Thursday, June 25, 2009

NJ Craft Beer Festival wrapup and the weekend in Philly

It's about time I posted a recap of the NJ Craft Beer fest last weekend...

Needless to say, R and I were worried about a crummy day in Camden what with the constant rain all Saturday morning. The drive on 295S got kind of hairy at times with some serious downpours. After checking into our hotel in Center City we took a cab to the River Link ferry and arrived in Camden about 40 minutes before the festival. The rain made for some confusion for those early for the fest - take the self-guided tour or pass? We passed and stood around in a smelly shelter while we watched one confused, wet, thirsty ticketholder after another try to figure out where to go. If the Guild can straighten one thing out with this festival, it's just that. How about some signage to let people know where they should be?

Once we got on the Battleship though, everything was fantastic. The Guild got a great brewery turnout and the rain slowed down quickly enough that folks could enjoy the areas outside of the tent most of the time. One of the great things about this festival every year is that it's always easy to get samples. No waiting around on lines in front of each brewery's table. I should also note that the food at this festival is pretty decent, at least as beer festival grub goes. I got a chili dog and a pepperoni pretzel. R just had a pretzel. Not bad, and a good base for all of the beers to come.

If I had to pick a favorite, the Old Smokey from Basil T's was probably the best. I had this a few weeks back when I went with R to Red Bank for a day, and it has definitely held up well. A golden hued Rauchbier, not quite the mouthful of bacon that you might get from a Schlenkerla, but not wimpy either. Just right. All of Gretchen's beers were great, as usual, including the XXX Summer Ale. I'd also point to the Paymaster Porter from Cricket Hill and the Imperial Pilsner from High Point as standouts.

One highlight of the day was running into fellow NJ beer blogger Jeff Linkous, whose Beer Stained Letter is hands-down the best source of info and commentary on craft beer in NJ. Great meeting you, Jeff, and keep up the great work!

We also heard a rumor at the festival of a new brewpub being in the works in Newark. Some Google searches turned up a few forum threads and a pic of a storefront. So yes, it looks like Port City Brewing is coming to Newark at some point in September. Great news for New Jersey!

Post festival, we hit some of the Philly beer bars. I had never realized just how close Triumph in Old City is to the ferry terminal at Penn's Landing, so we walked straight there when we got back to the Philly side. The Old City location certainly does justice to the other Triumph restaurants. I look forward to trying their refreshing and slightly yeasty Kellerbier whenever I'm there, and they're getting it right in Philly. The Oatmeal Stout was velvety and delicious as well.

A quick nap later and we checked out Nodding Head. Had our usual, a pint each of the Berliner Weisse and a plate of the white beans and sage. Perhaps not a legendary beer and food pairing, but it's just one of those things that we do every time. I also had a Prudence Pale Ale, which I was supremely impressed with. I've had a thing for really low alcohol beers lately (like 4% and below) and I've been trying them wherever I can. Prudence is only 3.75%, yet has plenty of body, caramel sweetness, and a punchy Pacific northwest hop profile that comes across in aroma, flavor, and finish. Nicely done.

Last but not least was the legendary Monk's Cafe. Really crowded, as usual. I found a little space for myself at the corner of the bar and settled in with a Pliny the Elder from Russian River in California. I had to try one because I've never seen it anywhere in NYC before and it's a pretty well-hyped beer. As a matter of fact, it was just voted #1 beer in the Zymurgy reader poll (the AHA's mag). Let's just say that Pliny didn't do it for me. It had a strong resiny/catty hop character that just doesn't agree with me. Sure, I can see why most of the hopheads would love it, but I had a hard time choking back the last few sips.

I did, however, have one amazing beer at Monk's. The Cantillon Monk's Cuvee Gueuze. This is a blend made by the owner of Monk's and the brewer at Cantillon in Belgium. You can read the full description somewhere here. I would say that I'm not the biggest fan of lambic, gueuze, and other Brettanomyces fermented beers. I can appreciate them for what they are, but I hardly go out of my way to track them down. This beer was different. I think it really showed a lot of the earthy, woody character that can come from these beers without being a brett punch in the face that you get with a lot of lambics.

Maybe the best beer I had all weekend, and I consider it very fortunate that it was how I ended the night.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Iron City's Pittsburgh plant closes shop

Lew Bryson has had several posts on this subject, and here's the latest. I'll let you jump over to his page for the details as he's an insider and can explain the situation much better than I.

