NEW JERSEY – NORTH
“A family friendly roundabout for all walks of life” is how Tony Soboti describes his family-owned and operated South Orange haven, GASLIGHT BREWERY & RESTAURANT. Located right in the center of town just a few doors down from the railroad station, this amiable three-roomed pub also maintains its status as a local homebrew supplier since 1998. A cozy red brick-walled oasis not far from Seton Hall University, my wife and I first visited Gaslight on Memorial weekend, May ’06.
Amongst the gas lantern-lined town square, Gaslight’s green awning welcomes patrons to a snug horseshoe-shaped oak bar with TV’s at all sides. A tucked-in right side area and private back seating provide family-styled dining. On top of offering terrific stylistically diversified home brews, there is also a great revolving bottled selection (Corsendonk, Westmalle, Sam Smith, Chimay, Schneider, Stone) plus expansive menu (chicken, pasta, sandwiches, pizza). A choice bottled beer collection, fluorescent beer signs, banners, licence plates, dartboards, bar trays, and one shuffleboard table were strewn about.
Gaslight’s auspices go back to when Dan Soboti and his son, Danny, began home brewing together. By ’93, they opened a home brew supply store in Maplewood on Valley Street (now located upstairs at Gaslight). Danny completed his undergrad studies and went out to University of California-Davis to attend the Master Brewers Program. Gaslight officially opened June 1998, after four months of demolition, construction, installation and inspections. Joined by Danny’s mom, Cindy (executive chef), and brother, Tony (kitchen boss), their first three beers were Bison Brown, Bulldog Blonde and a Dark Mild.
Country Inn magazine originally rented the upstairs, but Gaslight soon took it over and used the space to host private parties. Storage and the home brewing equipment also fill up the loft space.
The Draft Board 15, a beer appreciation club with newsletter, was set up by Gaslight’s minions to attract fellow home brewers and beer geeks. They usually meet the second Sunday of every month and try to get speaker reps from different breweries. Mini home brew competitions infrequently take place.
Upon first visitation in May ’06, my wife quaffed Belgian’s excellent raspberry soda-like Lindeman’s Framboise Lambic, appreciatively available on tap. Meanwhile, the copper brew kettles at the entrance and right side tanks served a well-rounded selection of on-the-money libations. Phenol hop-fizzed, grassy-grained, tobacco-dried Bulldog Blonde suits less discriminating novice tastes, but beer aficionados will want to move on to chewy malt-sugared, grapefruit-peeled, orange-dried, floral-accented dry body Pinhead Pilsner and mildly orange-grapefruit-embittered, sweet cracked wheat-backed, almond-tinged ESB.
Soft-tongued, sour-citric, Scotch-tinged, wheat-backed Kolsch and subtly citric, gently-hopped, cereal-grained Pirate Pale Ale were good moderate bodied delectables.
Better and stronger were alcohol-burnt, honeyed-malted, orange-bruised, peach-soured, fig-pecan-snipped The Eliminator Helles Bock and creamy nitro-injected, black chocolate-roasted, coffee bean-dried Perfect Stout. Abstruse CC Porter draped dry raspberry puree coarseness and sour grape esters atop ancillary orange rind, green apple, seared walnut, and cocoa-coffee bean illusions to Black Forest Cake finish. And I took home a growler of award winning corn-sugared, grain-toasted, light-hopped Slalom Cream Ale.
Upon April ’08 revisit, discovered mild sweet-corned, orange-fruited, biscuit-backed, soapy-finishing Governator Vienna Lager and two tart dark beers. Big Dog Porter had peat-like coffee-burnt raisin-soured chocolate-browned persuasion. Colossus Imperial Stout maintained sourly sun-dried fig-prune-date theme submerging dry cocoa-chocolate respite.
During May ’09 stopover, quaffed astringent coffee-burnt, chocolate-soured, walnut-bound, lemon-orange-spoiled Bison Brown, sedate pinot grigio-dried, cider-sharp, lemon-soured, cask conditioned Pit Bull Bitter, and woody dry-hopped, apple-orange-fig-draped, currant-embittered, plastic-like softie Zum Alt Dorf.
