Saturday, July 31, 2010


The mid-nineties were upon us and Grunge wasn’t the only thing from the Pacific Northwest to start spreading across the country like a plague. Starbucks were beginning to pop up all over the place. Pull out of a parking lot, check your rearview and there’d be a Starbucks occupying the parking spot you just vacated. Many people embraced this interloper that served coffee that tasted like the beans had been torched in the fires of Hell, but many also clung to Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, extolling the virtues of coffee that tasted like coffee. These things I paid attention to, but had lost my way when it came to the beer scene. So many microbrews were blinking in and out of existence that it was hard to keep up with it all. Much to my regret, I didn’t even try.

Instead I started to explore the world of wine. Chianti Classico, Merlot and Cabernet were my early favorites. This started prior to my marriage in 1996 and became firmly entrenched during my bachelor party. At Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Weehawkin, we were served a Cabernet from Chappelet. It was so good that I delved further into the world of wine, coming upon Sauterne during the honeymoon. This would not have been a bad thing if it weren’t for the fact that I completely abandoned beer. Yes, I learned about so many styles of wine and learned how to pair food with wine and explore the subtle nuances of flavor on one’s tongue while drinking wine. I learned how to decant wine, pour wine and perform the little ritual when the wine steward presents the bottle and cork, pours the sample and then waits for your response. I was beginning to turn into a wine snob.

I was almost pulled back into the world of beer by a coworker who mentioned a brewery that was near where he lived. We decided we should visit. Stating that I “knew a thing or two” about beer I agreed. At that point, I only knew "a thing or two", which is woefully short of knowing much of anything. The brewery happened to be in the same town as the Crayola Factory, so we dropped the wives and kids off in the heart of Easton, PA and we headed off to the outskirts of town to visit the Weyerbacher Brewery. We took the tour, which was informational, but boring and then bellied up to the tasting bar. I couldn’t believe some of the brews I tasted. They had a stout (Old Heathen) that wasn’t at all like Guinness…it wasn’t thin in body or in flavor and it packed a wallop! There was one beer called Merry Monks that I had trouble wrapping my brain around; there was so much going on in my mouth. There was a barleywine with the awesome name of Blithering Idiot that struck fear in me. Back in the nineties I had tried Bigfoot Ale by Sierra Nevada which was a barleywine. I had not enjoyed that beer at all, but Blithering Idiot was different. It was not nearly as vinous, allowing the maltiness to really shine through. We finished tasting and then went and did what two dudes from Jersey do when in Pennsylvania…bought fireworks. While going to the register one of the wives called to question where we were. Apparently, they were done with playing with crayons. So we paid up and ran off to pick up our families, but not after stopping at a deli first to buy some cheese. Beer, fireworks and cheese…how can you lose? One way to lose is to leave your wife and kids on a sidewalk in Easton, PA. The rain wasn’t coming down all that hard when we pulled up, but the glares we received were certainly harsh. Liberal application of chocolate desserts kept us out of the dog house.

Later that year I accompanied the same co-worker and much of his family on a lunch that featured food pairings with Weyerbacher beers. The company was stellar and I actually thought that I started to understand some of the Polish that was being spoken. The day began with my friend's brother producing a tray of vodka shots. Being of Polish descent myself I was terrified that I wouldn't be able to down the shot with aplomb. It went down nicely; the man knew good vodka. At the luncheon, the food was really good and the pairing with the beers was perfect. Having been engrossed in wine culture for a while I was familiar with pairing food with wine, but doing so with beer was a foreign concept. That’s actually more literal than I intended, since they had been doing so in Europe for ages, but it was mostly unheard of in the US unless you counted drinking beer with pizza or stadium red hots. It was really quite an experience. These events came close to bringing me back into the beer scene full-time, but getting a bad batch of Merry Monks at my liquor store derailed the comeback. I was unwilling to try anything else and disappeared back into the wine bottle. Full beer awareness would be another few years down the road.

In 2006 I started a job that allowed me to travel the country. I was part of a small team that set up retail locations for a jewelry store and one of the members of that team had mad wine skills. I’ve witnessed him correct wine stewards and, if he had a mind to, he could probably pass the test to become a sommelier with ease. If you don’t know what a sommelier is, don’t bother looking it up. This is a beer blog after all and that term will never be used here again. We were also foodies, but not food snobs. You’d be just as apt to find us at a legendary hot dog stand in jeans as you would a legendary upper crust restaurant in suits. At those restaurants we had some really nice wines and much of what I know about wine was gleaned from this man’s expertise. Allowing me to select the wine for a dinner gathering for much of the company’s top brass was his way of signaling that he was impressed with my progress. Recounting this milestone still gives me great pride, especially since he was quite pleased with my choice that night and made a point of sharing that with the others at the table.

