Flick Lives - At The Libertine Pub
Way back in 1955 I received a small Webcor AM radio as a First
Communion present from my grandmother. That night I discovered Jean
Shepherd and for the nexttwenty plus years I was a dedicated listener
to America’s favorite raconteur.
In high school other “Shep” fans would discuss the previous night’s
show with enthusiasm rivaling that of rabid Mets’ fans. Even while
stationed in Virginia during my Marine Corps years, WOR radio’s 5000
watt signal could easily bring Shep to the Quantico area.
When his Playboy articles began appearing, I actually bought the
magazine to read his stories, ( well, maybe not ONLY for that) The
publication of his books “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash” and
“Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters” made
for many more pleasant hours of reading and re-reading. Later his TV
shows “Jean Shepherd’s America”and “Shepherd’s Pie” showcased his
wonderful humor inanother format.
Fortunately, even those too young to have heard his late night
broadcasts or Live at the Limelight Saturday night shows are familiar
with what has become a Christmas tradition: the annual marathon of his
movie,“A Christmas Story” played for 24 hours straight,beginning on
Christmas eve. A whole new generation of Americans has taken delight
in Ralphie’s obsession with obtaining an official Red Ryder BB gun (with
a compassin the stock!)
Shep has been sorely missed since his passing in 1999,so it was with
great joy that I learned of the opening of a new Shepherd-themed
brewpub by a fellow mourner. This sounded like a “must go at any cost”
sort of thing and I didn’t feel like delaying my initial visit, so I called
Draught Board 15 beer club CiC Vince Capano, also a Shepherd
devotee, and asked him if he felt like going for a ride. Asking Vince if he’
d like to step out for a beer is like asking a democrat if he’d like to raise
taxes (some questions are answered before they’re asked) and with
the added inducement of experiencing Shepherd nostalgia, we eagerly
set off on a Saturday afternoon to see what it was all about.
The Libertine Brewpub, named after Shep’s 1957 novel “I, Libertine”, is
located in Washington, NJ, where, in the 1970’s Shep had a summer
home on the banks of the Musconetcong River. As the Libertine Pub is
about a 45 minute ride from the Union-Essex area, the drive afforded
some reminiscing about the old radio monologues.
Arriving at the location, we were able park directly in front of the 19th
century building housing the pub, and entering, we heard the sounds of
The Bahn Frei Polka, Shepherd’s theme song, playing softly in the
background. We stepped up to the bar and were greeted by the
owner/bartender, Joe Roberts with a hearty “Excelsior, you fatheads”.
Oh yeah…this guy was a real Shepherd fan, all right. Sitting down, we
each ordered a sampler of the beers produced in Joe’s seven barrel
brewhouse by brewer Otto Reisdorf, newly arrived from Austria where
he most recently brewed at the Kaltenhausen Brauhaus in Salzburg.
While Joe was pouring the generous six ounce samples, we looked
around at the décor and were favorably impressed by the attention to
detail taken to provide anauthentic ambiance for the Shepherd theme.
1930’s era Atlas-Praeger Beer and Ovaltine advertising signs adorn
the walls, Red Ryder BB guns hang on gun racks, posters for “A
Christmas Story” are prominently displayed. There's even the front
fenders, grille, and seats from a 1938 Graham-Paige which serve as one
of the cozy booths along the wall to the left side of the bar, which is
worth a trip to see all by itself. According to the owner, the bar and
back bar are from the original Bluebird Tavern in Hammond , Indiana. If
it could talk,what stories that bar could tell!
Joe delivered the samplers which consisted of six regular house brews
and a current seasonal on a tray resembling a gravy boat. Even here the
Shepherd theme is not forgotten as the presentation brought back
memories of “Leopold Doppler and the Orpheum Gravy Boat Riot”, one
of Shep’s more memorable stories.
First we tried FLICK’S PALE ALE, namd for one of Shep’s boyhood pals,
the flagship beer and largest seller for the pub. This is an American style
pale ale reminiscent of Sierra Nevada but slightly maltier.
The BAHN FREI WEISSBIER is easily the equivalent of the great Bavarian
Hefeweizens with notes of banana and clove and a refreshing efferves-
cence and yeasty flavor. Vince is not a huge fan of hefeweizens but even
he agreed that BAHN FREI is well worthy of a four star rating.
The RALPHIE’S BROWN ALE was disappointing as it was a little too thin
for my taste, but in view of the other uniformly great beers offered by
this pub, it might have only been a one time problem. On my next visit,
I’ll certainly give it another try.
EXCELSIOR IPA is a great example of the west coast
style of American IPAs, very hoppy with a deep amber
color and beautiful head. This is easily my favorite. The
next two darker beers were tried side by side to more
fully appreciate the differences between porter and
stout. THE OLD MAN PORTER is definitely sweeter than
the FATHEAD STOUT, even though the FATHEAD is
creamier, due to its being served on nitrogen. Either is
highly recommended for dark beer lovers.
The last offering on the sampler was the seasonal
DOPPLER’S DOPPELBOCK, named for the aforementioned Leopold. This
beer is truly liquid bread: full flavored, chewy and heavy on the alcohol
at 8.6%. If we hadn’t had to drive home, a full pint would have
been in order, but keeping reasonable, we finished up with a pint of the
5.9% Excelsior while we chatted with Joe.
He informed us that he’s been a Shepherd fan since 1958 and he’s
always been fanatical about beer, so upon retirement, this former CFO
of a major pharmaceutical firm decided to go into the brewpub
business as a venue to continue his devotion to beer and to pay tribute
to his radio hero. He did some research, visited over a hundred
brewpubs, talked to the owners, collected Shepherd and 1930’s
memorabilia, selected a location and convinced Otto to relocate from
Although only open for three months business has been good and has
been picking up as word gets around. Otto says he plans to stick with
the six standard house brews with a rotating seasonal and an
occasional special brew. Plans are in the works for “BOUGHS OF HORRY”
Christmas Ale, “SCHWARTZ’S SCHWARTZBIER” inOctober and
“TONGUE TO THE LAMP POST” Winter Warmer.
A big celebration is planned for Shepherd’s birthday on July 26th,
featuring special pricing, a Shepherd trivia contest and giveaways. Otto
is planning on a one time only special brew, HAIRY GERTZ’S CRAPPIE
LAGER, a “lawnmower” type beer based on a conglomeration of
recipes used to make Atlas-Praeger and Pabst Blue Ribbon, two of
Shep’s old man’s favorites. I’ll be there for the bash. I’d love to try a
half and half: half The Old Man Porter and half Hairy Gertz’s Crappie
Vince and I didn’t dine this time around but the menu looked good,
offering the usual pub grub, with some twists: a fried crappie sandwich
with fries, Josie’s Boiled Cabbage and of course meat loaf and red
cabbage. One bar patron advised me to be sure to try the Shepherd’s
Pie, paired with a Flick’s Pale Ale.
Cheers and ……Excelsior, you fathead!
Beer Raconteur, Writer and Historian