There’s Always More to Learn

By Glenn DeLuca

For BeerNexus.com

It’s Thursday and I’m at the Gaslight having a libation with a couple of my Draught
Board 15/Beernexus cohorts. Livingston mentions to me there’s a beer dinner this
coming Saturday at Nicole’s Ten in Randolph. There’s a sanctioned homebrew
competition during the day, at which he will be a judge, and after the awards Nicole’s
Ten and MoTown MASH are sponsoring “For The Love of the Craft.” There will be
four collaboration beers that will only be poured for this event and at Nicole’s Ten
and they will be preparing complimentary small plates. Sounds interesting and I’m
free. We check Eventbrite and it’s sold out…bummer. I’ve passed Nicole’s Ten many
times but never been there. Had suggested it to a couple of my ROMEO lunch buds,
only to find out they’re not open for lunch during the week.


Livingston says he’ll look around to see if he can find me a ticket and I get an email
from him the next day. One of his fellow MASH members, who is also judging, had
something come up so he needs to leave after the judging and miss the dinner. I can
buy his ticket; good for both of us. I’m in!


The event, titled “For the Love of the Craft” starts at 7:00, but Livingston told me the
awards ceremony would be about 6:00, so why not get there early and check it out.

I’m not a homebrewer, sounds interesting and I know quite a few who do homebrew,
but at this point I have other things to do with my time…maybe someday. Nicole’s Ten
has an interesting layout; quaint bar to the left and five small but open dining areas;
certainly more intimate and potentially functional than one large room.


I find Livingston and Doug, also a Draught Board 15 member at the bar with their
MASH shirts on. I order a draft and we head into the dining area where they’re going
to hand out the awards. Karl, also a MASH member and VP, is emceeing the awards.
The place is packed and they go on for quite a while. I’m beginning to realize this is
no small local competition. As it proceeds Livingston fills me in on the competition,
MASH, etc. This is an American Homebrewers Association and Beer Judge
Certification Program (BJCP) sanctioned competition with 330 entries in 25
categories including mead and cider. Karl makes note of the number of grand master
judges at this competition meaning serious standardized judging going on here.


I believe I heard its $5 for each beer entered so homebrewers are helping to support
the competition, mostly for the accolade, but there are also ribbons and some prizes
donated by sponsors. I’m hearing repeat winners so many have entered multiple
categories meaning their homebrewing different styles.  I hear a winner from Oregon
(unfortunately not there to claim his ribbon) and I’m amazed this is not just our local
homebrewers, but a few from other parts of the country having to mail their
submissions in; that’s some serious interest in your craft. I also find out that many of
the judges have been there since 8:00 AM, that’s a long day for which their only
compensation is to further homebrewing.


Awards over we grab another beer from the bar, especially since Nicolle’s Ten is
offering $5 NJ pints, and await the appetizer portion of the program. Sampling the
apps we catch up with Chris, another Draught Board 15 member, also a MASH
member. I know both Doug and Chris are serious and very good homebrewers, as
well as judges. Both have brought in samples for us to try at the end of our Draught
Board meetings. Doug ran a twelve week BJCP exam prep class earlier this year
(which I didn’t attend). It’s a serious class including tasting, sensory training,
understanding beer biochem, water, properties of ingredients, hygiene, brewing
practices, etc., with written practice at each class and several guest lecturers. So
there are homebrewers and then there are serious know your stuff homebrewers.


Livingston, Chris and I have a great discussion on training your taste. Chris took an
online course, which sounds hard to believe, but he explained how it worked, which
only goes to prove you should never discount an idea without thoroughly checking it
out. You definitely need a very skilled teacher to pull that off. I met Livingston, Doug
and Chris at Draught Board 15 meetings, which is a beer appreciation club. Some
are homebrewers and to that end, MASH is the Morris Area Society of Homebrewers.
They have their own website and in it describe themselves as ”an incredible
community where new and seasoned brewers and beer enthusiasts celebrate and
share brewing techniques and tips, as well as samples of their beer, cider and
mead.” They have Social members, who could be non-homebrewers like me, that can
take part in meetings and events and Full members who $25/year entitling them to
additional privileges. Not having delved into that community I had no clue of the size
and seriousness of this.


I’ll be sitting with the MASH table. It’s little after 8:00 and Nell, the manager of Nicole’s
Ten, is our dinner MC. She tells us about the event, its vision and the work put in to
pull it off. At the beginning of each course she introduces the collaboration brewers
who tell us how they approached it and how it went.


The servers bring us the first beer, a collaboration between Angry Erik & SCUBA
named Orange Aegir, a Hoppy Orange Ale. So although this was a homebrew
competition, the collaborations are between New Jersey brewers and homebrewers;
interesting. SCUBA is another homebrew club and I check out their website to learn it
stands for; Sussex County United Homebrewers and Alchemists. Next come out the
plate of pairings for this beer; a Torn Pork Won Taco (crispy fried wonton, torn beer
braised pork, sundried tomato cilantro marinated queso blanco, hot fried & tortilla
oreganata)and Tuna Tapenade (pale Malt-A-Salt and spice seared ahi tuna sliced
and touched by malted rice crispies topped with a olive-cherry-cucumber tapenade
crested with a lychee slaw). Nicole’s Ten approach to the pairings is to have one
inspired by the beer and one that included the beer. Well the beer is good, but is
definitely enhanced with the two pairings. WOW a great start!


