Saturday, November 7, 2009

Turtles, South Jersey and beer

Across deepest South Jersey, there are only three commercial breweries. Two of them are brewpubs – the Tun Tavern in Atlantic City and Iron Hill in Maple Shade – while the third is production brewer Flying Fish in Cherry Hill.

Ben Battiata and Becky Pedersen are toiling to boost those ranks to four with Turtle Stone Brewing Company in Vineland, in Cumberland County. A 10-year homebrewer turning pro, Ben took the Siebel brewing sciences course in 2007 and represents the mash tun side of the business; Becky tends the business side. (FYI: The photos are courtesy of their Facebook page.)

A guy who likes to talk beer and has been nurturing this brewery idea since 2006, Ben took some time on Friday to update Turtle Stone's progress toward a projected 2010 opening of what will be a production brewery.

His description of where things stand is not unlike an airport with aircraft circling, waiting for a place to land. The planes: a used brewhouse he and Becky were able to acquire sits in Oregon, while the companion equipment – six fermenters and tanks – are being stored locally until they have a definitive place to touch down. The equipment came from a now-shuttered Rock Bottom brewpub in Braintree, Mass.

The landing strip: Vineland's industrial park, off Route 55. Ben says they have their eyes on a 6,000-square-foot unit there, while another unit in the park that's two-thirds the size is their fallback option.

The focus for this month is getting the keys to one of those units (they prefer the larger one). Not to oversimplify (after all, there is licensing and other regulatory details to be addressed), but once that's done, you'll see a brewery coming together. Ben says a spring 2010 debut is optimistic, but still quite doable.

The beers
If the dominoes keep falling into place correctly, you'll likely see Turtle Stone building its beer foundation with a stout (6% ABV) done up the American way (a little hoppier at 70 IBUs, and not finishing dry), backed with a honey blonde ale accentuated with green tea and jasmine flowers.

The name
Don't think animals, think indigenous tribes of North America. In American Indian lore, turtles were symbolic of the earth, of land and shelter. Still, it's hard to overlook the menagerie represented in New Jersey's craft brewing industry: Fish (Flying ones), hippos (River Horse), crickets (Cricket Hill – despite the sport of cricket connection, they use a cricket in the logo), and now turtles.

The town
Amid the craft brewing industry's rise in New Jersey, Vineland was home to Blue Collar Brewing, founded in 1999. Blue Collar went out of business not too deep into this decade (after about five years of operation).

Historically speaking, Vineland is somewhat of an ironic choice for a brewery, whose product runs counter to a tenet held by the city's founder, Charles Landis.

Landis, a lawyer turned land baron, snapped up 20,000 acres near Millville in the mid-19th century with the notion of creating a town in his vision. As such, the sale of beer, wine and spirits was banned within the boundaries of his planned settlement.

Also, the name Vineland comes from grapes. The soil was suitable for vineyards, except given Landis' disdain for ethyl alcohol, the grapes weren't pressed for wine, but juiced à la Welch's.
Landis is also notable for founding Sea Isle City in Cape May County and infamous for shooting a newspaper editor in the head, mortally wounding him, and walking on a verdict of temporary insanity. Oddly enough, the newspaper had published articles questioning the sanity of Landis' wife, not his.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Imagine this in New Jersey

A posting on Pro Brewer Web site from last week: Brooklyn Brewery gets 800 grand from the state of New York to expand.

Wasn't (isn't?) New York wrangling with some budget issues to the point where the state's governor, David Paterson, had pitched taxing some soft drinks to pay for things?

New Jersey has a serious red ink tsunami waiting in the wings, too, but if the State of New York, in a weakened economy and with its dysfunctional legislature and shaky finances, can find the dosh to grant to a brewery, can't/shouldn't New Jersey treat its craft breweries as a growth industry?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

New AHA Web site

In the bricks and mortar world, this would be the equivalent of a growing locality landing its own ZIP code.

The American Homebrewers Association has trotted out a brand new site for homebrewers, whose interests were previously catered to within the city limits of Beertown. (The homebrewing button on Beertown now directs you to the new site.)

Charlie Papazian, the chap whose name is synonymous with homebrewing, explains more about the new digs here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Today's date

How convenient for a calendar illustration?

By the by, it's not just today's date; it's the birthday of the blogger.

Time to celebrate. With Jersey beers, of course.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

One more item

This blog was featured on another site midweek last week, so a word of thanks is in order to the folks over at The Beer Club.

Scott and the crew there have been inviting bloggers to draw up brief bios to be posted on the Beer Club. We appreciate the invitation and now get the chance, finally after a busy end to October, to reciprocate and give BC some mention.

