ADVENTURES IN BEERLAND
is a two time winner of
the Quill and Tankard
writing award from the
North American Guild of
Vince's column is now
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The Beer Holder
We can learn a lot from famous old sayings such as Benjamin Franklin wisely telling us “neither a borrower nor lender
be” or Franklin Roosevelt’s sage insight that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. Wisdom like that keeps us
from falling victim to anyone of life’s many classic blunders—the most famous of which is, “Never get involved in a
land war in Asia”—but only slightly less well-known is this: “never tout a bar to someone.” Last week I made that
A short time ago I visited Jersey City, no, not that giant retail warehouse for team t-shirts, but the resurgent urban
area logically located in New Jersey. Joining a group of well know (sometimes even for good things) beer hunters, we
went on an impromptu pub crawl. The rules were easy. Park the car, flip a coin for a direction and start walking.
Then, at every bar that we come upon, we stop for one beer. Our makeshift route would, with lots of luck, a working
GPS, and a beer induced Davy Crockett like sense of direction, bring us back to the vicinity of our car. We hoped.
One thing we were 100% sure of was that we would pass enough bars to fuel a productive hunt. This, after all, was a
city smack in the midst of a renaissance of their waterfront area. That means a lot of things but for beer drinkers it
means new bars, more new bars, and a good number of old ones enjoying an unforeseen prosperity.
However as we boldly set out an unspoken fear lurked behind our bravado. It was something inherent in any
serendipitous pub crawl. Yes, there was a good chance that we might be stopping at places that poured nothing but
watery, yellow, macro lagers. That fear became dark reality at our first two stops. The response to our asking “what’s
on tap” was the same at each: “We have quite a selection- Bud, Bud Light, Coors, Coors Light, Yuengling, PBR,
Rolling Rock, ….. ” . It was quite the selection indeed.
We cursed the Beer Gods as we debated amending the prime directive of one beer per bar. However, we quickly
realized that despite the beer quality, our first two stops had a hard to ignore positive factor - price. In addition to
$3.50 drafts and bottles each bar featured Pabst Blue Ribbon at $2 for a 22 ounce pour. And for the truly discerning
palate, they also offered PBR in the Tall Boy can for the very same price. Now that’s a deal even Bob Barker and
Monty Hall couldn’t afford to pass up. Surprisingly however, most of our group did just that as they opted for a
Rolling Rock bottle over the PBR. There was logic in their madness however; they were applying the theory that less
is more. Although Rolling Rock was more expensive it came in significantly less volume. It‘s a lot easier to drink 12
ounces of swill than 22 ounces of swill.
One and done, we moved on and on again. We soon were facing an open door leading to a place called Barcade. In
we went. You instantly knew it was a craft centric beer place by the four large chalkboards that hung on the wall
behind the bar. If you see a chalkboard you’re sure to be in a good drinking spot; after all, when was the last time
you saw a bar chalkboard listing the entire portfolio of In-Bev and Miller-Coors?
Barcade offered 25 excellent craft beers on tap including things like Brooklyn ½ Ale, Bruery Jardinier and Dogfish 75
Minute IPA on cask. Needless to say none were priced in the $2 range, or even $5 for that matter. We made our
picks, finished one beer and got ready to move on. That was a tough call but a rule is a rule. Besides, none of us
where enamored of the dingy, dank, dark, dirty interior of the bar nor with the young (was Ray Charles checking
IDs?) nouveau (“Corona must be good if it’s an import…”) almost craft drinkers playing the countless retro video
games that infested the place.
Our next stop was Pints, an oasis for any pub crawling group. Its exterior was rather pedestrian with a small bar
visible through its storefront window. The inside proved to be a clean, warm, cozy craft beer haunt. Above the bar,
their chalkboards listed nearly 50 beers, a few of which were the usual suspects, a few of which were losers, but
many more than a few of which were really, really good. Even more, they offered beer in half pints, ideal for a long
tasting session. That however was not for us; once again it was one and done.
