

Some raw video footage of growler filler at Iron Hill, shot to test a new Flip Ultra video camera. So basically this one's for the idly curious.

Nothing truly spectacular here, except the beer, which by the way, was an Oktoberfest.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Jersey-wide distribution for Boaks

The Garden State is proving sunny for Boaks Beer, the Pompton Lakes-based beer company that Brian Boak started with a white van, a storage facility in Wayne and a contract with a brewery.

Two-plus years ago, if you called Brian on his cell phone, he'd probably answer from the driver's seat of that van, en route to or from Pennsylvania, where he would truck to a distributor kegs and cases of his Belgian brown and imperial stout brewed at Butler-based High Point Brewing, better known as the makers of the Ramstein beer brands.

Pennsylvania represented a real foot in the door of the beer industry for Brian, who at the time had a handful of New Jersey accounts and was doing bigger business west of the Delaware River.

That was then, this is now. Growth for Boaks has swung to Brian's home state.

New Jersey now represents the lion's share of business for Boaks Beer and its top-seller Belgian-style Two Blind Monks, Monster Mash imperial stout and Abbey Brown, another Belgian style, that will soon see a limited-release, barrel-aged version.

"Jersey represents about 65 percent of business right now," Brian says. "That is a swing. But that’s mainly because, first I was just distributing myself in New Jersey and I was having a distributor in Pennsylvania. Now I have two distributors – Kohler distributes me in northern New Jersey, and Hunterdon distributes me in central and southern New Jersey. Just adding central and southern was a whole lot of business I could not get by myself.

"We are available in all of New Jersey, from northern Bergen County to Ocean County, all the way down to Cape May."

But Brian has his sights set a lot farther south than where Delaware Bay and Atlantic Ocean both bathe the state's coastline. Entering the draft and bottle markets of Maryland and Washington, D.C., figures into a game plan that also points north and west to New Hampshire and Michigan

"Soon as I lock down Maryland and D.C., I’m going to go after Virginia. But soon as I lock down one more state, I’m going to order another fermenter," he says.

In April 2009, Brian bought a 30-barrel fermenter that was installed at High Point, where all of Boaks brands are brewed, kegged and bottled. High Point brewed 90 barrels for Boaks last year. Brian says volume is already up this year and could hit 150 barrels by year's end.

Meanwhile, he's jumped on the whiskey barrel band wagon with Wooden Beanie, a stock of Abbey Brown aged in Jack Daniel’s barrels with Madagascar vanilla beans. The beer hit the barrels around the end of August; it's still aging – at just over a month now – and goes to distributors in a matter of days. (Brian says he'll have some of the beer at the Sippin' by the River festival in Philadelphia on Sunday.)

"I had always liked some of those oak-aged porters and all the other beers out there that are oak-aged, and I drink Jack Daniel’s. So, I was like 'Let’s play with this,' ” he says.

But there's some more backstory to Wooden Beanie.

"What actually happened is, Abbey Brown is a beer that hasn’t been out in a while, and the kegs were a little overcarbonated, so I had to figure out a way to (degas) them," Brian says. "So this Abbey Brown is going to be a special treat for people, because it actually is about a year old. It is a well-aged, 7 percent Belgian brown ale that is then aged in Jack Daniel’s barrels with the vanilla beans."