Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Pink Boots at Basil T's Brewpub & Italian Grill

"In attempts to improve your character, know what is in your power and what is beyond it." ~Francis Thompson

September 10-11: OK, I overslept. What can I say? Aunt Pat is such a party animal - she hardly goes to bed before midnight!

Then I realized I'd better do some laundry, and...

Michael and Ellen helped me plan the next driving section of my route. This is not as easy as it seems. On the west coast, if there is a highway, anybody can drive on it. Not so on the east coast! There are highways called Parkways, and sometimes only passenger cars can drive on them.

Because of the trailer I am towing, I can only go on the Parkways where commercial trucks can drive. Finding out which are which is not as easy as it should be. It's not on the maps and the Internet is not always accessible.

Michael called about four New Jersey state police offices and they kept passing the buck and telling him to call some other police department. Finally he called the local AAA office and we got the answer.

FYI: I know for sure that in NY a van and trailer cannot drive on the Bronx River Parkway nor the Hutchinson River Parkway. In NJ I couldn't travel on the Pallisades Interstate Parkway.

One funny thing with this situation, is that when I used my DeLorme GPS system that runs on my laptop, there is no option to force it to avoid these routes. Therefore the bloody system kept yelling at me all the way from Brooklyn to Scarsdale, and half of the way from Scarsdale to Red Bank, NJ. (And if you go to Basil T's, you want the one in Monmouth County, not the other Red Bank in New Jersey.) There is another Basil T's brewpub in Toms River in Ocean County that is not related to this one.

Luckily you can drive on the Garden State Parkway with a van and trailer, although I didn't see very many semi-trucks. It must cost a ton of money to ship stuff from New York to New Jersey because the truckers have to go so far out of their way.

Found Red Bank easy enough, but Basil T's is lacking in their signage. I finally spotted the brewing tanks as I rounded a corner, zooming right past the entrance to their parking lot. No left turn allowed and I was suddenly routed back over the river I just came over. It's not so easy finding a place to turn around when you're towing a trailer.

So what signage does Basil T's have besides tanks showing through windows? A letter "B" on the awning. That's it. That and a very cool photo of an Italian deli with an old bicycle and wine bottles, but how the heck would you know what that photo means? It's on a huge back-lit sign out front - with no words. If it weren't for those brewing tanks I never would have found the place. Luckily lots of locals know where Basil T's is - it's a very popular restaurant. They also apparently know this snazzy photo is "sign language" for Basil T's.

Parked across a few parking spots while I called Brewmaster Gretchen Schmidhausler to see where I should park. (It's a small lot.) Manager J.J. had me park in the corner in one parking spot, and disconnect the van and park that in the next parking spot. Luckily business is quiet for about one week between the busy summer season, and the busy rainy and winter season. It didn't look so quiet to me, but I didn't get kicked out of the parking lot either.

J.J. is a personable young manager, and he was most helpful in getting me set up at the bar with their ethernet cable. Basil T's free wireless Internet is more than spotty - it hardly registers. With a good ethernet connection, I blogged for several hours with some beers and lots of football fans to keep me company. Then I had a delightful lemon-caper-chicken dish and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

The next morning, I met Gretchen at 8:30 am to brew Basil T's 1000th batch of beer. Today is a milestone for me too: Basil T's is the 50th brewery that I have visited on my trip - the 27th I've brewed at, and I've also visited 23 others.

Because of the timing for Gretchen's GABF entries, she couldn't brew something wacky or unusual for the 1000th batch, just her regular Maxwell's Dry Stout. She's already won two GABF gold medals and one bronze medal with this Stout. She's hoping for another gold.

Most of the beers I've participated in brewing along the way I will never taste. However I will be attending (and judging at) the GABF this year, so I plan to visit Basil T's booth and taste Gretchen's 1000 beer that I was witness to.

I'd like to take a moment to clarify something. When I wear pink boots at a brewery and "help" them brew a beer, I'm actually not doing the brewing. Sometimes I participate very little. It depends on how automated the system is, and how much the brewers feel comfortable letting me help. I'm mostly there to observe, ask questions of them, and answer their questions. It's more about an interchange of brewing information and techniques. Generally I job shadow one or several people during the day. I find it fun to hang out for a little while in each of the departments. Every brewery has a specific way to "skin that cat," and far be it for me to tell another brewer that they should brew with my procedures on their system!

