We are a group of craft beer lovers from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut who write reviews of craft beer online, do beer rating, blog about beer, share brewery reviews, and discuss microbrews. We enjoy visiting brew pubs, beer halls and gardens, beer festivals, and beverage stores in the Rockland, Westchester, Fairfield and Bergen County area and sharing our experiences with others.
A friend of mine, Rich, is a retired Latin and History teacher and travels the world in search of gastronomic delights. He's been to Europe many times and has traveled extensively throughout the States. He took me with him to visit the oldest brew pub in New Jersey this summer. He just returned from California and I asked him if he would share his craft beer experiences with us.
I recently traveled to San Francisco. My list of things to do was pretty standard tourist stuff, like visiting museums and sampling the local ale. Wandering around after a lunch in Chinatown, I stopped outside the 4th Street Bar and Grill and took a look at their beer menu. Although the list wasn’t very long, they had a few local beers on tap so I thought I’d give it a try. I have a weakness for IPAs and the bartender suggested a Russian River Brew, Pliny the Elder. One of the reasons I ordered it was because of the Latin Language connection. Pliny may have been the first person to mention hops. Once you know it is an IPA with 8% ABV and 100 IBUs there are not a lot of surprises. I'd rank it up there with Dogfish 90, which is saying a lot, at 9% and 90. I didn't have the chance to A/B them so it's really hard to compare them from memory. I thought at the time it was less aggressive than Dogfish. It might have been the slightly lower ABV or the fact that east coast IPAs usually use a different hop blend. The one I really wish I had gotten a chance to try is the Pliny the Younger. That's 11% and, according to the Russian River Brewing website, it has "Gobs of BUs".
The bartender mentioned that there was a place connected with Rogue Brewery in the North Beach neighborhood. Since Rogue is located in Oregon it isn’t exactly a local brewery but Oregon is a lot closer to California than it is to New Jersey. He also mentioned a bar named Church Key which, unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to get to but that’s another reason to head back to San Francisco.
Earlier I had made plans to meet an old Jersey friend of mine the next day. She has been living in San Francisco for more than 30 years and I had not seen her in more than 20. I suggested we meet at the Rogue pub and, although it turned out she was not that interested in the beer, we spent an enjoyable few hours catching up.
Like much of San Francisco the pub was welcoming and very informal. They had the day’s specials posted on two blackboards. One listed their own brews, about 20, including things like their Dead Guy Ale, which I’ve seen back in New York, and more obscure brews like Smoke Ale and John John Barrel Hazelnut Brown, aged in rum barrels.The second board had an equally large selection of craft beers and ales from all over. Examples included well known national brands like Samuel Adams, Magic Hat and Anchor as well as many I hadn’t heard of such as Drakes, Ninkasi and something they listed as Bud “Limited Edition” Light.
I was in the “Rogue Nation,” as they call it, so I stuck with their stuff. I was not disappointed. I started with the XS Imperial I²PA, at least that’s what it said on the board, it was, as expected, rich and full of floral hop notes. Next, I asked for A St. Rogue Dry Hop Red. It was less heavy than the IPA but still dry with a crisp bitter finish. The two made a nice afternoon libation and put me in a good mood for the long walk back to the hotel. If you’re in San Francisco and looking for a place to quench your thirst you could do worse than stopping here.
We are getting close to the holiday season and, just in time, there are some well-written books on beer that have hit the shelves. So if you know a beer lover, and you want to make him or her happy this year, read the following review on Esquire Magazine's web site. Then you can order them on Amazon for less than you would find them in the book stores. Happy reading!
Yesterday was one of the best Thanksgivings I’ve had.The food was outstanding - thanks to the efforts of my wonderful wife.The company was festive - my brother, his wife and their three daughters.And the beer was unique and tasty - just the way I like it. My brother brought over a variety pack from River Horse in Lambertsville, NJ and a 22 oz. bottle of Homunculus from Smuttynose Brewing Co.The River Horse is fine beer, but the Homunculus was more memorable in name and flavor.
