I recently visited Top Hops Beer Shop in the Lower East Side for a Saturday afternoon drink. The atmosphere is cozy and welcoming with an array bottles and beer merchandise serving as the décor. A few high-top tables offer seating in front along with a medium-sized bar with about a dozen stools and more than 20 beers on tap. Coolers in the back filled with beers from all over the world are available for purchase to-go or to drink at the bar for a small fee. Also, feel free to bring a growler for a refill. If you want a yummy snack to go along with your beer, the cheese platter was popular while I was there.
My friends and I ordered several beer flights and I enjoyed all the beers I sampled – I don’t remember what we drank, but do recall drinking a Daydreamer from Ithaca Beer Company. The bartenders were knowledgeable and clearly beer lovers. All of the patrons were friendly and we spent some time chatting with the table next to us. Kudos to Top Hops for playing great music; I’ve never been to a bar where I like every single song that was played.
Bottom line – I would go back to Top Hops, but would carefully choose which bartender I ask for a recommendation. While ordering, I briefly chatted with the bartender and explained that I enjoy all styles of beer but would like to try a good-quality beer that is unique to the area/shop or difficult to purchase in the area. I asked if he had anything that was running low or something that he felt was “different” that I should try. He laughed smugly and told me to look at the list of beers on the wall and then proceeded to tell me he can’t recommend anything because he doesn’t know what I like and everything is good-quality. I was in the restaurant/bar business for several years and understand that people ask “stupid” questions, but the bartender could have been a bit more helpful and friendly.
P.S. Make sure you shut the door on your way in/out! Cheers!
Germania Park in Rockaway, NJ had its annual Oktoberfest celebration on September 20 – 21. It’s the first time I’ve been to this event, but locals tell me they’ve been coming for traditional German dishes, beer and music for years. The cash-only event will set you back $5 for adults plus food and drinks. Wine and spirits are available for purchases in addition to beer, but who celebrates Oktoberfest with wine? Not this girl. Hofbrau, Ramstein and Yuengling were available on tap for $5 and food ranged from about $4-$10.
Tip: This event uses $1 tickets as currency to speed up wait time for beers and brats. I didn’t see an ATM on site, so I recommend bringing cash and getting in the ticket line ASAP because it got a bit long at times. Note: If you have left over tickets at the end of the night, you can sell your tickets back.
Hofbräu Oktoberfest (6.3% ABV): This Marzen/Oktoberfest brewed by Hofbräu München in Munich pours a clear cinnamon brown with a thick, two-finger white head. The malty aroma has notes of bread, caramel and floral hops. Hofbräu Oktoberfest starts off with bitter hoppiness followed by rich, bready, caramel and a bit of sweetness. The flavors commingle to create a clean finish that will have you reaching for another beer all night. This is a traditional representation of the style that I look forward to every September.
Ramstein Oktoberfest (6% ABV): This Marzen/Oktoberfest, only available on draft for a limited time (September 1 – October 31), is brewed by High Point Brewing Company in Butler, NJ. It pours cloudy amber brown with a thin, light brown head. Ramstein Oktoberfest has a nice nose of cinnamon, nutmeg and malt with a bit of orange zest underneath. The flavor profile is all bready malt and sweet caramel with a bit of subtle bitterness to balance the flavor that finishes dry. This brew was a bit heavy compared to other beers in this style, but will appeal to those who like a slightly sweeter marzen.
My German beers have finally ARRIVED! Yay! For those of you that don’t know, I recently visited Germany and the Czech Republic. My mouth waters thinking about all the amazing beers I tried. I couldn’t get enough of the Bavarian beers, so I decided to bring a few brews back to the states with me. By the end of my trip, my suitcase was stuffed and close to being over the weight limit. I went with the next best option; I shipped about 10 kg of beer to New Jersey. I started and ended my trip in Germany, so I wasn’t able to ship any Czech beers – bummer. I still got a nice selection of Germany’s finest, though. Based on what I read, I had no idea if the beers would actually make it or not. Turns out that DHL was capable of delivering everything undamaged for around EUR 50. This may just be the best package I have EVER received! All I have to do is put on some lederhosen, pop open a beer and it will be like I never left Deutschland. I will review one beer each week, so make sure you check back to see what I try first!
