I cover a wide range of things as a reporter in town. Some stories are more enjoyable than others, but when beer is involved I think the answer is obvious which way I lean.
On Tuesday night, I was invited to the home of local resident Roger Apollon and introduced to a little know but growing contingency of beer enthusiasts: the Brew Council.
Comprised of Apollon, Garrett Brown, Tom Maroulakos, and Rick Smith (the latter was not there that evening), this brew crew’s agenda focuses on one thing: beer. They met about a year ago at a beer tasting in Montclair and realized they could do the same thing at home.
“We started talking at the tasting, and afterwards I found out that [Brown and Maroulakos] brew .... So I said, ‘Hey, I’ve got friends, you’ve got beer, let’s just meet at my house and do a focus group!”
“That’s what it was,” Brown added. “It was a focus group, more or less, for us to bring our home-brews and just taste beer.”
We hadn’t finished our first glass of beer before I realized these guys know their stuff. In addition to brewing their own beer, Maroulakos is a brewer at High Point Brewing Company which specializes in wheat beers and German lagers, and Brown is a Cicerone certified beer server.
Over a glass of Fantome Saison, they told me that the Brew Council kicked off last summer with eight people. The whole premise was not only to taste home-brewed beer, but also craft beers from the state and around the country. Since then, the council began to develop a following -- not surprisingly.
About once a month since then, the group has gotten together to taste beer. In the beginning however, the more they convened at Apollon’s home to taste beer, the more they realized that they were attracting a wide range of beer lovers: from the knowledgeable to the novice -- I myself am lumped into the novice category. So the crew decided to expand the tasting by adding an informational element to the mix.
Each meeting has a different agenda -- Belgians, IPAs, stouts, etc. -- and the council discusses and debates their differences, qualities, and complexities. The most recent call to order was on IPAs across America with about 15 people attending.
“I always say it starts off really formal,” said Apollon with a laugh. At times, the council meetings can get a little rowdy, but there is always a call to order.
And if you were wondering if this sort of council which convenes for the express purposes of debating beer has a secret underground bunker of beers: the answer is yes. I am not a liberty to discuss where it is in Apollon’s house, other than it contains many, many beers.
I am not big beer enthusiast myself, but I have noticed that people more and more are getting into craft beers and microbreweries. You can see it everywhere: the shelves of your local liquor store where beers with unfamiliar names are stocked; local supermarkets selling home-brew kits; the guy sitting next to you in a bar who can talk to you for hours about the beer he is brewing at home.
“I think the guys who get into home brewing are more techie kind of guys,” said Maroulakos, “but, beer in general, there is such a variety within beer as opposed to wine or liquor. There are really light simple beers, and really dark, rich, complex beers that can be aged. There is really a beer for everybody.
“So I think the variety and the fact there is always something new is something to talk about. And that kind of gets people rolling.”
The recent popularity of farmers markets and interest in local, nearby products Apollon said sort of plays into the interest of home brewing and small local breweries.
“There is no better place to be right now for craft beer than America,” said Apollon. “The diversity, the styles, the creativity of beers -- no one is even close.”
More than anything else though, Brown interjected, beer culture appears to be experiencing a revival than something completely new. Before prohibition, he noted, there were more than 2,000 breweries in the country; by the 1960s, there were only a handful.
“Now we're are just getting up to where we were in the early 20th century,” said Brown. “The pendulum is just swinging back.”
“[The craft breweries and microbreweries] are the ones really reflecting the industry right now in terms of aggressive, interesting beers,” said Maroulakos.
And then it comes down to beer vs. wine, said Apollon, a choice that he encountered a few years ago.
“When I turned 40 five years ago,” recalled Apollon, “I remember having this conscious decision: am I going to do beer or wine? So I started with wine .... but wine is expensive. If you want to get into wine, you are going to have to drop one-hundred bucks a bottle or more. ... But I can get really good beer and not spend a whole lot of money.”
“It is kind of an affordable luxury,” Maroulakos added.
When it comes to tasting and food pairing, Brown said there are many similarities between the two, and Brown did not hesitate to say that beer may even pair better with foods -- let the debate begin!
“Wine doesn’t pair as easily with food as beer does,” said Brown. “Literally whatever your flavor -- like roasted, sour, tart, sweet, bitter, anything -- there is a beer that will definitively pair exactly with that.”
And that is the point of the council’s new initiative. Hoping to expand beyond Apollon’s home, the council is trying to get local businesses involved in craft beers. Last month, the crew reached out to Suzy Que’s and held a craft beer night. The council advised what beer to purchase and it paired the beers with dishes at the restaurant.
The council will hold another craft beer night at Suzy Que’s, 34 S. Valley Road, this Saturday at 7 p.m. The course and beer listing can be found here. Registration is recommended.
And for more information about all things beer, check out the .