Saturday, December 24, 2011

Pale ale christens Tuckahoe's brewhouse

With a soundtrack of early-1970s Led Zeppelin spinning from vintage vinyl, Tuckahoe Brewing put its gas-fired brewing system through the paces on Friday, a maiden brew day aimed largely at mastering the 3-barrel setup featuring twin units of 1.5-barrel mash tuns and kettles.

For practically any startup brewery, inaugural batches are intended to work out the efficiencies of new brewing equipment and generally ensure the process of mashing grain, boiling wort and chilling it as it's pumped into fermenters goes smoothly and free of leaking connections or pump failures.

But a launch brew also heralds an entry into the marketplace. And for Tuckahoe, the brew day also set the company squarely on its planned course to launch year-round and seasonal beers into the Garden State's craft beer market.

Striking a mash for a flagship American-style pale ale on the linearly arranged PsychoBrew system marked a few firsts for Matt McDevitt, who will oversee brewing operations for Tuckahoe.

A homebrewer for a decade, with the past six of that time spent sharpening his brewing skills and confidence, Matt hadn't made beer before on a high-end setup orchestrated by pumps, sensors and a control panel.

But Matt reports everything ran smoothly with the inaugural commercial brew of DC Pale Ale, a 6% ABV beer assertively dosed with Columbus, Cascade and Willamette hops. "I love hops," Matt says. DC, by the way, is a shorthand for Dennis Creek, a waterway in the part of Cape May County where Tuckahoe is located. Tuckahoe's beer names, like the accompanying seasonals Steelman Porter and Marshallville Wit, will have local themes; some brews will feature locally sourced ingredients, while some special-occasion brews will get the bomber bottle treatment (most of the beer, however, will be in the draft market).

"As far as the equipment is concerned, everything has gone very well so far," Matt says. "I've been paying close attention to the pumps, the recirculation, just making sure the grain bed is setting, making sure nothing is getting stuck. So far, so good, just a few hiccups earlier. Also, what I've been paying attention to is the control panel; it's the first time I've ever operated this."

Prior to the inaugural brew day, only some preliminary checks had been conducted on the stainless steel brewing equipment – so new and shiny that from across the brewery you could still pick out sharp reflections of Matt and Chris Konicki, another Tuckahoe partner who helped with the mash-in on Friday.

"Three weeks ago, while I was on the phone with the manufacturer of the system," Matt says, "I ran a (test) run with just water in just one of the mash tuns, just to see the recirculation, just to set a temperature, see if it could get to the temperature, see how the regulated gas comes on an off, just to see essentially if it works."

Unlike larger brewhouse setups, the PsychoBrew system's mash tun uses an intermittently lighting gas flame to maintain a preset mash temperature, and pumps to recirculate liquid that seeps below the grain bed grate to keep the sugars developing from the mash from scorching and becoming unintentionally caramelized.

"Earlier one of the mash tuns stopped recirculating, so it was just a matter of opening the ball valve a little more," Matt says.

Founded a year ago as a partnership of Matt, Chris, Tim Hanna and Jim McAfee, Tuckahoe was licensed by state regulators just 10 days ago, making the brewery the latest startup in a very busy growth year for New Jersey's craft brewing industry. (Matt, Chris and Tim are teachers in Atlantic County; Jim is an architect who designed the brewery.)

This year alone, Tuckahoe is the fifth beer-maker to claim the mantle of "New Jersey's newest craft brewery." It's a title not lost on the crew who set up shop in Dennis Township in Cape May County and became that county's second brewery this year as well. (Cape May Brewing was licensed last spring.)

"It's a little scary and surreal," Matt says, "but I'm pretty happy and confident that after getting my feet wet and comfortable with the system, I think we can do something pretty good, and I think a lot of people will enjoy it."

Located in a light industrial building shared by a fish market and a coffee roaster, Tuckahoe Brewing is tricked out with a pair of 3-barrel fermenters in the center of the brewery space. A pair of similar-sized bright beer tanks are situated in a cold box along a far wall, where an array of 60 black, polyurethane sixtels and 20 half barrels are stacked. The brewhouse is moored along an opposite wall and accessible by a low scaffold trimmed with a berm and fitted with drains and plumbing that substitute for a trench drain in the floor.

A flight of stairs leads to a loft office, equipped with turntable and stacks of LPs to create that ever-important soundtrack for brew days.

The brewery entrance opens to a reception area done up in a mural of the South Jersey shore from Sea Isle to Atlantic City painted by an artist friend. Brewery open houses are planned, as soon a the foursome can acquire the necessary permit for the tasting room.

Amid the brew day on Friday, as work friends and neighbors stopped by with well-wishes, Matt, 36, a new dad for the second time (his son Jack was born around start of December), paused to reflect on a parallel between his life and his father's.

"It's funny, when I was born, the same year, pretty close to my birthday, my dad opened a new photography studio," Matt says. "It's kind of interesting and cool that the same month that my son is born, I open up a business. I like that. The continuity of that is kind of cool."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A seasonal on tap

Tun barleywine through the ages

It's called Santa's Little Helper* right now, but that name could change.

Brewer Tim Kelly certainly hopes the beer does go through some transformation.

The first-ever barleywine Tim made as the guy who makes all the beer at the Tun Tavern went on tap a couple weeks ago as the seasonal offering at the Atlantic City brewpub.

Barleywines can have a longer pouring life than their flagship siblings at brewpubs, given the specialty beers' higher alcohol content and the smaller-than-pint serving sizes.

Santa's Little Helper clocks in at 11% ABV, so you can expect this brew to hang around and evolve some over its life as a draft beer.

That's just fine.

But Tim's taking a longer-range view. Like a couple of years, maybe half that.

Or maybe even much longer, since it's being left up to you.

Last week, Tim racked off about 12 cases of the barleywine into 750 milliliter bottles for retail sale.

And that was after conditioning the beer for a month on French oak soaked in dark rum and dry-hopping it.

(As far as the brewing went, throughout the boil he hopped it with Styrian, Nugget, Chinook, East Kent Golding and Fuggles, finishing it off with Cascade.)

"I designed this beer with it being bottled and aged in mind. Little nuances will hopefully develop and come out over time," Tim says.

The beer began its life as an answer to those who remember the Tun having a barleywine on tap but forgetting who made it.

In that regard, Tim's brew harkens back to his predecessor, Ted Briggs, who left nearly five years ago with a big golden barleywine aging in barrels that Tim, as pretty much one of his first tasks upon arriving, racked off into 750's, then corked and capped. (Ted's now brewmaster at Lander Brewing in Wyoming.)

Those bottles (pictured below) have been sold out for some time now.

But now that Tim's barleywine is on tap, and in bottles for sale, a new chapter has been written.

How that plot develops is up to you.

*Yes, Santa's Little Helper is a Simpsons reference, a nod to their race-losing greyhound.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cricket Hill imperial stout pre-release

Go big, go imperial, go to Cricket Hill.

Just in time for the yule season and New Year's Eve, the Fairfield brewery will pre-release the Russian imperial stout it produced from the winning homebrew recipe in Cricket Hill's pro-am contest.

The stout is getting the teaser roll-out at brewery tours (5-7 p.m.) this Friday and next Friday (Dec. 30) before hitting store shelves in 22-ounce bomber bottles in January as a Cricket Hill reserve series beer.

Shepherded through production by Assistant Brewer Patrick Lynch and contest winner Bill Kovach, the brew debuts as Reserve No. 16. Bill's entry bested nearly three dozen other submissions in Cricket Hill's 2010 competition to land in the pantheon of Cricket Hill brews. At 10.5% ABV, it's one of the biggest Cricket Hill has made over its decade of existence.

Brewery co-owner John Watts says the stout will be coming back around as Reserve No. 18 after it gets some bourbon barrel time. That version will be very limited and will be available only at the brewery.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Beach Haus to double portfolio in 2012

fter adding
a new black lager to its lineup this year, East Coast Beer Company now plans to double the labels under its Beach Haus brand in 2012.

That means a total of four Beach Haus brews in the regional craft beer market for the Point Pleasant-based company, which contracts with Genesee Brewing of Rochester, N.Y., for its flagship Beach Haus Classic Pilsner and the schwarzbier cold-weather brew, Winter Rental.

The company's first entry in the key seasonal beer market, Winter Rental was released in October, a little over a year after East Coast celebrated its one-year anniversary as part of the Garden State craft beer scene.