Better were oaken bourbon-burgundy-sherry-fronted, fig-dried date-sugared 3 Ring IPA and the intensely hop-embittered, bark-dried, alcohol-burnt, grapefruit-peeled, apricot-apple-tangerine-fruited B.A. Massive.
During my September 2011 lunchtime sojourn, I finally got to try the highly praised Abbey Normal, a Belgian-styled dubbel dark ale boasting up-front Merlot, burgundy and bourbon wining over prune-soured fig sugaring, Belgian chocolate spicing, and dark floral accents. More approachable, lighter-bodied Belgian-styled ales included medium-bodied Belgo Pale Ale (a mandarin orange-centered, lemon-fizzed, fig-dried softie with funky brettanomyces yeast souring) and the milder My Garden Wit (a perfume-hopped, citric-fruited, coriander-spiced, floral-backed moderation gathering wispy curacao orange, Japanese pear and tangerine nuances). Congenial Hopfest, with its easygoing grapefruit-peeled juniper bittering, spiced tropical fruiting, slight alcohol burn and briny salting, utilized woody Amarillo and Cascade hops.
INTERVIEW WITH CO-OWNER-BREWER DANNY SOBOTI
My friend Fred and I dug into our Turkey Jalapeno and Reuben Pastrami sandwiches while I conversed with Danny at the bar.
One of Gaslight’s most popular seasonals is the burgundy-wined, Belgian-candied, chocolate-malted Abbey Normal.
DANNY SOBOTI: We do a big promotion for it when it comes out, showing Young Frankenstien on the TV all day. I did a traditional double fermentation with it. We do our mash, send it over to the kettle, and after we’re done with our boil it’s sent over to the fermenter. We use Belgian yeast and it ferments real warm at 85 degrees. There’s a spicy character. After two days of primary fermentation the temperature drops down and we add the Belgian candy to the fermenter and you get a real nice caramel or burnt sugaring.
Many of your ales are English-styled. Is that a personal preference?
We do a lot of English style ales, but we always try to have at least one lager on – but the fermentation takes longer and ties up the tanks while we’re doing it. We also try to have one Belgian on. Our core beers are British but the Hopfest is an American Pale Ale with American hops and malts and the Bulldog Blonde is an American Golden Ale.
Is the approachable Bulldog Blonde your best seller?
I’d say it was. When we started out, I was making that every third batch. Now it’s gone down, but the seasonals wind up taking over and selling the most. People look forward to them. Our Octoberfest will be coming out late September. Each time you make a relatively small batch, there’s always gonna be minor variations. People enjoy picking out the differences with each batch. Budweiser goes for mass appeal. Over the years, the big brewers have branched out – the way it used to be when Newark had ten or fifteen breweries pre-prohibition. They had a bock in the spring and a summer or winter beer.
One of my favorite Gaslight beers is the intensely hop-embittered, bark-dried, grapefruit-peeled, tangerine-tinged B.A. Massive.
We use Apollo hops in there. We get a lot of our hops from Steiner Hops, an English company. A lot of brewers use Hop Union. But Steiner’s a bigger hop producer with farms all over the world. They do a lot of breeding. Apollo and Bravo are two of their newer hops – utilizing high oil content. These hops have a classic American character – spiciness, citrus, and pine. I like them. And B.A. Massive is one of my favorites. The bitterness level isn’t ridiculous, but we add hops continuously throughout the boil. It has a lot of hop character but it’s not enough to cause palate fatigue.
Water is the main ingredient in beer. How are your pH levels?
Our water stays pretty consistent. We don’t have to adjust the pH too much. It’s slightly acidic. Our light beers I add a little lactic acid to the mash to keep the color down. In our dark stuff, stouts and porter, I usually add some calcium carbonate to take the edge off.
What do you believe separates Gaslight from the other dozen Jersey brewpubs?
I’d say how much stuff we make here. We make the beer here and as much of the food as possible. We make all of our own breads with a smoker. We make the pastrami, barbecued pork and chicken, pickles, all the desserts. Cindy, my mom, comes up with the specials. We also have a suggested pairing to go along with the specials menu. There’s usually three or four special entrees and some special desserts.