As much as I look back on that time with joyful reminiscence, I regret not being able to use the company-shouldered travel to partake in some beer tourism. Beer was not high in my consciousness. Another friend from the same company had introduced me to good tequila. Up until that point I had detested the stuff, but he pointed out that I probably had only tried Jose Cuervo. He was absolutely right. After trying Sauza’s Tres Generacions I was hooked. I experimented a while and now always have a couple of bottles of Corazon (one anejo and one blanco) on hand at all times. I then applied the same theory to bourbon. Having only tried Jack Daniels, hating it and condemning all bourbon was probably not fair to the distilleries that produced smaller batches and aged their amber treasure properly. After having a bottle of 12-year-old Pappy Van Winklel my theory was vindicated.

I had heard of Pappy’s from a show called Three Sheets that has a charismatic, funny and alcoholic host named Zane Lamprey. If you haven’t seen this show, it’s on Hulu. I suggest you watch it. Zane travels the world drinking and exploring the history and customs of their drinking culture. In each episode he visits the distillery, winery or brewery that produces the adult beverage that defines that area. Also in every episode there is beer and two episodes in particular concentrated on beer: Munich and Belgium...naturally.

Due to this show, I expanded my liquor horizons, but also came back to beer. Wine, tequila, vodka, bourbon and the rest would soon be pushed aside as other elements took effect.

Next Time: Sit UBU, sit...good beer!

Friday, July 30, 2010


Oh what a difference a few years can make. After Samuel Adams’ Boston Lager hit the market the liquor stores and bars began to carry beers we had not heard of before. In 1988, while working as a rifle range instructor for the Boy Scouts, I used to go to a bar called Floods in East Stroudsburg, PA. This place had a placemat that listed beers, broken down by country. Xingu from Brazil, Elephant from Denmark, Samuel Smith’s from England, Dos Equis from Mexico, San Miguel from the Philippines, Sapporo from Japan, Troika from Russia, Singha from Thailand plus others I have forgotten. I have a very vivid memory of sitting in Floods and pouring my first bottle of Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter and being amazed that the bottle was clear! I had thought that the beer was stored in a black bottle; I had no idea that the beer was black. My first sip of it wasn’t the epiphany one would think. It was very different to me and took me almost the whole bottle to warm up to the complex and malty flavors. To my underdeveloped palate this beer had too much flavor at first. But when I ordered my next beer it seemed so weak to me, so dull, so bland. And so I sought out more dark beers and finally came upon Guinness. Yes, I had Taddy Porter before trying the ubiquitous Irish stout.

In the early ‘90s I went to the Laughing Lion in Dover. It had the first beer club that I ever came across and I think they called it the Beer Club. Give them a break; very few places were doing this so originality wasn't necessary. I was amazed to see that this place served beer in yards and half yards! What were these glasses that were three feet tall and needed a stand and had to be placed on the floor? Well, once you understand that these glasses were invented to hoist up to carriage drivers in England you appreciate their shape. Why someone would feel the need to drink out of one in a bar is beyond me, except for the cool factor. Want to impress me? Drink from a 3L boot without wearing a drop of your beer. But drinking vessels will be the topic of another post. This place offered John Hardy from England and they served that in a snifter! I understood why after my first sip nearly gagged me, not realizing that this beer was nearly as strong as brandy. I still have a copy of their beer list that my then future mother-in-law pilfered for me. Other beers listed were Chimay, Corsendock, Duvel and Orval from Belgium, Eku 28, Hacker-Pschorr, Paulaner, Pinkus, Spaten and Warsteiner from Germany, Mackesons, Samuel Smith and Young's from England and beers from 33 other countries. Their beer menu even included a dissertation on the Art of Brewing. Oh, and they're still there.