Sometime next year, East Coast founder John Merklin says, a pale ale and an as-yet-undecided style will join the year-round pilsner and the schwarzbier.

A number of styles are being pilot-brewed to come up with that fourth beer, an approach John says is intended to make the decision-making process as organic as possible. It's a matter of finding the right fit with the existing Beach Haus labels, plus keeping with the company's business model of making brews that are, by turns, accessible to novice palates and interesting and challenging for the more adventurous craft beer drinkers.

Meanwhile, John says, Winter Rental has done well in the marketplace, outpacing expectations. And, as part of the Beach Haus brand, it has even given a some lift to its sibling, Classic Pilsner, as the summer turned to fall and beer tastes and preferences resolve to darker, more robust brews.

About the video
At the Somers Point Beer Festival in October, interviewer Tara Nurin, of the women's group Beer for Babes, talks to East Coast Beer's John Merklin about the milestones the company has observed over the brand's first year in the Garden State craft brew market.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Homebrew permit closer to being scrapped

New Jersey's homebrewers are a step closer to doing legally what they have done under state regulators' noses with impunity for a couple of decades now – make beer without signing up for a $15 permit.

Lawmakers this week approved a bill that would do away with the oft-ignored homebrewing permit requirement, sending the measure to Gov. Chris Christie for his consideration. Based on the support he has shown so far for the state's craft beer interests – specifically his declaration of American Craft Beer Week in New Jersey last May – there's a fair chance Christie could sign the measure.

The practice of making beer at home for personal consumption was legal even back during Prohibition, when the production and sale of commercially brewed beer, wine and spirits were outlawed. Homebrewing has enjoyed the federal government's expressed blessing since the late 1970s, when President Jimmy Carter signed legislation to that effect.

New Jersey lawmakers officially sanctioned the hobby in the early 1990s. Back then, homebrewing enthusiasts who championed the practice accepted Trenton's imposing a permit requirement as a trade-off for getting it set down in writing that making up to 200 gallons of homebrew per year was legal. In short, it was the best deal to be had, as far as getting state lawmakers to say what the federal government had been saying, and thereby fending off any local code enforcement officers who wanted to act like a revenuers.

Despite the requirement, however, state regulators were never exactly heavy-handed about enforcing the permit obligation, nor the restriction that the beer homebrewers made be served only at the locations where it was made. No one has ever been busted by the Division Alcoholic Beverage Control for not having a permit. And in fact, the number of homebrewing permits issued annually over the past six years by ABC, for example, has barely approached 400, while the Colorado-based American Homebrewers Association says the ranks of Garden State homebrewers on its membership rolls dwarfs that figure.

But it's hardly suckers and scaredy-cat homebrewers who chose not to be scofflaws with regard to the state permit requirement.

Historically, most of the people who apply for the permit are those who make use of brew-on-premises businesses, like Brewers Apprentice in Freehold, or Brew Your Own Bottle, in Westmont. And with good reason: Brew-on-premises operations are sitting ducks for enforcement, and the owners risk their businesses by not having patrons sign up for the permit before making beer at their sites.

Nevertheless, despite the apparent history of non-existent enforcement, a sponsor of the measure still struck a dramatic and populist tone about the need to dispatch the permit requirement. (And for the record, it's a good thing Trenton has stuck up for homebrewers, even if there is a hint of naiveté to it.)

"Homebrewers should not be viewed in the same light as the bathtub gin makers, moonshiners and swill brewers from Prohibition, nor are they running speakeasies out of their homes," says state Sen. Joseph Vitale of Middlesex County, home of the WHALES homebrew club. "Today's homebrewers and winemakers take up the hobby to produce a product for their own enjoyment and which they can share with their families. Getting rid of this permit requirement is the right thing to do."

Vitale goes on to say: "For the person who wants to simply try to reproduce their favorite beer at home, or the enthusiast who wants to make a high-quality beer of their own, the state shouldn't treat them as it would a commercial brewery. It's about time we clear out this unnecessary and unenforced permit requirement from the books, and lift the scofflaw status from thousands of residents who simply want to lift a pint of their own creation without fear that the state's peering over their shoulder."

In fairness to the ABC, the agency had the authority to peer over homebrewers' shoulders but chose to keep its distance. The bigger sin has been the $15 fee the law demanded (though never actively pursued), which you could interpret as a tax on homebrew.

And for the record, the American Homebrewers Association has said Trenton lawmakers have the right idea about scrapping the permit, but the wrong notion about striking homebrewing from the state's books. The AHA prefers language declaring homebrewing legal and exempt from taxation be put on the state's books, just forget the permit.

Also what's lost on Trenton, apparently, is the close tie homebrewing does in fact enjoy with commercial brewing, the former being a feeder system to the latter. As is the case across the country, there is a large number of commercially licensed craft brewers in New Jersey who jumped into business based on their homebrewing prowess. And many more are considering following suit.

Nonetheless, Trenton has given beer enthusiasts in New Jersey something to toast.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tuckahoe becomes NJ's newest brewery

Tuckahoe Brewing became New Jersey's newest craft brewery today, getting the green light to legally make beer from state regulators who inspected the company's facility in northern Cape May County.

Matt McDevitt says he and his three partners, Tim Hanna, Jim McAfee and Chris Konicki, celebrated the moment by having some beers and making plans for Tuckahoe's inaugural brew on the company's 3-barrel Psycho Brew setup. That magic moment of striking the first mash is tentatively set for the latter part of next week.

Matt, the brewer of the foursome, says a run-through on the brewing equipment was conducted using water and that some technical details were being addressed ahead of firing up the system for the first brew.

Tuckahoe Brewing plans to enter the Garden State craft beer market with a triad of flagship brews: DC Pale Ale, Steelman Porter, and a Belgian brew, Marshallville Wit.

Located in Dennis Township, Tuckahoe becomes the fifth production brewery to be licensed by the state this year, coming in behind Carton Brewing in Atlantic Highlands in Monmouth County. The state signed off on Carton and its 15-barrel brewhouse during the mid-summer.

Two other breweries in development, Flounder Brewing in Hillsborough and Turtle Stone Brewing in Vineland, are on pace to follow Tuckahoe.

Craft beer tally & geography
By any measure, 2011 has been one of the busiest years for craft brewery start-ups in New Jersey, which now has 24 licensed craft breweries – 13 brewpubs and 11 production breweries of varying size scattered throughout the state.

If you're into the trivia and geography of it all, Tuckahoe now puts Cape May County into the class of five counties that host more than one craft brewer. (A few miles south, in Lower Township, you'll find 1.5-barrel brewer Cape May Brewing, which was also licensed this year.)

Elsewhere, there is Hunterdon County with a pair of craft breweries (Ship Inn brewpub in Milford and River Horse Brewing in Lambertville) and Essex County (Cricket Hill in Fairfield and Gaslight brewpub in South Orange; you can exclude Budweiser in Newark, since it's not a craft brewery).

The distinction of hosting three craft breweries each goes to Middlesex County (brewpubs J.J. Bitting in Woodbridge; Uno Chicago Grill and Brewery in Metuchen; and Harvest Moon in New Brunswick) and Monmouth County (Kane, with a 20-barrel brewhouse in Ocean Township and also licensed this year; Carton; and Basil T's brewpub in Red Bank). There is talk of Triumph opening a new location in Red Bank, a move that would bump Monmouth County into the lead in the brewery count.

The state's oldest craft brewers are Ship Inn and Triumph brewpub in Princeton, both in their 16th year of operation. The oldest craft production brewery is Climax in Roselle Park, which opened in 1996, a year that also saw the opening of five other breweries, notably among them Flying Fish, the state's largest craft brewery.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The western front

Once upon a time, you'd never pour a Flying Fish beer hopped with Cascades.

When the brewery first started sending beer out the door back in 1996, ESBs dosed with Cascades were the rage and found all over as the craft beer market started taking hold in New Jersey. You couldn't swing a mash rake without hitting one, and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale taught a lot of people what the most widely used craft beer hop tasted like.

But Flying Fish steered clear of the ubiquitous West Coast hop for its ESB, opting instead for a combination of Chinook and Mount Hood. (Their ESB now uses Magnum, Fuggles and Yakima Golding).

And lo, these many years Cascades have never been a signature flavor in a Flying Fish beer.

