The back of my red 2001 Pontiac Aztek sports a few stickers, one of which reads “UBU”. Many television viewers from my generation, and some previous generations, have heard this word used at the end of a few sit-coms, Family Ties being the most notable. At the end of the show, after the credits, a splash screen popped up showing a black Labrador Retriever with a Frisbee in its mouth and the voice over said, “Sit Ubu, sit!…good dog!” So when one comes across a beer from Lake Placid, NY that is called Ubu and claims to be named after a Labrador Retriever, one would assume that it’s the same dog. It isn’t. Having just recently learned this I apologize to all of those who I dragged into this misconception. This Ubu was a Labrador Retriever who lived in Lake Placid and was quite legendary…for what, I don’t know. I can’t seem to find any other references to this pooch other than on the back of the bottle. Any internet references just reiterate the label script word for word. From what I can gather, this dog drank beer, and only good beer. Now that’s my kind of canine and he(?) was probably less psychotic than my younger dog, Ana. I’d consider giving her beer, except for the fact that all veterinarians claim that it’s bad for dogs. Well, bacon’s bad for me and I still eat it.
But what does a strong, English brown ale brewed in upstate New York have to do with my journey through the New Jersey beer scene? Everything! See, I came across Ubu in the late nineties while sitting in a steakhouse in Lake Placid while they were parading the competitors for the upcoming Ironman race through the main street. That steakhouse had it on tap and a couple of us ordered a pint. What a revelation! It was tasty and just one of them made you a little buzzed. It was dark in color, but deceptively light in body due to the carbonation. This got me exposed to styles that weren’t pale ale, lager, pilsner, porter or stout. It made me aware that there are styles that are somewhat new to the New World, or at least being rediscovered…styles that had flavor, body and higher alcohol levels. One year my wife and I took a trip to Lake Placid with our oldest son when he was only about a year and a half old. One night I went out looking for Ubu, naively checking the liquor stores. In New York, the liquor stores only carry liquor; wine and beer can be bought at the grocery stores and convenience stores. The man at the liquor store, who I later learned was from a family of famous Olympians (the Sheas) and one of those Olympians (Jim, Sr.), told me that the best place to get it was the brewpub. Brewpub? What’s a brewpub? I hadn’t ever really heard the term. So I went, sat at the bar, had a pint of Ubu while my wife tried to get the toddler to finally go to sleep. I can be a bad dad from time to time. I now return there any time I’m in the Adirondacks. I would also start looking for Ubu in my local liquor stores, being quite disappointed at first, but it would make its way down to New Jersey eventually.
So, as I mentioned in the last entry, I was drinking wine, tequila, bourbon and vodka (not all at the same time, thank Whatever-You-Call-Your-Deity) and not really looking for good beer. Yes, if I was out with friends drinking beer I would shy away from the NASCAR beers and look for something that I could stomach. This is where Guinness became my crutch since it was pretty prevalent in the NJ bars and was not nearly as offensive as the alternatives. Then one of the local liquor stores began to carry Ubu. I picked up a six-pack, fearful that it would not be as good as I remembered. I opened, poured, admired, drank and was brought back to my first one. Yep, it was still wonderful. And then devastation! The Shop Rite liquors in town discontinued stocking it. No!!!!!! I was set back to wine, tequila, bourbon and vodka. If you change the order of those to vodka, bourbon, tequila and wine, you can set it to the tune of Scarborough Fair. Hmm…I should mention that to some musician friends I know. Speaking of those guys, one had much to do with my beer Renaissance…through Facebook. Yes, Facebook had a lot to do with my returning to beer.
When I was tricked into going onto Facebook I was hooked. There are so many bad aspects of that website, but a lot of good can come out of it as well. I initially let it rule my life and spent hours upon hours playing the games and chatting with new friends. I’ve since eliminated all but two of the less-addictive games and reduced my friend list to mostly people I know in real life. But I also reconnected with some old high school friends and for that I am thankful. What relates Facebook to this blog is a posting put up by the bass player from a mutual friend’s band. He “liked” a liquor store in Boonton due to its beer selection. I figured I might find my beloved Ubu there and I did…and so much more.
The Discount Liquor Outlet in Boonton is sometimes called Boonton Liquor Outlet (duh) or just BLO, which is how I will refer to it from here on out. I had known about this place, but had gone there for wine…their selection and prices on fermented grape juice being pretty darn good. But now when I go there I ignore the right-hand side of the store where the wine and spirits live and I go straight to the back wall where the beer coolers are. I rarely buy anything from the coolers, but stacked in front of the coolers are cases of beer from some of the more prolific craft breweries. These stacks are where I happened upon Dogfish Head.
Moving to the left you come across the beer wall. Starting by the coolers, it begins with Belgians and moves through Europe as you walk to your left. Then you get into the American craft brews. The selection made my head spin and exhilarated me at the same time. I grabbed a six-pack of Ubu and a few others that were recommended by the aforementioned bass player and brought them home, monopolizing much of the space in the fridge. Another six-pack I brought home was Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo. Prior to Torpedo, the only other IPA I had tried was Harpoon's. Wow! What a buttload of hops Torpedo packed! I had also picked up 750ml bottle of Unibroue’s La Fin Du Monde…another recommendation from the bass player. What a remarkable beer that was!
I went back to BLO and picked up another Unibroue offering, Maudite, and Dogfish Head’s India Brown Ale, as well as few more from Sierra Nevada: Celebration and Anniversary Ale. I began to comb through the Belgians, but I was still a bit too intimidated to try any...but that would all change. My curiosity was piqued and my love of beer renewed. I was back on the scene and about to fully submerge myself into the world of beer. Things had changed since my last visit into the realm of malt, hops, water and yeast. New breweries were dominating the beer scene and imports that had not been available before were now there for the taking. I had some catching up to do.
Next Time: To Brew, or not to Brew…How is that a Question?