Being a biology teacher, I’m probably the only person I know who knows what a Homunculus is.The bottle has pictures of what look like spoons with faces on them.They actually are supposed to represent sperm.Back in the old days, they didn’t give women much credit for the baby she carried for 9 months and then delivered. People, even scientists, believed that a sperm contained a tiny preformed human – a homunculus.
I was very curious about what this has to do with beer. The bottle says. “After years of gestation, our hoppy Belgian style ale, “The Gnome” has been reborn as Homunculus.Impregnated with loads of hop character, balanced with malt sweetness and fruit esters derived from Belgian yeast”. Though the reproductive references were cute, it still didn’t help me understand the name of the beer.
So I went to the Smuttynose web site and read the following: “The Gnome was brewed in homage to the recent arrivals of hoppy Belgian beers that we're starting to see here in the US. I was really shooting for that beautifully soft hopping that's found in the Houblon Chouffe, however, the Gnome has developed its own unique characteristics and flavor profile”.This is helpful in understanding the taste but not the name.
I guess they just named it something that would keep people like me wondering “what’s in a name?”.If anyone else has a clue what the name has to do with Gnomes or beer I’d love to find out. And have a Happy Homunculus!
I’ve waited long enough. The weather is as autumnal as it gets:warm in the sun and chilly in the shade. I've been drinking brown ales since the first hint of fall. Now it's time for what I hope is the best beer of the season.I get home from work, do a quick workout, so I don’t feel guilty about drinking this wine size bottle by myself, and retrieve the Autumn Maple from the back of my frig.The afternoon sun is at the perfect angle for photos.So I pose the bottle next to pumpkins, leaves and anything else I can find that lets you know what a perfect fall day it is.My wife thinks I have a problem because I photograph beer bottles so much. (I hope the neighbors didn’t see me lying on the lawn trying to get the perfect shot.)
I open the bottle while sitting on my deck in the sun.This Belgian style brown ale from The Brurey in Orange County, CA is made with yams, molasses and maple syrup.It pours a reddish brown with a thin head that sticks around for a while.Holding the glass to my admittedly weak nose, I can pick up a strong caramel scent but no maple yet.The bottle recommends that it is served at 50 degrees, which may seem a little warm to you.I thought so too until I started drinking brown ales which improve the longer they sit in the glass.As it warms, more interesting aromas come forth.Now I’m finally smelling that maple.
First sip: malty and sweet.After swallowing, the maple syrup comes through and it sits on the back of my tongue.I think I detect coriander that I’ve tasted in other Belgian ales.I’m really enjoying this beer.It has as good a taste as any brown ale I have had.The 10% ABV is on the high side, but the flavor more than masks any hint of alcohol in this brew.However, I do feel the need to open a box of crackers to “clean my palate” and fill my stomach, just in case I’ve got anything else productive to do tonight.
As I get close to end of the bottle I notice another recommendation on the label:“Please pour carefully, leaving the yeast sediment behind in the bottle.”You may think this a waste of good beer, but believe me it is good advice. I pour out the last ounce or so into a small glass to take a look at this yeast. It looks harmless enough and it smells like a syrupy pancake breakfast.So I down it without thinking too much about it. . .
I was no worse for the wear until I went to bed and got a little surprise. Those little yeasties started to rumble in my tummy.It seems that The Bruery people were trying to warn me that drinking the sediment at the bottom of the bottle can cause gas!@!It wasn’t terrible enough for my wife to divorce me, but she was questioning if I should be drinking so many different types of beer.I agreed and said that I would take a little time off from drinking unique beers . . .until the weekend.
Not to be deterred after visiting my first brewery, I stopped into The Bullfrog Brewery while in Williamsport, PA.I checked their website first this time so I would not be surprised by what I found.Their site gave a glowing account of fine food and gold medals.They weren’t lying.
I tried the Stark Weiss (A German Style Wheat Beer), and the Mud Puppy (A Brown Ale). They were both first rate and I picked up a growler of the Mud Puppy for consumption during Thanksgiving dinner. The guy behind the counter recommended I try the coffee stout. I love stouts but I'm not a lover of coffee anything. He then went into great detail about how they use Sumatran coffee beans and Belgian yeast to brew their stout. So I decided to give it a try. Wow, what flavor! Now I'm a Bullfrog Brewery Coffee Stout lover!