But there's an end point to everything.

So for the first time ever, Flying Fish will put Cacades in a beer, in fact christening 2012 with a draft-only hops-happy red ale at 7% ABV that will round out its flavor profile with Columbus and Chinook hops.

In a note on their website, Flying Fish promises this reddish-hued January release will have a piny nose, malty background and big hop finish, calling it a West West Coast hoppy red, once for the hops, the other for the brewery's location on the west side of New Jersey.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Turtle Stone entering home stretch

Turtle Stone Brewing next week expects to collect the public financing it obtained recently with the support of its host city of Vineland.

In addition to closing on the low-interest loan and banking the $50,000 from the city's Urban Enterprise Zone program, the brewery also anticipates approval of its brewer's notice from federal regulators in a few days. The notice, of course, is one of the big governmental hurdles to be jumped.

Ben Battiata, who's launching the brewery with his girlfriend Becky Pedersen, says the two have found some kegging equipment, a key piece of hardware they have been shopping around for that the UEZ cash will help fund. The brewery will initially be turning out draft beer only, but Ben says they're still scouting for bottling equipment to widen Turtle Stone's market reach.

About the video:
At the Somers Point beer festival, Becky and Ben talk to interviewer Tara Nurin, of Beer for Babes, about the timeline for launching Turtle Stone Brewing and the beers, made with some locally sourced ingredients, that the drinking public can expect.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New site for planned Pinelands Brewing

nother one
in the Cape May County area in deep South Jersey ...

Pinelands Brewing, an in-development 1-barrel brewery, is getting its project back on track, scoring a new location and making plans to push the paperwork through federal and state regulators.

Founder Jason Chapman says money has been put down as rent on the new spot in Belleplain, a location in the northern Cape May/Cumberland County area perhaps more familiar to the Garden State's camping, fishing and hunting crowd who flock to the state forest there.

Plans right now call for a spring opening, and Jason says this winter will be spent securing federal, state and local approvals.

Pinelands opted for the Belleplain location after a site in Egg Habor City in Atlantic County, once home to the now-gone Cedar Creek Brewing, fell through. If successful with the new location, Pinelands will join Cape May Brewing and Tuckahoe Brewing as beer-makers in the Cape May County area.

About the video:
Jason and his partner, Luke McCooley, explain more to interviewer Tara Nurin, of the women's beer group Beer for Babes. Pinelands had an informational stand at the Somers Point Beer Festival back at the end of October, pouring some homebrewed beers made from recipes on which their commercial offerings will be based.

Time to retire the nano label

Shakespeare famously mused about what's in a name, in flowery Elizabethan prose, suggesting that a name is merely packaging, not contents.

Given that, it's probably apt to send the descriptor nanobrewery packing. It's a small point, but one worth making.

Sure, the label has served a short-term purpose, speaking to a growing craft beer industry circumstance. Lots of folks have been jumping into commercial brewing via the very small scale, not because they're so enamored with their brewing sculptures that to part with them would be sweet sorrow when they began making beer for sale.

Rather, the driving force has been the fact that start-up costs are more attractive to get licensed making 1 or 2 barrels of beer at a time – more affordable steel, more affordable building.

But then we're accustomed to labels.

used to be beer-speak as much for "I don't drink Bud any more" as it was to describe the approach for making the beer that some of us older drinkers were giving up Bud for.

And lest we forget, yesteryear's micros came in varying sizes.

Bell's Brewery in Michigan (alas, not distributed here in New Jersey, but in Pennsylvania by the case) started on a half-barrel set-up almost 30 years ago. Bell's has come quite a long way, now brewing almost 1,000 times its first-year production of 135 barrels.

Climax Brewing here in New Jersey started at 4 barrels, small – by two-thirds or more – compared with several other craft breweries that launched in the Garden State around the same time. But Climax has ably grown, and founder Dave Hoffmann has more growth in store for his Roselle Park brewery.

So therein lies Rub No. 1.

Brewers who start very small don't do so to stay very small. Sounds obvious, but it seems like that point gets lost in the nomenclature shuffle, as if nanos will be nanos. It's a safe bet they intend to grow as large and quickly as their successes will provide. Success meaning people drinking the beer.

Which brings up Rub No. 2, what Shakespeare said, contents vs. package.

There is, and will be, good beer coming from breweries that make 1 barrel at a time, just like there is from breweries making 10 or 20 times that.

And you can judge that in ways big and small, by the pint in fact.

So bye-bye nano. Big of you to move on.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Tuckahoe planning for ABC inspection

Tuckahoe Brewing Company is one step away from joining the growing list of craft breweries making beer in the Garden State.

Matt McDevitt, Tim Hanna, Jim McAfee and Chris Konicki – the foursome behind what is poised to become New Jersey's newest brewery and Cape May County's second craft beer-maker – expect state regulators to swing by their site in Dennis Township next week for an inspection of their brewing setup and facilities.

Barring any hitches, Tuckahoe Brewing will be licensed, and thus, legally able to make beer on the 3-barrel system it has installed in the light industrial park building it shares with a coffee roaster company and a seafood market. (First up will be DC Pale Ale, Tuckahoe's flagship American pale ale, and Steelman Porter, a cold weather seasonal.)

Matt says all the brewery's equipment is in place, save a few odds and ends; a CO2 installation is set for this Wednesday, and a week from that, officials with the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control will make their pass through the brewery, capping an almost-yearlong endeavor by the four to enter the craft brewing industry.

Tuckahoe will join Cape May Brewing as the two craft brewers operating in New Jersey's southern-most county. Cape May was licensed back in the spring and has been sending beer out its doors since July.

Meanwhile, the folks at Flounder Brewing, in Hillsborough in Somerset County, on Monday – the 78th anniversary of the 21st Amendment's ratification and consigning of Prohibition to history's ash heap – received word of approval for their federal brewer's notice. The notice is essentially the federal OK for commercially making beer.

The blessing from the Alcohol, Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau clears the way for Flounder to concentrate on getting its state licensing. Jeremy Lees, one of the principals in Flounder Brewing, says he's optimistic the 1-barrel brewery will have the state ABC's approval, too, before the calendar turns to 2012.

Rivaling 1996, the year that several of New Jersey's now-established craft brewers got into the game, 2011 has proved to be a wildly busy year for brewery start-ups, a pace that hasn't gone unnoticed by some of those Class of '96 brewers, who note the time it's now taking to get licensed has become somewhat compressed.

Since the beginning of the year, four production breweries have been licensed, with, aside from Tuckahoe, two more waiting in the wings. And that doesn't even begin to count the handful of planned breweries, still more embryonic on the drawing boards, that have reached out to the Colorado-based Brewers Association, the craft beer industry trade group.

Nationally, the Brewers Association, citing a count from 2010 (its most current statistics), puts the number of breweries in the United States at 1,759, the most since the late 1800s. Of that figure, 1,716 were craft breweries, the beer industry trade group says.

Interestingly enough, the number of production breweries in New Jersey is about to pull even with, and even on pace to surpass, the number of brewpubs, which total 13. For a while in the state, brewpubs, which by law can only sell beer on their premises, have enjoyed a numerical edge over production breweries, which sell their beer through wholesalers.

One reason for the lag in brewpub start-ups (the most recent was Iron Hill's Maple Shade location in 2009) is the high cost of bar licenses in the state. Those licenses, tied to population, can run upward of six figures and are issued by municipalities, then subsequently held in private hands.

About the video:
From the Somers Point Beer Festival, interviewer Tara Nurin of the women's beer group, Beer for Babes, talks with Tim Hanna and McDevitt about Tuckahoe Brewing.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Flying Fish announces Exit strategy

Remember these numbers: 4, 9, 10, 13, 16, 17.

The Pick-6 Lotto, they're not. But they are winning numbers, nonetheless.

Two of them are Saturdays – Dec. 10 and Dec. 17. The other four are Exits from the Cellar.

A shortage of brewing capacity and plans to exit Cherry Hill for bigger digs in Somerdale, about 10 miles south, have iced any hopes of Flying Fish releasing this year's trio of brews under the Exit Series banner, as was the per-year plan when the brewery began releasing the specialty brews in 2009.

This year, it's been Exit 9, and Exit 9 alone, that saw release.


But with everything that's been going on at Flying Fish, something had to give. So the brewery has come up with another Exit strategy.