But if you were keeping track above, I was talking entirely about imports. American microbrews were starting to open up here and there in the US. Harpoon and Pete’s Wicked both began operations in 1986 and their beers were gaining popularity quickly. The Dixie brewery in New Orleans had been around a long time, but it wasn’t until the late eighties that their beers hit the New Jersey scene. Dixie Blackened Voodoo made quite a splash. This dark beer was not for everyone and became a favorite of beer drinkers that were looking for something with a different taste…and it was different. More locally, Catamount was founded in 1986 and in 1987, Brooklyn Brewery was founded and started to put out some really nice beers. Stoudt’s opened in the same year and I remember their stout (which was called Stoudt’s Stout). What made that one stand out? It was bottle-conditioned. This was a first for me and I remember the beer manager at Grand Opening in North Haledon, a wonderful beer store, warning me about the lees. Still, I was a little taken aback by the amorphous blobs that came along for the ride and I am ashamed to admit that I wound up not drinking the last inch of beer in the bottle. I laugh at myself now as I love to pour the lees into the glass and get my regular dose of B12.

When Celis hit the scene a whole new world of beer began to emerge. Pierre Celis was the man who founded Hoegaarden, yes the Hoegaarden that we Americans like to jam a wedge of orange into...which is absolutely unnecessary. The man was already a legend in the brewing scene in Europe and he had decided to bring Belgian beer to the US. Okay, okay, Chimay and Corsendonk were already here, but they were in 750ml bottles. Few people were willing to pay $10.00 or more for a bottle of beer despite the fact it was the size of a champagne bottle. Why? It was “only beer”. I know that statement is blasphemy, but at the time, very few of us realized it was so much more. So Pierre started to brew Celis in Austin, Texas (of all places) and it was rumored that he brought his brewing yeast with him. Now go ahead and read up on it on wikipedia and other websites. They’ll list a whole bunch of different labels coming out of Celis Brewing, but there were only three that made it to New Jersey at first: Celis White (basically Hoegaarden), Celis Raspberry (which was not really quite a lambic) and Celis Grand Cru (which was my favorite). For those who were still craving different, this was it. All three came in 6-packs that cost less than one bottle of Corsendonk. New Jerseyans were drinking Belgian beer…and many of us were liking it. Sadly, Celis sold out to Miller and the line was discontinued in 2002. Miller re-established the Celis line of beers and they brew it in Michigan. I have not tried any of these and I am in no rush to do so for oh so many reasons.

Another development back then was that the American microbrews started to put out holiday beers. Samuel Smith had already brought Winter Warmer to the United States, but for some odd reason it was available year ‘round. Anchor and Harpoon were the two big ones that I remember. Anchor was more expensive and was nicknamed “Tree Beer” because they always depicted a tree on the label. The first year it was a Christmas Tree, but then they began to switch it up. One year they even depicted a palm tree. Harpoon’s Winter Warmer was also highly sought after, even though the name for their seasonal brew was not original. They were the first holiday beer that I drank that was spiced…not as highly spiced as it is today, though. Brooklyn joined the fray by putting out a winter beer, not a holiday beer. This was Brooklyn Dark Chocolate Stout. At first everyone was excited that there was a beer brewed with chocolate. Then all of us idiots learned that it was made with chocolate malt and we’re not talking Ovaltine. By the time we figured it out, it was too late. We loved it and it sold so well that it became a year ‘round beer.

Every year in October we’d start to bug our favorite beer mongers about when the new holiday beers were coming out. I was regularly at the Buy Rite on Route 46 in Clifton and my brother had his regular haunt near the K-Mart in Bricktown behind what was a Rustler Steak House. Neither store is quite what it used to be. The one in Clifton is still a Buy Rite, but they have reduced their selection in craft beer and the one in Bricktown is now called Circle on the Square Liquors and caters more to the oenophiles. Area residents who prefer craft beer now go to Johnathon Ron in Brielle. Back in the day you had to know about which liquor stores carried what and I’d sometimes speed out the parking lot of the book store I worked at, in order to make it to a certain liquor store before it closed because one of my customers told me that they still had some Santa’s Private Reserve from Rogue left. Oh yeah, Rogue. Almost forgot about them. When Dead Guy Ale came to New Jersey in its painted bottle no one had heard of a maibock. After tasting it we didn’t care what a maibock was, it was yummy! Oregon had fired their first shot across the bow of the USS New Jersey.

So word of mouth drove much of what we knew about where to get beer. And then some genius started to publish the Ale Street News in 1992. The liquor store ads in this publication did not tout their wine selection, the fact they had Jack Daniels on sale or what the case and keg prices were for Budweiser. Instead they were bragging about their selection of microbrews and imports! Their ads were dotted with the logos from Harpoon, Pete’s Wicked, Anchor, Brooklyn, Sam Adams, Dos Equis, and Fosters…to name a few. Beer awareness in New Jersey was starting to increase exponentially. What we didn’t know was that more and more home brewers across the US were starting brew pubs and breweries. The new giants of the beer world were about to awake and sadly I was about to check out of the beer scene for a while.


