Friday, May 14, 2010

Craft Beer Week & Senator Joe Vitale

The silence has been deafening.

OK, that's a little melodramatic. But more than a month ago – March 29th, in fact – this blog teamed with PubScout blogger Kurt Epps in some outreach to a Trenton lawmaker in the hopes of winning a state proclamation or resolution designating May 17-23 as American Craft Beer Week in New Jersey.

Such a designation would have echoed the congressional endorsement of Craft Beer Week and trained an additional spotlight on the craft brewing industry in New Jersey.

No such luck.

Not only did we strike out, but state Sen. Joseph Vitale didn't even acknowledge the email asking to discuss the idea with him. Nor did he acknowledge a reminder last month that the date of the May observance was approaching.

Some background: We prevailed upon Sen. Vitale because he has more craft beer producers – J.J. Bitting, Harvest Moon and Pizzeria Uno brewpubs – in his district of Middlesex County than any other lawmaker in Trenton. He also serves on the Senate's economic growth committee.

Alas, not a peep from Senator Joe in response to our emails. (For the record when his office was contacted via telephone, email was cited as the preferred method of reaching out to him.)

There are a host of things wrong with this, and some of them have nothing to do with craft beer.

Topping the list is that PubScout Kurt hails from the Middlesex County town of Perth Amboy, and as such, Senator Joe's name has appeared on the ballot in Kurt's voting booth every four years since the late 1990s.

That's a long way of saying Kurt is a constituent and that his representative in the upper chamber of the New Jersey Legislature – Senator Vitale – ignored a constituent who called the district office, then complied with the office's wishes of how to be contacted.

Hmm. Maybe that email business is just a device the senator's office uses to blow off people whom he's elected to represent. Whatever.

Now let's take the economic growth angle, and bear in mind we still haven't predicated things on beer yet.

Anyway you look at it, Harvest Moon in New Brunswick, JJ Bitting in Woodbridge and Pizzeria Uno in Metuchen are businesses and are part of their local economies. Since they collect sales taxes, they're part of the state economy, too. Those businesses – all constituents like Kurt – were ignored as well, albeit in a roundabout way. (For the record, it was pointed out in the email to Senator Vitale that his district includes those brewpubs, but the three were not specifically named. And those brewpubs were not contacted and asked to sign on to the outreach effort.)

Now we get to the beer part.

As we know (and perhaps Senator Vitale does not), New Jersey has a craft beer industry, and in fact, it's growing: three additions to the family over the past 10 months. That puts our headcount at 20 craft breweries in the form of brewpubs and production brewers. And they pay a per-gallon state tax just to brew beer, and that tax is just the headwaters of the levies on beer.

But wait, there's more.

Nationally, craft beer is a $7 billion a year industry, according to the Brewers Association, the industry's trade group. And that figure was $6 billion last year, reflecting, you guessed it, some economic growth à la the kind you would think a lawmaker would be concerned with as a member of a legislative panel called an economic growth committee.

Let's take that economic growth thing a step further, since at least one New Jersey craft brewer was approached last year about exporting to Europe. Imagine a senate committee that helps New Jersey businesses develop overseas markets. Seems rather hard to pull off if that panel has deaf ears.

But maybe we're overplaying the significance of American Craft Beer Week. Nope, not a chance. Especially when you consider that $7 billion; it's a pretty significant rallying point, and the observance is a way to highlight and get behind the industry's economic and cultural contributions.

And it's not too much to ask elected officials to support an industry and its potential (not to mention being responsive to constituents). The House of Representatives has done so by endorsing craft beer week and creating a caucus on small breweries back in 2007.

Rep. Leonard Lance of Hunterdon County is a member of the House Small Brewers Caucus, joining the caucus after learning his congressional district included five New Jersey craft brewers. Lance, a former state senator who was elected to Congress in 2008, even paid a visit to his craft brewer constituents a few months back.

At the end of the day, this is about commerce. Craft beer is bona fide and growing industry across the country, generating tax revenues and jobs. New Jersey has a small piece of that industry. But it could be bigger.

And it seems like Trenton – where these days red ink inundates the ledgers – lawmakers would embrace revenue-generating industries.

Anyway, it's American Craft Beer Week. Support craft brewers. Maybe someday Trenton will.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

New beer in NJ for Craft Beer Week

American Craft Beer Week begins Monday, but there's an event Saturday that's a fitting gateway in the Garden State to what the stewards of the May 17-23 observance call the Mother of All Beer Weeks.

The Copper Mine Pub in North Arlington will help launch New Jersey Beer Company's entry into the market place, pouring the inaugural trio of beers from the brand-spanking-new brewery in North Bergen in Hudson County.

