Thursday, February 9, 2012

Flying Fish bottled up, but Exit 8 beer isn't yet

An overdue shipment of bottles is all that's keeping you from pairing Flying Fish Brewing's newest Exit Series beer with some aged gouda or roast pork, a couple of suggested foods from the brewers.

With one foot still in Cherry Hill and another in the new location of Somerdale, plus no new exit beer in sight for almost a year, Flying Fish put out word last week that the answer to the question of "What's the next exit?" would be a Belgian brown ale brewed with chestnuts and honey from local growers and apiaries in a nod to the state's farming region around Exit 8 and East Windsor Township.

(Memo to FF: Revisit this area in the fall with a nod to West Windsor and Grover's Mill, the site of the Martian landing in War of the Worlds and Orson Welles' 1938 Mercury Theatre radio broadcast that panicked the pants off everyone. Bet those folks could have used a big Belgian brown back then to help 'em settle down.)

After lighting up the Twiter-sphere with the heads-up on Exit 8, Flying Fish then followed up with word that the beer is ready to be bottled, if only they had the bottles: "Our bottle supplier said we’d get them in December. Then January. Now those really cool, really limited 750 ml bottles are supposed to arrive in another two weeks. Keep your fingers crossed."

Alas, Flying Fish being all bottled up and waiting for those bottles is a situation in which we all share some blame. The monster growth in craft brewing – thanks to folks drinking the beer – has  thrown some curves to the beverage container industry, with some suppliers struggling to keep pace with demand.

Beer details: 8.3% ABV. Hops – Mount Rainier, Chinook, Fuggles and Columbus.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Christening a new (sort of) vessel

Ale Street News publisher Jack Babin

There's a new, smaller player on the take-home beer scene in the US.

But this sporty, angular container has been around since the early 1990s in the British Isles, letting pub patrons in the UK take a couple pours of their favorite ales to go and settle in at home for drinking with dinner, a movie on the DVR or just over some conversation about the day.

It's called the Crafty Carton.

Ale Street News, based in Maywood in Bergen County, has partnered with the 2-pint container's company, LeisurePak, for a US rollout of the Crafty Carton. Ale Street hopes its 20-year standing in the craft beer industry can put the containers on the radar of bars, restaurants, brewpubs and breweries as a convenience option for take-home draft beer.

Contain your joy
Publisher Jack Babin unveiled the product at the International Beer Expo in Secaucus last Saturday, explaining its uses and space-saving advantages to curious festivalgoers who paused at Ale Street's booth to examine the demo cartons, which bear an array of British ale brands and logos.

"It's a spontaneous, inexpensive, biodegradable, easy to store – we can store 50 of these in 4 inches by 4 inches – it's a ready-to-use beer carton," Jack said an interview with Beer-Stained Letter at the festival.

The thin-cardboard containers are instantly reminiscent of milk cartons. Or Chinese food containers. The latter is a good reference, since you don't buy Chinese takeout to stick in the refrigerator for an extended stay. You eat it upon arrival. And with the Crafty Carton, you drink the beer, Jack says. (The containers struck us an option to glass pitchers in busy bars; nothing to run through the dishwasher, just chuck 'em into waste-paper recycling. It's not unlike setting a carafe of coffee on a table.)

"This is not long-term storage. I don't want to miscommunicate. This is a temporary container. This is designed for when you get home, to enjoy your beer safely," he says.

The containers aren't intended as competition for everyone's trusty glass half-gallon or 2-liter growlers, either. But rather, the quart cartons (remember, 2 pints equals a quart) should appeal to those tavern or restaurant patrons who would like another round but wisely conclude they shouldn't because they still need to  get home safely. With the Crafty Container, Jack says, those patrons can get that round to go and drink it at home. (There are carriers for the cartons to ensure they travel intact.)

"The pub owner is interested in this because they can sell two pints of beer they wouldn't sell otherwise," Jack reasons.

Crafty Container caught Ale Street's attention when its parent company, LeisurePak, placed advertising with the six-times -year brew newspaper. (The ad appears in the February/March issue). Jack says LeisurePak was then approached with the idea for a strategic partnership.

"We know virtually every brewery and brewpub. We not only know the names, we know the people behind them. We've been doing this for a long time," he says. "This (festival) is a launch, this is the very first place it has appeared in the United States. There will be a full rollout across the United States. We believe it's going to be a major convenience and a hit nationwide."

 Photos from the International Beer Expo in Secaucus

Beach Haus crew with sips of new ale

Matt Steinberg in the background
Faces in the crowd

Monday, February 6, 2012

NJ Beer Co. to brew Abbey Brown for Boaks

Boaks Beer has cut a deal for New Jersey Beer Company to be its second contract brewing location, and founder Brian Boak says making beer at the Hudson County brewery is on pace to start toward the end of February.