The employees were very knowledgeable and helpful: a huge improvement from my experience at the brewery across town. The restaurant (Jeremiah's) and the Brew Pub were equally packed with regulars enjoying the food and beer.
I plan to make this a regular stop when I’m back in Williamsport on business.
Brian, our “man in the field”, travelled to PA to sample some of their microbrews and fill some growlers for friends and family back home.Here is his report:
Housed inside THE VALLEY INN in Williamsport, PA is the ABBEY WRIGHT BREWING COMPANY.They offer 10 different Craft Beers.I tried the Vanilla Stout and the Brown Ale.Both had an unappealing bite to them.The Vanilla Stout was missing that smoky flavor that is typical of stouts and I couldn't taste the Vanilla at all.The Brown Ale could best be described as WATERY.
The Abbey Wright Brewing Company was established in 2006 but forgot to get that key figure in any great brew pub: a Brew Master.The employees were very nice but spent most of their time running around refilling $1.50 domestic drafts for chain smokers sitting at the bar.They had no knowledge of the Craft Beer they were serving.
I planned to bring home a growler of the Brown Ale, but as the bartender began to fill my growler, the keg ran out and no one knew how to the tap the next keg. By that point I had developed a new plan : TO LEAVE.
Throughout my entire time there, I couldn't help thinking of the IN LIVING COLOR Comedy Show and the reoccurring skit MEN ON FILM.When both characters didn't like a particular movie they would look into the camera and proclaim, "HATED IT!"
Good luck Abbey Wright Brewing Company, you're gonna need it.
Joe, our other "man in the field" was on the west coast and reported back his beer finds in the wine country of Napa Valley:
I am sitting in front of my computer thinking, “when better to write my very first beer review then at the conclusion of a visit to California Wine Country.
But before I talk about beer, I just have to say that for anyone who is thinking about trying something different for a few days, you have to visit Napa Valey.
Our group arrived in San Fran direct from Newark around 10:30am Sunday where we rented a ten person passenger van and headed 1 ½ hours north west to our Embassy Suites hotel in Downtown Napa
Over the course of the next four days we visited around fifteen wineries covering both ends of the spectrum; from the medieval architectural marvel of the Castle Winery known as Castello di Amorisato the modern wonder of the underground caves of the Palmaz Vineyards. We even ventured on a winding mountain road to an altitude of 2,200 feet above sea level to visit a “back to basics” small 1,200 case wine maker, Summit Lake. Here the entire wine making process from crushing, storing, fermenting, bottling and even tasting, takes place within the confines of a old barn on the property.
The Wine country experience was truly captivating for the entire time we were there. During our trip we did discover that extensive wine tasting creates dryness in your mouth that needs to be quenched.
Needless to say even the most die hard wine people need to go grab a good beer from time to time. The place of choice in Napa Valley is the Silverado Brewing Company. So at the conclusion of another full yet satisfying day of wine drinking the group headed over to The Silverado Brewing Company. SBC has a nice menu of both tap and bottle including several of their own creations. I ordered their Pale ale. It was delicious light and citrusy beverage. It really quenched that slightly dry feeling that was in my mouth from many tasting so many wines that day. What a great way to wrap up a day of wine drinking.
My other truly amazing beer discovery came on the last day of our trip as we headed west to the Pacific Ocean. After “dipping” our toes in the “Great Pacific” so we could all cross it off our bucket list, we stopped in a quaint little Mexican place right on Highway One in Bodega Bay called “Brisas del Mar” or “Winds of the Sea” for my none Spanish speaking friends. Our party of eight represented Brisas del Mar’s entire patronage in the middle of a Thursday afternoon.
By this point in our trip we were clearly all “Wined out”. Unfortunately, Brisas del Mar has a much more limited beer selection then SBC. However it was here that I made one of my own most memorable beer discoveries. I selected an IPA from a local brewer Lagunitas.
Since I don’t have much of a refined palette nor a very extensive beer vocabulary I figured that the best description I could provide is “WOW” this is a really good beer. I know that isn’t the most descriptive for the hard core beer lovers so I have cut and pasted the brewers own description of the its creation from the company web site.
