Ryes, Oh Mys and a Pleasant Surprise
For those of you who don't know, the Senpai has been working through some health issues. That is pretty much downplaying the truth of it, since these health issues turned out to be colo-rectal cancer. This fucking pox on humanity is what was responsible for him not being to join the Control and me on the previous road trips to Newport and Baltimore. Knowing that he's jealously read all the entries of those trips, I couldn't wait to find a way to put together another beer excursion once he was up to the ride. So these next three entries stand as proof of his toughness, dedication and resilience and I stand in awe of his staunch bravery and indomitable will. Okay, enough touchy-feely shit...on to the drinking!
Now the Duck has been following along too. See, he's suffering from another affliction…a new baby. He loves the little Duckling to death, but babies (especially first-borns) have a way of making mothers completely and neurotically insane. Some never come out of that phase, but we were confident that one day the Duck would be allowed to come out and play again. And then the stars aligned. Daisy was planning on taking the Duckling to visit family, leaving the Duck behind to do as he wished. And the best part of it all is that this coincided with a small window of time between the Senpai having mostly recovered from chemo and radiation therapy and his scheduled surgery. Time to round up the kohai and hit the road.
But wait! The Control decides that he's not going because, and get this, he has a date! See, he also has an affliction…permachub. "Bro's before ho's" doesn't really apply when he'd be missing out on physical gratification just for the sake of a bunch of beer that he may or may not like. Remember, that's WHY he's the Control; it's just not as important to him as the rest of us and since this trip was all about the beer, he'd probably get bored quickly. So the group was whittled down to the three of us and, as karma would have it, the "ho" in question turned out to be clinically insane. Please note, I never met the nice, young lady and the usage of the term "ho" was only due to using the "Bro's before ho's" mantra earlier in the paragraph. I'm sure she's quite respectable, even if she is an absolute, co-dependent, high-maintenance loon.
So three kohai drive off down the GSP southbound, on a mission whose first stop is Woodbridge, NJ and JJ Bitting's for lunch…and some beer. I'm not sure why I felt the need to add that last bit. It pretty much goes without saying, but the usage of the word "some" is important here. "Some" is not typically a modifier I put in front of the word "beer". More commonly, I'll use "a lot", "tons", "copious amounts", "mass quantities" or other descriptors that invoke thoughts of oceans full of sudsy brew. Go ahead and take minute and soak in that thought…our oceans being full of beer. The waves crashing on the beach, depositing Belgian lace in ribbons on the sand. The bathers and the sea life all quite happy from the effects of drinking in the malty, hoppy goodness. It would be so wonderful until you realize that the aforementioned sea life poops in the ocean and the kids use it as a convenient urinal. And if you're not a fan of flabby, starkly white, Wookie-pelted bodies stuffed catastrophically into Speedos then wait until the NASCAR fans descend from the hills to hit the beaches. Not such a sweet fantasy now is it? Here that sad popping sound? That's the bubble bursting through my muffled weeping.
But I never explained why the word "some" was important, did I? Okay, focus Samurai. Obviously, since I was driving, I had to control my intake level. Due to his medication and the fact that his digestive system was still a bit sketchy, the Senpai would be exercising moderation on this trip in order to see it through to the end. The Duck was free to drink as much as he wanted, but either out of fear of shooting his load too soon, or from what we might do to him if he passed out, or out of deference to his comrade's self-limiting he decided to not overdo it. And, to our credit and woe, none of us did.
Back to JJ Bitting's. The Duck and I had been here before with our wives. We both had pretty much the same reaction as most everyone else, "Good food, okay beer." We both had the beer sampler when we visited and nothing really stood out with the possible exception of the IPA which was pretty good. So this time we both tried something a little different and I have to admit that both of these offerings upped our estimation of their brewmaster. The Duck had their porter which was pretty solid and I ordered their rye beer, thinking that you don't see rye beers all that often in the New Jersey brewpubs. So wanting something different, I dove in and was pleasantly surprised at how well it was executed. For the Senpai's part, he polished off the IPA with his rack of ribs. Although thrilled with the portion size, he was less than impressed with the flavor. I was thrilled with how the rye paired with the pulled pork sandwich, which they always do a nice job on. If you go here, make sure to order the waffle fries. Pair those with any of their burgers and you can't go wrong. But linger here, we could not. We had a full itinerary and it was time to press on.