Which means, Flying Fish is digging into its private stock of previously released Exits, namely Exit 4 American Trippel, Exit 9 Hoppy Scarlet Ale, Exit 13 Chocolate Stout and Exit 16 Wild Rice Double IPA, and making the 750 milliliter bottles available for purchase during Saturday tours of Dec. 10th and 17th.

As most everyone knows, Exit 4 is available in six-packs these days. But in the big bottle, with the ruby-red wrapping on the top, it's the original release.

Exits 1 (oyster stout), 6 (Wallonian rye) and 11 (hoppy wheat), sadly, are history.

Time for a second round?

Could New Jersey Breweries, the guidebook to the Garden State's craft brewing scene, be in line for a second edition?

Maybe so.

That idea is being floated to the publisher, Stackpole Books, says Mark Haynie, who with co-author Lew Bryson, wrote the 148-page region-by-region look at the pub and production brewers of the state.

With good reason.

A lot has changed on the state's beer landscape since the book landed on the shelves during the summer of 2008. Not only have the ranks of homegrown craft brewers swelled, but industry trends have shifted, with the notion of small-batch brewing taking on a new meaning, and growlers of take-home beer no longer existing as the province of brewpubs and breweries. Then there's the matter of the state's bar owners gravitating to and embracing craft beer in general, adding taps and putting on beers that were unimaginable a few years ago.

At the time New Jersey Breweries hit print, the Garden State had just under a dozen and a half craft breweries, with the newest one being Krogh's, the Sussex County brewpub that began teaming house-brewed beers to its restaurant offerings back in 1999. Now, the brewery count numbers closer to two dozen.

The change began as a trickle, then a gush.

In 2009, Iron Hill brewpub, the Delaware-based restaurant and brewery company started in 1996 by a trio of Jersey guys, ended a decade-long drought of new breweries opening in the state. It was a homecoming that saw Iron Hill launch its eighth location in Maple Shade. (Iron Hill is poised to open its ninth location in Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia. A second New Jersey location is also in the works.)

New Jersey Beer Company followed suit a year later as a production brewery based in North Bergen in Hudson County. This year alone, there have been three new production brewers – nano beer-maker Cape May Brewing became licensed in May, with Kane Brewing and Carton Brewing doing likewise over the summer. Meanwhile, Turtle Stone Brewing, an in-development production brewery in Vineland, is targeting a late 2011 or early 2012 opening.

Speaking of nanobreweries, the industry trend of tiny breweries serving local niche markets, took off big in the Garden State in 2011. Besides Cape May, Great Blue in Somerset County became licensed, while Flounder Brewing in Hillsborough and Tuckahoe Brewing continued to wend their way through the regulatory maze, and also looked to open soon.

But wait, there's more.

Flying Fish, the state's largest craft brewery and a Cherry Hill fixture for all of its 15 years, bought a new building in nearby Somerdale and made plans to triple its production capacity. In 2009, Flying Fish also began a well-received lineup of specialty beers. The Exit Series was referenced in New Jersey Breweries as part of the brewery's plans.

Elsewhere, Climax Brewing in Roselle Park, the state's first production craft brewer, began packaging in 12-ounce bottles in six-packs, retiring the signature half-gallon growler jugs that had long given its ales and lagers a presence in the state's bottled beer market.

Speaking of growlers, the jugs most often associated with brewpubs, started showing up as offerings from taverns and those packaged goods stores lucky enough to have licensing held over from the days of when they included a bar under their roofs.

Indeed, the Garden State is a different place for beer now, even from just three years ago.

About the videos:
Above, Mark Haynie talks with interviewer Tara Nurin, of the women's beer group Beer for Babes, about growth in the New Jersey craft brewing industry. Below from 2008, New Jersey Breweries co-author Lew Bryson talks about the book's release.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Cape May cuts ribbon on tasting room

Joined by local government dignitaries, nanobrewer Cape May Brewing on Thursday christened its tasting room at a special weekday open house.

But perhaps the bigger news for the tiny brewery is that once again it is looking to grow. Cape May Brewing is in talks with the Delaware River & Bay Authority to take over some space adjacent to the brewery, located in a building on the grounds of the DRBA-owned Cape May County Airport.

Ryan Krill, who started the brewery with his dad, Robert, and college friend Chris Henke, says the discussions are in the early stages. The brewery is also doing some preliminary work toward boosting capacity again, he says.

Cape May shed its start-up half-barrel brewing system a few months ago, moving to a 1.5-barrel setup.

"We're pricing stuff out and scaling things out right now and seeing what's going to be appropriate," Ryan says. "That's the whole goal, to be able to have more than four accounts. We want to sell beer, we want to have a lot of fun doing it. We're going to try to find a sweet spot and a good scale for us."

In addition to its tasting room, Cape May Brewing has three bar accounts (Cabanas, SeaSalt and Lucky Bones Backwater Grille, all in Cape May) for its brews – a flagship IPA, a sweet stout, a porter (made with locally produced honey) and a wheat beer. Upcoming is a dunkelweizen, as well as an 8% ABV imperial IPA with Centennial hops that was brewed this week for release around Christmas.

At Thursday afternoon's open house, dignitaries from Lower Township and the DRBA took part in a ribbon-cutting for the tasting room where Cape May Brewing has been welcoming visitors since July.

Ryan says the brewery plans to hire a couple of staffers to help out in the tasting room and with retail sales of glassware, hats and shirts from Saturday tours and tastings.

About the video:
Cape May Brewery's Ryan Krill talks with interviewer Tara Nurin of the women's beer group Beer for Babes at the Somers Point beer festival held Oct. 29.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

This chocolate's hot

Iron Hill writes another chapter in its ongoing sponsorship of competitive homebrewing, tapping a chipotle pepper-cocoa-cinnamon porter Monday night created by Camden County homebrewer Michael Bittner, who claimed the 2011 Iron Brewer title.

It's the second year for the contest at IH's Maple Shade location, continuing a tradition that started at the brewpub's West Chester, Pa., site a half dozen or so years ago and takes its name partly from the Iron Chef television show.

Claiming his top prize of making beer on a commercial scale, Michael, an Audubon resident and member of the Barley Legal Homebrewers club of South Jersey, brewed the 9-barrel batch of Aztec Ale Nov. 5th under the supervision of head brewer Chris LaPierre, who scaled up Michael's 5-gallon recipe.

(Last year's Iron Brewer beer was a coffee stout called Luca Brasi, brewed by Barley Legal members Jim Carruthers and Scott Davi, winners of the inaugural Maple Shade competition.)

Aztec Ale has a chocolaty aroma and taste, with a finish of gentle pepper heat; there's a bounce of vanilla in there, too. The cinnamon was prominent on the palates for some folks, but less so for others.

Both pro brewer and homebrewer were happy with the outcome.

"It's just what I remember it being, reminds me of the original recipe ... the smell, the taste is very similar," Michael said after the tapping.

Aztec Ale, Chris says, stands as one of the more exotic brews to be entered in the Iron Brewer contest.

"This would be one of them. It definitely had a lot of ingredients that I don't often use in the brewery," he says. "There was also a beet beer last time that came pretty close to winning. That was really interesting."

Aztec Ale also marks the third fusion of chocolate, cinnamon and hot peppers by a Jersey brewpub this year. Basil T's in Red Bank and the Tun Tavern in Atlantic City both brewed with those ingredients back in January as a collaboration called Chocolate Fire, done under the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild's Jersey's Finest banner.

Like the other 10 or so contestants who vied for the Iron Brewer title this year, Michael made his beer with wort collected from the second runnings of IH's The Situation, a robust ABV beer (almost 10%) that weaves in and out of a few styles (think barleywine meets double IPA).

The contest, in fact, started as a way to make use of the healthy amount of malt sugar that would otherwise go down the drain after the needed volume of wort for The Situation is collected in the kettle.

Chris says The Situation likely will be scheduled for brewing again in February. "So that's probably when we'll do the next Iron Brewer wort pickup," he says.

Right now Michael is basking in the limelight of Aztec Ale, and planning to clone Dogfish Head's Indian Brown Ale, not to mention looking forward to defending his Iron Brewer title after the next wort give away.

"I'm not going to say what I'm going to brew, and it may change before then, but I've got some ideas," he says.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Is it there yet? Just a little further

Some R&D and interacting with the public ...

