Saturday, April 30, 2011


Through the hills and valleys

Whatever route you take to get to Long Valley you drive through a countryside rife with old-growth forest and teeming with wildlife. The massive, old trees lean over the roads and deer are visible in many of the hills and fields. On cool, humid nights fog fills the hollows, vales and glens between the ubiquitous rises and folds in the land. This untamed landscape attracted many immigrants into the area and towns popped up along the Lenape paths through the deep forests as the Europeans widened these trails to accommodate their horses and carriages. As the British settled into Bedminster, Chester and Mount Olive, the valley to the south was settled by the Dutch and was named Dutch Valley. Eventually, German immigrants filtered into the valley and became the dominant ethic group, so the valley was renamed German Valley. When the United States went to war helping the British and the French stave off the Germans it became necessary to change the name once more. The valley and the settlement in the valley became known as Long Valley.

One of the early German settlers had a patch of land that he used as a dairy farm and this farm operated into the 1960s, existing through all the name changes. Changing regulations in milk pricing and inspection forced the closure of the dairy farm and the land was purchased with all the buildings intact. The old, stone barn was left to deteriorate until an effort was started in 1995 to renovate the structure and turn it into a brew pub. Some changes had to be made, but an attempt was made to salvage as much of the original walls and timbers.

THE ATMOSPHERE – The 200-year-old restored stone barn certainly makes for a great drinking and dining venue, bringing a rustic, historical feel to the visit. The bar is in the middle of the main floor with dining rooms to either side and the brewing equipment visible behind the island-style bar. "Island-style" is not in the Caribbean sense (there are no tiki torches), but because you can walk all the way around it. I’ve found this style of bar to be wasteful of space and I feel they’d be better served having the bar span the back wall, in front of the tanks, and have some tables with stools in front. This would alleviate the problem that the bar patrons spill into the reception area since there is no clear delineation between the two. I can imagine that the traffic in this area would make it difficult to leave through the front door, having to wind through bar patrons and diners waiting for a table. I could think of many ways to redo the floor plan, but the same is true of my favorite watering hole, so I’ll refrain from expounding on that. There are also two dining areas upstairs, directly above the ground floor dining rooms. Overall, the building is a really neat place to toss back a few pints and grab some grub.

The crowd seemed to be around the forties on median. Many tables had children present, with one group having a separate table for the kids. So the place is definitely family friendly, as are many brewpubs. The people drinking at the bar seemed younger, but not by a lot. Regardless of age, The Control and The Senpai were very appreciative of the charms of the female patrons and I was worried that we’d have to have one or both of them treated for whiplash. Even though most people were wearing jeans the air about the place was upper middle-class. Most jeans-wearing ladies accessorized with expensive shoes, designer tops and Coach or Louis Vuitton bags. However, it didn’t feel snooty at all and our group of middle-management schlubs never felt out of place.

THE SERVICE – I had called a few days prior to make a reservation and we were seated immediately upon arriving. Not thrilled with the table they directed us to, we asked for another one and they obliged gladly. Apparently, the Long Valley Pub and Brewery is a BYOF…Bring Your Own Fork. We had two missing from the table and promptly stole two from another table. A couple were seated there without the hostess noticing that they were missing forks, so they went to another table and stole two. I imagine this may have gone on all day long and would have continued had a confused bus boy not taken away the table that now had missing forks, only for someone with better counting skills to return the table ten minutes later. We never took notice if that table came fully-equipped with forks or not. The staff is mostly younger and some of them tend to be easily startled by requests and questions while the older members of the staff are well-organized and knowledgeable. Our waiter belonged to this latter group, but he was a bit slow refilling our beers. We obviously drank at a quicker rate than he was used to, so that was on us. Despite all that our food arrived promptly, but not completely…one entrĂ©e had been left behind but followed quickly. 

THE FOOD – The Senpai had the highest regard of us all for the food and stripped his 16oz porterhouse down to gleaming bone and during dessert nearly licked the plate, that very briefly held his Chocolate Decadence cake, spotlessly clean. We all enjoyed the food and the wings are really good…sizeable, well-fried and adequately sauced. Their sausage platter, cleverly called the Best of the Wurst, contained three very tasty German sausages. Apparently the person who names the food has more creativity than the people who have named the valley throughout history. The food was fresh, hot and delicious. I had heard that the brewpub had really good food, but that it had gone downhill. Something changed and that seems to have brought the food back to more-than-acceptable levels of yumminess.

THE PRICE – The wings were $9.00…not exactly cheap. The entrees ranged from $13 for mac and cheese, $11 for a burger and $24 for a full rack of ribs. Not cheap but not extravagant and the quality of the food was well worth what we paid. We never took notice of what they charged per pint of beer, but found out later it was only $5.00 a pint. Bargain! So let's talk about the beer.

THE BEER – I’ve heard a lot about how good the beer is here and I’ve read about their awards. With this kind of hype I was looking forward to experiencing them for myself. They had six beers on tap which is pretty decent for a brewpub. Four of those are their year-rounds: Hookerman’s Light, German Valley Amber, American Pale Ale and their most-celebrated offering, Lazy Jake’s Porter. They also had two seasonals on tap: Dusseldorf Alt Bier and Nut Brown Ale, another brew with multiple awards. The four of us all ordered different beers to start and I went with the APA, thinking that a hopped beer would go well with the spicy wings. This is a classic pairing, but the APA did not stand up well as the hops were not that assertive. This would not be a problem if the beer was classified as a British-style pale ale, but when you call something an American Pale Ale one expects a pretty aggressive blast of hops. 

There were two problems with each beer and each beer had the same two problems. We tried 5 of the 6 offerings and every one was very light in aroma, making it really hard to get any sense of what the taste would be. The other issue was that the body of all the beers seemed a bit watery. The Geisha even commented on the APA’s lack of body stating that she’d hate to think what the Hookerman’s Light would be like. That was the one beer none of us ordered for that very reason. Fortunately, the taste of the brews was their saving graces. The Lazy Jake’s Porter was indeed the class of the brewery and had great roasted flavors. The website brags of its “full body” so maybe something was a bit off the day we were there. Perhaps the pint glasses were not fully dried and the beers got watered down. I’ll return to investigate, that I solemnly swear since the flavors were very well delivered.

Overall, I'd have to say that we all enjoyed our visit. I can't see coming here just for the beer though, but the food is good enough that we will return and we already have a date scheduled to come see a Classic Rock cover band perform...a friend of ours is the drummer. So if you're hunting for great beer in New Jersey and want a good brewpub scene this is not a bad choice, especially if you want an overall excellent dining experience with great ambiance and excellent food and pretty good (not great) beer. Navigate through the hills and valleys and see how the brewpub has navigated their own history and maybe if you're lucky you'll be able to appreciate the hills and valleys that The Control and The Senpai took note of. 

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