Thursday, June 9, 2011

Krogh's event on Sunday

More from the homebrew front ...

Come Sunday, Krogh's will play host to a first-anniversary soiree for the Final Gravity podcast, a homebrewing and craft beer discussion that the Sussex County brewpub sponsors.

The event runs from about noon to 5 p.m., with Final Gravity's host Jayn Cummings anchoring the live, 90-minute podcast from the Tudor-style establishment's taproom; a homebrewing demonstration will be conducted outside on Krogh's patio by members of NJHOPZ, the homebrew club affiliated with Final Gravity.

There will also be a brewer from Krogh's on hand, and an invitation has been extened to one of the crew from River Horse Brewing in Lambertville to come up to Sparta and talk about beer.

Drawing some influence from the Brewing Network out of California, Final Gravity got rolling after Jay decided to put back into service the idled recording studio in the basement of his Belvidere home in Warren County.

"We thought it was kind of a no-brainer. We love talking about beer, so why not share our passion with other homebrewers?" he says.

The show is sometimes irreverent, sometimes bawdy, but always about beer: tasty craft brews that come into the region and homebrews that are of the crews' creation.

Now in its 12th year as a brewpub, Krogh's, as a bar, dates back to the late 1930s. As part of the New Jersey craft beer scene, the brewpub annually turns over its brewhouse to the winner of the State Fair homebrew competition, scaling up the victor's recipe for brewing on the pub's 5-barrel DME system and putting the finished beer on tap.

Jay says Krogh's owner Bob Fuchs is a big supporter of homebrewing.

"Bob is a great guy to work with," Jason says. "He's totally enthused about homebrewing and the ideas we've come up with and presented to him ... he's very enthusiastic about craft beer in general."

Dump the permit, keep the law

How many homebrewers are there in New Jersey?

Good question.

The state's Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the agency that now regulates both commercial and amateur brewers by way of licensing and permits, can only tell you that it granted permission to 386 homebrewers in 2010.

But the American Homebrewers Association, the Colorado-based organization that promotes homebrewing and watches those brewers' backs as far as trends and regulations go, says its paid membership from New Jersey likely tops the number of homebrewing permits issued last year by the state.

In fact, those 386 permits from last year are the most New Jersey has issued in the past six years, with the lion's share of them going to patrons of brew-on-premise establishments. You have to go back to 2007, when 359 homebrewer permits were granted, to find a similar peak within that time period.

Why are there more homebrewers than the state can account for? Probably because most people who jump into homebrewing in the Garden State don't know they're supposed to get a permit in the first place. Homebrew supply shops aren't obligated to play cop and enforce the permit rule, and many shop owners say that if they did, they'd lose more customers to Internet sales.

So it's a good thing that there's a bill in the Legislature, A4012, that proposes dumping the 20-year-old permit requirement, plus its restrictions against making or serving homebrewed beer anywhere except the address put down on the permit application, not to mention the provision that allows the ABC to carry out spot checks on permit-holders to ensure compliance.

There's also the matter of the permit's cost – 15 bucks. "The money that they charged to get that, administratively, I can't imagine that it was cost-effective," says JoEllen Ford, owner of The Brewer's Apprentice, a brew-on-premise and homebrew supply shop in Freehold. "What were they hoping to accomplish? I don't understand what the objective was to begin with, what were they trying to stop or prevent."

To many, the introduction last month of A4012 was indeed welcome news. However, the AHA notes a caveat about just tossing the permit regulation. The way the bill sponsored by Middlesex County Assemblyman Craig Coughlin is written, the AHA says, it appears to just rely on the federal legalization for homebrewing. That is to say, you can legally brew up to 200 gallons per adult per household per year.

The federal standard may seem safe, but the AHA says it doesn't leave on New Jersey's books some stipualtion that homebrewing is a legal practice and that the product of homebrewers' efforts will not be taxed. The AHA recommends that states expressly say homebrewing is legal and not subject to taxation. (Coughlin did not respond to several messages left with his office seeking comment on his bill. His district, by the way, is ground zero to the WHALES homebrew club of Woodbridge.)

Homebrewing, once the province of Prohibition-era drinkers thirsty for a beer, was legalized by the federal government in 1978. New Jersey followed suit 13 years later. Exactly why the state decided that Garden State homebrewers would also need a permit each year to strike a mash in their garage has sort of been lost to the mists of time.

But Joe Bair, owner of Princeton Homebrew (along Route 29 in Trenton), says the permit ended up being included in the state's codification of backyard beer-making because of some tradeoffs between homebrewing proponents, notably the late Ed Busch, a former member of the AHA governing committee, and the Legislature.

At the time, there was considerable opposition from restaurant and bar groups concerning craft brewing and homebrewing.

"He (Busch) had to sign off on all this ridiculous stuff," Joe says. "In order for him to get the thing passed, he had to eat that. At the time, he was a member of the AHA governors, and one by one, all the states were making homebrew legal. He didn't want to delay it anymore, he wanted results, so he compromised on that.

"He had to do whatever it took, and the result is he passed the law. That's not to say it's the law he wanted to get passed," Joe says.