When Flounder Brewing finally opens its doors, followers of New Jersey's growing ranks of craft beer makers can expect the Somerset County nanobrewery to do some batch testing of recipes on its new equipment, and letting the public sample some of those beers at brewery open houses.

After that initial phase, you can expect a more formal launch/opening of the Hillsborough brewery, with an invitation extended to town officials to take part. (Think sometime in the spring for this one.)

"I still have new equipment that I have yet to use because I don't have the utilities. I have new water to contend with because I haven't brewed in that space yet," says Jeremy "Flounder" Lees, one of the brewery's founders. "It's going to be a couple of months of batch-testing and letting people come into the tasting room and try those batches and things like that, letting people start to interact with the brewery and try the beer before we're really actively going out to liquor stores."

Earlier this month, Flounder Brewing checked in with federal regulators at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau about the company's brewers notice, the paperwork the planned 1-barrel brewery needs signed off on to become a commercial brewery. The mid-month discussion with the TTB went well, Jeremy says, with just some minor details that federal regulators wanted addressed.

Right now, utility work (gas and water) is being done at the Hillsborough brewery, and Jeremy remains optimistic state regulators can wrap up Flounder's brewery application, then inspect the facility and grant a license by year's end.

"It seems like if all goes through with the federal stuff, according to what I just talked to them about on the phone, we should definitely have that federal license in this year," Jeremy says. "The state, we just have to submit a whole bunch of secondary information. Hopefully that's going to be what they need, and then they're going to have to do a site visit. I have no idea when that will be."

As much as federal and state regulators seem like a predominant focus for getting into business, there's still a third master that also must be satisfied: Turning the warehouse space Flounder leased into a manufacturing enterprise means going through the local officials for a bevy of things, including construction permits and building-use classifications. Dealing with some of that has been like groping along in the dark.

"Everything I had to submit to the township all made sense in the end," Jeremy says. "The problem was, it was really hard trying, for the most part, to navigate your own way through all these hoops and everything, going in and trying to ask questions about what has to be on the construction permit folder when you've never done it before.

"Fortunately, Hillsborough has a very good business advocate that works in the township. He helped get a lot of things cleared up for me as we were moving, and my landlords, too, because they want to see the brewery finally open there."

Working with the town has had its advantages, namely helping to create a buzz about a new brewery coming.

"Everybody I've bumped into, from fire inspectors to construction people to just in general people in the township are all excited. They're all looking forward to trying the beer. We have a lot of people with us on Facebook that are right from Hillsborough," Jeremy says.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

NJ Beer Co. eyes return to bottle market

A planned to return to the bottled beer market for New Jersey Beer Company.

The Hudson County production brewery is in the process of acquiring a new six-head filler that will enable it to once again bottle its Hudson Pale, 1787 Abbey Single and Garden State Stout, the triad of brews that NJ Beer entered the market with about 18 months ago.

John McCarthy, CEO of the North Bergen-based brewery, says NJ Beer expects to order the Meheen bottler before the end of this month and have it up and running at the beginning of next year.

"It's been a long time coming. We're really looking forward to it," John said by phone Thursday, the eve of the brewery's re-opening of its refurbished tasting room.

Shortly after launching in 2010, NJ Beer expanded its packaging beyond kegs and had its flagship brews in six-packs on store shelves. The product diversification in the marketplace was short-lived: NJ Beer was forced back to draft-only business when the filler from Applied Bottling of British Columbia irreparably failed after little over a month's use.

"The thing was breaking from day one ... We had parts falling off, breaking off. We literally broke almost every damn piece just in the normal operation. The manufacturer put some wrong parts in, which ultimately ruined the fill head," brewery founder Matt Steinberg said in an interview last spring, just before NJ Beer marked its first anniversary. "It got to the point where we were getting maybe one out of every six or eight bottles that would actually have 12 ounces of beer and a cap on it ... we couldn't properly fill bottles with that thing."

Now, NJ Beer is enjoying a rebound, having tenaciously endured the dark moments like the crippled-bottler episode and flooding last August from Hurricane Irene, which spared brewing equipment but ruined malt inventory. (The storm amounted to about a $1,000 sting to the brewery.)

"We've had some serious ups and downs. The bottler going down was devastating blow, losing all of our bottle accounts. It was a huge hit, emotionally and financially," John says. "We had to make some hard decisions and some sacrifices, but we weathered it, got some new investment."

The brewery is again poised to release its cold weather seasonal, Weehawken Wee Heavy, an 8.3% ABV brew that found favor among hordes of Jersey craft beer enthusiasts last year. "We're excited to get it out again. It should be out on draft at the end of the month," John says.

Along with the big Scottish ale will come its lighter sibling, the renamed 60 Shilling Mild (3.5% ABV), now called Sasha's 60 Shilling Mild, a salute to the brewery's now-deceased mascot Rottweiler, Sasha. (Head brewer Brendan O'Neil is a former dog trainer, and Sasha was his top dog.)

Both brews will be available for sampling, poured beside the Hudson Pale Ale, 1787 Abbey Single and Garden State Stout, when NJ Beer reopens its refurbished tasting room Friday (11/18, 4-8 p.m.). The end-of-tour room has been open intermittently of late, John says, but Friday's event will be something akin to a grand re-opening.

Meanwhile, NJ Beer is scouting a new, larger location, since the Tonnelle Avenue site in North Bergen where the brand was launched is becoming a little claustrophobic. Nearby Jersey City may hold some prospects, John says, but as far as a new location goes, the only thing that is settled is that NJ Beer intends to remain in Hudson County.

"Everything right now is looking really, really positive for New Jersey Beer Company," he says. "We feel stronger."

Charity begins at foam

A beer and food pairing to put on your calendar, but leave your appetite and bring your sense of good will.

Barley Legal Homebrewers, the 200-member strong South Jersey/Philadelphia-area homebrew club, will hold a Thanksgiving food drive this Saturday (11/19) at the Pour House bar in Westmont, trading 4-ounce samples of their brew creations for food donations.

The three-hour event runs (2-5 p.m.) was organized by club officers Evan Fritz and Devin Garlit, who say the soured economy is putting the squeeze on more and more people these days.

That has left area food pantries struggling to keep up with the greater demand for the help they provide.

Club members themselves have been buying turkeys and other foods for side dishes and collecting contributions of the same from the public, storing the food at Brew Your Own Bottle homebrew supply shop in Westmont.

"We're collecting full Thanksgiving dinners, from the turkey down to the stuffing, vegetables and rolls," Evan says. "There are a couple of families people in the club know are struggling, so we'll help them first. The rest will go to food pantries. Some of the food pantries say they're in bad shape this year."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A taste of serendipity for Carton Brewing

Carton Brewing, the Garden State's newest craft brewery, plans to turn out another batch of the session-strength golden ale that the draft-only production brewery teamed with a double IPA when it entered New Jersey's craft beer market back in August.

Launch (4.6% ABV) was a brew Carton made to break the seal their 15-barrel brewhouse in Atlantic Highlands in mid-July, a 30-barrel batch produced over a two-day trial run to put the newly installed Newlands Systems brewing set-up through the paces and ensure everything functioned properly.

The ale was intended to be a one-off brew and a placeholder beer on taps until Carton's flagship brew Boat, a hoppy session beer, was ready. Serendipitously, Launch found favor among craft beer bars that are inclined to steer patrons more accustomed to drinking pedestrian macro light brews toward better beer.

"The first beer we ever made is winning over the Miller Lite crowd. We haven't been able to stop making that beer," founder/co-owner Augie Carton (pictured above) said Saturday during an open house/brewery tour. "It's definitely become its own thing, and we will make it again, even though we thought we'd only ever make it that one time.

"There are those bars in New Jersey that are craft and want to cure people of Miller Lite, and they find they are having enormous success with Launch, where I thought they would have an enormous amount of success with Boat."

Boat was the catalyst for Augie and his cousin, Chris Carton, to start the brewery with their homebrewer friend Jesse Ferguson, (who is now the brewer for Carton Brewing). They wanted a beer that was as full-flavored as a double IPA from start to finish, yet session strength to be enjoyed over a few pints without ending up incoherent and on the floor.

"Boat is playing more to the craft beer crowd as a quaffable IPA," Augie says. "We thought it would play better to the wings community. What we've found is, it's killing in places of IPA drinkers who were having the same troubles we were having ... places like Cloverleaf (in Caldwell), which is a robust beer drinkers bar. They've got a collection of IPA-drinking regulars. Those guys wanted a beer they could have multiples of."