The interchange of ideas and brainstorming of solutions has been mind-expanding for me, and hopefully will turn out to be career-expanding for me as well. I think most all the brewers I've visited have found these conversations at least enjoyable, and hopefully a few found my suggestions helpful and on-target for solution finding.

So, Gretchen mashed-in her 1000th batch of stout, assisted by Leo the resident handyman and all-around most-helpful guy. I watched and tried not to get in the way.

That's not as easy as it seems. Gretchen works on a Pub mono-block system. Pub is on record as saying the Basil T's installation was installed into the smallest space they've ever put a system. Her combination brewhouse and fermentation room take up 10 x 20 square feet. There are walk-spaces that are 3-inches wide. I kid you not. Luckily several glass walls are actually glass doors, and they open to allow passage if needed.

In the middle of the afternoon Ale Street News editor and publisher Tony Forder dropped in to say, "Hi" and have a beer. Photo at top of page, L to R: Tony, Gretchen and Teri. Former brewer and owner of Heavyweight Brewing Company, Tom Baker, joined us for a beer. (Tom is in the photo at the bottom of this page.)

After Gretchen put the beer to bed in one of the four fermenters, she wrote on it with dry-erase marker. See photo above right.
While Gretchen worked on a few things in the brewery, I wandered around and took pictures of Basil T's impressive mug club mugs. They are up to over 1,300 mugs now, and they're shooting for 2,000 mugs before May 2008. They're already out of room behind the bar, so if the owner, Vic, reaches his goal of 2,000, then they will have to remodel the bar!

Their mug price is so cheap, I can't imagine that anybody in Red Bank wouldn't be a member. For $24 a year (for 2007), you get to keep the mug (you get a new mug each year), plus you get about 4 extra ounces, so instead of $5.75 for 16 ounces, you pay $3.75 for 20 ounces. And there are special "mug nights" where the price of a 20 ounce mug of beer drops to $3.00. The photos below barely register the impressive impact the sheer volume of matching mugs make on the bar scene.

At the end of the day, while Gretchen did "clean up," I borrowed a spot at a desk upstairs and actually connected to the upstairs wireless router. I spent several hours in the afternoon (and after dinner) finally catching up on blogs and photos. Yes!

Gretchen left for a few hours after work to go home, shower, and check her dogs. Gretchen is a newlywed - only three months. Unfortunately her husband Kevin couldn't join us for dinner.

Gretchen and Tom Baker returned at 5:30 pm, and we had a lovely early dinner next to a window beneath a beautiful mural in the dining room. Basil T's really is a classy Italian restaurant. We enjoyed several of Gretchen's beers with our meals and laughed a lot.

Then with Gretchen's award-winning Maxwell's Dry Stout in our hands, we posed for the photo below. L to R: Teri, Gretchen and Tom Baker. Unfortunately Tom's wife Peggy had a work committment and couldn't join us. Peggy contacted me a long time ago when I first announced this trip on the BA Brewers Forum. Even though her and Tom's brewery, Heavyweight Brewing Company, is now defunct, Peggy wanted to make sure that I was coming through Red Bank to visit Gretchen. I had met Gretchen as a GABF Judge, and I had definitely planned to visit her. After some late night blogging up in Basil T's office, I headed out to my trailer to talk to my husband to get an in depth rundown of how his first two days at his new job have been. I sure miss him! Good night.


Rich Milliron said...

$5.75 for 16 oz!!!! I'll stop complaining that my Sierra Nevada Taproom, went up to $3.50 last December.

I'll bet you'll be glad when you get your "rig" out of that NY, NJ congestion. You're a brave woman! I would have stuck to the quiet New England breweries.

It's so neat, that you and your husband have tons of relatives all over the place. That really adds a whole new demention to your trip.

Take care!

Al said...

Ah, now you're in my old stomping grounds.

Be careful out there. I lived in New Jersey for 38 of my 40 years. When speaking of New Jersey roads and drivers, we had a slogan:

New Jersey. Where the weak are killed and eaten.