With some last minute planning, I was able to make it to Philly Beer Week. Yay! After doing some research, it became clear that Monk’s Café is a staple for beer – and food – lovers in Philly. I made sure this was my first stop of the evening. Due to some technical difficulties, we only made it to one more notable bar before last call. It turns out that Apple Maps doesn’t work that well when you’ve had a few beers and have no idea where you are! Here are some highlights from my trip:
It was a bit crowded at Monk’s when we arrived and there wasn’t much standing room, but we order a beer and stood in the corner. A few bar stools opened up rather quickly as parties were seated for dinner. We had heard Monk’s was known for its sour beer, but we didn’t see any on the draught menu. I started off with the Saison Dupont Cuvée Dry Hopping (2014) followed by a Russian River Damnation and finished with a Firestone Walker Union Jack – recommended by the bartender.
I heard someone order a Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour Ale and immediately started bombarding him with questions. He responded by grabbing an extra glass and pouring me a sample. Did I mention I love Monk’s Café? The beer was delicious and all I could think was why did I just order another beer and why don’t they have this on tap? It turns out Monk’s has a back bar with a different beer selection including Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour Ale on tap as well as several other beers I would have liked to try. Unfortunately, we were on our way out when we made our “discovery,” so I guess I will just have to make my way back to Monk’s café – very soon! Next time, I am heading straight to the back bar.
The Farmer’s Cabinet
By the time we arrived at The Farmer’s Cabinet it was quite late. The bar/restaurant had a prohibition era vibe. There were some interesting cocktails I wanted to try, but I was there for the beer. The bar had a “tour of Europe” in honor of Philly Beer Week featuring beers from Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom and Belgium. Since I had just returned from Bavaria, I was immediately drawn to the German beers. Many of the kegs were already kicked, so I ordered the only two German beers left on tap: Würzburger Pils and Lammsbräu Pilsner. I haven’t tried too many French or Italian beers, so I was eager to taste those as well. The bartender kindly poured us about half a dozen samples to try. To be honest, I don’t remember what we sampled, but the tasting piqued my interest in French beer.
Reviews to come soon. Cheers to another successful Philly Beer Week!
J.J. Bitting Brewing Company is located in downtown Woodbridge, NJ. The 100-year-old building once belonged to J.J. Bitting Coal and Feed Depot, but was restored to house the brewing company in 1997.
Fun Fact: J.J. Bitting was the first brewery to operate in Woodbridge Township since the repeal of prohibition in 1933!
The staff was friendly and at ease even on a busy Saturday night. Plus, the place was packed, so that’s always a good sign. The brew pub has three distinct areas: the bar, main dining room and outdoor patio. J.J. Bitting has about 8 different beers on tap at any given time. Note: Only beer brewed on premises is served, so don’t expect to purchase any name brands here.
I sampled two different brews during my visit: Victoria’s Golden Ale and Nut Brown Ale. Click here to read my review.
The menu has a nice selection of traditional bar food plus a few unexpected items. I’d recommend the tater tots – available with about a dozen different toppings –wings and pot stickers. Also, I enjoyed the Bittings Steak Baguette: tender NY strip steak piled high on fresh bread and served with tasty au jus. Our waiter recommended the ribs, which were nothing to brag about; so, don’t hesitate to pass those up.
I enjoyed my visit to J.J. Bittings and will definitely be back to try their summer beer line up while taking full advantage of the patio. Plus, it’s only about 20 minutes away from the nearest shore point. Cheers!
I’m happy to say that I finally visited the Brooklyn Brewery this weekend! On Saturday, the brewery has tours every hour beginning at 1:00 p.m. Make sure arrive about an hour early, though; there are several lines you have to get through – the line to get in, line to get beer tokens, beer line and finally the tour line. This sounds like a lot of waiting, but the staff is organized and the lines moved rather quickly.
The “brew house” is set up like a German biergarten with large wooden picnic tables and minimalistic decor. Beer tokens cost $5 a piece or you can get 5 tokens for $20. One beer costs one token. About a dozen beers are available for purchase. Brooklyn Brewery also sells souvenirs and beer to-go.
The tour wasn’t necessarily a tour in the traditional sense. We were escorted into a large room with all of the brewing equipment. Unfortunately, we had to stay in this room because the brewery is in the process of expanding, so the other rooms were off-limits. The tour guide have us a brief history of the brewery, its founders, how it became what it is today and a brief Q&A session. We lingered in the room for about 5 minutes afterwards to get a few photos and to ask some additional questions and then were quickly ushered out. All in all, the tour lasted about 30 minutes.
