Thursday, March 11, 2010

Craft brewing returning to Hudson County

The last piece of the puzzle was still sitting in Port Newark on Thursday, where federal regulators corralled it to give it not the once-, but twice-over, before releasing it to its final destination – a 5,000-square-foot building in North Bergen.

Once that bureaucratic hurdle gets jumped, Matt Steinberg says he can finally install his 10-barrel mash tun and kettle, four 20-barrel fermenters and same-size bright beer tank, get them inspected and get licensed as a brewer under the name New Jersey Beer Company.

Steinberg hopes that's all done by next week. When it is, NJ Beer will bring craft brewing back to Hudson County for the first time since Hoboken Brewing and its Mile Square brand went bust in the late 1990s. NJ Beer will also become the Garden State's sixth craft beer production brewery.

An IT consultant by profession and homebrewer for a half dozen years, Steinberg, 32, began making the transition to commercial brewer a year and a half ago, putting together financing and scoping out possible sites in Jersey City and Bayonne before committing New Jersey Beer Company to a location along Tonnelle Avenue in North Bergen, where he makes his home.

He still works full-time at his IT gig, so he hired Matt Westfall from New England Brewing (Woodbridge, Conn.) to help craft the trio of beers under which NJ Beer will begin making its name – Hudson Pale Ale, Garden State Stout and 1787 Abbey Single Ale, a first-gear Belgian style to beckon session drinkers.

The beers will hit the market in both draft and sixpacks. Plans down the road call for brewing some of the heartier, imperial beers. (Steinberg joined the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild, so look for NJ Beer at the guild's festival in June aboard the USS New Jersey in Camden.)

"The great thing about craft brewing is you can pull in styles from around the world, brewing techniques and hop varieties. The fun part is you can do whatever you want," says Steinberg, whose own palate trends toward big stouts, Belgian brews and other extreme beers.

The company name owes much to a desire for simplicity – beer brewed in New Jersey. But Steinberg says there's also plenty to celebrate about the Garden State, and on NJ Beer's Web site, you'll find references to Brick City (Newark) and Silk City (Paterson), homages to Jersey days gone by.

George Washington's at-the-bow Delaware River crossing pose forms the background of NJ Beer's abbey ale label, and the 1787 in the brew's name is the year New Jersey claimed statehood.

The state's pre-Prohibition history isn't lost on Steinberg, either, and he'll remind you that New Jersey was once a player in the beer industry. And the fact that Hudson County shared some of that title, a title that says New Jersey beer.

Trivia: Some people cite Hoboken as the home of the first brewery in North America, in 1641. But others give credit to Manhattan when New York City was known as New Amsterdam.

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