Archive | August, 2012

I <3 New Jersey (for the craft beer)

26 Aug

Bruce Springsteen once sang about falling in love with a Jersey girl, singing “Sha la la la la la.”  Of course, I like the original, Tom Waits’ version better, but you have to hand it to Bruce—after all, he is a Jersey boy.

And with Labor Day fast approaching and our beach season coming to an end, I will look back fondly on a new summer romance myself.  Falling in love with a Jersey beer.

After being introduced to Carton Brewery thanks to Jimmy’s No. 43 and the recent Rock Hops festival, this past weekend I finally made the journey to its home base. 

Located in the beautiful and quaint Atlantic Highlands, its location is both picturesque and easily accessible.  A perfect stop-off point before descending down the popular summer vacation destination: The Jersey Shore!

“’’Cause down the shore everything’s alright.  You and your baby on a Saturday night.”  Awww, sweet Jersey love (and beer).

Apparently I’m not the only one who’s fallen in love either, judging by the hefty intake of visitors on this past Saturday afternoon.

After a brief walk around the small brewery, which is located on the bottom floor of a small red brick building with no telltale signs of the magic occurring inside and across the street from a school (those lucky kids don’t even know what they’re smelling), we were lead upstairs to a tasting room, where an offering of 5 different brews were poured.

The brewery is open on Thursday and Friday evenings from 5-7:30 pm, and on Saturday and Sunday afternoons from noon until 5 p.m.  There are no set times for the tours—just a constant influx where a crew member will walk around and explain how their sweet nectar is produced.

One interesting standout is an explanation of what’s in the “tippy,” a 20-gallon pilot system where new experimental recipes are tried out.  Some of them turn into regular offerings, while others may not work and therefore, become the stuff of legend. 

Either way, it’s a great way for Carton’s master brewer, Jesse Ferguson, to play with different styles and flavors.

After a brief walk around the first floor, where friendly, well-informed crew members talk about the brewing process, visitors are lead upstairs to a lounge area, complete with leather couches, where they are offered a tasting pour of each beer. 

From Boat, to B.D.G. to their stout, “Carton of Milk,” all of Carton’s beers are well crafted and more importantly, highly drinkable. 

Their East Coast Double IPA, “077XX,” which is a reference to the local area code, is a fine example of a balanced double IPA that still packs a powerful hop bite.

Carton’s logo is also well designed and eye-catching, with fluorescent orange accents adorning their taps, glasses, growlers, and t-shirts.    

Their special beer offering at the moment is their SS 2012 (We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat), an amped up version of their session ale, the Boat beer, which has been making waves (I can’t help myself) all over the local craft scene.  This beer was brewed to celebrate their success so far, and maybe reference an expansion in the future?   

I’m not sure, but it’s clear that local residents and business alike have taken notice and contributed to the brewery’s growth and popularity.  Above a flat screen television where a well-produced video about the brewery and beers play in loop, is a bright orange pin board of Jersey where the names of local towns and bars carrying their beers is on display.

For being such a new brewery, Carton Brewery is making its existence known all over the state and even infiltrating New York City.  I can’t wait until Carton is available in my local craft beer bar and store. 

But until Carton makes its way to Staten Island (I will call this phenomenon the reverse “Jersey Shore” invasion), I have no problem driving over the bridge and filling up a growler (or two) at the brewery. 

“”Cause tonight I’m going to take that ride.  Across the river to the Jersey side.”

New York, you’ve met your match. 

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Music and beer: a match made in heaven!

14 Aug

So Hunter S. Thompson once said something about good people drinking good beer and the Colorado/Maryland brewery Flying Dog (which is great, by the way) uses a similar quote to promote their beer (a favorite brewery of the late great Thompson).

But what about music and beer?  Do people that have great taste in music also have great taste in beer?  And vice versa?  While I’d love for those two things to be synonymous (wouldn’t it be ideal if indie shows only served craft beer?) this probably isn’t a reasonable possibility due to the constraints of venues and their synchronicity with Budweiser and the other AmBev and InBev conglomerates. 

But what about curating a music/beer festival based on GOOD music and GOOD beer?  While there are beer festivals that include music (usually in the background) and music festivals that serve good beer (this seems to be a growing trend and is present in some music fests like Bonnaroo, who’ve been doing it for years now) there seems to be very little effort in uniting the two.