I would definitely visit Brooklyn Brewery again to hang out in the brew house, but I probably wouldn’t go on the tour again. However, if you’re a first timer, I would recommend taking the tour to learn a little bit about the beer you’re drinking and the brewery itself. Plus, I must admit, the tour guide had us all laughing!
Beer review to come soon!
Top 3 Visitor Recommendations:
- Bring cash there is no ATM.
- The brewery doesn’t serve food, but they encourage patrons to order food and bring it in. I suggest sampling pizza one of Brooklyn’s finest!
- If you’re looking for something to do before or after your visit to the brewery, check out Allswell for some good drinks and eats located just one block away!
I go to Philadelphia for two reasons: Miss Tootsie’s fried chicken and beer!
On a recent trip, I thought it would be a great idea to use Siri to get around. We parked on South Broad Street, search local brewpubs and started walking. After two failed attempts to find what we were looking for – somewhere in the Redding Terminal Market and near Logan Circle (Logan Square) – we winded up at Con Murphy’s. We were hot, tired and thirsty; so we chugged our beer, headed toward the car and prepared to eat some phenomenal fried chicken.
As I was putting coins in the meter, I saw tons of people entering what appeared to be an empty lot. We checked it out and low and behold – The PHS Pop Up “Beer” Garden.
The Garden is an outdoor space to hang out with friends, have a few locally-brewed beers, enjoy some “picnic-inspired” food and just be outdoors. This is the first I have stumbled upon something like this, and I thought it was really cool.
If you’re in the Philly area, I strongly suggest stopping by. It was a great experience hanging out here for a couple of hours.
By the way – in case you were wondering – we did make it to Miss Tootsie’s after a few more beers!
Poor Henry’s in Boonton, NJ has some unique beers on draft. They have a limited selection of draft craft beers, but change their offerings regularly. They also have a number of craft beers available in bottles that you can pick and choose to create your own beer bucket! I thought this was a nice feature because you can try a few different things. Plus, if you are going with friends you can all try something different and save some cash! I decided to go with the “Beer Flight” for $7. I choose 4 beers from their craft beer draft list. Poor Henry’s also fills growlers for $15! This is about $3 – $5 cheaper compared to other places that do this in the area.
- Elysian Superfuzz (5.4% alcohol): This Blood Orange Pale Ale from Seattle-based brewer, Elysian Brewing Company, was not quite what I expected. It pours a hazy orange with a small, bright white head. The blood orange creates a citrus aroma and overall subtle sweetness. On the other hand, the hops is still noticeable in both the aroma and flavor. I expected SuperFuzz to be sweet, but it definitely had a Pale Ale taste to it with a distinct bitterness that slightly mellows out from the sweetness of the blood orange. The best way to describe Elysian Superfuzz is a summer version of a pale ale. I thoroughly enjoyed this beer for its ability to combine traditional Pale Ale flavors along with citrus to produce a highly-drinkable beer.
- Weyerbacher Aquila (7.1% alcohol): This Beligan-style Farmhouse Ale is part of Weyerbacher’s Brewer’s Select beers, so it is brewed in limited quantities. It is a clear golden-yellow with almost no head. Aquila has a malty, earthy aroma to it. As for flavor, this beer was a bit robust for my taste. Toasted wheat and rye malts along with Bravo and Simcoe hops are used to create this brew’s complex flavor. However, the high alcohol content also contributed to the overall strong, bitter hoppy flavor. Overall, this beer was a bit much for me, especially on a 100-degree day. I can appreciate Aquila, but I could see myself drinking this on a cooler night. Not my favorite.
- Carton Monkey Chased the Weasel (3.9% alcohol): This sour ale from Carton Brewing is brewed with mulberries and is well – sour! I thought sour beers were growing on me, and I actually enjoyed the last few that I sampled. However, this brew was not for me. It pours a cloudy pinkish-orange with almost no head. The color reminds me of a really ripe grapefruit. Monkey Chased the Weasel smells of citrus along with sweet tartness from the mulberries. I think the aroma was sweeter than what this brew actually tasted like. This beer was way too sour for me. Sourness was all I tasted. The other sour beers I’ve had were able to maintain complex flavor along with a nice addition of sourness. However, I felt that the sour flavor dominated this beer and there was not much else to balance out the flavor. To be honest, when I first tasted it, I was wondering if this batch got ruined or if the keg was old. If you’re intrigued by this style of beer, click here to read more about sour beer and it’s history.