Sunday, July 25, 2010


This is the third blog entry. Look to the right side of the screen for the archives to read the previous entries.

You’d be hard-pressed to find me drinking Sam Adams nowadays. However, I do have one of their ultra-engineered glasses, which I really like, and I will always defend their place of honor in bringing good beer to the masses early on. When they hit the New Jersey liquor stores for the first time with Boston Lager, the beer world in the Garden State was turned on its ear. This beer had flavor and it was good! It hurts to admit that it still is actually. There are just so many other beers out there that I prefer and I am still trying new beers almost every day. There’s no room in the beer fridge for anything from Samuel Adams and the Boston Beer Company, which incidentally brews most of their stuff in Cincinnati.

It’s now time to go into a wee bit of a history lesson to explain why Sam Adams is so important to the East Coast beer culture. Don’t worry; there won’t be a test later. The combined effects of Prohibition and World War II destroyed beer in the United States. Prohibition bankrupted those breweries that could not adapt by selling other products to survive, like Yuengling, Budweiser and Coors. World War II followed quickly on the heels of Prohibition being repealed and rationing of grains was strictly enforced. All wheat was to be used to make food for the war effort. Breweries were forced to use ingredients that did not make for good beer, namely corn and rice. After the rationing was lifted these breweries continued to produce beer with corn and rice. Why not? Through advertising they have duped much of the American public into thinking it actually tastes good. Plus, there are the added benefits that if you drink their beer frogs will sing, scantily-clad women will party with fat, bald construction workers, dogs will have harems, trucks will turn into boom boxes and global warming will be solved by a bullet train. The sheep have spoken, leave the recipe alone and throw away the one that your grandfather developed before Prohibition. You know, the one that actually tasted good.

And that brings us to the rheinheitsgebot. Stay with me, they are linked. There is a lot of discussion as to why it came about. Some maintain it was wheat rationing for the war effort, but it was instated in 1516 and Germany wasn't at war. Actually, we're talking about Bavaria here, since Germany didn't really exist at the time as a separate sovereign entity and was just a part of the Holy Roman Empire. Others maintain that it was a way to protect and feed the populace. Anyone who believes that believes that our elected officials have our best interests at heart and that the lobbyists have little say in this country's legislature.

There is one interesting theory put forth that claims that it was a way for the Bavarians to thumb their nose at the greed of the Catholic Church. See, the Catholic Church held control over all gruit production and sales. What's gruit? It was combination of herbs and spices that helped to bitter beer and had been in use long before hops were introduced to the brewing process in the 11th century. The link below leads to an article that is one of the best I've read on the subject. Don't bother with wikipedia on this one...they've got very little to offer unless you're really willing to dig for it.

By stating that beer could only use hops for bittering rather than gruit, the rheinheitsgebot could have been a way to undermine a source of income for the Catholic Church. If you're wondering if the political climate in Bavaria was anti-Catholic at the time, consider the fact that a year and a half after the rheinheitsgebot was enacted, Martin Luther marched up to a Catholic Church in Wittenburg and tacked up his "95 Theses" on its door. That act started the Protestant Reformation. What prompted him to do this? The sale of indulgences, which were little papal-sanctioned "get out of hell free" cards. The problem was that they weren't free. They were sort of like a tax on your soul. So yeah, the Bavarians were not big fans of the Vatican and their creative and extortive means for making themselves rich.

The rheinheitsgebot underwent a few revisions and was replaced by the biersteuergesetz which lifted the restrictions on what constituted beer ingredients. But many German breweries still claim to adhere to the rheinheitsgebot of 1516. This is pretty ludicrous since the original version did not mention yeast. Well, that's because no one knew that yeast was the agent that made wort into beer until Louis Pasteur discovered the reaction in 1859, over 300 years later. So that's understandable, but what is amazing is to see this on a weizen, or wheat beer. The law was brought about the reserve wheat for baking. So claiming to adhere to the rheinheitsgebot of 1516 is really just a marketing ploy, a way to tell everyone that their beer is "pure". Putting the marketing ploy aside, the rheinheitsgebot did accomplish one thing: it gave the Germans, and others, a standard for which to strive. The ingredients list is out the window, but the feeling that the rheinheitsgebot stands for quality is still going strong and has been embraced by many other countries.

