Friday, March 23, 2012

Jersey Shore attraction: craft beer & food

Click to enlarge beer list
At the intersection of the words "beer" and "festival" this weekend, you'll find quite a companion spread at the Jersey Shore: chicken and a summer ale, kielbasa and a golden lager, or brisket and a pale ale.

Beers on the Boards at Martell's Tiki Bar Saturday on the Point Pleasant Beach boardwalk features regionally and locally produced craft beers, with some of those brews used in the preparation of the dishes on the event's buffet menu. Six New Jersey brands figure prominently on the beer lineup, which also includes some of the usual big festival suspects, like Murphy's Irish Stout. (First session starts at 12:30 p.m.; evening session is set for 6 o'clock.)

Nonetheless, the event represents something bigger, as far as beer scenes go. Beers on the Boards reinforces the inroads that craft beer has made at the Jersey Shore, an area of the state where the big macro producers still command a lot of tap handles, even as craft beer's popularity continues to surge.

That doesn't mean the Shore is an utter craft beer dead zone. Far from it. But it's hard to deny that the region has trailed the west side of the state and North Jersey in craft beer appreciation and good beer bars coming online.

"The Jersey Shore has great potential, but it's a tough nut to crack. Some places kind of get it," says promoter Chris DePeppe, a Jersey Shore native-turned-Pennsylvanian whose TotalBru Marketing and Beerheads companies launched the Beer on the Pier festival in nearby Belmar two years ago. "Whether we'll sway some of the Miller Lite or Bud Light drinkers, I don't know. There are some craft beer drinkers out there though."

Beerheads teamed with Martell's and the Point Pleasant Beach Chamber of Commerce to stage Beers on the Boards. East Coast Beer, the Point Pleasant-based company behind Beach Haus pilsner, signed on as a sponsor. So did Cricket Hill Brewing, and you'll find the two brands among the Jersey brews on the event's lineup. (The others are: Flying Fish, Carton, Kane and Tuckahoe.)

"Sure it's special to us. It's our back yard," says East Coast's John Merklin. "There are actually two stories here: Craft beer has come to the Jersey Shore, and the Jersey Shore has come to craft beer."

And this time, it's borrowing some ideas from beer-and-food events like the Brewer's Plate in Philadelphia, or SAVOR, the Brewers Associations annual gathering in Washington, D.C.

Click to enlarge menu
Folks who attend Beers on the Boards will find plenty of flavors to explore as they sample both the beers and the buffet, says Martell's executive chef, Tom Peet, who crafted the event menu. Tom paired the beers to the bring out the best flavors of the beef, fish and chicken dishes.

"I like the Philadelphia Pale Ale beef brisket, the Yards Brawler Fish 'n' Chips. That (beer) paired well with the fish. They're all good in their own way," Tom says, adding any dish is a good starting point.

"Start with your heart. If you like chicken go with chicken. If you like beef, go for beef. It's all about individuality; it's what you like," he says.

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