Thursday, January 24, 2013

Jersey's Finest, and a new age of NJ craft beer

Sen. Norcross draws first pint
Call it a great beer collaboration, if you want.

But Wednesday evening's release event for Flying Fish and Iron Hill's third swing at a Jersey's Finest brew had the hallmarks of a new day dawning, an ushering in of New Jersey Craft Brewing Industry, Version 2.0.

An American IPA dosed with experimental hops was the feature, the vehicle to celebrate the camaraderie of Jersey craft brewing; the industry neighbors that production brewer Flying Fish and brewpub Iron Hill are; and the growth spurt that New Jersey's industry has been experiencing on either side of an overhaul of the state's regulations. 

New Jersey has moved into a new era, thanks to the state Legislature and a bill signed by Gov. Chris Christie last September. Flying Fish president Gene Muller and Iron Hill co-owner Mark Edelson walked point on the legislation, logging a lot of hours talking to lawmakers and attending committee hearings.

Jersey's Finest ice sculpture
Coming at the end of a Garden State Craft Brewers Guild meeting, Wednesday's event was attended by a bevy of Iron Hill-Maple Shade faithfuls, plus new and longtime Jersey craft beer industry faces, and featured a trio of other brews put on tap for the occasion. 

On had for the ceremonial first pour were Michael Kane, founder of Kane Brewing (Ocean Township);  Ryan and Bob Krill, owners of Cape May Brewing (Rio Grande); Becky Pedersen and Ben Battiata, owners of Turtle Stone Brewing (Vineland); and Tim Kelly, brewer at the Tun Tavern brewpub (Atlantic City). 

Michael Kane and Casey Hughes
Kane and Cape May Brewing both celebrated first anniversaries last summer; Turtle Stone's one-year mark is coming up in March.

Flying Fish, as many people know, is up and running in a newer, larger home in Somerdale, while Iron Hill just started work on its second New Jersey location (its 10th overall), targeted to open in Voorhees in mid-summer.

If you looked a little closer in the crowd you would have spied John Companick, whose Spellbound Brewing is on the drawing board.  (Savvy beer folks know of John's association with Heavyweight Brewing, the former Monmouth County brewery that closed up shop in New Jersey in 2006, but morphed into the Earth, Bread + Brewery brewpub in Philadelphia.)

A closer listen to crowd chatter would have cued you to the news that Bolero Snort Brewery just launched and has two beers that will soon be hitting taps in North Jersey.

Such growth, lawmakers say, was the goal when they and the governor updated New Jersey's craft brewing rules. State Sen. Donald Norcross, who took the honor of drawing the first pint of the Jersey's Finest IPA, calls the current quick pace a bonus.

The senator, a Camden County Democrat, was a key sponsor of the legislation that freed New Jersey craft breweries from a regulatory chokehold that made it not just tough to launch a brewery in the Garden State, but to keep one in business. One of the event's brews, a dry-hopped, cask-conditioned blend of Flying Fish Hopfish and Abbey Dubbel, paid tribute to the legislation, taking its name for the Senate bill number, S-641.

"There was an article today (Wednesday) about Pennsylvania," says Sen. Norcross. "They have gone from 10 to over a hundred breweries in the last decade, and that's the type of expansion we're looking for in the state of New Jersey. The design was to try to increase the productivity of our craft brewers in the state. We have the added benefit that this is actually turning out the way we had it planned."

From left: Ryan Krill, Tim Kelly, Casey Hughes
Indeed. 

New Jersey's first craft brewery, Ship Inn, opened in 1995.

Until Iron Hill opened its Maple Shade brewery-restaurant in 2009, New Jersey slogged through a 10-year drought of new, home-state beer-makers. Though still not the friendliest of business climates in which to site a brewery, the state licensed five new breweries in 2011, and two last year.  

Right now there are at least four brewery license applications, such as one from Pinelands Brewing in Ocean County and Tuscany Brewhouse in Passaic County, pending with state regulators. Other projects across the state are in various stages of development, like Spellbound Brewing.

"If not for that bill passing, we were seriously thinking about putting our production site in Pennsylvania or New york," says Bob Olson of Bolero Snort Brewery. "The fact that it has will definitely keep us here." 
Gene Muller (right) talks to Ben Battiata

Bolero Snort launched this month with a pair of contract-brewed lagers, Ragin' Bull and Blackhorn. Bob, who spoke by phone Thursday, says the business plan for self-distributing Bolero is to have its own brewing facility, ideally sometime next year. In the interim, High Point Brewing (Butler), makers of the Ramstein wheat and lager beers, will do their brewing, stocking Bolero's warehouse in Bergen County.

Working together
Brewery collaborations continue to be popular. In Garden State, the Jersey's Finest banner owes to a Garden State Craft Brewers Guild initiative from a few of years back. 

Flying Fish and Iron Hill were the first breweries to put their minds together for a Jersey's Finest beer, offering a mashup of stouts (chocolate and coffee versions brewed independently and later blended) in January 2011. The Tun Tavern and Basil T's in Red Bank followed suit with a brace of chocolate-chili pepper beers. 

By that summer Flying Fish and Iron Hill's brewers, Casey Hughes and Chris LaPierre, were working together to produce August 2011's Iron Fish, a black Belgian IPA that, with a tongue-in-cheek nod, employed about every beer trend you could think of back then.

Flying Fish and Iron Hill's latest round of collaboration is much more straight-forward, using some hops from a Washington State farm that also grows apples and berries. 

"It's a nice hoppy IPA, using all experimental hops," Casey says. "I'm really happy with it. I think it turned out really nice: golden, light, dry, crisp, drinkable with a nice hop character, nice bitterness to it. 

"We kind of went by the seat of our pants and just brewed, and played around with the hops as we had them. It's funny. If you look at our recipe, it says 'high alpha hop, low alpha hop, and Roy Farms hops.'"

3 comments:

Mallory said...

I'm going to have to give this a try! Thanks for sharing and keep up the good work!

jersey bola said...

Thanks for sharing and keep up the good work!

Kaos Bola said...

great post