Friday, May 02, 2008

The Ship Inn

My old friends and I have an annual tradition. Once a year we get together to celebrate the opening of trout season. What started out as a mind bending day trip has gradually morphed into a four day holiday. When we were in High School (over 25 years ago), we used to load into my '72 International Scout and my friends '78 Bronco, hitting the road at 3am to make it for the opening "drop the line" 7am whistle. We would travel 2-3 hours just to fish. Actually, I think we drank more beer than we fished. We would crack our first can of beer at 6am, drinking in the cold morning air waiting for 7am to come. We'd fish for a few hours and then hit the beers, eventually heading home. Always with a designated driver and our parents were never the wiser.

Over the years we got older and the routine changed. We'd still head to our spot in the wee hours of the morning getting there two hours before fishing time, start drinking and then fish and then drink some more. But now because we were older we needed after fishing entertainment. That's when the "shaker joints" came into play. After a morning of fishing and drinking we would head for the Adult Entertainment venues. Nothing worse than a bunch of drunk college students in a strip bar. I am glad we grew out of that phase of our fishing trips or should I say lived through it.

A few more years down the line we became more established in life and decided that getting up at 3am to drive three hours to our fishing spot was ridiculous. That is when one of us came up with the idea of camping. Now, the one day trip has turned into a 3-4 day Trout Fishing Holiday. Oddly enough, we still only fish about four hours on this trip. The days have increased but the fishing time stayed the same. What could we be doing with all of our other time on this trip? Drinking naturally. Well, we call it bonding with our friends, getting in touch with nature, stress reduction therapy etc. But no matter how you look at it or what you call it, we were still there for the same reason we were there for 25 years ago, the beer.

Here is one of my favorite highlights of our annual trip. This is the part I start getting excited about two months before April, the beginning of trout season. After we fish in our fishing hole and then move down the stream to fish the Damn, it is usually about noon when we are finished. Just around the bend from the Damn, in Historic Milford New Jersey is the Ship Inn. The Ship Inn is what gets my salivary glands in a tither. New Jersey's first brew pub, the Ship Inn owned by the Hall family, brews English style ales. And they are quite good at it.

Much to the chagrin of the locals in attendance, around noon, 5 or 6 scruffy, waterlogged, some drunk, dirty fisherman parade into the Ships Inn and immediately take over the bar. Are we loud and obnoxious? Obviously. But for the most part we are personable, funny and usually form some sort of bond with the bartender, who is typically an attractive young lady. On our most recent trip there, the bartender was a young lass named Stephanie. I use the word lass because it rhymes with sass, and Stephanie can give as good as she gets. We have been going to the Ship Inn on an annual basis since 1994 and every time I walk in the door, I eye up the Old Style, English Hand Pump Beer Engine and ask, "What do you have in the casks today?"

Never to be disappointed, I always have the Best Bitter Ale. Served at a cellar temperature, Brewmaster Tim Hall's Best Bitter is so smooth it is silky. Just as good as any bitters I have had in England. I look forward to a few pints of Best Bitter each fishing trip. The Chocolate Stout is another winner. Dark, smooth and creamy, hints of chocolate all over it, the stout lovers in our group ate this style up. In our gathering of merry, sometimes grouchy fisherman, we have a few domestic swill drinkers. Sadly, for them there is not a domestic swill in the house. The Hall family only serves their own handcrafted ales and select imported ales on tap. They also have a fine bottle collection. Not to worry though. If you bring a few hardcore swill drinkers in with you, I settled them on Tim's ESB Ale. I love an ESB and this one proved to be extremely drinkable and even satisfied our "Light" beer guys.

The food in the Ships Inn is very good. We have our staples. Each time we go there we order a Shepard's Pie, a Scotch Egg and Buffalo wings. The Wings at the Ship Inn are extraordinary, as is the Shepard's Pie. But what gets the guys going is the Scotch Egg. The boys call it an Egg Meatball. What it is, is an egg shaped meatloaf filled with sausage, ground meat and a hardboiled egg in the middle. It is served with Picalilly Sauce, which is a dipping sauce made from cauliflower, carrots and mustard. It is very good.

My one exception with the Ship Inn is that on our latest trip, the bartender Stephanie refused to take down and fill the decorative yard glass hanging over the back of the bar. I wanted to fill it with some ESB and prove my manhood to the bar patrons. Stephanie refused to take the yard glass down. At one point I even offered her double her 20% gratuity, which was a lot considering we had 8 guys there drinking and eating that afternoon. In hindsight, it was probably best. As I mentioned previously, we were scruffy, drunk, waterlogged fisherman. Tim Hall should know that no matter how hard we tried, Stephanie would not break the "No Yard Glass Drinking Rule."

The Ship Inn is New Jersey's first Brew Pub and is located in Milford, NJ about 100 yards from the Delaware River and is worth a trip. As a matter of fact it is worth about 15 trips and still counting.

Beers In Review:

Allagash Tripel Reserve:
This Belgian style ale had a nice, sweet refreshing smell. Almost fruity, very enticing. As I poured this beer, I couldn't help to notice the color. The beer had a orange, goldish hue with a formidable head that, as expected, thinned rapidly. The first sip had a well balanced fruity taste that was enjoyably refreshing. The second taste revealed all of the spices that were meticulously used in the boil. This ale even had a bit of a spicy kick to it. As the beer went down, you noticed the warming sensation from the 9% whollop this Tripel was packing. The best part of drinking Allagash's Tripel Reserve was the way the initial fruit taste morphed into a blend of spices and herbs then finishing dry and refreshing. Nothing reserved about this beer. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Avery Brewing Hogheaven Barleywine Style Ale: I really enjoy Avery beers. Particularly their IPA and extreme IPA styles. They take hops to the next level while never losing the balance between hops and malt. That being said, as far as their Barleywine goes, I just don't see it. It is a terrific beer, but I would never guess it was a barleywine. I like the traditional sweet malty taste of a barleywine. This one was all about the hops, which I am sure will please the guys who lean towards the high hop end. It was very good as an extreme IPA, give it a try and decide for yourself. 9.2 %

Stone Vertical Epic 07: The guys at Stone Brewing bred a Belgian Saison with a Belgian Tripel and came up with a helluva an ale for an offspring. She poured a light, orange color with a sweet, ginger aroma. Once in the mouth you felt a very dry taste which then left you with a bitter, hoppy aftertaste. Very good use of ginger and orange peel as those spices are right there on your tongue. This was an easy drinking, mellow, relaxing ale. The stamp of California was all over this brew This was one of the best, and I hate to use these words, entry level Belgian Beers one could drink. No offense meant by my use of the words entry level, but this ale is so easy drinking it could easily open up the world of Belgian beer to the non-Belgian beer drinker.