Thursday, April 8, 2010

East Coast Brewing looks at June launch

By the time New Jersey was getting into craft brewing – in 1994, with Climax and High Point breweries – John Merklin and Brian Ciriaco were on the cusp of enjoying beer legally.

The two northern Ocean County men (they live in Brick Township near the Point Pleasant border) were 20 then. They're 36 now, and they can boast better beer has been around for as long as they've been of age to drink it.

"We were weaned on the good stuff," says Merklin.

That probably explains the Jersey Shore guys' decision to ditch their careers in the high tech industry (they most recently worked on voice over internet protocol) and jump into the beer world with a pre-Prohibition style lager, Beach Haus Classic American Pilsner, from their 2009-formed East Coast Brewing Company.

Merklin describes Beach Haus as a full-bodied, craft beer take on the pils style, a brew that harkens back to the days before blandness became a hallmark of the big brewers, something small-batch brewers continue to push back against every day.

Merklin and Ciriaco's careers in high tech took them across the globe and afforded them the opportunity to sample beers wherever they went. They also had a boss whose father was a commercial airline pilot, who would bring back beers from far and wide. Those experiences, plus some dabbling in homebrewing, helped hone their palates. Collaboration with Tom Przyborowski, a homebrewer from Mountainside, led to the pre-Prohibition pilsner idea, Merklin says.

"There's nothing ordinary about this beer at all," Merklin says. "If you're a Sam Adams drinker, you'll love us."

Right now, East Coast Brewing awaits licensing from the state to sell the beer that will be contract-produced by High Falls Brewing in Rochester, N.Y., the makers of the Genesee Cream Ale brand.

The two are looking at a June launch for the pils (5.5 percent ABV, 42 IBU) that celebrates New Jersey's sun-surf-and-boardwalk culture. Their target market is the tri-state areas (NJ-NY-PA, NJ-NY-Conn), then up and down the East Coast.

In six to 12 months, they hope to follow up with a couple more labels under the Beach Haus brand, an ale or perhaps a dark lager. (The ale is in the development pipeline, Merklin says.)

The two aren't blind to the fact that their Point Pleasant-based company (you can see the boardwalk of Point Pleasant Beach from their office) is contract-brewing, in fact becoming the third contract brewer in the New Jersey beer scene in the last couple of years. (Hometown Beverage and its light lagers brewed by the Lion Brewery in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and Brian Boak's Belgian ales and imperial stout brewed by High Point in Butler are the other two.)

Merklin says that once they've built up the business and established the brand, they'll look at having a pilot brewery in New Jersey, or a place for local production and bottling, "even if it's just for seasonals." But for now, contract brewing will let them bring what they believe is another better brew to the Garden State.

"It's been done as a brewpub; it's been done as a microbrewery. There's no one way about this," Merklin says, referring to craft beer start-ups. "We're into enhancing the beer profile in New Jersey."

Monday, April 5, 2010

April's good for Jersey beer growth

Looks like the second of two brewery launches in the Garden State will happen this month.

The folks at Port 44 Brew Pub in Newark say their opening is "so close we can taste it." That's from owner John Feeley, who took a few moments today to field a phone call about the brewpub's status.

The pub's interior is finished, and Port 44 has its federal license to brew beer, as well as its license from New Jersey regulators to sell beer. All that's left is a state license to brew and a bar license from the city of Newark. (In New Jersey, municipalities control the licensing to sell beer, wine and liquor for on-premise consumption.)

What's happening right now is some T-crossing and I-dotting – in other words, overcoming some lingering red tape – that could see Port 44 pouring beer at its Commerce Street site at least by mid-month, if not sooner. The first brews to flow won't be house beers, but rather craft brews from around the region, since the flight of Port 44-made brews won't be ready just yet.

Cricket Hill, in nearby Fairfield, has been a big supporter of Newark's second brewing enterprise (mega brewer Budweiser is the other) in eons – and first craft brewer, so you can expect CH to help inaugurate Port 44's taps. Look for Port 44 to to have its house-made ales on tap toward the end of April.

Port 44's jump into the world of better beer comes on the heels of New Jersey Beer Company launching as a production brewery in nearby North Bergen, making the two companies the second and third craft brewer enterprises to join New Jersey's beer scene in less than a year.

Iron Hill became the first new brewery in New Jersey to open in a decade when it began pouring its pub-brewed ales and lagers in Maple Shade in July of last year.