Three months in the New Jersey beer scene, Carton's lineup also features the double IPA 077XX, which with Launch, kicked off the brand, and a table beer BDG, a riff on biere de garde (the beer is actually more of a brown ale), or you can think of it this way: brunch, dinner, grub.

"It's doing well, better than expected, and for people who don't like hops – the rest of our beers tend toward hops so much – that's working for the brown ale/malt crowd," Augie says. "And now we're working on our milk stout because we're Carton, and you can't not have a carton of milk."

The stout, dosed with a mid-kettle addition of Bullion hops, is now in a second generation of pilot brewing, with another test batch or two to be done before a final version will be brewed in time to hit the market in late December or the start of next year. The goal now is to dial back some of the customary sweetness found in milk stouts.

"We don't really like sweet beers. The problem is, milk stout is inherently a sweet beer. I think the guys like Keegan (Mother's Milk) really nail it. It's just not too sweet," Augie says. "We're big into the session beer idea, and I don't find any beer as sessionable as a good low-alcohol stout. So that's what we want our milk stout to be.

"It's going to come in around 4 (percent ABV), and what we're doing is taking a super-roasty, just a ridiculously acrid over-roasted, malt bill and mashing it up against the sweetness of milk, and try to find the complexity to get you through a fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th pint."

Meanwhile, Augie says the fledgling brewery is already discovering the byproduct of their beers being well-received in the marketplace: the matter of keeping pace with demand. Carton Brewing is already talking about adding more capacity, unless their production schedule can be tweaked without compromising quality of the beer.

"We're in 40 places in New Jersey. We hit that right around eight weeks; we've been open 10 or eleven," he says. "We kind of had to stop. If people come to us and ask for our beer, we'll sell it to them, but we're not really pushing to get into new places because the last thing we want to do is let down those (initial) places."

To keep pace, though, new tank space could come online by next year's boating season.

"I think we're going to order it at the beginning of 2012. I think we're going to need it come summer," Augie says. "We've got an account right down the street that's selling six sixtels a week of Boat. By our business plan, they were only supposed to be selling one sixtel a week of Boat. They're selling six sixtels a week of Boat in November; it's going to be a dozen in June, so by June, we have to be able to make more Boat.

"Part of that is figuring out the true capacity of this brewery," he says.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A look at Flying Fish's future home

Records, brake pads, and in a few months' time, beer.

Flying Fish's recently acquired building in Somerdale has led a few different lives in New Jersey's manufacturing world, but its new lease on life – a state-of-the-art beer producer – promises to give New Jersey its first-ever automated craft brewery and the first automated brewery in South Jersey in decades.

"A lot of our investment is on the packaging, and having more automation," Flying Fish founder Gene Muller said Wednesday after a walk-through of the building. "Our bottling line can do three times the speed than we do now, because we're hand packing it. We're just growing into our equipment."

It was last April when word got out that Flying Fish, long in need of a bigger facility and thwarted on previous attempts to find that larger space, had finally landed a suitable site that would fit the brewery's current and future needs.

Last week, Flying Fish officially announced what everyone had long accepted as fact: 1940 Olney Avenue in Cherry Hill, the only physical location the brewery founded on the World Wide Web in 1995 has ever known, would fade into glory by mid-spring of 2012, a farewell to the place that grew to producing 14,000 barrels of beer a year and hosted countless tours and twice-a-year Internet open houses that were halted a few years ago when space became an issue.

Right now, the new Somerdale home, tucked behind a Walmart just off Route 30, looks like an old, sprawling industrial complex that hasn't seen a tenant quite in a while.

"It needs a lot of work, but it's a nice, big open space," Gene says. "We've got enough land – five acres. We can't build on any of that because most of it is wetlands. But it will give us a chance to do maybe some parkland, rain gardens, things like that ... If we can get some favorable legislation, then we can either do events or festivals. It would be a great spot for that."

Flying Fish has just begun to scratch the surface on turning the place into brewery.

They've cut drain trenches into the concrete floor of the portion where the brewhouse, fermenters and packaging will be set up, with more of that work to follow in the coming days.

Head brewer Casey Hughes (pictured above), no stranger to using AutoCAD, has been designing the brewery floor plan, with the help of sales director Andy Newell's wife.

(With just a little over a month and a half left in 2011, it looks like Flying Fish will produce only one brew this year in its Exit Series – Exit 9, the 9% ABV red ale that came out back in March. The next Exit beer is all worked out, as far as style and ingredients go, but the time crunch devoted to continuing to produce core brands and the Somerdale move may mean brewing the beer before year's end will have to be sacrificed. Fear not, Casey says the jump in brewing capacity thanks to the new home means some more past Exits can be brewed again.)

In a couple weeks' time, Casey is due to jet to northern Italy for training on the new kegging system, and then head to north Bavaria for training on the new German-manufactured automated 50-barrel brewhouse that will feed new 150-barrel fermenters, tripling Flying Fish's production capacity and making New Jersey's largest craft brewer look something like Troegs Brewing's new place in Hershey, Pa., only about half the size.

Somerdale, NJ, 08083
At just under 1.5 square miles, Somerdale is a blink-and-you-miss-it kind of town, one of those small towns in the flow of cars along Route 30 through Camden County. (Not quite 10 miles south of Cherry Hill, Somerdale is accessible off the New Jersey Turnpike from Exit 3.)

Somerdale officials have welcomed Flying Fish, happy the brewery is breathing new life into a 40something-year-old industrial site that has sat empty for the past couple of years, not to mention endured long stretches of sitting idle between uses. When it was occupied, the building housed a handful of manufacturing companies, such as a brake pads, and most recently millwork.

But the site is probably best remembered as the Superior Record Pressing plant, a use that would resonate with folks who remember when 12-inch vinyl LPs and 7-inch 45s were fixtures in the music industry.

Superior was part of Motown Records' vertical integration. The Somerdale site, bought by Motown founder/producer Berry Gordy in the early 1970s, was the forerunner to a sister record plant Motown had in Phoenix, Ariz. (Do an Internet search and you'll find the plant name pops up in recording industry news stories from the mid- to late-1970s in Billboard magazine.)

"It was originally just a warehouse for Motown Records in this region," Gene says. "Motown got so big that they actually started pressing the records here. Then he (Gordy) put a second floor onto the building, kind of a private office area, a kitchen and all of that. They were here for about a decade."

Once the new location is up and running, Flying Fish Version 2.0 will mark the return of automated brewing to South Jersey, something missing since Eastern Brewing, in Hammonton in Atlantic County, closed in the 1980s.

"That was a huge building. If you take the Atlantic City train, you can still see some of the old brewery buildings – they've been converted into offices and stuff. But that would be the last big one," Gene says. "Camden Brewing shut down in the mid-'50s, and I guess Trenton, Champale (Malt Liquor), that was down in the '70s, maybe early '80s."

Editor's note: The record image is a Photoshop creation, a mash-up of a Flying Fish keg collar and Web-grab of a 45 rpm record.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Turtle Stone scores some key financing

A fresh round of financing for Turtle Stone Brewing.

Turtle Stone on Monday got the green light from city officials in Vineland, the planned brewery's host town, for a $50,000 low-interest economic development loan.

Founder Ben Battiata says the cash will help pay for the production brewery's kegging equipment. "That's the last bit of equipment we have to get together," he says.

The kind of financing just approved for Turtle Stone is essentially collected state sales taxes being put back to work in the local economies that generated them.

Loans originated under the city's Urban Enterprise Zone program (part of a likewise-named New Jersey program to boost hard-pressed local economies) are partly funded by the sales taxes, and when those loans are repaid, the pool of available cash for future loans grows.

Turtle Stone applied for the funds around the beginning of last summer and was approved for a round of financing bankrolled by loans that were or are being repaid.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The ever-enduring metaphor for bad beer

Hey, we don't condone toilet humor, but when you discover the wellspring of piss-water beer, er uh bad beer, it's a public service to point it out.

Flying Fish talks move to Exit 3

Once upon a time, like in 1995-96, Flying Fish described its emergence on the craft (back then micro) brewing scene as going from minnow to fish.

Now, the soon-to-be-departing-Cherry Hill brewery, and its 14,000-barrel output, is growing from a tuna into marlin, so to speak. A bigger Fish, indeed.