And now to bring Sam Adams back into it. The early television spots for Sam Adams depicted one of Boston Beer Company's founders touting the virtues of the rheinheitsgebot and naming the ingredients they used to brew their Boston Lager. Have you ever heard an Anheiser-Busch spokesperson extolling the virtues that rice gives to their beer? No, instead they ran a campaign on freshness dating. Honestly, I prefer beers that can last a while due to proper hopping and higher ABVs. But that's a lager versus ale debate. By invoking the reinheitsgebot in their ads, Sam Adams was saying that their beer was made from pure ingredients and the stuff the macrobreweries produced was of lesser quality. It was genius and it helped to start the reversal of the effect that Prohibition and wheat rationing had on the quality of beer in the United States.

And now to assuage the West Coast-centric beer snobs out there. Anchor Steam and Sierra Nevada have been around longer and drove the craft brew movement in California which then spread up to Oregon and Washington. To this day, Portland has more breweries than any other city on the planet. You have to love that. But the East Coast was a decade or two behind. Some claim we still are, but that's an argument for another time and possibly another blog entry. This blog is about the beer scene in New Jersey and we just couldn’t get the California microbrews out here when I was in college. So as beer lovers from the East Coast, we owe Jim Koch a debt of gratitude, even if the best new beer they’ve come out with lately is Noble Pils and the rest of his stuff is starting to go the way of macrobrews. One note: Boston Beer is now the largest American-owned brewery thanks to the purchase of Anheiser-Busch by InBev.

But with the arrival of Boston Lager, we now had a beer to drink that would allow us to look down our noses at those that were still drinking the corn and rice beers. We were drinking microbrews! That word became synonymous with good beer, but the uninformed began to overuse and misuse it. Some were even heard to refer to imported beers as microbrews! Beer snobs were born, but very few of them knew how to handle these new beers and access to knowledge was in short supply, but access to good beer was about to explode.

Next Time: Microbrews and Imports

Friday, July 23, 2010


If you have not yet read the first entry, "BREWSHIDO", please go back and do so. You'll have to copy and paste into your browser until I can figure out how to insert links and make them visible. Sorry. Or you can click on it in the Blog Archive.

I went to college at one of the more highly rated schools on the East Coast...not for academics though. Rutgers University used to figure pretty high on lists of party colleges and my new-found friends and I did all we could to bolster that. After we left, the school decided it was time to concentrate on giving the kids a better education for their parents' dollar and RU fell off the list. Slackers!

My freshman year I was housed in one of the River Dorms. These are three buildings on George Street with only Route 18 separating them from the Raritan River. Our floor was coed and the rooms went boy-girl-boy-girl…things were good. There are balconies on the front and back and on either end. The balconies on the river side are now bolted shut because a couple of jack-asses tossed a 1970s-era console television off the 6th floor balcony of Campbell Hall. It was a beautiful thing to see as it plummeted to the array of dumpsters in the lower parking lot, the screen blowing out as it impacted the edges of two dumpsters at the same time. It split in two with each half falling into different receptacles. A roar went up from the collection of drunken students on all the lower balconies and hanging out of windows. It was one of our proudest moments. Yep, I was one of those jack-asses. So if you lived in the River Dorms after 1986, I apologize for your inability to toss junk off the rear balcony yourself.

But back to the beginning of the year, during orientation before any classes had started. One night at the first party of the year, I was handed a beer. This was not my first beer. Despite being mostly a nerd in high school I had been to a few parties, but never drank to the point of being drunk. Everyone else did that and I spent much of my time making sure they didn’t do anything stupid. Oh how conscientious, noble and idealistic I was back then. The groundwork for my advancement through the Samurai ranks was laid, but many skills still needed to be developed. My illustrious college career helped to advance some of these skills, but the beer culture in New Jersey hampered my training.

