Monday, April 4, 2011

Red ale 1st brew for NJ's newest beer-maker

You've heard of farm to fork, locally produced foods delivered to local consumers.

Well, New Jersey's newest craft brewery wants to be a farm-to-glass operation, using its own Somerset County-grown hops to add a unique Garden State signature to beers targeted for local restaurants and bars.

Granted a production brewery license on Feb. 28, Suydam Farms in Franklin Township made a scarlet red ale as its inaugural batch of beer last Saturday, using a 2-barrel system installed in a milk processing building spared an arsonist's flame in the late 1970s that claimed a dairy barn and some other structures on the nearly three-centuries-old, family-owned farm.

Ryck Suydam (pronounced RIKE soo-DAM), one of the people behind Great Blue Brewing (as the farm's brewing entity is called), says the brewery is still working out some snags with its system and will make some tweaks before brewing for a second time in about two weeks.

"It's not a perfect system," he said during a phone interview Monday, noting that Great Blue's brewing set-up was cobbled together by collecting brewing equipment over the past few years.

A nano operation by today's craft brewery size descriptions, the nucleus of Great Blue is a brewhouse that once made beer at Cedar Creek, a now-defunct brewpub in Egg Harbor City (Atlantic County) that longtime Jersey brewing industry followers will remember from the mid-1990s.

Once the brewing process is ironed out, Great Blue will brew twice a month. "We're going to crawl before we walk, walk before we run," Ryck says.

Initial plans call for distributing to a trio of select restaurants – Steakhouse 85 and Stage Left in New Brunswick and Sophie's Bistro in the Somerset section of Franklin. The three restaurants already buy produce and other commodities from Suydam Farms.

"Steakhouse 85 uses a lot of our tomatoes, okra and honey, Stage Left our eggs. Sophie's uses a lot of our squash," Ryck says.

On the heels of their beer hitting taps, Great Blue will follow up with some marketing research. "We'll see what the market thinks of the product," he says.

Suydam Farms, with its sprawling 300 acres, dates back to 1713, when the Suydam family, Dutch settlers who came first to New York (Brooklyn), then, after a half century, pulled up stakes for Colonial New Jersey. (One of the farm's buildings dates to the 1760s; two arson fires during the summer of 1978 claimed a lot of the other old structures, Ryck says.)

Well diversified in its commodities, the farm is known for its locally grown/locally used philosophy: hay for New Jersey horse farms; a variety of vegetables and pumpkins; melons, blackberries and raspberries; honey; firewood; flowers; as wells as eggs, pork, poultry, and lamb. It's also well known for its greenhouses and Christmas trees, with 800 planted just last week.

Ryck says the berries will figure into the brewing picture at some point down the road.

In the late 1990s, after some prodding by Paul Corkery, Ryck's homebrewer brother-in-law, the farm began growing hops: Cascade, Northern Brewer and Willamette to name a few varieties. (Paul also helps with the farm's hosting of the annual Big Brew/National Homebrew Day event held in early May.) With just under an acre in production, the farm has seen its Cascades do the best in the New Jersey soil.

This year's crop has already begun to poke through the soil and next month will be twined on trellises that soar 17 feet skyward. Harvesting has been done via the help of homebrewers and friends, sometimes at picking parties.

To dry the hops, Ryck says the farm fashioned an oast by forcing hot air through a closet (the drying process takes about four hours, depending on humidity); the dried hops have generally been crushed into bricks and vacuum-packed. Lately, Ryck says, the cones have been pressed flat then vacuum-packed.

Homebrewers have been the primary users of the farm's hops, but Triumph brewpub in Princeton also has made use of them. With the brewery in development, the much of the 2010 crop was set aside for the farm's use, Ryck says.

ABOUT THE NAME: Great Blue Brewing is an homage to one of the farm's patriarchs, Abram Suydam (Ryck's grandfather), and his appreciation of nature, especially the great blue herons that feed at a pond on the farm. "He was a bit of a naturalist; they (the herons) were a favorite of his," Ryck says of his grandfather.

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