“This is our unique version of an ancient style, a style as old as the ocean trade routes of the last centuries Great Ships. Not as old as the equator they had to cross twice en route, nor as old as the 10,000 or so miles of Di-Hydrogen Oxide and Sodium upon which they sailed, but older than the Circulithium-4 Lentloid that binds the Lupulin Quartnate onto your taste buds. Weird. Think about it. Now stop. OK, go again, now stop. Think again, and stop. But we digress. Made with 43 different hops and 65 various malts, this redolent ale will likely float your boat, whatever planet you're on.”
So anyway that’s my first beer review of sorts. Sorry its not more beer centric but I promise to work on it and hopefully you’ll find the next one more informative. I think I will spend the afternoon moving between a Napa Cab and the Pumking from Southern Tier.
We’ve had some interesting weather here in the Northeast lately.Hurricane Irene did a number on the streams and rivers this summer, flooding them to levels that hadn’t been seen in a century or more.Then in October, a freak snow storm dropped over a foot of snow and brought down many trees and power lines because their leaves hadn’t fallen yet.It left hundreds of thousands of people without electricity or heat for several days.
Now in November, it feels like we are back to summer again. The temperatures are back up in the 70’s and the nights are comfortable.It’s a perfect time to combine two of my favorite things: boating and beer.Nothing’s better than enjoying a good beer by the water. If it happens to be a great craft beer sipped from a kayak on a lake, then we’re talking about one of the top five days of my year.
That’s what I had the other day up at Harriman State Park: a couple of hours of bliss taking in the beauty of Nature along with a tasty Pale Ale from BerkshireBrewing Co.Brian, our “man in the field”, was up in Mass last week and was able to secure a couple of growlers of fine New England ales.
So with snow still lingering on my porch, I fill a steel Nalgene bottle with beer and load the kayak on the roof of my car.On the ride up the Palisades Parkway, I notice lots of downed tree limbs but it doesn’t take away from the foliage which is in its full splendor.As I unload my gear at one of the Seven Lakes, a man passing by with skis over his shoulder says, “It’s not every day you see people kayaking AND skiing!”
I step into the water to push off the shore and a brisk chill shoots up my leg.This would not be a good day to involuntarily take a swim.The water is smooth as glass and reflects the reds, greens and golds.Though the air is comfortably warm, the lack of wildlife in and around the lake reminds me that winter is not far off.A lone turtle plunks off a rock into the water.A month ago he would have been accompanied by dozens of other sun bathers.Now he is getting ready to spend the next 5 months hibernating underwater.
I paddle out to the middle of the lake to take it all in and have my first sip of the ale.The citrus scent is not completely obscured by the metallic smell of the bottle. The taste is crisp with just a slight bitter bite that combines well with the grapefruit notes.I’ve been drinking a lot of pumpkin beers lately so this ale is a nice departure from all that sweetness.
I look around and notice snow still on the ground in the shady ravines between mountains.The trees up here don’t seem quite as damaged as the ones back home.There are lots of limbs on the ground but it’s hard to tell if they fell last week or last year.I guess, to the forest, the recent storm was not a big deal.From a trees perspective, this storm will just go down in the books as one of hundreds that it had to endure.The rocks up here have been around for billions of years. They’ve seen ice ages come and go so an early snow isn’t that memorable.But to me, in my short life span, a chance to kayak in the snow doesn’t come around every day.
I’m still finding creative ways to finish off all the pumpkin beer I have left over from my beer tasting.I came across a great idea at Indy Beers.These guys reviewed 3 beers that make good beer floats.One of the brews, Young’s Double Chocolate, I had recently tried and felt it tasted like a chocolate shake right out of the can.But I was more intrigued by the opportunity of combining pumpkin ice cream with Dogfish Head Punkin Ale.
My wife was nice enough to buy Edy’s Pumpkin Ice Cream after receiving a last minute call while at the grocery store.Edy’s has a smooth texture and is not over the top with sweetness like some other brands.