A few years back I toured the IC facility with R and it's definitely up there on our list of most memorable brewery tours. A few bulletized thoughts that pop into my head as I lament the loss....
  • The massive cereal cooker. The shallow conical bottom of the giant kettle where the corn grits got boiled before making it into the mash came out of the ceiling behind the mash tun and brew kettle. Kind of crazy that the boiling grits were in a huge vessel right overhead.

  • The massive brew kettle. One of the things that was so cool about the IC brewery was that it was so huge and you actually got to get up close to the equipment. The only other brewery as big that we'd ever been to was Matt up in Utica, but up there you only get to see from a distance. Peering right down into the 120bbl kettle (may have been larger) and seeing the copper baffles and internal calandria was really neat. The ladder from the manway down to the bottom always stuck with me. I can't imagine feeling very comfortable climbing down into a kettle like that, no matter how long it's been off.

  • The water treatment plant. This was actually the first area of the brewery that we went into. What a dungeon! If I were making a horror movie I would totally want to film something in that room. Crazy looking rusty equipment and water dripping everywhere. Not exactly a great start for introducing customers to how you make your beer...

  • The beer hall. The very nice gentleman who gave us the tour (and it was just the three of us) started and finished the tour in this room while his father sat and waited for us to finish. It was a really cool room - reminded me for some reason of the wedding scene in The Deer Hunter. The kind of place where you could see some kind of oompah band on the stage while all the old timers hoisted their steins and sang along. Great stuff.
I'm with Lew in that I think this will really hurt them. I know I won't feel compelled to drink IC next time I'm in Pittsburgh. I used to enjoy getting one before or after a Pirates game when we'd go. Kind of a "when in Rome" kind of thing. Not anymore though. The authenticity, sadly, is gone.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Gearing up for the NJ Craft Beer Festival

The 13th Annual New Jersey Craft Beer Festival is this Saturday on the Battleship New Jersey on the Camden waterfront. We missed it last year, because R & I were on our honeymoon. So we're looking forward to being back there after a one year absence and hoping for a great brewery turnout.

Unfortunately not all of NJ's breweries are members of the Guild and not even all of the members actually show. You can't blame some of the North Jersey brewpubs for not wanting to trek down to Camden - how many new customers is a brewpub in Sparta really going to win this weekend? I would love it if the Guild could either get a North (or even Central) Jersey festival off the ground. It kind of rubs me the wrong way that I'm spending the weekend (and my money) in Philly to support NJ brewers. But for now, I guess the biggest craft brewer in NJ gets to call the shots and have the fest in their backyard.

Rumor has it that Iron Hill will be making its debut at this year's festival. That will be something to look forward to. Let's hope that the deteriorating weather forecast doesn't scare anyone off from attending this year. I think that tickets are still available, so run out and get yours now!!!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Finally, some Jersey City beer news

Looks like Jersey City will finally get a new beer bar - Zeppelin Hall. Their open date has been shifting for a few months now, but rumor is that they will be open for business this Friday, June 19th. I drove past this place with R a few weeks back. It's tucked away behind Grand Street just south of the hospital in the ground floor of what looks to be some new condo development.

On first glance it appears to have some potential. It looks like a nice open space with some decent outdoor seating. Their initial draft list doesn't really have anything mind blowing, but hey, it's something right?

A few things I'll be curious to see...

  1. What will the atmosphere be in this place? If it's a nice place to relax, have a few beers and some grub and converse with some friends, then they'll have two new loyal customers for sure. If they're poisoned by their proximity to the Sand Bar or succumb to the downtown JC need for every other bar to have some crappy DJ blaring techno music then count us out.
  2. Are they really goint to have 144 draft lines? Sounds great up front, but if they're not turning the beer over as often as they think they will that could quickly become a negative. You can have all the taps in the world, but if the beer is old, who cares? 144 taps seems awfully aggressive to me, but I'll keep my fingers crossed.
  3. Will they be receptive to carrying more NJ beer or are they tied to some distributor who's dictating what goes on all of the lines? One River Horse beer out of the three dozen or so listed won't cut it. Especially not when they've made room for both Blue Moon AND the Blue Moon seasonal, whatever the hell it's called.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Faulty Coors Light

Caught wind of this little news nugget today. I would really love to know what went wrong with this beer and how far it's off from what they would consider a proper Coors Light. Maybe they realized that the water they're brewing with down there in Georgia didn't actually come from the Rockies? ROTFLMFAO!!!!!!