So we took a pretty short drive to hit the first liquor store of the day, Joe Canal's of Woodbridge, which is in the Iselin section of Woodbridge Township. The Duck had urged me to stop here since they're one of the few stores in New Jersey offering growler fills. I had checked out their website and was impressed with what they had to offer so it got inserted into the travel plans. As soon as you walk in you can see the growler station, so we walked up to place our orders only to find out the guy managing the growler station couldn't manage the growler station. Oh my, did he have a few issues getting the growlers filled, but when he dropped my already-filled growler trying to attach the swing top and soaking innocent by-standers, someone who knew what they were doing thankfully and mercifully took over. Growlers safely in hand, we hit the beer aisle. Their bottle selection was better than most places and all the standard crafts were represented. We were confused about some the "special" bottles they had locked away as we didn't see what was so special about them. Still, this is a pretty worthy stop and if you're going to take a run there, make sure you join their bottle club. It's free and gets you discounts on all kinds of things and it's definitely worth the effort for the savings on growlers. You can sign up for it on their website and also see what beers they have available for growler fills. Check here for their growlers: http://www.jcanals.com/jcsgrowlers.php, and then look at the links on the top of the page if you want to sign up for the bottle club.
After all that shopping, the grisly sight of beer hitting the floor and pissing off everyone on line behind us at the check-out as the staff tried to figure out our BottleClub discounts, we decided to move on and get more beer to drink. Just about a mile west on Route 1 in Metuchen is Pizzeria Uno…the last of the Unos that still brews. A good friend and excellent beer meister (previously referred to as the Druid) urged me to stop in here. He told me that they recently lost their brewmaster to The Original Basil T's (whose brewmaster "retired") and he said that the new guy was doing some good stuff…and the Druid never lies to me. We sat down at the bar and the bartender came over and started to talk to us about their beer. She managed to get a bunch of it a little wrong, but was very sweet. One of the things she flubbed was explaining that the imperial stout is served in a "sifter". At first, I had thoughts of someone brewing a stout with the spent grains added back to the bottle for extra flavor, requiring a run through a sifter in order to drink it. Of course, she meant "snifter" and none of us were douches enough to point out her error...even though I felt the need to kick the Duck's bar stool when she said it, he wasn't going to say anything anyway. Once she learned that we were on a beer tour of Central Jersey for the sake of a beer blog, she went and got the manager to give us a tour. Waiting for him to deal with a temperature control issue in the kitchen she served us our stouts. And that was where the huge surprise came in. At first whiff it smelled like any ordinary New Jersey brewpub stout. But then the first sip proved that this was far above the others. All the usual coffee stout flavors came through and there was even a hint of licorice. We marveled at how well the alcohol was controlled and wished it was a bit thicker, but this was one enjoyable beer. This new guy knew what the hell he was doing! You can read my review of their coffee stout here: http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/1874/47307/?ba=Naugros. I review as Naugros; mine should be the one on top.
The manager finally came out, apologized for the wait and showed us around, as we polished off our snifters of inky joy. The tour itself was pretty standard, but it was interesting to see how they fit the equipment into the restaurant and how they moved the beer from one place to the next. We thanked the manager for the tour and went to say our farewells to the bartender, but not after a sample of their root beer. OMG! Their root beer, which they brew themselves, is fantastic! So this place is a must-visit if you're in the area. But be careful of that imperial stout (if available); I needed the length of the tour in order to shake of its effects so I could drive the next leg of our trip.
Next time I'll cover the second leg of the tour which is where we hit two of the breweries that opened in New Jersey last year. This first leg was just a modest warm-up.