The Dogfish Head Punkin has a spicy, nutmeg character with a nice bitter bite at the end.Not knowing if there is a protocol to making a float, I added the ice cream to the glass first.Upon adding the beer, it foamed up nicely just like a root beer float.The beer took on creamsicle tint when mixed with the melting ice cream.
My wife recommended I use a straw in order to bypass all the foam.First sip: heaven.Talk about dessert beer.The smooth texture of the ice cream mellowed out the bite of the ale just enough to make it one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.I really think I could have drunk a whole six pack this way.However, that would have moved me from the category of self-indulgent to just plain nuts.
I settled on slurping the last bit of foam up with my straw and wondering where I put the rest of that chocolate stout . . .
At 2 am on Sunday, we have to turn the clocks back one hour and end Daylight Saving Time.At 2am on the second Sunday in March we have to Spring forward again.This system was set up during WWI in order to save energy for war production.By “Springing ahead” we could take advantage of the longer daylight hours between April and October.
After the Great War, the system was dropped but reinstituted during the Second World War. In the 1950’s it was left up to the states to decide if the wanted to follow Daylight Saving Time.It was made a federal law in 1966 and we have followed it ever since.
“Fall Back” has meant different things to me and my contemporaries at different point in our lives. In our early twenties, we spent many of our weekend nights in our favorite local watering holes. The end of Daylight Saving Time was met with much rejoicing.It meant the bars would all be open for an extra hour.
One of our favorite haunts was called the Sopwith Camel. It’s still in business today under a new name, but I still refer to it as The Camel.It was a small place that had a circular bar that took up most of the room.There was a large model Sopwith plane hanging from the ceiling over the cash register.The best way to describe the Camel is that it was like the bar in the TV show Cheers.Except, instead of knowing all 12 patrons in the place, you knew all 100.It seemed like every one my age in town would be there on a Saturday night.On any given night, you might bump into some kid you played little league with, your best friend's older brother or, less enjoyably, a girl you dated last summer.
Jack, the grumpy “old” (probably in his late 30’s) bartender, was a fixture at the Camel for years.He was a quirky guy who would put up with a lot of our silliness back in the day. My friend Johnny still imitates the way Jack would talk out of the side of his mouth.This made it tough to understand much of what he said.He also had a “funny” way of cleaning off the dirty beer mugs. We would watch him dunk said mugs into a sink filled with soapy water, then a sink of clean water and then right back to the taps.It’s a miracle we all didn’t die from some infectious disease.I guess Jack felt that the alcohol in the beer, the little there was in those watered down drafts, was enough to kill any germs.
Flash forward many years:Now, me and all my buddies have children who will soon be old enough to frequent these same local bars.The parent in me hopes that they don’t waste as much time as I did in these places. And my biggest concern is that they don’t try to drink and drive. Now, the end of Daylight Saving Time means the sun wakes me up that much earlier on Sunday morning.
But there's a nostalgic part of me, the part that is still stuck in his twenties, that hopes my kids enjoy their twenties as much as I did.That they have greatmemories of the people and places that shaped their lives.That they can rejoice, as I once did, at an extra hour of laughing and drinking at the Camel.
In honor of International Stout Day, I treated myself to a couple of these delicious dark beers over dinner last night.I had seen Young’s Double Chocolate Stout in my local bevy and was looking for an opportunity to try one.So instead I tried two: one in bottle and one in a can.
The can contains a small spherical “widget” for increased carbonation.Actually, it’s pressurized with nitrogen gas, which creates smaller bubbles than CO2 and no degradation like oxygen gas would.The nitro gets into the plastic widget through a tiny hole and when the can is opened the pressure is released and tiny bubbles stream out of the widget and into the beer.Let’s see if it makes a difference:
Wells & Young’s web site states that they are the largest brewer in the UK which owns dozens of pubs serving their beers throughout the country. Their beer is brewed with Crystal and Chocolate Malt, a special blend of sugars, Fuggle and Golding hops, real dark chocolate and chocolate essence (whatever that means).
