Wednesday, November 19, 2008

State of beers, Part 2

Here’s an update on Hometown Beverages, from the phone conversation we had Monday afternoon with Chris Curylo, who formed the start-up company with Bob Selsky.

A couple of Brooklyn guys relocated to Little Silver (Monmouth County) and who happened to become friends during a softball game, Chris and Bob spent a couple of years exploring the Jersey beer landscape as the legwork to their forthcoming rollout of a trifecta of lagers aimed a folks shy toward EBS's, IPAs, power-hopped double IPAs and monastically ordinal (dubbel/tripel) Belgian ales.

They’ve done some localized marketing, but this weekend’s Poconos festival at Split Rock will be the true debut of Hometown Beverages' beer. Next month will see the session brews available in bottle, then draft in January. Eventually, Chris says, the company would like to borrow a page from Sly Fox and Oskar Blues and put the beer in cans.

Plans also call for the contract-brewed, state-named lagers – Jersey, an amber at 4.7% ABV; Pennsylvania, gold, 5.1%; and New York, reddish, 5.7%; to be soon followed by a lighter brew, Hometown, a 3.9% lager. Chris declined to specify the contract brewer until the beer is on the shelves (such information is usually fine print on the label anyway). When asked to ballpark a comparison flavor profile, for say New Jersey Lager, Chris says Yuengling may come to mind for some people.

(FYI: Hometown will only have Pennsylvania and New Jersey Lager at Split Rock; Chris also says the company has struck a deal to take New York Lager to Port St. Lucie, Fla., for the Mets’ spring training and fantasy camps.)

Bio info
At 43, Chris is lawyer with a penchant for riffing and power chording down the neck of a cherry red Gibson SG, the classic double-cutaway axe that Eric Clapton slow-handed on Cream’s Disraeli Gears and Pete Townshend windmilled with the Who. (Forget Angus Young, we’re rooted in the ’60s). Also in his 40s, Bob enters the beer business from a marketing background.

Unlike a lot of beer venturists, Chris and Bob aren’t coming to market by way of their kitchens, homebrewers dreaming of taking successful recipes beyond family and friends. They're two guys who enjoy the pleasures of craft brew and other beers; Chris notes he even enjoys the strong beers. But he says that when he and Bob surveyed the landscape, they felt a beer you can start the night and finish with wasn’t to be found.

Hence, their foray into easy-drinking lagers – bigger than Bud but still less strident than Sam Adams for instance – produced under the banner Hometown Beverages, a nod to traditional values of neighborhood and community. A pushback against extreme beers? Not at all, says Chris, simply an alternative to big beers and the sometimes challenging yeast-inflected flavors of some craft styles.

Undaunted where others failed
When craft beer really got rolling in New Jersey in the mid- and late-1990s, other folks had similar ideas: Long Beach Island Wheat Ale, brewed by Hoboken Brewing for the short-lived Shore Brewing out of Harvey Cedars on the north end of LBI; Jersey Premium Lager Beer, a brew contract-produced at the Lion in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., aimed solely at the New Jersey market, nowhere else. (That beer, as Chris stresses, is not related to Hometown's lagers.)

Those enterprises went down in the subsequent industry shakeout that also saw the vanishing of Mile Square (Hoboken production brewer), Cedar Creek (a tiny Egg Harbor City brewpub), Red Bank Brewing (lager production brewer), Joe’s Mill Hill Saloon (tiny Trenton brewpub; the bar remains in business) and Joshua Huddy (a Toms River brewpub named for the Revolutionary War militia captain hanged by a mob of British loyalists near Sandy Hook). And there were others.

But Chris and Bob are confident their two-year preparation and some grass-roots marketing will better position them in the region’s very competitive beer scene, one that longtime Jersey brewers can tell you is unfriendly to the point where a California beer can get Garden State shelf space faster than locally produced brews.

Next month, they're letting you decide.

Hometown Beverages Company facts
Employees: 10.
Offices: Route 71 in Manasquan, with mail drop in Oceanport.
Portfolio: Four lagers, including a light brew.
Eventual plans call for opening a brewery in New Jersey.
Web site:

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