Thursday, March 4, 2010

Czech pils pilot brew by Climax

A bit of déjà vu for Climax Brewing owner and brewmaster Dave Hoffmann. An eight-barrel batch of Czech pilsner lagering at his Roselle Park brewery was made with hopped malt extract.

"I'm making beer out of extract," Dave said, laughing and standing just off his brewhouse, amid 50-pound bags of malted barley he would normally brew with to produce his beers under the Climax and Hoffmann brands. "I'm going backward in time, going back to my beginning homebrew days."

But it's not nostalgia for The Brewmeister, the Cranford homebrew supply shop he owned before starting Climax Brewing 14 years ago, that has Dave skipping the mash. A couple of months ago, a Czech company hired Dave to produce a pilot brew for test marketing at bars in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. (One of the locations could be Barcade in Brooklyn, where Dave's doppelbock, helles and a cask version of his IPA are on tap.)

The company supplied the hopped, double-decoction-produced extract for the brew. "It's really good malt. It's not like the brewing malt extract you buy here," Dave said. (He added some Saaz hops at the end of the boil for a slight hop signature.)

Dave showed off the still young beer during a mid-February visit to his brewery. "When I made it, the wort tasted like an extract beer. Now that it's fermented out, it tastes like a good Czech pilsner," Dave said. "It's a little darker in color than what you might think a Czech pilsner would look like because it's extract. But it's a decent-tasting beer."

On Wednesday, Dave said the beer had rounded out more, tasting like Krusovice. "It's a bit caramel-ish up front and golden, slightly amber."

The beer is targeted for release just before St. Patrick's Day. Plans call for surveying bar patrons about the beer, providing them questionnaires on coasters to be completed and returned.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A look at Newark's Port 44

Newark is in line to soon get its first craft brewery, an alehouse brewpub under construction within a five-minute walk from the New Jersey Devils' home ice at Prudential Center Arena and NJ Transit's trains at Penn Station.

Port 44 Brew Pub will celebrate Newark's heritage as a onetime beer industry giant whose glory shriveled to a lone producer, mega brewer Budweiser.

Greg Gilhooly, who owns the Venetian facade building at 44 Commerce Street that houses Port 44, says old photos and memorabilia will pay homage to the likes Newark's heyday names of Krueger, Pabst, Feigenspan and Ballantine, and set the ambiance for Port 44's planned eight taps at street-level and second-floor bars.

"We're so excited to bring beer back to Newark. Most of the people we talk to that come in have a relative that worked in the brewery business," says Gilhooly.

And that's just people passing by who are curious about the renovations to turn the former site of Europa restaurant into a brewpub. Just wait until there's beer pouring.

"If there's 10 people at the bar, I can rest assured five of them – at least half of them – will have a grandfather or uncle who worked in the (city's) brewing business," Gilhooly says.

Gilhooly, 50, a longtime Newark cop, hopes to buy into the brewpub side of the business when he retires this summer from the police force that's been a part of his family for four generations. John Feeley, a retired deputy fire chief in nearby Orange, is the actual owner of the brewery and restaurant.

The pair hopes hockey and concerts at the Rock – the Prudential Center Arena – will bring in crowds before and after shows and games. But Port 44 is also smack in Newark's office district, with the gleaming Gateway Center, home to powerhouse law firms and lobbyists, within walking distance. The people who populate those offices are likely to have a taste for craft brews, Gilhooly says. The same goes for students from Rutgers and Seton Hall law schools.

So when will Port 44 fling open its doors? Gilhooly says they hope to be pouring beer by the end of the month, mostly likely a brand on a guest tap, since it would be too soon for house-brewed beers to be ready. If luck is on the side of two Irish guys hoping to be part of the better beer scene, those guest taps will flow for St. Patrick's Day festivities. That, however, is a wait-and-see scenario.

Meanwhile, renovation work continues at Port 44. Gilhooly says license applications are all filed, but a date for state and federal regulators to check out the establishment remains to be set. When Port 44 opens with its American bistro menu, it will be the second Garden State brewpub to open in as many years (Iron Hill opened last year in Maple Shade) and will take its place as the state's 12th brewpub.

Last month, as interior work continued throughout the building, brewmaster Chris Sheehan, on loan from Manhattan's Chelsea Brewery, was overseeing the installation of the second-floor brewhouse, four 15-barrel fermenters and five 15-barrel serving tanks. (Sheehan has the option to stay with Port 44 or return to Chelsea. He's pictured in the bottom of the image at left; Gilhooly is in the gray shirt.)

Given the limitations of the building, Sheehan says the beers brewed on site will be exclusively ales, including a light ale, an amber or red, an IPA, and stouts. The latter, especially robust ones, is a style on which Sheehan has staked his 18-year brewing career.

"We'll be serving some kick-ass stouts," says Sheehan, who got his start in the brewing business at Triple Rock Brewery & Alehouse in Berkeley, California, and also worked at San Francisco's 20 Tank Brewery.

The same goes for hoppy beers. Sheehan says the beers will be made with whole flower hops and a hopback to boost that signature flavor. "We'll definitely not be lacking hop character in these beers," he says.

Plans call for a single house yeast to ferment the beers. But special strains will also be used on occasion to stir some Belgian styles into the lineup. Gilhooly says Port 44 will dedicate its guest taps to beers made by fellow Garden State craft brewers. Cricket Hill, in nearby Fairfield, has been a big supporter of Port 44 and is a logical pick for a guest brew.

"Always a Jersey beer on the guest taps," Gilhooly says. "We really want to do more than anyone else has done ... extend an olive branch and get Jersey beer. We want to promote Jersey beer."

Newark was once home to dozens of breweries, but Prohibition and industry consolidation following the resumption of legal beer became their undoing. The Pabst brewery, with its landmark beer bottle water tower, closed in the mid-1980s, leaving Anheuser-Busch the sole brewer in the city. (The 55,000-gallon Pabst water tower came down four years ago; a year ago, it sat cut into several sections in a junkyard in Newark, off the New Jersey Turnpike.)

Friend of the blog and beer scribe John Holl, who has written occasionally about New Jersey's beer history and is now working on a book about Indiana's breweries and brewpubs, says brewing was once the fourth-largest industry in Newark.

Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, the city's beer barons oversaw a $20 million industry. That amounts to roughly $430 million in today's money.