Plates are cleared and the servers are out with beer two; a collaboration between
Magnify (from the liquor capital of NJ, Fairfield) and MASH named Darker Focus, an
American Wild Ale. Plate pairings for this are a Pork Tenderloin “Monte Cristo”
(French toast crostini topped with pan seared Malt-A-Salt encrusted pork tenderloin,
shaved gruyere, arugula with a maple smoked balsamic amber syrup drizzle) and a
Short Rib Stroganoff (shredded beer braised short rib over a midnight wheat salted
house made potato chip & gorgonzola gratin with a grilled pineapple crown). Again a
delicious beer and wonderfully paired with the two delicious dishes.


I’m sitting next to Tom, the President of MASH, so In between courses we’re chatting.
I didn’t realize MASH is a co-sponsor of the event and this is the second year for
MoTown MASH. MASH has a relationship with Nicole’s Ten as they hold their monthly
meetings there. The first MoTown MASH competition was held in a Morristown
restaurant and they had to be finished by 6:00PM, so they could open for dinner.
Makes sense since any restaurant would have to be crazy to lose their Saturday
evening; it’s too important a business evening. Nicole’s Ten and Nell are big
proponents of both local and food and drink and they’re willing to close to public for
dinner and do a beer dinner in conjunction with the competition. It takes someone
with vision who’s also confident and bold to support a proposal like that. This is a
large undertaking and I’m hearing during dinner how the Chef spent countless hours
on each dish, how they only got the beers shortly before the dinner in order to see if
the pairings would work well. I’m beginning to understand the magnitude of this event
as opposed to just the outcome.


Beer three is out, a collaboration between Manskirt and NJ HOPZ named Pfefferbock,
which is well, a Pfefferbock, or in more layman’s terms, a peppery bock. I go on NJ
HOPZ, another homebrewing club; website to learn it is the North Jersey
Homebrewing Organization of Zymurgists. You really want to know…okay a zymurgist
is a scientist who studies the chemical process of fermentation in brewing and
distilling; also, by extension, a BREWER…yes I had to look it up! And here come the
pairings; Cheese Steak Diane ( bock marinated grilled skirt steak over a Diane
“schmere” topped with green peppercorn, raisin, apple, ginger chutney wearing aged
provolone & a malt pretzel nugget) and Ice Cream, You Scream…Shrimp! (ice cream
cone encrusted shrimp with lingonberry, coffee, vanilla & sage ice cream and an
espresso-belgian candy sour slaw)…you read it correctly, the shrimp coating did
taste like ice cream. Another very amazing pairing to go with the beer.


Bummer, we down to our last beer and food paring…I could do this all night; well
maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. Beer four is collaboration between Bolero Snort
and Chef Chris named Cask Moovember, which is a Milk Stout. As if the Chef wasn’t
busy enough he’s also collaborating! Basically its cask conditioned Bolero Snort
Moovember. Here come the last set of food pairings; Colonel Thi’s PBJ Fry (beer &
thai peanut curry brined buttermilk stout fried chicken with a chocolate raspberry-
cumin drizzle) and Birra Misu’sed (milk stout & brown sugar soaked lady fingers
between lactose sweetened cream and smatterings of chocolate peanut butter
reduction and chocolate Malt-A-Salt in a misu’sed espresso cup). Quite the finale!


No better way to judge an event than by looking around and seeing all the very
hoppy, er happy smiling folks, many who’ve had a long day. Nicole’s Ten has done
an amazing job. We applaud the smiling and energetic servers, who’ve been running
drinks and dishes in and out to us throughout; the kitchen staff, who have very
meticulously prepared hundreds of small food pairings on a very timely basis, the
Chef, who showed us great creativity dish after dish, Nell, our very enthusiastic,
passionate, ambitious, forceful and driven host and MC, and of course the owner,
Nicole, who took a huge risk.


Taste is more than just putting something in your mouth. Nicole’s handling of the
dishes was a case study; the initial vision, time and creativity on the pairings, giving
us very descriptive write-ups which got our minds thinking about what we were about
to taste (which is why I included each one), an excellent visual presentation for each
of the plates (I really wish I had thought to take some pictures), aroma to further
stimulate and finally the actual taste and seeing how it interacts/reacts/compliments
the beer.


Although Nicole’s did the heavy lifting this was a truly collaborative effort, with MASH
co-sponsoring, the NJ brewers and homebrewers working together, tickets
discounted for both Homebrew Club and NJCB members and the many sponsors.
What a night; tasted some very interesting beers; had some excellent beer and food
pairings; met a great group of people, learned a great deal about the homebrew
scene and definitely expanded my horizons…couldn’t ask for much more. Can’t wait
till next year’s MoTown Mash!


And yes, thanks to Livingston for not just peaking my interest, but taking me under
his wing, explaining things, giving me insights. I really didn’t have a clue how big and
organized and enthusiastic our local homebrewers are…I owe you one!


I did head over to Nicole’s Ten a few days later with Vince in tow so he could sample
the four collaborations, which he thoroughly enjoyed. Nell was there so we got a
chance to chat with her about the event. I must say we’re lucky to have someone with
her passion and creativity in our area.




Glenn DeLuca writes about beer and culture of drinking. He may
be reached by writing thebigG@beernexus.com.

***   ***   ***
Glenn DeLuca
Outtakes from a life of beer.
beernexus.com presents
Big G's Beer Beat
by Glenn DeLuca
BeerNexus is proud to
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Big G" DeLuca
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