Young’s in a bottle pours much like a Guinness with a nice fluffy head that sticks around. It has a nice chocolaty aroma which is also evident in the taste.The carbonation tickles the tongue and a nice coffee bitterness lingers after swallowing.This beer tastes very much to me like a Guinness with a hint of chocolate added. Watch Wells & Young's brewmaster describe his stout
Young’s in a can pours like a chocolate water fall.The churning waves of chocolate make this beer very inviting.It’s topped by a nice uniform head of tiny bubbles.The nose is coffee and not as much chocolate as the bottle.The taste is just as sweet though and the velvety mouth feel gives me the sensation of drinking a melted chocolate shake.There is a mellow after taste not found in the bottle.
In the end, the sweet tooth in me preferred the can. Anything that can taste like ice cream and beer at the same time gets my vote. I also liked its smooth and mellow character.I can see why others might not like this delivery method as much.The bottle tastes more like a classic beer.So I guess, as is usually the case, you are going to have to try them for yourself and decide which is the best for your taste buds.Happy Stout Day!
With all this beer left over from the pumpkin beer tasting at my house this past weekend, I decided to sample a few of the best to give my own impressions.The foot of snow left from the recent storm here in New York made for perfect stew weather.So I decided to combine the two and see how things went.
Beef Stew in a Crock Pot:
3-4 pounds of beef cut into 2 inch cubes
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 cup of flour
1 6 oz can of tomato paste
½ pound of baby carrots
1 pound of potatoes cut into 2 inch cubes
2 cups of beef broth
1 bay leaf
Salt and thyme to taste
1.Roll the beef cubes in flour and brown in a pan with olive oil.Transfer to crock pot.
2.Scrape up browned bits and add to crock pot along with beef cubes.
3.Stir in broth, carrots, potatoes, salt, thyme and bay leaf.
4.Cook on low heat for 6-7 hours with cover on.
Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin:
I chose Shipyard Smashed because it has an inviting orange label and a 9% ABV.Smashed is part of the Alan Pugsley series.I was first introduced to this name by the brewer at the Ship Inn, the oldest brewpub in NJ.It pours a similar orange color with a thin head.There is a distinct buttery smell, almost like buttered popcorn, that is enhanced by the curve of the wine glass.The first sip gives my tongue a little bite from the alcohol.There is a warm sensation as I swallow.This beer doesn’t do as well a job of covering the booze as Imperial Pumking does.It’s interesting that this beer has lots of carbonation that adds to the bite, but little to the head.
As this beer warms, it mellows a bit, or is that me mellowing?I’m starting to detect a coriander taste that one would expect from a Belgian ale.The buttery aroma and spicy taste now seem to complement each other.Note to self:Remember to serve good beer at the right temperature.
The wife and I sit back and enjoy our dinner. After almost 8 hours in the crock, the beef nearly falls apart as I pick it up with the fork. The stew is the perfect hearty meal on a snow covered evening.The Shipyard adds to the warmth of the meal.All is good.
My step-son went to a garage sale the other day and came home with a neon Coors Light bar light. He was proud that he was able to buy it for $3 when it surely was worth much more than that.His mother couldn’t understand the fascination, but I knew where he was coming from.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been drawn into a bar by the glow of neon.The fact that he was so excited about his purchase brought back some good memories.It reminded me of the beer lights I had in college that decorated the walls of my dorm room. I got them from my older brother who worked for a beer distributor. They were a source of pride for me and envy for my roommates.
My second year in the dorms, four of us decided to cram ourselves and all our stuff into one 8 x 10 room so that we could convert the other room into a “lounge”.The lounge was where we kept all the stereo equipment, posters, couches and, of course, beer lights.It was a place for hanging out with friends, listening to The Clash or The Dead, depending on your preference, or spending time with that special someone.The beer lights gave the room a glow that was, in my sophomoric mind, the perfect atmosphere for romance.Many a memorable moment took place in that room under those lights.But that is subject for another day – maybe another blog.
In my junior year, we moved to a suite and the beer lights adorned the walls of the common room we all shared.Halfway through the semester, someone broke in through our first floor window and stole my lights.At the time, I was pretty ticked off.Those lights meant a lot to me.But now thinking back, they didn’t cost me a dime and I had such a good time with them.I hope they gave their new owners as many fond memories as they gave me.Maybe my step son will put his light in his dorm or apartment and carry on the tradition of young men and beer lights. . .