- Bolero Snort’s Gimme S’mores (5% alcohol): This amber lager was my favorite beer of the flight by far. Maybe it was because I expected it to be horrible, but it was DELICIOUS. Gimme S’mores is a 39th anniversary beer. It really balanced out the s’mores flavor without overpowering the beer. It pours an amber brown with a minimal white head. You can actually taste the malt, chocolate and cinnamon. It sounds weird, but this beer is not sweet. Bolero Snort was able to blend these flavors along with the natural lager flavors perfectly to create one seriously awesome beer. I could easily drink several pints of this and not feel guilty one bit! I did some research on this brew and it was very hard to find information. If you see this on tap or at your local liquor store, take my advice and buy! You won’t regret it. Plus, it’s summertime, who doesn’t want s’mores?
I love to eat as much as I like to drink, but many of my favorite restaurants don’t have the beer selection that I am looking for. There are tons of BYOB restaurants all over New Jersey. The problem is, how do you know you are choosing the right one? Also, I’m all about eating a wide-range of food, so I’ve provided you my favorties with food inspired from all over the world and put together this list for you. Enjoy!
Top 5 BYOB Restaurants in Northern NJ:
- Cuban Pete’s (Montclair):
Great atmosphere and great food – What more can you ask for? I LOVE this place!
Food Type: Cuban
Favorite Dish: Churrasco el Gaucho: Grilled skirt steak with chimichurri sauce chipotle.
They also offer a variety of tapas for around $4 so you can sample a few things on the menu if you’re not that hungry.
Tip: You know I love my beer, but Cuban Pete’s offers a variety of punches (about a dozen or so). I would suggest bringing some wine or vodka that the servers can mix in for some AMAZING sangria.
- Zen Japanese Cuisine (Livingston):
Relaxed atmosphere and unexpectedly nice décor – dark wooden booths along with recessed lighting- definitely a nice place to bring your date! They also have a sushi bar if you’re on the go.
Food Type: Japanese
Favorite Dish: M.I.3: From the specialty menu, this tempura sushi roll with jalapeños is FANTASTIC! It’s got flavor, but it’s not overly spicy.
Tip: There is a large liquor store with a large beer and wine selection right next door. Get your drinks and food all in one shopping center!
- Mama Mia (Morris Plains):
This recently-opened restaurant has some truly amazing Italian food. The chef has been in the industry for more than 40 years and it shows! The service is great and I always feel welcome when I come here.
Food Type: Italian
Favorite Dish: Rigatoni (or any pasta) with Vodka Sauce: The sauce makes the dish! It is the perfect blend of cream and filetto (red sauce) with hints of garlic and basil. You will thank me once you try this!
TIP: If you want something quick, try the Cheesesteak sandwich. Mama Mia’s uses rib eye to elevate this classic Philly sandwich to a whole other level.
- Saigon Pho (Parsippany):
Authentic, reasonably-priced Vietnamese that comes in large portions – I usually spend about $25 for two entrees and an appetizer.
Food Type: Vietnamese
Favorite Dish: Rare Beef and Flank Steak Pho (P4): The meat cooks instantly in the boiling hot broth. I love this dish because I can spice it up to my taste with homemade hot sauce, soy sauce and fish sauce. They also have Sriracha if you prefer that instead.
Tip: There is a Bottle King across the street as well as a ShopRite that carries beer/wine/liquor in the same complex.
- Bosphorous (Lake Hiawatha):
This small, but intimate restaurant has some of the best lamb I’ve had in the area. It literally melts in your mouth and is not gamey at all!
Food Type: Turkish
Favorite Dish: Yogurt Kabab Gyro: broiled lamb over fried bread pieces in a garlic yogurt sauce (that will have you licking the plate clean if you can finish it!)
Tip: The restaurant is a bit small, so if you’re going during prime dining hours and have more than four people, I would recommend making a reservation.
Liquor Outlet Wine Cellars in Boonton, NJ has an amazing selection of craft beer. Here is a virtual tour of their craft beer cooler. Enjoy!