Back to that party...I remember drinking quite a few beers and lying on a bed watching television, enjoying the buzz in my head. The beer? Don’t ask, I don't remember. It was probably a NASCAR beer or worse. Yes, there are worse. Anything that a college kid can afford is usually some horrendous version of beer that makes one dream of quaffing a Coors Light. Yes, they're THAT bad. These "beers" don’t advertise and they pass that savings on to you. You also get added savings due to the fact that the brewery doesn’t bother wasting money on quality ingredients. Many of them were under $2.00 a six. These beers include, but are not limited to: Black Label, Meister Brau, Milwaukee’s Best, Schlitz, Schmidt’s, Rheingold, Piel's, Schaeffer and various other low-alcohol, highly metallic-tasting beers. It’s as if the beers eroded the inside of the cans to ensure that you got your daily allotment of aluminum. Beer is supposed to help fend off Alzheimer’s; these beers helped to undermine any benefits you gained on that front. Don't believe me? See the two links below.

Where was I? We were drinking bad beer and watching television. Then it was time for everyone to leave since one of the roommates who were throwing the party would turn into a pumpkin if not abed by 11:00. That was the last party in their room, incidentally. One of the girls looks at me as we’re leaving and says she can’t feel her lips, so I feel them for her with mine. I was in love. Well, not with the girl, but with the magic of beer. If I had not had a few there is no way I would have responded to that vague invitation in the manner that I did. So yeah, it didn’t go much further than that but it was still exciting. My girlfriend back home had dumped me for someone else just prior to that. The result of that whole mess was that beer and I became even better friends as I found a new use for it: dulling the pain of a broken heart.

Using beer in this manner is not recommended; it can lead to addiction, but at least I stuck to alcohol. Some people I met in college were hitting harder chemicals for their recreational endeavors. One good friend spent an evening discussing quantum physics with a blue elephant. I witnessed the whole conversation, well at least his half of it. After waking up the next day he felt that many scientific conundrums were solved in that conversation and desperately asked if I had been listening and if I could tell him what he was saying. Apparently, “hix plom golllof fortazen mayafar” had more meaning the night prior to the azure pachyderm. I still maintain that if anyone can decipher what that phrase means it would lead to the discovery of the God Particle or at least a way to alleviate the hangover gained from mixing beer and harder spirits. I pray for the latter.

So I got pretty good at drinking beer. Chugging was my specialty. Shotguns from cans, doing funnels, slamming down a bottle of beer or gulping it down from a cup, not many could beat me. I have retained that ability and have amazed many with how quickly I can toss back a Guinness, much to my wife’s chagrin. On the occasion that I’m drinking Guinness, I typically order two since the first will last less than five seconds. If I order a Guinness and another beer the waiter will sometimes get confused and think I want them mixed. When did this practice start? I know about a black & tan, but a black & blue? Mixing Blue Moon with Guinness is totally unacceptable and there are even more nefarious combinations out there. Poor Arthur Guinness. Forgive them; they know not what they do.

So I was great at speed drinking, but I did not do so well with drinking games. That’s mostly because I didn’t try; I never saw the point. When it was my turn at quarters I would usually throw the quarter at someone and then drink my beer. If I’m drinking, I’m drinking. I didn’t want the constraints of a game to dictate when I got to drink. If there were a lot of people in the game the beer got warm. And making drinking a punishment didn't seem right to me. So,I was content to watch the other fools and sabotage their fun. I would spend a good amount of time taking a pencil to the edges of every quarter so that when they got to the part of the game where you have to roll it down your nose, everyone got a gray racing stripe. It was particularly impressive on an Armenian friend of mine who is blessed with the full complement of his nationality’s most prominent feature. Again, I saw no point in these games...and don’t even get me going on the morons doing shots of beer.

Now, in college I actually had a decently paying job. I worked parking cars at night clubs down the Jersey shore. Everything was on tips so it was all "under the table" and most of the money went towards beer, CDs and that order. I could afford some “decent” beer. So I bought cases of Budweiser longnecks. Yes, there was a time when Budweiser was the "good" beer, but that was mostly due to budgetary hindrances and the lack of alternatives. It was a step up from what we were drinking. Then I discovered Canadian beers and my fridge became stocked with Molson Golden.

Before you judge, you must remember that this was back in 1986. Sam Adams had only been founded two years prior and was not available in our area. Sierra Nevada had been in existence for a while, but was strictly on the West Coast, as was Anchor Steam. Harpoon had just been founded that very year and had nothing out in production that we could get our hands on, even if we knew about them. New Jersey was a wasteland when it came to beer with any good taste. Rolling Rock, Genessee and Ballantine’s were considered fancy beer. Drinking any import from Europe was considered “yuppy” and was frowned upon. Still, the occasional Beck’s, St. Pauli Girl and Heineken worked their way into the fridge.