The Rocks Hops festival held this past Saturday in Mercer County Park in West Windsor Township, NJ, sought to improve on this lack of a union.  

The festival was an all day, outdoor music event that included food and beer vendors.  The unique aspect of Rock Hops was that it hosted an optional 2 and a half hour American craft beer tasting that featured breweries like Victory, Sixpoint, Weyerbacher and New Jersey’s own Carton. 

The unlimited tasting area was included in the price of a “V.I.P. ticket,” which also granted access to a V.I.P. area east of the stage. 

The oddest part was where the breweries were set up—in an ice rink area reserved for winter sports that had been adapted to host the tasting portion of the event.  Ticket holders who were participating in the tasting received a 4 oz. tasting glass and access to the rink. 

Because skating rinks are traditionally reserved for cold weather, there was no air-conditioning inside the venue—only a mere fan to provide little, most likely no, relief from the midday August heat. 

Sweaty revelers adorned in Dark Star Orchestra tie-dyes sampled the selection of craft brews—modest in breadth but not in variety. 

Victory Brewing (a solid Philadelphia area brewery) offered a sample of Saison du Buff—an extraordinary collaborative beer created by three outstanding breweries—with Delaware’s Dogfish Head and California’s Stone forming the other 2 points in the triangle.  An ale brewed with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, the beer was a unique festival offering and itself invokes a musical tribute (Simon & Garfunkel’s version of Scarborough Fair, anyone?).

Carton Brewing Company, which I mentioned in a recent posting from my Jimmy’s No. 43 visit, was actually celebrating their one-year anniversary this past Saturday and their popularity and local appreciation did not go unnoticed.

Their enthusiastic pourers were happily sharing their Anniversary IPA and the BDG Country Ale. 

Not only did their pouring station stand out because of the fluorescent orange lettering and local New Jersey pride—their beer was a testament to their excitement.

The brand new Anniversary IPA was a pale yellow—unique coloring for an IPA but a hop profile to back up its name.   It had a grassy nose and was reminiscent of a hopped up version of their highly sessionable Boat Beer.

Another interesting offering from Carton was their B.D.G., which I can never remember the name of and always choose to refer to it by a random assortment of letters.  But once one recognizes what B.D.G. stands for (Brunch Dinner Grub) it’s easy to remember the beer’s purpose.

Which is that of an all-purpose “country ale,” meant to pair with a variety of food.  Food and beer pairing has gained wide recognition and appreciation due to brewers and foodies alike, but this ale is versatile enough to go along with almost every type of food and any meal, hence “Brunch, Dinner, Grub.”

On first taste, I acknowledged some coffee notes, while further sips brought out its heavy malt background.  Brewed in the style of an American brown ale, it was roasty and bready, but not overly heavy, and much lighter in color than many beers brewed in this style.

Aside from Carton, another local (and with a station next door) was Pennsylvania’s Weyerbacher.  The brewery is a great one, but seems to lack a large following in our area.  I’m unaware if it is even available in any of the 5 boroughs? 

I’m not sure why, because both beers being poured this day were standouts.  First was the “Last Chance IPA”, a solid IPA brewed with a variety of West Coast hops that is also a charity beer—a portion of its sales are donated to animals living in shelters and subject to euthanasia.  Drinking good beer and helping homeless animals are two things that make me happy.

Weyerbacher’s other beer was an Imperial Saison called “Seventeen.”  Peppery and citrusy, this brew was extremely quaffable despite its 10.5% ABV.

If you are a fan of Weyerbacher like we are, save the date!  On September 22,” Two Girls, One Pint” will be taking you on an unforgettable bus tour where Eastern PA’s Weyerbacher will be one of our brewery stops.

While Carton and Weyerbacher were the standout breweries of the event, a few supporting acts are also mentionable.  These include Erie Brewing Company (out of Erie, PA), Sly Fox (Pottstown, PA), and Old Dominion (Dover, DE).  Beers and breweries that are already popular and readily available in New York City like Victory, Sixpoint, and Keegan’s were present as well.  Compared to the recent Brooklyn Waterfront Beer festival, the selection was a lot more modest. 

