Friday, April 23, 2010

The shad are back

The celebration of the return of shad to Delaware River waters is tomorrow in Lambertville, home of River Horse Brewing.

Folks familiar with the two-day ShadFest know it showcases the artsy community nestled along the river and canal in southern Hunterdon County.

But it's also a moment for River Horse to show off the brewery's best. This year, along side RH's flagship and seasonal brews, like Hop Hazard or Summer Ale, you can try a pint of a big, fat red rye that's brimming with hops and stands tall at 9 percent ABV.

To get something bigger, you have to reach for a Tripel Horse, a Belgian style brew that, as Mark Haynie of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News tells the story, originated from a suggestion by the late great beer hunter Michael Jackson during a visit to the brewery once upon a time. (Mark was escorting Jackson to breweries that day.)

The brewery will have a setup in its back lot, featuring food concessions and live music. It's pay as you go, and the brewery usually has commemorative pint glasses for sale.

See you there.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pouring beer at Port 44 in Newark

Port 44 Brew Pub is pouring beer at 44 Commerce Street in Newark.

The long-awaited brewpub, whose name is derived from its address amid Newark's bustling professional offices district, opened to patrons at 4 p.m. today with catered food and a range of guest taps that included New Jersey brewer Cricket Hill's Nocturne, a dark lager that the nearby Fairfield brewery also recently released in 22-ounce bomber bottles.

Although New Jersey's newest brewpub is open, it's not serving house-brewed beer yet. Port 44 brewmaster Chris Sheehan says there's still some finishing touches to be done (namely electrical wiring) to the pub's own brewing system and the awarding of a state brewers license. Those items are expected to be taken care of very soon. And Sheehan expects to strike a mash on Port 44's inaugural brew, Gold Finch Ale, about mid-May. When that happens, Newark will have its first craft brewery and another brewery besides Budweiser for the first time in ages.

"We have six or seven folks drinking right now. We're literally starting this puppy up. We're actually open right now for the first time ever, filling the draft lines with beers from Peerless (Beverage Distributors)," Sheehan said by phone about a half-hour after Port 44 threw open its doors.

Besides Nocturne, one more Cricket Hill brew, Colonel Blides Ale, will go on tap tomorrow. Rounding out the guest taps is a lineup that includes Ommegang Abbey Ale, Blue Point Toasted Lager, Franzikaner Hefeweizen, Yuengling Lager, Spaten Lager and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

The latter brew was the choice of bar patron Jim, who says he heard today was Port 44's opening day and managed to be the first person through the door at 4:05 p.m. "This place is beautiful, absolutely beautiful. This is gonna be novel for this city. The whole downtown is coming back," said Jim (who declined to give his last name).

Port 44 owner John Feeley said the brewpub's kitchen awaits a final inspection but is expected to begin serving food next week. So, today's patrons were welcomed with a catered spread. All in all, Feeley sounded relieved, if not a little bit rushed, to be open after more than a year's worth of effort to see the brewpub to realization.

And Sheehan, who came over to Port 44 from Chelsea Brewing at New York City's piers under an open-ended arrangement that would have allowed him to help launch Port 44 and return to Manhattan, says he'll be staying on in Newark.

Gold Finch Ale, Sheehan added, will be a golden session ale (about 4.5 percent ABV) named for New Jersey's state bird and created with the idea of "introducing people to beer with a little more character, beer that is fresh and pure."

Festival likely safe from budget broadside

Last week, there was a economic shot across the bow of the USS New Jersey, the retired battleship that's now a maritime museum on Camden's Delaware River waterfront and lately the site of the annual Jersey-only craft beer festival.

The Star-Ledger of Newark reported that Gov. Chris Christie's proposed budget would choke off grant money to museums and other historical sites, effectively ramming a $1.7 million hole in the battleship's operating finances.

But the important thing to realize about this dire news is that it won't sink the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild festival set for Jun 26th on the battleship's fantail. Or at least, that's the word right now, that it's still full steam ahead for the first Saturday of summer. (It's a rain-or-shine event, but there's a canopy over the fantail.)

For one thing, the governor proposes the budget; the Legislature thumbs up or down what's in it, and then the two branches wrestle over their differences. And the end product doesn't take effect until July 1st, the start of the next fiscal year. So even if Trenton finishes all the budget work by the time of the festival, it's rather unlikely the funding cuts will be in play at that point.

However, there is one small caveat: If there's a shortfall in the existing budget, the 2009-2010 fiscal year (and there have been these kinds problems annually going back a decade), some robbing Peter and paying Paul can happen.

But the bottom line is: Don't worry. Make your plans to go to the festival and pray for a sunny day. Last year, a steady rain fell on the event; this year, those budget blues probably won't.

Monday, April 19, 2010

East Coast Brewing, part 2

A follow-up item to East Coast Brewing ...

John Merklin and Brian Ciriaco, the two guys behind the planned contract-brewing enterprise, extended an invitation last week to come to their Point Pleasant office to taste a pilot batch of their Classic American Pilsner, the pre-Prohibition lager that forms the foundation of their Beach Haus brand.

The beer, hopped with Horizon and Mount Hood, was homebrewed three months ago on an upscale, 15-gallon hobby system by Tom Przyborowski, who has been providing consulting help to Merklin and Ciriaco (that's John in the dark blue hoodie and Brian holding a copy of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News). Filtered and bottled with a counterpressure filler, the brew represents their vision of what they want produced by their hired brewer, Genesee Brewing in Rochester, N.Y. (The brewery also produces beer under contract for Boston Beer Company; it changed its name from High Falls back to Genesee last year.)

Here's what can be said about Beach Haus Classic American Pilsner: It's definitely a respectable turn on a pilsner, a little beefier and deeper in color than what you might expect from the style (think of something trending toward Vienna lager). It was certainly full-bodied, with a hop presence in the finish. It's impressive, too, since as a homebrewer Tom enjoys creating wits and other Belgian styles. This recipe marks his first efforts with a lager.

It's worth pointing out these details, since in some craft beer enthusiast circles, when you say contract-brewed pilsner (or even just pilsner), the image of fizzy yellow beer instantly comes to mind for some folks. And amid the popularity of big beers, like hop-bomb double IPAs and Belgian styles that can stretch your palate, a pils can easily get shouted down.

But to their credit, John and Brian's brew seeks to be heard.

One more in development

There's yet another hopeful looking to join the Garden State's craft brewing scene.

Ocean County resident Michael Kane is in talks with the town of Manasquan to locate his venture, Kane Brewing, in a building on Main Street in the Jersey Shore town.

The 33-year-old who lives in Ortley Beach (in Toms River) with his wife, Erika, is following the arc of a lot of passionate amateur brewers who went pro. Kane has homebrewed for a decade and wants to commercially brew a draft-only lineup of Belgian and America ales.

Earlier this month, Kane took his idea to use 8,000 of the building's 13,500 square feet for a brewery before the southern Monmouth County town's planning board. He heads back for another round of review on May 4. (The building was once used as a foundry and to store boats. It's been vacant for 15 years.)

Starting a craft brewery is a path Kane began heading down a couple years ago, shifting from a career in investment banking in Manhattan. (Erika still works in NYC doing marketing.) This year saw him taking up the brewery project full-time.

If he can win the blessing of the folks who run Manasquan, Kane estimates there's still a minimum of eight months' of work ahead to get things launched.

Still, his efforts represent some more green shoots in the Garden State's brewing industry.