Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Big Picture

Here’s video from last month's Garden State Craft Brewers Festival. To those who inquired more than once about its completion date, sorry for the delay. And to those who paused from their sampling or pouring to do an interview, many thanks.

If you went to the festival, you know the weather pretty much sucked. But thankfully the rain, while poncho-worthy, was intermittent. The guild puts the festival attendance at 630, and the event marked the New Jersey debut of Iron Hill Brewery. (IH co-founder Mark Edelson and head brewer Chris Lapierre took time do interviews for the video.)

A word about the guild fests
We’ll take this moment to repeat an oft-said point (on this blog, at least): Having the festival in Camden, or South Jersey if you want to track it regionally, is fine if there will be at least a second festival, specifically in North Jersey. You could toss in a third for the middle part of the state, since New Jersey is actually and distinctly of three regions, as far as its cultural stylings go.

A single festival in South Jersey becomes forgettable in the long run, and North Jersey folks can be hard-pressed to drum up the desire to travel the distance (a shout-out to Tom Eagan of the Destination Beer blog, who did come down from Jersey City on the 20th and made an admirable daytrip of things). And for argument’s sake, if there were but a single festival in North Jersey, the shoe of disdain would be on South Jersey’s foot.

So two festivals becomes important. At some point, it's about branding, and brand awareness. And by branding, we mean broadly speaking the New Jersey brand, the big picture, collectively the great beers made by the pub and craft brewers inside the state’s borders.

Since the guild’s festival is the only one that’s granted the dispensation to have the beer poured by the people who made it (therefore brewers can really talk to the consumers), it becomes important again to capitalize on that opportunity for face time with the beer-consuming public and remind those folks not just about your beer, but your very existence (you can’t do tastings at the package stores in this state). Because there’s a flood of beer on the store shelves from across the country and around the world, almost too much to choose from, sort of Alvin Toffler-ish/Future Shock-like, when you consider that back in the 1980s, the choices were dramatically narrower. The home team is in peril of being overshadowed by the plethora of labels now. (Yet once upon a time, Jersey had a plethora of labels brewed within its borders.)

It’s good for the consumer, the veritable panorama of choices, but not so hot for the concept of buying local being the new organic.

And that, in the end, is the big picture.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Iron Hill opening on 7/20

Iron Hill is set to open the doors of its New Jersey brewpub to the beer-enjoying public on Monday at 5 p.m., preceded by a ceremonial first pour with the media at 4 p.m.

We'd like to think of IH's opening as a small step for an established and respected brewpub brand that has eight locations spread among Delaware, Pennsylvania and now New Jersey. But you could say it's really a giant leap for the Garden State, which hasn't seen a new brewery/brewpub open in 10 years.

The folks behind Iron Hill – Kevin Finn, Kevin Davies and Mark Edelson – are from New Jersey and have long wanted to return to their home state with the brewpub model they found success with in the First State and the Keystone State. But the big ball of red tape that is New Jersey makes opening a new business, like a brewery, a daunting challenge. (Too much control is ceded to municipalities, and state government does little to encourage business development.)

But Iron Hill is here. Happily.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Fall through

This is a little disappointing, especially if you live in the northern part of the state. But there is some hope on the distant horizon.

The Garden State Craft Brewers Guild won’t be staging a second festival this year, like the one last fall at the Newark Bears minor league baseball stadium. Guild folks say a deal for a venue can’t be nailed down in time to sufficiently advertise a date for this fall to draw a good-size crowd.

That said, guild folks are scouting around for a place to hold an early- or mid-spring 2010 festival in addition to the annual summer festival that has moored itself to the decks of the USS New Jersey. Stadiums at Montclair State University and Somerville (the Somerset Patriots field) are being eyed for a spring festival.

The disappointment here is, obviously, that if you didn’t make it to the battleship this year, you missed the boat as far guild brew fests for 2009 go. It’s perhaps harder on the folks in North Jersey, who have had to travel to Camden for the past five years to sample the brews of guild members in one sitting.

Camden’s not exactly the idea of a dream destination for those folks, and if you talk to some longtime fans of Jersey-made beers who live above I-195, they will invariably bring up the halcyon days of the late 1990s, when the guild festival was held at Waterloo Village. But those days are long gone, and the festival eventually dropped anchor in Camden, to the satisfaction of South Jersey.

Cross your fingers that 2010 will indeed yield two festivals and be the dawn of an era in which the guild keeps a light on in both halves of the state.

Meanwhile, the version 3 of the Central Jersey Beer Festival is set for Sept. 19 in Woodbridge. And, Pizzeria Uno down the road in Metuchen is likely to repeat their cask ale festival yet again during the fall. Stay tuned.

Speaking of festivals, the video we shot last month aboard the battleship in Camden will be up toward the end of this week. Some people have asked about when they could see it, and we expected it to be up by today. But the computer and a linked pair of external hard drives aren't playing nice with one another. The technical trouble should be resolved very soon.