Saturday, September 6, 2008

Iron supplement

If you've ever thought New Jersey – with more people per square mile than any other state – should have more brewpubs than it does, then follow this link to the Beer Yard.

We first tasted Iron Hill in the mid-1990s when a co-worker at the Asbury Park Press brought us a growler of their Pig Iron Porter after a trip to Delaware (all these years later, we still say, Thanks Z! Also, IH owner Mark Edelson's brother, Steve, is a sports columnist for Asbury).

That Iron Hill (yeah, we nicked the image from their Web site) plans to strike a mash and serve food in Maple Shade (May '09) in South Jersey is really good news. In fact it's beyond good news, it's inspirational – finally another place to hold a torch and help light the way.

New Jersey has been stuck in the '90s, when most of its craft breweries and brewpubs opened. Sure, there's store shelf space devoted to Jersey-brewed micros and ones across the USA, as well as imports. And a passion among a lot of folks for big IPAs and Belgian brews.

But since the '90s, there's been virtually no movement by way of new brewing enterprises in a state where the population figure suggests there should be.

Meanwhile, at the bar scene, the suburban landscape is choked with mall-stop chain restaurants, like Applebee's, Friday's and Outback, places too skittish and formulaic to serve anything more exciting than Guinness and Sam Adams. Sadly, those places represent the countenance of beer for a lot of Jerseyans.

Most of the savvier beer bars, ones bold and daring enough have discriminating tastes, tend to be in North Jersey and accross state lines (i.e. Philadelphia and New York).

But it's unfair to dump blame on tavern owners and restaurants for being timid. They have to pay their bills in a state where Bud and Coors Light somehow maintain a Jedi mind-hold on customers and drive business for bar owners.

And after all this is New Jersey, land of the town-issued, six-figure consumption license, a price that's damned near the kind of money that buys a bayside house on Long Beach Island. (And that sky-high cost is unlikely to change, since town councils here – as often as a can – will offer new licenses in order to shave some pennies off their painfully high property tax rates, especially in election years.)

But all that's a rant. It's sort of what happens when you talk about beer and breweries in the Garden State – that we'll never be the beer garden state.

So, it's best to think good news. May '09. Maple Shade. Iron Hill.