Via the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild newsletter today and its own website, FF offered some details of its planned move to Somerdale (that's Exit 3 in beer series lingo), where it will make beer on a state-of-the-art 50 barrel German-manufactured brewhouse and draw its juice (or some of it) via rooftop solar panels. (Still in Camden County, Somerdale is just a bottle cap's throw from Cherry Hill.)

A decade and a half after launching with an ESB (one that would in six months' time earn compliments from famed beer hunter Michael Jackson), an extra pale ale (a light beer without being nondescript light), a tasty porter still remembered by a few folks (alas it's gone, morphed into an imperial seasonal with the addition of coffee), and quickly weaving an abbey dubbel into the lineup, Flying Fish is tripling its capacity and promising some changes to its flight of beers. (In our recollection, FF has never brewed a lager. And since you can find head brewer Casey Hughes from time to time enjoying a Sly Fox Pikeland Pilsner at Good Dog in Philadelphia, maybe a pils is in the Fish's future.)

Interesting, too, is the fact that FF's expansion comes amid a surge in New Jersey craft brewing, with the addition of seven new licensees since mid-2009, and only a couple of casualties in that bunch (Newark's Port 44 Brew Pub, which closed last summer after only a year on the scene, and Great Blue Brewing, a nano that sort of started and stopped amid some technical troubles, but hasn't thrown in the towel).

It's a good time to be following brewed-in-Jersey.

Jersey beer trivia: Flying Fish is the only brewery in the state (maybe even the country) to have a cartoon drawn for it by a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist. Two-time Pulitzer winner Steve Breen, who worked at the Asbury Park Press in the 1990s, sketched a Cheshire-like cat perched between a pint of Fish and fish in a bowl, devilishly eyeing the brew Fish, not the finned fish.

Make it big

Some Jersey-brewed big beers to talk about: a first-ever barleywine by Tun Tavern brewer Tim Kelly; the upcoming release of Cricket Hill's pro-am brew; a reprise of Climax Brewing's imperial stout; and a new dimension in take-home beer from Trap Rock.

Thirst for first
Brewers come and go, but sometimes the beers they make end up staying, brewed by the next hands to take over. And sometimes a few of the predecessor's beers stay in mind. Such is the case at the Tun, where memories of Ted Briggs' barleywine have survived for some folks more than four years after Ted left Atlantic City. (Ted's now the brewer at Lander Brewing in Wyoming.)

Amid that scenario, Tim Kelly, who took over for Ted in May 2007, decided to brew a barleywine. Coming in at 11% ABV, it's one of the biggest beers Tim has made professionally, edging out a Belgian tripel made last spring off a pro-am contest sponsored at the Tun, a wee heavy Tim did in 2010 and a Belgian brown he has done for the holidays in years past.

"Rumors keep perpetuating that I did this awesome barleywine and I hadn't done it in a while; they must be confusing me with the former brewer ... So to appease everyone, and also to challenge myself a little, I decided to develop a barleywine," Tim says. "It's dry-hopped with Cascade, aged on French oak; it's been conditioning for a couple months now. It will come out after the pumpkin lager, so this will probably be after Thanksgiving. I'll probably end up bottling about 100 bottles for retail sale, sit on them and let them age and sell them next year."

The pumpkin lager (a 7% brew) is almost gone, and when it does kick, that will open up a tap for a maple black walnut brown ale that Tim brewed a few weeks ago.

Stout royalty
Speaking of pro-ams, next month will see a teaser release of Cricket Hill's imperial stout, brewed from homebrewer Bill Kovach's recipe that bested 32 other brews in the contest Cricket Hill sponsored a year ago.

Brewery co-owner John Watts says the 10.5% ABV stout is set for official release in bombers in January, but fans of the Fairfield brewery will get an early shot at it in a prerelease event to coincide with a mid-December Friday open house.

Folks long familiar with Cricket Hill know the brewery staked out a place on the Garden State beer-scape with a flight of session beers and has been moving deeper into reserve-series big beers, notably among them an 8.5% barleywine done in 2010 that also got some bourbon barrel treatment.

Some of the barrel-aged stock got stashed away for special occasions, John says, so Cricket Hill fans should keep an eye out for them. "I can tell you, a year of aging on that, it's spectacular," he says.

Stout royalty, redux

In nearby Roselle Park, next month brewer Dave Hoffmann plans to turn out bomber bottles of his Hoffmann Doppelbock, a traditional toasty, caramel-like heritage brew (Dave's of German lineage), formerly only available from Climax Brewing as draft and in 64-ounce growlers.

"I've been making it for a long time, for like 10 years now. It's one of my favorite styles. I make it every year for the holidays," Dave says.

Climax Brewing began turning out six-packs last summer thanks to a newly acquired bottler. The bomber-bottled bock marks Climax Brewing working yet another label from its beer lineup into the brewery's new packaging model.

Early next year, look for another Climax brew to come out in 22-ouncers: an imperial stout that will make a reprise after a decade-plus hiatus. To be named Tuxedo Imperial Stout, the brew salutes the black cat, Tuxedo, that has mouse-policed Climax's brewery for 13 years.

"She did her job for all these years, so we take care of her now. She's getting older, so before she dies I want to make a beer for her," Dave says. "It'll probably be 8 or 9% alcohol, big and burly, a little hoppy in the finish ... it's the recipe I made 10 or 12 years ago. I made it twice already, but it was a long time ago, but this time it will be in bottles."

Rock in a bottle
Speaking of bottles, brewer Charlie Schroeder at Trap Rock has racked off about 30 1-liter bottles of the Berkeley Heights brewpub's Jet Fuel Double IPA, a step toward getting Trap Rock's bigger beers into more user-friendly take-home sizes (high-alcohol brews in growlers, especially ones like barleywines, aren't always the best idea, easy to finish in one drinking session).

Jet Fuel (yes, the brew's name speaks to the New York Jets and their followers in the Trap Rock locale) clocks in at 9.5% ABV, stuffed full of Nugget, Challenger, East Kent, Willamette and Bramling Cross hops.

Trap Rock added a third 7-barrel fermenter last month (it now has 3 of them, plus three 15-barrel tanks) to boost capacity, keep pace with growing demand and enable more runs of the bigger, specialty beers.

The long-range plan, Charlie says, also includes having have more of the big brews available in the take-home bottles and to set some of them aside as reserve brews for inclusion on the beer menu.

The new tank has necessitated some rearranging in the brewery space, plus some additional installation, before the bigger beers will be completely integrated into the brewpub's work flow.

Monday, October 24, 2011

NJ lieutenant gov pays a call on Flying Fish

Another sign that Trenton is coming around to craft beer's industry potential.

New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno toured Flying Fish's digs on Monday.

FF's tweet off the day says Guadagno, the No. 2 in the Chris Christie administration, talked about craft brewing growth in the Garden State, and founder Gene Muller, via email, called the meeting productive.

Christie's not exactly popular in union and public employee circles, thanks to some budget austerity since taking office last year.

But his administration has been craft-beer friendly. If you recall back in May, Christie signed a proclamation for American Craft Beer Week in New Jersey, coinciding with the national observance.

And now, the lieutenant governor drops in on Flying Fish. The visit puts FF and its growth (plus the planned move a few miles away to Somerdale) in the spotlight, but the state's craft brewing industry should be able to enjoy a bounce off this moment, too.

Craft brewing is a $7 billion-a-year industry nationally, and having the governor's office warm up to Garden State beer-makers could help improve the odds for overhauling the state's brewing industry regulations and put New Jersey on par with New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware, where the rules are more brewer-friendly.

That, obviously, would make New Jersey brewers more competitive.

And who knows, maybe Trenton will fall in love with craft brewing and show it like New York State did to Brooklyn Brewery in 2009.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Keeping tabs on the rising count

Some numbers to peruse ...

The Brewers Association, the trade association representing the majority of U.S. brewing companies, maintains a searchable database of breweries across the country and in the U.S. territories of Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

The lists for the states and territories also include breweries in development, a number that comes to 739 (up from 618 the Brewers Association reported back in March, by our count).

The 739 figure is a soft number – more proposed breweries can end up in the database or come off, plus there may be some planned breweries that the Brewers Association is unaware of, while some in the database may no longer be viable, as is the case for a project still listed for Landing, N.J.