Beer is culture and community, whether online or in the pub. And it's a great community.

Who's your guide?

It's none other than John Holl, the Jersey journalist who contributes reporting and analysis on craft beer to

The focus of John's efforts is a guidebook about craft and pub breweries throughout Indiana, another title in the Stackpole Books breweries series pioneered by Lew Bryson (who's also co-author of 2008's New Jersey Breweries with Mid-Atlantic Brewing News columnist Mark Haynie).

John is working on Indiana Breweries with
Nate Schweber, a name you may recognize from the print and Web pages of The New York Times, where John also wrote for several years. Nate also fronts the band NewHeathens.

Publication of Indiana Breweries is scheduled for June 2011. John says the next few months will be spent touring Indiana and gathering string, then, of course, getting down to brass tacks and shaping their reporting into the book's chapters.

The Hoosier State is familiar ground to John, whose news reporting cred also includes a stint at Indiana's capital city paper, The Star.

" There are more than 30 brewpubs and breweries in the state, and I'm really looking forward to revisiting many of them. I was a staff writer for the Indianapolis Star in 2003-2004 and spent a lot of time driving the state and visiting a lot of fine breweries," he says.

Besides having a chronicler from The Garden State, Indiana beer has something else in common with New Jersey. Like Jersey, it sometimes doesn't command the attention it deserves.

"Indiana beer is often overlooked by people, who focus on beers from Missouri to the West and Michigan to the northeast, but the Hoosier state has some really great places," John says. "We're hopeful that this book will encourage people to hit the road and visit not only the breweries but the towns and attractions in the area."

Any Hoosier beers that would appeal to Jersey drinkers?

"I think there is such a diversity among the Indiana brewers that even people with very particular tastes will be able to find what they want," John says.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Bayshore, Oysters & Beer

Flying Fish's Exit 1 Bayshore Oyster Stout, the third installment in the Cherry Hill brewery's limited-batch Exit Series beers, ships to New Jersey distributors and retail outlets this week.

We're gonna go out on a limb and say that this brew will go quick, faster than the two previous Exits, 11 and 4, the latter of which winning a gold medal at the Great American Beer Fest in Denver last month. (Folks at Flying Fish think their titular ingredient may be a learning curve for some beer drinkers.)

Why do we think Bayshore Oyster Stout will be a hot exit? Well, the first two are craft beer movement fusion styles: Exit 4 is a big Belgian trippel given an American accent, while Exit 11 is an assertively hopped wheat ale. But Exit 1 is a more accessible beer style, even if the category does command some explanation or clarification thanks to the bivalve in the name.

Although Belgian brews of all stripes are quite popular these days, for some folks the bigger ones can be a challenge, and for others at total turnoff. (A month ago, while at one of the Jersey brewpubs, we overheard a couple of guys who'd just walked up to the bar talking about Belgian beer, with one of them describing the taste as "turpentine." Then they both proceeded to order the house light beer. C'est la vie.) And wheat can't be beat for some really great flavors. (Remember a year or so ago when Budweiser called on comic Rob Riggle to suggest a cloudy beer was inferior? Wonder how that wheat'd up Bud Light fits within that assertion?)

But this member of the Exit lineup is a stout (an export one). It's big, but not too big; yet it doesn't shrink, either; plus, we're heading into colder weather, a time when people go for a heartier beer ... like a stout. And those oysters from Jersey's Delaware River Bayshore that were added to the kettle? A fishy idea and taste? Hardly. But they are a flourish, with the calcium from their shells making for a dry signature to balance some sweetness in this beer and back up the roastiness that's customary to stouts.

On top off all that, Exit 1 is traveling a path paved by Exits 4 and 11, so there's some beforehand buzz welcoming the next spot on the Jerseyana map that the Exit Series explores.

That's why we think this one could be an exit Flying Fish will have to revist, maybe even become a beer version of pork roll, so to speak, you know, that instantly identifiable slice of New Jersey that Garden State residents embrace like offspring and expats pine for and even have shipped to them cross country.

About the video
First, a word of thanks to Bivalve Packing Company in Port Norris and Eric Powell from Rutgers University's Haskin Research Lab, also in Port Norris. Additionally, gratitude goes to oysterman Everett Marino, beer writer Lew Bryson, the folks at Flying Fish and Profile PR in Philadelphia.

Aside from highlighting Flying Fish's latest specialty brew, the video sketches a past-to-present look at New Jersey's oyster industry, which was a booming trade during the early part of the 20th century. As the waters of bayshore and the Maurice River have risen, the oyster industry has receded. But it's very much hanging on, thanks to some effective management practices applied to the fishery.

In a word, it's still a Jersey pearl.