Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Here and there: Hops & Iron Hill

Hops ... First round picked, more to go.

This shot of the Centennials was taken a week or so before picking, which was done July 12th and yielded just over a half pound, predominantly from one hill. Nice crisp grapefruit aroma with a hint of pine.

A second round happens in about 10 days.

And ... Iron Hill officially opened Monday night in Maple Shade to brisk business. Best of luck to New Jersey's first new brewer in a decade, a place that will surely become an oasis in South Jersey.

Pictured below is co-owner Kevin Finn toasting the opening with Maple Shade Mayor James Fletcher. Follow this link for some observerations on Iron Hill by John Holl of newjerseynewsroom.com. Video of the opening will be up soon.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Iron Hill: A sneak peak

What a way to spend a Saturday …

Iron Hill Brewery co-owner Mark Edelson was filling growlers (that's Mark on the left in the second photo), trying to get just the right pour in the half-gallon brown glass jugs, pausing between takes to tweak settings beneath a brushed-metal control panel door to a German-manufactured filler, the first at any Iron Hill location, and the
first such growler device to be put into use by a New Jersey brewpub. (Production brewer Climax in Roselle Park has a six-head, counter-pressure filler for the half-gallon jugs the brewery uses for bottling. Owner Dave Hoffmann, a machinist before he turned brewer, designed and built his filler). After a while, it looked like Mark had the right calibration, and two growlers, filled with Pig Iron Porter and India Black Ale, were rung up for sale.

If you’re the kind of beer drinker who likes to take something home after your afternoon or evening at the brewpub, then you’ll appreciate Mark’s efforts, which came on a day that Iron Hill folks spent smoothing out everything ahead of their grand opening in Maple Shade on Monday (doors open at 5 p.m.).

The filler is of benefit to both the beer drinker and the pub.

On principle, it works much like a bottling line: It purges air in the jug by filling it first with CO2; then it floods the container with beer via a tube inserted down into the jug, topping off the fill with a jet of beer to kick up some foam as a final air purge, after which the jug’s cap is screwed on by hand.

What it means for you is better shelf life in your refrigerator (it doesn’t change the fact that once you open the growler, you should do what you can to finish those four pints, or risk it degassing). For the pub, it should be more efficient than the widely practiced approach of half filling the jug and letting the foam settle before topping it off. That can eat up precious time on busy nights, and you can end up with an underpour if a pub is slamming busy. (For the record, the only time we ever got an underpour was in Massachusetts.)

If you go back about 10 years or more, some brewpubs used to slip a clear, vinyl tube (like what many homebewers use for racking) onto the tap and fill the jug from the bottom up. That practice fell out of fashion for some reason. However, The Ship Inn in Milford still does it.

The grand opening of its eighth location is surely to be a sweet moment for Iron Hill, and comes after two years of scouting sites and seriously trying to finally bring to New Jersey the brewpub model that has worked for Garden State natives Edelson and his partners, Kevin Finn and Kevin Davies, first in Delaware and then Pennsylvania.

One Jersey site that had been under consideration was the upscale Sagemore/Promenade plaza on busy Route 73 in Marlton, a great location to be sure. And we say the folks who own that site screwed themselves by not working out a deal with Iron Hill, because Redstone and PF Chang’s can’t come close to what IH does.

The brewpub, at 124 East Kings Highway, is spacious and well-appointed, a relaxing atmosphere that's quite conducive to conversation. The wait staff is attentive and makes it their business to know as much about the beers as the food (after all, beer is food).

Speaking of the beers, Iron Hill’s nine taps are built on a foundation of five house beers. Toss in a tap always dedicated to a Belgian style – you’ll find a wit occupying that tap on opening day – a pair of seasonals and a nitrogen tap that right now features a must-try keller version of their Ironbound Ale (4.7% ABV), an American-style pale ale that went bronze at the Great American Beer Festival in 2005. To begin with, Ironbound is an even competition of malt and hop flavors wrapped up in a session beer. But the unfiltered, nitro version has this dense creamy head that stays with you to the bottom of the glass.

A beer that should pique your interest is that India Black Pale, an amped-up, IPA turn of their American ale (6.3% ABV), deepened with black malt and dry-hopped with Horizon hops.

But don’t just take our word for it. Find out for yourself on Monday.