Simply put, however, the database addition is certainly a reflection of the growing number of folks looking to get into the craft beer business, hoping to join the more than 1,750 breweries now churning out beer in the U.S.

Here are some breakdowns gleaned from the database:

California, a big state with a large, beer-friendly population, leads with the way with 98 in breweries development, followed by Texas (49) and Colorado (48).

The Garden State clocks in with 17 – nearly as many projects in development as there are craft brewers operating in New Jersey (19).

Odds are, most of the Jersey projects are production breweries of some sort, whether nano or larger.

Brewpubs prove to be a tough path, given municipal – not state – control over bar licensing, a condition that sharply drives up the start-up costs. (Despite that, there currently is a brewpub project in development, Laetare in Monmouth County.)

Nonetheless, 2011 has been one of the busiest for startups in the state since its early days of craft brewing in the mid-1990s. (Still, though, the Brewers Association ranks New Jersey 42nd in breweries per capita, with one brewery for every 439,595 people. The Garden State has about the same number of breweries as Vermont, which has the best per capita ratio. New Jersey's dense population, of course, busts the curve for us.)

The current growth phase over the past two years comes on the heels of a 10-year drought in adding new beer-makers. Changing demographics – the age 21-to-30 crowd is heavily into full-bodied beers of all styles – and bars' stampede to add craft taps are giving a lot of homebrewers and others who entertained the idea to start a brewery the confidence that they can make a go of it.

"New Jersey is not so much making up for a lost decade, as simply picking up where they left off," says industry watcher Lew Bryson, who co-authored New Jersey Breweries (2008) with Mark Haynie.

"Beer bars have been doing a lot of the heavy lifting, and now that some of the more conservative-minded beer sellers have been convinced that this 'microbrew thing' has legs, there's opportunity for a small brewer," Lew says. "Is it a startup bubble? Some of them aren't going to make it, sure, but that's going to happen in any surge like this, in any industry. Three steps forward, one step back. Demand keeps rising; you need more capacity to fill it, and you need more new beers to drive it."

Jersey snapshot
State regulators, so far in 2011, have licensed four production breweries – two nanos (Great Blue and Cape May Brewing) and two beer-makers with brewhouses at 15 barrels or greater (Carton and Kane Brewing).

Three more are sprinting to toward the finish line – Flounder, Tuckahoe and Turtle Stone – and expect to get the green light to begin making beer by the end of the year.

Much farther behind them are ones like Blackthorn Brewing, a planned father-daughter enterprise, and Black River Brewing, a planned Pennsylvania project with ties to New Jersey.

Chip Town and his daughter, Jacqui, of Jackson in Ocean County, are still siting a location for Blackthorn Brewing but envision their brewery of malty English and Irish ales ending up in their home county or southern Monmouth County.

Part of the banking world for 30 years, Chip, 55, has been making beer at home for the past 15 years; Jacqui, 25, a recent graduate of The College of New Jersey with degrees in marketing and chemistry, has been homebrewing seriously for three years.

(Jacqui came up with the brewery name, a nod to Ireland and the iconic walking sticks; Chip's mother's family is from County Roscommon, in the northwest of Ireland. The Towns also maintain a blog about their project.)

On the drawing boards for a couple of years now, Chip says plans call for Blackthorn to have a 20-barrel brewhouse to feed 40-barrel fermenters and hit the market in bottles and draft. The Towns are in the process of completing their business plan and will then pursue private investors.

"Once I have capital in my fist, I'll be out looking for warehouse space, hiring a brewer and start ordering stainless," Chip says. He doesn't expect problems with finding a location. "I've been working with a commercial real estate broker (who says) there's a lot of quality food-grade commercial space available out there because of the economy."

Blackthorn has been able to tap industry insiders for advice, something Chip is grateful for, noting Jersey brewers and their counterparts across the country have readily answered questions he's had.

"I've spoken to people in Texas, New York, Colorado ... Gene Muller (from Flying Fish) has been a huge help to me. He's let me pick his brain," Chip says. "Jesse Ferguson at Carton has been helpful; they've just gone through everything we're going through."

The Towns expect Blackthorn beer to find a niche in the local market. "Seeing what Mike Kane and Augie and Chris Carton are making – they're doing the West Coast styles – no one seems to be focusing on the maltier profile," Chip says.

Jersey vs. Pennsylvania, a business decision
Dave Grosch lives in Flemington in Hunterdon County, where he owns D&K Specialty Coffee, a wholesale coffee distribution company that supplies restaurants. He's also into brewing beer at home, quite active in the hobby over the past seven years. Dave, 45, even got to lend a hand at River Horse Brewing on a day the Lambertville brewery was making a batch of its flagship lager.

He's done well in homebrew competitions across the Delaware River, last year earning the title Homebrewer of the Year in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Friends suggested Dave go commercial. A fellow homebrewer in his club circles, Bryan Clayton, 30, of Lansdale, Pa., had designs on going pro, too. (Bryan is a project manager for a clinical research company.)

The two teamed up for Black River Brewing, a production brewery project they want to equip with a 20-barrel brewhouse and locate in Bucks County, Pa. They're eyeing the greater Philadelphia market, hoping to enter it with a Vienna lager, saison, IPA, and porter in bottles and draft.

Dave says they're working on a business plan and are about to begin raising cash for the project; then they'll pin down a location.

They chose Bryan's home state because the business climate is friendlier to craft brewing than New Jersey is. Among their concerns is New Jersey's restrictions on retail sales from the brewery, long a complaint among some Garden State craft brewers.

In Pennsylvania, Black River would be able to sell from the brewery tasting room everything from pints to kegs, so long as it adheres to seating requirements and sells some quantity of food. That's not possible in New Jersey, where production brewers' retail allowance is currently restricted to two six-packs or two growlers for consumption off premises.

"The main advantage is, you can be like a bar, but you're not trying to be the corner bar," Dave says.

Such sales, he says, would be vital revenue stream in addition to distribution to bars on either side of the Delaware, and in Pennsylvania state stores and packaged goods stores in New Jersey.

The brewery's name, incidentally, is a nod to the Lamington River in New Jersey and the Black River in Ireland, where Bryan has family roots.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Still a nano, just a bigger nano

A capacity boost at Cape May Brewing Company.

The nanobrewer located in Lower Township in Cape May County has stepped up its brewing batch size to 1.5 barrels and has added five 2-barrel fermenters that will allow the brewery to phase out the nine 35-gallon fermenters it began operations with back in late spring.

The quick jump to a tripled brewing capacity is part of Cape May's business plan, says co-founder Ryan Krill.

The original brewing setup – designed Chris Henke, the company's brewer, and fashioned from repurposed half-barrel kegs – was directed more at getting the nanobrewery licensed and up and running in the craft beer market than it was to brew and maintain a flow of beer inventory.

"The new setup is stainless steel tanks Chris got from a stainless distributor and got welded with fittings. It's more efficient," says co-founder Ryan Krill, who took some time on Friday to talk about the brewery's jump from brewing 12- to 13-gallon batches to 46 gallons.

Other changes include the addition of a second cold box and regularly scheduled brewery tours. The tours began in July as announced-date events but are now set for each Saturday (noon to 4 p.m.). The tours have proved popular, Ryan says, drawing crowd sizes of 100 people during the allotted hours.

Also, the brewery has also joined the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild, one of three newly licensed craft breweries in the state to do so. (Kane Brewing and Carton Brewing, both in Monmouth County, are the other two.)

Cape May is still supplying a single bar account (the oceanfront Cabanas in Cape May), but Ryan says the tiny beer company that he started with his dad, Robert, and college friend Chris has seen a gradual increase in production.

The brewery produced 16 barrels from July to September, in the form of their flagship Cape May IPA, a one-off dark IPA (a beer that was done on a lark, so it's highly improbable to ever see it return), a porter, stout and wheat beer.

Heading into the Thanksgiving holiday you can expect a cranberry wheat beer, Ryan says.

Speaking of Carton Brewing, the Atlantic Highlands production brewery that came online in August will begin conducting brewery tours this weekend, Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. (Judging from their website, this week they pilot-brewed a milk stout – Carton of Milk Stout – a brew that was always in the company game plan.)

Additionally, Carton is teaming with Kane Brewing, the Ocean Township production brewery that opened last July, for a benefit beer dinner on Oct. 14th.