Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Jersey-wide distribution for Boaks

The Garden State is proving sunny for Boaks Beer, the Pompton Lakes-based beer company that Brian Boak started with a white van, a storage facility in Wayne and a contract with a brewery.

Two-plus years ago, if you called Brian on his cell phone, he'd probably answer from the driver's seat of that van, en route to or from Pennsylvania, where he would truck to a distributor kegs and cases of his Belgian brown and imperial stout brewed at Butler-based High Point Brewing, better known as the makers of the Ramstein beer brands.

Pennsylvania represented a real foot in the door of the beer industry for Brian, who at the time had a handful of New Jersey accounts and was doing bigger business west of the Delaware River.

That was then, this is now. Growth for Boaks has swung to Brian's home state.

New Jersey now represents the lion's share of business for Boaks Beer and its top-seller Belgian-style Two Blind Monks, Monster Mash imperial stout and Abbey Brown, another Belgian style, that will soon see a limited-release, barrel-aged version.

"Jersey represents about 65 percent of business right now," Brian says. "That is a swing. But that’s mainly because, first I was just distributing myself in New Jersey and I was having a distributor in Pennsylvania. Now I have two distributors – Kohler distributes me in northern New Jersey, and Hunterdon distributes me in central and southern New Jersey. Just adding central and southern was a whole lot of business I could not get by myself.

"We are available in all of New Jersey, from northern Bergen County to Ocean County, all the way down to Cape May."

But Brian has his sights set a lot farther south than where Delaware Bay and Atlantic Ocean both bathe the state's coastline. Entering the draft and bottle markets of Maryland and Washington, D.C., figures into a game plan that also points north and west to New Hampshire and Michigan

"Soon as I lock down Maryland and D.C., I’m going to go after Virginia. But soon as I lock down one more state, I’m going to order another fermenter," he says.

In April 2009, Brian bought a 30-barrel fermenter that was installed at High Point, where all of Boaks brands are brewed, kegged and bottled. High Point brewed 90 barrels for Boaks last year. Brian says volume is already up this year and could hit 150 barrels by year's end.

Meanwhile, he's jumped on the whiskey barrel band wagon with Wooden Beanie, a stock of Abbey Brown aged in Jack Daniel’s barrels with Madagascar vanilla beans. The beer hit the barrels around the end of August; it's still aging – at just over a month now – and goes to distributors in a matter of days. (Brian says he'll have some of the beer at the Sippin' by the River festival in Philadelphia on Sunday.)

"I had always liked some of those oak-aged porters and all the other beers out there that are oak-aged, and I drink Jack Daniel’s. So, I was like 'Let’s play with this,' ” he says.

But there's some more backstory to Wooden Beanie.

"What actually happened is, Abbey Brown is a beer that hasn’t been out in a while, and the kegs were a little overcarbonated, so I had to figure out a way to (degas) them," Brian says. "So this Abbey Brown is going to be a special treat for people, because it actually is about a year old. It is a well-aged, 7 percent Belgian brown ale that is then aged in Jack Daniel’s barrels with the vanilla beans."

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