John and I were all set. We had the babysitting, and we were headed out to a much-needed, quiet , romantic oasis in this holiday craziness; we were heading to Cumberland County to attend the Christmas in Greenwich house tour! Chilly air, strolling arm and arm down the Eighteenth Century streets in an old-fashioned Christmas wonderland, maybe warming up with some spiced cider, and listening to Christmas carols…unfortunately, it looks like the Heat Meiser got the upper hand on Sunday, and instead of a beautiful, slow snowfall we could stroll through, we got rain. A nasty, chilly, soaking rain. Since we weren’t about to drive almost two hours to be doused and miserable, we needed a Plan B.
That plan was to have a civilized, kid-free (ours, anyway) lunch at Siam Spice in Toms River (still good, by the way, check out our review here), and maybe putz around a bit- grab a cup of coffee and park to watch the ocean, check out that liquor store that’s supposed to have such a great craft brew selection…(you have your idea of romance, we have ours, OK?) That liquor store turned out to be, ironically, called Wine World (formerly Circle on the Square Liquors, now on Route 88, in Brick). And it turned out to be an incredibly fortunate find.
My first reaction when I walked in was, “Damn, it’s cold in here!” And yes, the bright, shiny-new store has an extensive wine selection. But I was headed straight for the refrigerator cases that held the beer, to see if this place had “the largest selection of craft brew in Ocean and Monmouth County”, as they claimed to have. As I perused the case along the wall, I thought it had a decent selection: some seasonals, some standards like Duvel and Hacker-Pschorr, some very interesting microbreweries…then John came up behind me and said, “Lee, look behind you.” There stood an entire aisle-long array of the highest-end craft brews I’d ever seen all together in one place. Dogfish Head Pangea. La Chouffe. Christoffel. The Bruery Coton. Locals like Troegs and River Horse. New Englanders like Harpoon and Smuttynose. West Coasts like Anchor and Ballast Point. Belgian Trappist ales, more than I could count. My knees were weak, and I almost swooned.
I recovered quickly, though. “Wait a minute, get a hold of yourself, woman,” I scolded myself. “You’ve seen selections like this before in North Jersey. And you’ve gotten sooooo excited, only to be burned by the bozos who think they can leave beers like these on the shelf forever-and you open a precious find, only to find it’s old and skunked.” Too true. So many exciting beers- but the farther away they were made, the more frightened I was to buy one. We did notice that they had Flying Fish’s Exit Series; and hankering for the new, but elusive Exit 13 Chocolate Stout,John went off in search of help, while I looked longingly at the brews.
A few minutes later, we got the bad news from the store’s owner, who came over to help- no Exit 13 yet. He started to make a few suggestions, which got us on the subject of craft beer…and we ended up chatting with him for almost 45 minutes. Tikoo, as he introduced himself, knew a LOT about wine, as well as beer. He didn’t tell us that- we found out for ourselves. We chatted about Belgian styles, the glasses they are supposed to be served in, what is just flash and what is quality. We talked about the demystifying of pairing food with beer, and how unlike wine afficianados, craft brew fans will travel far to get a good beer (probably out of necessity!). But it was when we talked about beer storage, as he pointed to the lights above the beer aisle and explained, “yes, light breaks it down, that’s why I keep them off as much as I can…” that I knew he had two permanent customers. It suddenly clicked as to why I was so cold- the store felt akin to cellar temperature. This man is not only a shrewd business person, he genuinely cares about his product.
So what did we come away with that day? It was really hard to choose, but we compromised with a Flying Fish Exit 6 (Wallonian Rye), an Allagash Dubbel Reserve, and the impossible-to-find Mikkeller Rauch Geek Breakfast from Denmark (rated as one of the best breweries in the world, that brew other beers like Dim Sum 1, I Beat You, and Big Worse). Stay tuned, we’ll probably talk about them all (we can’t drink ’em all at once- we have kids, for God’s sake!).
It’s not often that I want to consider writing about a liquor store, but I have never encountered a place that was so dedicated to the proper enjoyment of craft brews in this area. If you don’t live near Brick and you love beer, find an excuse to get over here anyway. When you discover that you, too, are walking around the beer section like a moony-eyed kid like I did… you’ll thank me.