"They have a deposit for the first batch of beer. The grain's been ordered, so I would expect in the next two weeks we're going to brew a batch of Abbey Brown," Brian said as he staffed his booth at the International Beer Expo in Secaucus on Saturday. (Brian is pictured fourth on the right.)

Matt Steinberg, founder of New Jersey Beer Company, says his North Bergen brewery will try out the arrangement and stay with it so long as it's mutually beneficial.

Headquartered in Pompton Lakes, the Boaks brand launched four years ago with High Point as its contract brewer, producing a Russian imperial stout, Monster Mash (10% ABV), and a lineup of Belgian-style ales, including Abbey Brown (7% ABV), and lately a specialized version of that beer, Wooden Beanie, which has been aged on vanilla beans in whiskey barrels. This year is forecast to add a new label to the lineup, Jan's Porter, a beer that was supposed to come to market last year.

New beers aside, the immediate goal is to deal with keeping the pipeline full and flowing. An order for 50 new sixtels is expected to to help free up some tank space and keep inventory moving.

Craft beer's surging popularity has left capacity at a premium for a lot of breweries, including High Point. Keeping up with demand under such circumstances has been a challenge. So imagine an at-capacity brewery with contract clients, and those contract clients likewise seeing a spike in demand for beer.

That's why Boaks, with the help of High Point, began shopping around many months ago for an additional brewer with capacity for hire. Even with New Jersey Beer Company taking on a Boaks brew, Brian says he's looking to line up a third contractor.

"There's two large breweries being built at the moment, both 50 barrel brewhouses, state-of-the-art facilities. I'm trying to get into one of them," he says. "One is Susquehanna Brewing Company. I have no arrangement with them or anything ... They said they've been inundated with contract brewing requests. If I can get in there, that would be wonderful because that would allow me to have enough production where I could actually make this a full-time venture."

All of this isn't being viewed as a sign that Boaks should be siting a brewery location and shifting its business model to a full production brewery. Brian prefers to keep Boaks a contract beer company and points to some big names in craft beer that have taken advantage of that route for much of their existence.

"I'm going to be the gypsy brewer," he says. "Look at Brooklyn Brewery. Look at Sam Adams. I don't think it's a bad model."

A winter without icebock

In Kulmbach, Germany, the Bavarian locale said to be the birthplace of eisbock, it's a bitter -2 degrees Fahrenheit today, with a forecast high of 10 degrees. Over the next couple of days it's not going to get much warmer, not breaking out of the teens.

That's perfect weather for turning doppelbock into its richer, bigger alter ego, eisbock: exposing the kegged beer to the elements, letting it partially freeze and drawing off a core of concentrated beer from an outer layer of ice.

Four thousand miles across the Atlantic, here in New Jersey, that's what High Point Brewing, makers of the Ramstein brand, has been doing since the year 2000, turning its 9.5% ABV Winter Wheat Doppelbock into a velvety eisbock, strong but balanced and smooth, a few ticks higher in alcohol.

But not this year.

The uncharacteristically mild winter of 2012 has thawed any hopes this season of having Ramstein Ice Storm, the name of High Point's draft-only eisbock. It's simply been to warm, says High Point owner Greg Zaccardi.

Icestorm is the casualty of a dearth of consecutive days dropping down to the 20-degree temperature range (or colder) needed to produce the beer that the Butler brewery has made annually as gesture of appreciation to its loyal followers.

"It's not a profit-making beer. It's really a beer we do to say thank you to the year-round fans," Greg says.

The weather truly has the final say.

"It's not some phony marketing ploy," he says. "We really have to rely on Mother Nature to get involved in the brewing process and bring us enough cold weather to make the beer possible. We don't use some alternative form of refrigeration. It's done in the real traditional German way."

Ordinarily by now, Ice Storm would be in the sixtels. Last year, a snowy winter with plenty of cold days, High Point took the unprecedented step of brewing 15 barrels of wheat doppelbock specifically for making eisbock.

That was the initial plan for this year, but heavy demand for the doppelbock meant a portion of the final batch of the seasonal run, brewed around Christmas, would be needed to meet draft orders for wheat bock.

By last week, with a continued upswing in temperatures to 50 and even 60 degrees, all bets were off on the eisbock. The remaining Winter Wheat would remain just that – Winter Wheat.

"This year a lot of people are happy they don't have to shovel their driveway out 15 times. The price for that is, we're not able to make eisbock."