And then we hit the jackpot! The bar was HopsScotch. Its 40 tap beer menu had things like Antwerpse Brouw
Compagnie Seef Bier (a dry, fruity wheat), Birra del Borgo Caos (with added wine must), Thornbridge Bracia (none of
us had heard of it making it a perfect choice). And then I saw it, buried in the middle of their beer list - Founder’s
Kentucky Breakfast Stout. Yes, that KBS. I read it three times to be sure; every time it still said Founders Kentucky
I quickly ordering a KBS just to make sure this was not a hallucinatory reaction to those Rolling Rocks. It was real
and so was HopScotch’s bottle list with 139 world class selections. They billed it as “The best bottle list in New
Jersey”. They could have safely added another 40 or so states. Prices were more than fair by the way. Oh, did I
mention that we were able to take advantage of their daily (as in 7 days a week) Happy Hour? But wait there’s more
– this happy hour was not $1, not $2, but $3 off every beer. I asked if they served PBR for $2 since my smarter than
a fifth grader math skills told me that the happy hour discount would mean the beer is free and I’d get a dollar too.
With a deal like that PBR just might become my favorite beer in the world. The bartender laughed. He was great –
efficient, professional, and perfectly attentive. He didn’t know much about beer but nonetheless welcomed our
invitation to join in the tasting discussions. To make sure his contributions had some authenticity he poured himself a
small taste of every beer up for analysis. You could almost hear him thinking one for you, one for me.
Clearly this place was the grand slam hit of the day. I immediately moved to invoke a little known codicil to our pub
crawl adventure rules – you can stay as long as you want if you really want to. We all wanted, so we did.
Eventually we moved on hitting a few more places but they all were a blur to me. I remained enraptured by the spell
of HopsScotch. And that explains why, the following evening, at my local pub, I nonchalantly dropped the big one – “I
found THE place you just have to try.” The bar was silent. No one ever says that unless they’ve had too many or
secretly bought a majority ownership in the place. I heard a few whispers and then a lone voice. It was Andrew, a
legitimate and fully certified craft beer fan. “I’ll go there but only on your say-so.” I responded with “you can say
thanks by buying me a beer next time I see you."
That next time was three days later. Andrew eschewing his normal friendly greeting simply asked “how could you
recommend that place?” My rapier like comeback was directly to the point: “what place?” Had I mistakenly sent him
for $2 PBRs?
“HopsScotch”, he said.
My response was succinct –“where you at the right place?”
“They were out of the four beers I really wanted, the bartender paid no attention to us, and most of the beers on tap
were just mediocre ones and pricey at that” he said.
Hushed whispers filled the bar. I had broken THE Golden Rule – never recommend a bar to a serious beer geek that
isn’t what you said it would be. As the gravity of my faux pas sank in several people in nearby barstools turned their
backs to me in disgust. Then, from a dark recess across the bar, dozens of peanuts came sailing in my direction. I
ordered a beer to calm down but noticed that bartender poured it into a dirty glass. This crowd had become a mob
demanding vigilante justice.
Having no choice I began a loud and lengthy defense of my recommendation of HopsScotch. It was emotional and
heartfelt. Then drawing upon years of watching black and white, grade B detective movies, I skillfully maneuvered
Andrew into admitting he didn’t have the same bartender, he hadn't gone during happy hour, and four kegs kicked
while he was there which they were in the process of replacing when he left.
We finally agreed that he was at the same place but it wasn’t the same place.
However I knew our agreement did little for my general credibility. I had no choice; I went on the offensive. I dared
Andrew to recommend a bar for me to visit. With a satisfied smile he said “Brix City”, a new brewery in Little Ferry,
NJ”. The next day I stood in the Brix City tasting room. I ordered a flight of all eight of their beers. The styles ranged
from a double IPA to a Belgium Dubbel to a Pale Ale. The biggest difference between them was simply their name;
each tasted like the other, dominated by Belgium yeast notes. And I don’t like Belgium yeast notes; not even the
ones made in Belgium and certainly not the faux ones made in Little Ferry. I finished the flight wishing for $2 PBR.
The next day I was back in the comfort of my local pub when Andrew walked in. I noticed several patrons taking out
their phones to record our confrontation.
“How could you recommend that place?” I said.
“What place” he said.
“Where you at the right place?”
And so it went.
We finally agreed that I was at the same place but it wasn’t the same place.
We then took our agreement one step further. We signed a formal document and posted on the wall next to the
men’s room, the only place where it was sure to be seen and seen often. It contained only one line but its truth was
indisputable - beauty is indeed in the eyes of the beer holder.
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