So the moral of this story? I started off drinking some really awful beer, upgraded to the NASCAR beers and then graduated to those imports that I now shun. Those were some dark days, but at least I was too stupid to know it. The beers I enjoy now were not available, some not even yet dreamed of. The American craft brew movement was in its infancy and not yet represented in Jersey and the imports we were receiving were either Canadian or some of the worse that Europe had to offer. The Canadian beers became the preferred brews until the American craft beer movement got off the ground and microbreweries began to spring up all over the place, even in New Jersey. It was almost time to wake up.

Next Time: Sam Adams Arrives and Beer Snobs are Born


So what’s a “Beer Samurai”? Well, I had wanted to use “Beer Jedi”, but that was already taken. Knowing that George Lucas based the Jedi upon the Samurai, I settled on “Beer Samurai”. They’re just as noble and legendary and have the added benefits of being historical and it doesn’t sound nearly as geeky. It also allowed me to develop the code of the Beer Samurai and cleverly call it “brewshido”.
Many people use the terms “beer snob” or “beer geek”. This is how I traditionally define those terms.
  • A beer snob is one who will deride and look down upon anyone not drinking good beer. I have been known to do this from time to time, but I am usually respectful of people’s choices and I am always willing to help the uneducated learn about good beer. To this end, I have taken on a senpai or two in my time. Also, if I know someone who is drinking good beer, but does not particularly like a beer that I really enjoy or vice versa, I don’t get on them about their taste. I understand that everyone has a different palate. But I still reserve the right to believe that NO ONE’S palate is designed to appreciate the mass-produced American lagers…the beers that I love to call NASCAR beers. I have nothing against NASCAR, but if a beer advertises on one of the hoods or along the retaining wall in stock car racing, then it is a sure bet that it is made with corn and/or rice.
  • A beer geek is someone who will talk without rest, breath, food or water about beer, drinking beer, brewing beer, visiting breweries, attending beer events, cellaring beer, trading beer, collecting beer glasses, reading books about beer, cooking with beer and writing a beer blog. I am guilty on all accounts. There is no “however” here. I am a beer geek, but the fact that I like to share my knowledge and experiences with others rather than just attempt to prove that I know more than someone else about beer is a saving grace, I feel. I can instantly tell when I’ve met someone who knows more about beer than I do. In those cases, I shut up and listen and I learn. Most beer geeks won’t shut up long enough to pick up anything and when they do they’re just listening for the break in the other person’s stream of consciousness so that they can begin to impart their nuggets of joy again. It’s fun to listen to two beer geeks talk about beer. It’s like speed chess. You and they have not much of a clue what the other one did, but you know someone won. Beer is not about winning. It’s about the interaction and knowing when it is time to learn and when it is time to teach.
Based on these definitions, I decry belonging wholly to either classification and have therefore dubbed myself a Beer Samurai. The qualifications of being a Beer Samurai are based on the code of the Samurai, also known as bushido or the way of the warrior. There are 10 virtues associated with bushido and I have applied them here and renamed them brewshido.
  1. Integrity: A Beer Samurai should have a good collection of beer glasses: pints, pilsners, nonics, stanges, chalices, tulips, steins, mugs, beckers, tumblers, snifters and the like. When buying a glass with a brewery name on it you should never use that glass until you have actually poured the beer emblazoned on that glass into it. For instance, do not buy a footed pilsner with the words “Pilsner Urquell” etched on the front and pour Victory Prima Pils into it UNTIL you have actually drank Pilsner Urquell from it. Then you are free to pour whatever beer you want into that vessel. But be mindful to pour the correct beer into the correct glass. Some beers have hard and fast rules as to what glass to drink them from and with good reason. NEVER pour a Belgian stout into a stange unless you enjoy mopping. Different glasses are shaped to better enhance a certain beer’s best qualities. When in doubt, reach for a pint glass. Oh, and drinking from the bottle should be avoided. You need to smell your beer as you drink it. When you drink from the bottle your nose is left out in the cold. Even Jimmy Durante's nose would have made into a pint glass.
  2. Courage: Even if you’ve heard bad things about a beer with which you are presented or if it is a style for which you don’t care, man up and find a way to taste it and judge it objectively and fairly. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s bad beer. If I can drink Xingu, then you can handle a gueze. Only pass on a beer if your Honor will be undermined by accepting it. See below.
