Monday, May 16, 2011

Good time to be in our own backyard

It's American Craft Beer Week, and that's a good moment to take stock of what's emerged on the Garden State beer landscape over the past year.

For starters, 2011 finds in business two new breweries, Great Blue Brewing (Franklin Township, Somerset County) and Port 44 Brew Pub (Newark) that weren't here a year ago this time. A new contract-made brand, East Coast Beer Company (Point Pleasant), also landed on the store shelves with a pilsner (Beach Haus) and is ramping up plans for another label.

Two production breweries are in development in Monmouth County – Kane Brewing (Ocean Township) and Carton Brewing (Atlantic Highlands), while nanobrewing has gained a foothold in the state. One such brewery is already licensed (Great Blue), while another (Cape May Brewing) is on pace to get the green light soon from state regulators, and further still, a handful of nanos are on the drawing boards (Flounder Brewing, Pinelands Brewing and Jersey Shore Brewing Experience, to name three.)

The hits keep coming.

The state's oldest production craft brewer, Climax in Roselle Park, bought a bottling line to put its ales and lagers in six-packs for the first time in its 15-year history. To the south, the state's largest craft brewer, Flying Fish, has designs on a new building in Somerdale (about five miles from its current home base of Cherry Hill) that will triple the brewery's size.

But Flying Fish isn't alone with the serious need to expand. In fact, right now, nearly all Garden State brewers can't make beer fast enough for demand, and for many, limited capacity is the reason.

Meanwhile, in Trenton, lawmakers are being asked to update the rules for microbrewing to catch New Jersey's industry up with neighboring states, if not the rest of the country.

"The current legislation has been in place for about 20 years and was negotiated at a time when states were just starting to craft legislation to launch our industry," says Mark Edelson, one of the owners of the Iron Hill brewpub in Maple Shade.

Looking east, the phrase down the shore now translates as being able to find good beer selections on tap on the sandy side of the state, something that, excluding oases like Firewaters in Atlantic City or brewpubs Tun Tavern, Basil T's and Artisans, has lagged behind North Jersey and the Delaware side of the state.

"I'm usually a little shocked about this area because of its proximity to New York City and people's exposure to cuisine, culture and travel," says Mark Danzeisen, owner of the well-stocked Twin Light Taphouse in Highlands, which just celebrated its first anniversary May 1 and will turn over its taps to Long Island's Bluepoint Brewing this Wednesday for a American Craft Beer Week soiree.

"Beer has always been something – I won't say shunned – but it's never been fully explored or delved into like the rest of the state. People are opening their eyes now."

Danzeisen, 30, comes from a place where the beer pedigree is solid. He opened Twin Light, on Monmouth County's bayshore, because the beers he was used to drinking were, for the most part, still back home. Although back home – Philly – wasn't a world away, it did seem so through the prism of a flavor-starved pint glass.

"I grew up down in Philadelphia and worked in beer bars down there. In college, my local bar was Monk's, Bridgid's, North Third, Standard Tap," he says.

All of New Jersey is picking up its game, he finds.

Thank a vibrant craft brewing industry, changing palates and a food movement that embraces beer. Roll into that the gravitational pull of beer-craving Pennsylvania and New York state. Or anywhere else that takes a wider view of food and drink.

"You go to Europe, you go to other places, and food and alcohol is first before other business is taken care of ... Or the home is based around the kitchen. We've lost that because of our time investment into work and other things," he says. "We're seeing this culture swing back toward food and appreciation of food, a return to grandmom's recipes and mom's old recipes. Beer is being pulled into that; there's that seeking out of flavors."

But, as much as it seems like our own backyard is suddenly a fun place to play, this week is also a reason to remember and support the home team – the Jersey brewers who have been plying these waters for 16 years, the folks who chose to go into business back in the 1990s because they wanted to bring to New Jersey what they were enjoying from their own beer travels or homebrewing experiences.

And it's a moment for the new entrepreneurs, who see a brighter beer future in the Garden State and a chance to bring to market the brews they envision.

Because, yes, it is a good time to hang out in our own backyard.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jeff, well done!