Thursday, March 31, 2011

Think Tun tripel at AC beer fest

The Atlantic City beer festival opens on Friday, and amid the tide of beers from 75 breweries at the sixth edition of the Celebration of the Suds, this beer should stand out: the Belgian tripel brewed at the Tun Tavern by homebrewers Vince Masciandaro and Evan Fritz, under the guidance of the Tun's brewer, Tim Kelly.

Vince and Evan's beer paced ahead of 19 other brews to claim victory in the Tun's first homebrewer contest. Top prize was the opportunity to scale up their recipe and brew a commercial batch for the Tun's taps and for the Friday and Saturday crowds at the AC beer fest. (The beer will be taphandled At The Shore Belgian Ale because of a tie-in with The Press of Atlantic City newspaper and its entertainment guide, At The Shore.)

The pleasure Vince and Evan got from playing pro brewer for a day should be all yours. The beer they brewed will have no equal at the festival. It's imminently fresh – brewed in early March, racked over this week for serving. It exists because of the festival – brewed specifically for the event. And Vince and Evan rose to the challenge of brewing on an exponential scale.

Talk to Vince about his beers and he'll tell you that he's his own toughest critic. A minor errant flavor you forgive because you've tasted it in store-bought brews is a rough spot that Vince wishes he had or plans to file down. A flaw is still a flaw to this Marlton guy, and that's that. And that's why his beers have that certain above-and-beyond effort that gives them a fine finish.

For Evan, homebrewing isn't about shaving some pennies off the cost keeping the fridge stocked. Hardly. Brewing's an intriguing science to him, a challenge, and re-creating the best beers he finds on the store shelves is equal parts holy grail and the proverbial practice that makes perfect.

He brews practically every Friday afternoon at his home in Williamstown (he'd love to do it daily as a professional), with the same goal Vince has: to make a great beer.

And that's what they did for the festival.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New brewery license issued

New Jersey has a new licensed brewing entity.

And Suydam Farms LLC just may be the Garden State's first licensed nano-brewery (depending on whether Cape May Brewing has been granted its license, and fleshing out details about the actual size of Suydam's operations).

The folks with Suydam (a Dutch name pronounced SOO'-dam) acknowledged they had received a limited brewery license – the license under state regulations that allows production brewing – and that brewing was supposed to commence Wednesday. They didn't, however, have time to provide further details during the phone call last week. (The state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control says the license was granted on Feb. 28. We left phone and Facebook messages with Suydam hoping to find out what kinds of beer they'll brew and what their target market is.)

Suydam Farms raises the number of New Jersey brewery license-holders to 21 and becomes the fourth brewery licensee since 2009, the year that broke a 10-year drought on brewery start-ups. Last year, Port 44 Brewpub in Newark and New Jersey Beer Company in North Bergen began brewing; Iron Hill brewpub opened its doors in Maple Shade the year before.

Suydam Farms is located in Franklin Township in Somerset County. Although it's unconfirmed, we've been told Suydam picked up the 2-barrel system once used at the Cedar Creek brewpub, a short-lived oasis for craft beer fans in South Jersey in the mid- to late-1990s.

Given that small size – and prevailing brewery industry descriptions – Suydam would fall into the nano class, a size distinction that no one was making back when Cedar Creek was brewing in Egg Harbor City in Atlantic County. (At 2 barrels, Cedar Creek had half the brewing capacity of Dave Hoffmann's Climax Brewing, which became New Jersey's first production craft beer-maker with a 4-barrel brewhouse that fed into an array of larger fermenters, thereby giving Dave production volume beyond his brewhouse capacity.)

Cape May Brewing, which had a license application pending earlier this year, is planning a 3-barrel nano (with a one-third barrel start-up phase), while Flounder Brewing is a nano-brewery in development in Hillsborough.

Part of the Garden State agricultural landscape for nearly three centuries, Suydam Farms is known for its U-pick pumpkin patches and promoting farming and conservation (the property falls under the state's farmland preservation). Beer enthusiasts may know Suydam Farms for growing hops – such as Cascade, Centennial and Chinook. The Jersey-grown cones have made their way into beers produced at Triumph brewpub in Princeton and those made by Princeton-area homebrewers.

Joe Bair, whose Princeton Homebrew shop (located on Route 29 in Trenton) has carried Suydam's hops on its shelves, knows the farm for its generosity and beer scene camaraderie.

Joe used to host Big Brew/National Homebrew Day gatherings at his shop until it was hit by a flood several years ago. Suydam Farms stepped and offered their property for the event held annually on the first Saturday in May. The farm also has hosted meetings of PALE ALES, the homebrew club Joe founded 16 years ago.

"They've been very nice to me and very nice to the club," he says.

It's important to note – since there's a proposal pending in the Legislature to create a farm brewery license in New Jersey – that Suydam's license was granted before any action on that legislation. The farm brewery bill, introduced last summer, remains in committee.

Stay tuned.