"We didn't plan it this way, but I can't think of a better time. What better way to celebrate American Craft Beer Week than by opening a brewery?" says Matt Steinberg, the founder and president of NJ Beer Company.

Matt has spent the better part of this spring working like a dog, overcoming some obstacles and minor delays here and there, to get up and running. So Saturday will indeed be a momentous occasion. (NJ Beer will do a roll-out the following weekend at the Iron Monkey in Jersey City.)

Brewery folks will be on hand as Copper Mine pours NJ Beer's freshly made flagships: Hudson Pale Ale, Garden State Stout and 1787 Abbey Single, paired with some appetizers, mini-entrees and a dessert closer, provided courtesy of a friend of the brewery.

NJ Beer began actual brewing on April 24th, and as of today, it has brewed 100 barrels of beer. Matt's happy with how the beer has turned out. "I really couldn't be more excited get them out there. They're exactly the way the way they should be," he says.

NJ Beer also has a fall seasonal in the pipeline, but Matt is keeping details of the beer under wraps for now. It's in "the lab being perfected," he says.

Right now, NJ Beer's brews are draft only. But the brewery's bottling line is expected to arrive from Canada around the end of the month.

This year, Craft Beer Week sees the ranks of Jersey brewers grow by three: NJ Beer, Port 44 Brew Pub in Newark and Iron Hill down in Maple Shade, which has been doing phenomenally well since opening not quite a year ago.

Port 44 is still serving brews under guest taps, while it awaits final brewing licensing from the state. It's been frustrating trying to cut through the red tape, but Port 44's owner, John Feeley, says a meeting with their legal folks today gave reason to be optimistic.

Bureaucratic waters can be choppy, but if things tilt Port 44's way, the pub could be pouring its house-made ales around mid-June. Cross your fingers for them. Just as NJ Beer has brought brewing back to Hudson County, Port 44 represents a connection to the past for Newark, which was once a major player in the brewing industry before things dwindled to just the existence of Budweiser.

(In fact, once Port 44 gets its license and begins to make beer, the brewpub will be the only American-owned brewery in Newark. As we know, Budweiser is in the hands of Brazilian-Belgian conglomerate InBev.)

About American Craft Beer Week
The observance was organized by the Colorado-based Brewers Association to celebrate small and independent craft brewers and highlight what Americans enjoy about craft beer.

A House of Representatives resolution, H.R. 1297, was introduced in April to recognize and support the goals and ideals of American Craft Beer Week, not to mention support the role that small and independent craft brewers play through community citizenry; the economic contributions (i.e. the 100,000 jobs in the industry); and a resurgence in the brewing industry unseen since before Prohibition.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Name the Guild fest in honor of Jay Misson

The annual Garden State Craft Brewers Guild Festival is a little over a month away – June 26th – and here's an idea: name the festival aboard the USS New Jersey in memory of Jay Misson, dedicate it to what he did for craft beer in his home state.

Call it simply the Jay Misson-Garden State Craft Brewers Guild Festival. So what if that's a long name, the guy's legacy deserves it. (See here and here.)

Jay was part of the watershed that saw better beer become part of the Garden State landscape. His reputation as a brewer was well known and respected on both sides of the Delaware River (and beyond), and if he had been a university professor, there would probably be a campus building already bearing his name and a scholarship created in his memory to pass on what he knew and practiced.

And that was better beer.

So nearly two years after he died at age 45 (June 9, 2008), it seems more than fitting that the guild, of which his employer (Jay was director of brewing operations for Triumph Brewing) is a standing member, bestow such an honor, give some credit where it is due.

It's just a thought.

Big Brew 2010 in NJ – the video

The Big Brew was a week ago, and here's what went on behind Iron Hill brewpub in Maple Shade, where the Barley Legal Homebrewers club played host to a National Homebrew Day observance. Special thanks to Evan Fritz of the Barley Legal club for inviting the blog to their gathering and serving some great beer. They brewed a total of 140 gallons of beer for Big Brew, Evan says.

And a nod goes to Iron Hill Maple Shade head brewer Chris LaPierre for similar hospitality and availing himself for an interview on a day he also had to go to a wedding.

A couple other things: The videos is entered in the American Homebrewers Association YouTube contest, something we won two years ago (the AHA's inaugural contest). There's some leftover footage that will wind up getting used for follow-up videos. (Contest rules limited entries to three minutes maximum.)

Also, a shout-out to Keg & Barrel Homebrew Supply in Berlin, in Camden County. When Beer Crafters closed last fall, South Jersey lost one of the underpinnings to its homebrewing community. Nice to see another shop filling the void.