  3. Benevolence: Pass on your knowledge to those who are open to it. Be a sensei, but try not to bore the crap out of people who are not as enlightened and thrilled about beer as you are. Trying to convert an oenophile is usually time wasted, but many people are bi-booze-ual in this regard. When you find someone of like mind, hold nothing back. Engage in conversations in which both parties can listen actively and learn.
  4. Respect: Taste is subjective and not everyone’s palate is alike. Therefore, different opinions of different beers will arise from different people. Just because you like a heavily-hopped IPA doesn’t mean the person at the bar next to you will. Their palate may favor maltier brews. Listen and respect everyone’s opinion, even if they are a freaking idiot. My senpai is more of a hophead than I and I appreciate stouts in a way he may never develop. We will both find our own paths along the way.
  5. Honesty: If someone is talking about a beer that you have not tasted, do not attempt to comment on it. Do not pretend to have tasted it. Stop yourself and listen. Ask questions. Learn. No one knows everything about beer. Michael Jackson may have, but he has sadly passed on to the brasserie in the sky and takes that knowledge with him. Practice this phrase, "Hmm, I've never had that one. What's it like?" You may learn something.
  6. Honor: A Beer Samurai will never be caught drinking a NASCAR beer (or worse) and under no circumstances will they drink a beer with a piece of fruit dangling from the side of the glass or shoved down the bottles neck. If given a beer in this manner, politely remove the offending parcel of fruit and place on a cocktail napkin. Better yet, drink something that doesn't need to have fruit put it in to taste better. If you must drink something with fruit in it, switch to sangria. I'll see if there's a Sangria Samurai and post the link. Be right back......nope, anyone want to volunteer for that one?
  7. Loyalty: A Beer Samurai never lets a friend beer goggle unless by doing so it will create great entertainment value that can be enjoyed for years to come. Most of all, a Beer Samurai watches his friends' back and ensures that they stay out of trouble or, at the very least, supplies bail money. On some occasions it is necessary to follow their lead and wind up sharing the bench in the county lock-up.
  8. Piety: Always support and defend your favorite breweries. Find one or two or more and be sure to taste everything they produce that you can find. Visit often if it is geographically feasible. Continued support of the smaller craft breweries has the macrobreweries forming conglomerates to survive. That is why we now have InBev and MillerCoors. We are winning. Keep the faith!
  9. Wisdom: A Beer Samurai knows when they have had enough and refrains from starting fights, driving drunk or sexually harassing the hot babe at the end of the bar. There is a huge difference between a happy beer drinker and a drunken fool. They also take measures to avoid a hangover and know how to properly rehydrate so that they can return to work the next day so that they can make more money in order to buy more beer.
  10. Care for the Aged: Not all beers can be enjoyed the year they are brewed and need some time for the flavors to mellow. If you find a beer that you absolutely love, get more of it and lay it down for a while, but be mindful if it meets the criteria for cellaring and always date your bottles so you know how long they’ve been resting. Also, if you try a beer that you don’t enjoy, ask yourself if it’s because it is young and the flavors are too harsh. If so, it may become one of your favorites after sitting for a year. A Beer Samurai also understands that some beers need a few minutes to arrive at the proper temperature so that the full flavor profile can shine through. Understand the optimum temperatures for the beers you drink.
You too can become a Beer Samurai if you feel you can follow these criteria.

So I’ve explained the first half of the blog’s title…what about that second half? Journeying through New Jersey? The GSP will take you from one end to the other in under three hours. This is going to be a short blog, right? Wrong! The journey is never-ending. There is no destination. It is a journey through the New Jersey beer scene: its breweries, its bars, its brew pubs, its beer stores, its home brewing stores and the myriad beer events that take place each year within the borders of our beloved state. In some cases I may extend the reach into neighboring states, but only if these events are within a half day’s drive. I may extend beyond that if the event is particularly special like the Great American Beer Festival or Mondial or a tour of breweries through Belgium or Germany. In those cases they will be not be standard entries and I will refer to them as “Supplementals”.

I’ve been on the path for quite some time now, so the first entries will be a way to reminisce about what brought me here and allow you young padawan to catch up. It will start with my discovery of beer in college (I was a late bloomer in this aspect), through my first stage of beer geekdom which was extremely misguided and onto my Renaissance of beer appreciation. The last part constitutes only the past year or less. Once we get caught up then the entries will either be as events occur or just thoughts and ponderings on beer, beer tasting, beer pairings, cooking with beer, beer history and yadda yadda beer yadda beer beer beer.

Next time: The College Years