“Beer and the Thrill of Discovery"

Finding new and different beers is a pleasure that all
true beer aficionados enjoy. Just a few years ago,
traveling to different parts of the country enabled us to
try hundreds of local and regional brands that were only
available in a limited marketing area. While it was always
great fun searching them out, it wasn’t particularly
thrilling because you expected them to be there. It was
simply a matter of visiting a grocery or liquor store or
pub to find Narragansett in New England or Kaier’s in
Pennsylvania’s coal regions in order to taste those
popular beers not available in New Jersey.

The birth of the craft brew industry has added
thousands more beers to search for in even tinier areas
when you consider that the “marketing area” of a
brewpub is only the pub itself. Having a pint or sampler
at Rudder’s Brewpub in Nova Scotia or A-1-A Brewery
in St. Augustine requires you to be on site as their
beers won’t be found further away than the most
distant table from the bar.

The bland beers from the national brewers are available
everywhere you go so there’s nothing unexpected
there, but even a megabrewer like Anheuser-Busch
offers special brews such as Pacific Ridge Pale Ale,
usually in a limited experimental marketing area.
(Remind you of the great old regional brands?). It’s not
too thrilling, though, to find it in California because,
again, it’s expected to be there.

A relatively new phenomenon in the beer world are “beer
bars” , some of which offer sixty or more tap handles of
microbrews from all over the country and the world. But
the sense one gets here, is not thrilling, but more a
feeling of angst as he tries to decide which two or three
of the sixty he’d like to try. While a good number of
those brews are from far away sources, the very fact
that you have entered a beer bar EXPECTING to find
something different belies the thrill of the chase.

When your wife returns from a globetrotting trip with a
checked bag full of exotic beers it’s certainly a pleasure
but also an expected one since before she left you
handed her an empty suitcase with explicit instructions
on what beers to look for in each country.

For me the thrill of discovery started forty years ago at
State Prize Liquors in Union. While checking out the
beer cooler something other than the regular offerings
caught my eye: a whole section devoted to beers I had
had before but which seemed out of place in Union, NJ.
Heileman’s Old Style and Special Export, huge sellers in
the Midwest, National Premium from Baltimore and Utica
Club from central New York were great discoveries
among the rows of Bud, Schlitz, Miller, Pabst, Schaefer,
Ballantine, Rheingold, Knickerbocker, Piels and blah blah,
blah blah, blah blah.

Finding a can of Garden State Beer in a Chinese
restaurant in San Francisco was another unusual
discovery. But anyone can easily transport cans or
bottles. Kegs are another story, so in continuing the
saga of the thrill of discovery I’ll concentrate on draught

Some years ago, after attending a 1937 Newark Bears
“reunion” in Newark’s Ironbound, my father and I
stopped in Ann’s Bar on Hensler Street (named after
Newark’s Joseph Hensler Brewing Company) and
discovered Krueger’s Porter on tap. Gottfried Krueger
was the founder of the Newark brewery of the same
name which was sold to Narragansett Brewery of
Cranston, Rhode Island which continued to make the
brand for many years after the 1960 acquisition.

Evidently, there must have still been a strong calling for
the beer in Newark because steins of it were going down
faster than Anthony Weiner’s pants before a photo op.
One reason for this may have been the free bowls of
mussels presented to each drinker, possibly provided by
a pharmaceutical company whose financial stability was
dependent on the sales of blood pressure medication.
I’ve never tasted anything so salty in my life. Eating a
mussel was like ingesting a mouthful of salt. With a little
spoof on “Mary Poppins”, “Just a Spoonful of Mussels
Makes the Porter Go Down”. (In a most delightful way!)

Across the street and slightly west of State Prize liquors
was George’s Restaurant. Discovering Schlitz Dunkel on
tap was a great surprise since I had never heard of it,
previously or since.

Walking into the Maplewood Tap Room and finding
McSorley’s Christmas Ale on tap in August was certainly
a thrill until I tried it. One sip of the out of date,
oxidized swill immediately brought back another
Christmas memory: “Bah…Humbug!”

My two most recent unusual beer discoveries occurred
in the last month. My wife had suggested dinner out at
her favorite place, Valencia, in Elizabeth, a Portuguese
restaurant featuring “steak on a stone”. I cheerfully
went along but expected to find only Bud, Bud Light,
Miller Lite, Coor’s Light, Corona and Yuengling available.
I thought possibly I’d even find Sagres or some other
Portuguese beer but even that wouldn’t have been
much of a discovery since Portuguese beer would be
expected to be found in a Portuguese eatery. What
WAS a surprise , however, was finding a strange looking
handle among the usual suspects on the tap tower.
Closer inspection revealed it to be Stegmaier Porter. The
evening was saved!. This discovery and the discovery of
the Krueger forty years ago at Ann’s indicate that the
sons of Lisbon must like their porter. So do I!

An even more recent surprise was taking a break from
bagpipe practice at the Shillelagh Club in West Orange
and heading downstairs for a brew. Guinness, Harp,
Smithwick’s and a couple of others were pouring, about
what you’d expect in an Irish pub, but discovering
Anchor Steam on tap made for a nice change.

It’s always nice to know where you can find what you’re
looking for, but it’s even better to find what you’re NOT
looking for and experiencing the Thrill of Discovery!


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