All the right stuff

March 7, 1998

By Kurt Epps

It's fast becoming a winning formula in NJ. Take a solid line of craft brews, match them up with both regular pub fare and finer cuisine, mix them all together in a comfortable and classy atmosphere and you're off. Trap Rock in Berkeley Heights, Triumph in Princeton, The Ship Inn in Milford, JJ Bittings in Woodbridge and Basil T's in both Red Bank and Toms River have done it and done it well.

Of course, it helps if that atmosphere is inside a two hundred year-old stone barn with handhewn beams, hardwood floors, a cozy fire beside which to quaff and warm your cockles (whatever they are).

But that's exactly what you get at the Long Valley Pub and Brewery in Long Valley, NJ. Long Valley was the state's third brewpub, just behind the Ship Inn and Triumph, but the order is hardly important. The proof of any brewpub is in its beers, but because you only get one chance to make a first impression, the initial walk-in is very critical.

At LVBP, that entry is impressive indeed. Stone, wood, a subdued brewpub hubbub (that's the PubScout's term for ambient noise), and lighting that makes an impact greeting the first time visitor in impressive fashion. Add to that the vaulted ceiling, a wraparound second floor with its own bar that looks down on the ground floor action and plaudits must go to the designers for capturing a perfect blend of airiness and coziness. All the culinary art - and it is indeed art - is performed out of sight on the basement level. You get an immediate feel that this is going to be a good place.

And it is, for many reasons beyond decor. Start with the brews produced by the only wort-watcher LVBP has ever had - Tim Yarrington. The former Penn Stater must have studied Joe Paterno's approach to team balance, because he brings that Nittany Lion attitude to his beermaking, a craft which he perfected at UC Davis in 1995. And LVBP was opening just as Yarrington was collecting his degree.

They have been productively married ever since, though LVBP must share Tim with his real wife, Sue. Suešs favorite TimBrew is the Black River Brown, so she must be a chocolate lover. This hearty, handsome and exceptionally smooth brew is loaded with chocolate and crystal malts and hopped with East Kent Goldings. It tastes as good as it looks and smells.

Tim's fave, on the other hand, is one that he nurtured from his youthful homebrewing days - Lazy Jake Porter. This is an exceptionally hearty beer with a roasty, toasty flavor accentuated by five different malts. On this night it happened to be the one that was on the hand pump, which made it even more appealing to purists. "It's live beer," the brewer says proudly. LVBP rotates their four basic beers on the hand pump.

While the PubScout usually avoids any beer with the word "light" attached (I call them 'canoe' beers because they're close to water), I tried Hookerman's Light anyway, perhaps because of the legend about the ghost with the steel hook for an arm. And Hookerman's Light proved to be an exception to the canoe rule. First time micro dabblers will love this crisp, dry flavorful beer. And hardened Budmillercoorsmen will probably enjoy Gristmill Golden as well. Beautifully colored and pleasantly hopped with Willamette and East Kent Goldings, this beer can hold its own in any company.

The seasonal this night was called (appropriately) Stone Barn Stout. A solid, hearty, roasty stout, this Nugget-hopped brew will probably be on tap for March and April. Try it with Chef Dirk Noel's Creme Brule, which rivals Trap Rock's (heretofore unchallenged) in quality and presentation. Maybe we can have a Brew and Brule-off between the two places, charge admission and raise money for charity. The PubScout humbly (and cleverly) volunteers to be a judge.

LVBP's exceptional food pleased every member of the PubScout's party. SubScouts Russ Schumacher and Judy Ferguson - at whose suggestion LVBP was visited - ranked the place a "10" in everything. The PubScout would be hard pressed to disagree, though I suggest you dine early and away from the entertainment, unless loud music and swirling drafts around your legs are an important part of your dining experience. (Hey, the band has to get in somehow.) We noticed, too, a marked change in the age of the clientele as the opening number got closer. No criticism there, though. That's the mark of a wide-appeal place.

In the center of this delightful tavern with its courteous, knowledgeable and friendly staff, look for the huge original wood beam that sags in the middle.

After the brews and food at LVBP, you'll have something in common with it when you leave.

®Kurt E. Epps 1998 All Rights Reserved

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Kurt Epps