Seriously, if anybody in the Southeast has one of these suspect Cooooors (in my best Sam Elliot voice), mail one up to me in JC. I can't promise you any compensation, just a "thanks" on this world famous blog.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Citi Field

Been a while. Sorry.

Went with R to Citi Field for the first time right after the last blog post, and it's high time that I jotted down my thoughts in this space. I'll try to keep the baseball points to a minimum and keep the beer related business in focus...

I've been to about half of the ballparks in the country. And there are some real gems out there, like Camden Yards in Baltimore and PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Citi has some problems and doesn't quite live up to either of my personal favorites, but it still kicks the snot out of Shea. And it's just great to see my favorite team in some more modern amenities and not in some generic, concrete, multi-purpose stadium.

We walked around the lower concourse (and the upper deck before the game started) and looked at the field from just about every angle. The sight lines are great, and the fans are really close to the action. Sure, there are some seats where you lose part of the outfield, but that's the tradeoff for moving the seats so much closer to the field. Deal with it. You can see the field from most of the lower concourse without actually taking a seat, which is a huge plus. That's one of the things that they got right and is very similar to PNC. However...

You lose the field when you walk behind home plate. There's some special, exclusive restaurant or something right behind home plate, so when you walk the lower concourse you can see the field from the outfield and down the lines. But when you walk around from first base to third base, you feel like you might as well be walking around in MSG (or any other arena for that matter). You completely lose the field. The TV's everywhere and the broadcast being pumped in make sure that you don't miss any of the action. But I'd rather be able to see it on the field. And if you don't have a super expensive ticket, you don't really get to see what the field looks like from behind home plate.

The line at the Shake Shack will tell you everything you need to know about how the Mets got the concessions right. There are tons of choices in the outfield food court area. The highlight for us was the fish sandwich that R got from Catch of the Day. It was crusty outside and moist inside. I'm not a huge fried fish guy, but that sandwich was really good. We also had some pretty solid frites from Box Frites. I got a pulled pork sandwich from Blue Smoke which was tasty, though a little disappointing due to the massive chunk of fat/skin that I had to remove from the center of the sandwich. I would think that is more an anomaly than the norm.

And now for the beers...

I love that some of the stands like Blue Smoke and Box Frites have "their own" beers. From what I've read, each of the Danny Meyer stands at Citi has its own Brooklyn Brewery brewed beer. I had a Blanche de Queens at Box Frites and a Blue Smoke Original at Blue Smoke. I put "their own" in quotes above, because these beers are not necessarily unique to these stands, but either existing Brooklyn brands re-named (like the Blanche de Queens, which is more than likely just the Blanche de Brooklyn) or a blend. Apparently the Blue Smoke Original is a blend of two Brooklyn beers, but I can't find out which. If I had to guess, I'd guess that Pennant is one of them. I'll take a wild guess on the Winter Ale as the other, though that might not make sense given that it's a summer beer and the winter ale is obviously a seasonal.

But that's not the point!!! Each stand having its own specific beer is, because that's a great way to get folks out there trying something different. It's interesting and unique, and I guarantee that they're selling more of those than they would be selling Brooklyn lager if it were on tap next to the Bud Light.

I suppose that Catch of the Day is not a Danny Meyer restaurant, because they did not have a Brooklyn beer on tap. They had Blue Point Toasted Lager. I had one. And it was good.

And because I just love to end on a sour note, the Beers Of The World stand.... Ughh.... I guess A-B had to get their hands on this one. At first glance it seems pretty cool - a big beer stand right smack in the middle of the center field concourse with a large selection of imports and domestic craft beers. But if you're tuned in to the beer scene and you pay close attention to the brands that are available, you quickly realize that they're all beers that A-B owns distribution rights to.

That means that the Danny Meyer restaurants and Catch of the Day are the only spots in the park where you can buy a beer that A-B doesn't get a cut of. Lame.

So if you go to Citi, support the scene. Get your beer in the center field food court and don't get it at the Beers of the World stand.

And LET'S GO METS!!!!!