Out of the rink and back out into the open New Jersey air…ahhh!  A large stage hosted a series of bands and more beer was available for purchase.  After being able to sample a variety of craft beers for several hours, the beer for sale left much to be desired. 

Now that was a choice I was happy to make and while awaiting some more jams (Dark Star Orchestra is not an act to be missed for you Grateful Dead fans) I was reminded of how beautifully beer and live music can go together. 

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Jimmy’s No. 43 is always No. 1 for beer!

8 Aug

After enough shushing at Burp Castle, it was time for a change of scenery.  One where maybe we could speak at a higher decibel level. 

Next door and downstairs was Jimmy’s No. 43.  The word around town is that the owner, Jimmy Carbone, not only plays a large role in his local community, but also influences the beer trends in the city.  Being one of the founders of the “Good Beer Seal,” (along with Burp Castle and Standings owner Garry Gillis and DBA and DBA Brooklyn owner, Ray Deter), his spot seems to emphasis a unique draft selection and gourmet fare with stress on local.  The bar also plays host to events like $10 Tuesday tastings, biscuit and beer brunch, Thursday night tap takeovers and “meet the brewer” socials as well as paired beer dinners.   

After perusing the diverse draft menu, I asked our friendly bartender, Gabe, what she would recommend.  She responded with: “Jimmy is really into Carton’s Boat Beer right now.”  Well, if Jimmy’s into it, it must be good, was the general consensus of the patrons at the bar, who seemed to nod in approval with her suggestion.  

Unfamiliar with Carton, I noticed the brewery was based out of New Jersey.  “I don’t know,” I said.  “I am not sure if I can like anything that comes out of Jersey.” 

Typical New Yorker answer, I know.  Born and raised in the Empire State, the Garden State often becomes the butt of my jokes.  It’s just too easy.  But before you Jersey-ites start to get defensive, I have to say, I do spend quite a bit of time in our neighboring state and appreciate their arrival to our local craft beer scene, as Jersey has been producing quality craft beer for awhile now, and even hosts some magnificent brew pubs. 

Also, if Jimmy likes it, then it must be good, right?  The Boat Beer is a blonde/golden ale (described as a hoppy Kolsch-style) with a low ABV, perfect for this time of year and great for drinking…well, on a boat.  Or the shore.  Wherever your summer adventure may lead you. 

For those of you not familiar with Jersey, Carton Brewery is located in Atlantic Highlands, which is north of Red Bank (for you Kevin Smith fans) and neighboring Sandy Hook (a favorite beach for some of my friends, especially the exhibitionists).  Technically, you could take a ferry there from Manhattan.  While Carton is popping up in bars and stores all over the city, their brewery may warrant a visit from us soon!

But back to Jimmy’s.  In addition to Carton beers, Barrier Bittersweet Pale Ale and Climax ESB were also offered on tap the evening of our visit (out of Long Island and New Jersey, respectively).  Given the beer selection, Jimmy’s interest in local is certainly apparent. 

When one tap ran dry, Gabe had to text Jimmy for its replacement.  This impressed me because it showed how on point the owner is with his business.  Available any time to text and recommend a new draft?  Sounds good to me.  More bar owners should be this in touch with their staff. 

The replacement draft just happened to be Wandering Star’s Zingari Wit.  While after a snack of Banh Mi hot dogs (delicious, of course, and decently priced at $5 for two) and several beers in, my tolerance was telling me go home but my heart was telling me one more.  I’m really becoming a fan of Wandering Star and alas, could not resist!

Light and sweet, hazy straw-yellow in color with a rich, foamy head, the Zingari Wit was citrusy and flavorful with hints of coriander, clove and ginger. 

Now that I’ve visited two of Manhattan’s longest running craft beer bars and originators of the Good Beer Seal, I have a good base in which to compare other beer bars.  While midtown standards like Rattle ‘N’ Hum, The Ginger Man, and The Pony Bar are always great to revisit and check out what’s currently on tap, downtown staples like Burp Castle and Jimmy’s No. 43 continue to push the bar and influence new beer bars all over the city.    

Jimmy’s No. 43 is small, so I could see the place getting pretty crowded on the weekend and after work hours, but once in awhile I think it’s a good idea to stop in and see what Jimmy’s drinking.  

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