Tuesday, July 12, 2011

One for the chef

Some quick calendar notes:

Toms River brewpub Artisan's holds its mug club dinner Friday, beginning at 7 p.m., with a lineup of six beers, including a weizenbock that marks the first time ever brewer Dave Hoffmann has made that style for public consumption (Dave also owns Climax Brewing in Roselle Park).

There's also a really exceptional pils on tap, and as much as we'd like to keep talking up the beers, it's fitting to give some credit to Artisan's chef Steve Farley.

Steve puts together a really kickin' spread for this gig, including a buttermilk fried chicken that will have you ignoring your doctor's warnings about fried foods. Not because it's guiltless, but because it's incredibly good. (Think Thomas Keller of Ad Hoc fame – that kind of chicken).

So go for the beer, stay for the food.

Meanwhile, Saturday in Maple Shade Iron Hill celebrates its second anniversary with a bourbon-barrel aged winter warmer (kept four months in the barrel), appropriately dubbed Christmas in July, and a second generation of the Sorachi Ace-hopped Rising Sun, this time a double IPA called Second Rising and dosed with enough Sorachi for an emperor.

(One of the cool things Iron Hill has done with this beer is use it to raise money for earthquake/tsunami relief in Japan. Sometimes, it's not about the beer's flavor, but what the beer can do to help people.)

Iron Hill gets a little fancier on July 27th with a beer dinner that also salutes the brewpub's two years in New Jersey. The brewpub was founded by three Jersey guys who launched in Delaware for business reasons but had always wanted to be in the Garden State.

Two years ago, they got their homecoming.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Extra capacity for Trap Rock

A much-needed capacity boost for Trap Rock.

A 7-barrel fermenter is to scheduled to be installed next month to help the Berkeley Heights brewpub keep up with current demand and give brewer Charlie Schroeder some flexibility with Trap Rock's seasonal brews.

The new tank will also allow him to create a lineup of specialty brews for take-home sales.

Like a lot of beer-makers these days, Trap Rock is finding it tough to keep up with demand for its eight taps (including a hand pump) and has watched its production numbers climb as craft beer's popularity continues to surge.

Trap Rock cranked out 475 barrels of beer last year, an increase of 40 barrels from 2009. (The brewpub did 425 barrels in 2006.) That may not seem like a big figure, but Trap Rock has a 7-barrel brewing system with an annual capacity of 500 barrels. So the brewery is nearly maxed out.

Some more stats: The brewpub sold 3,594 half-gallon growlers in 2010 and is running about 100 jugs ahead of that figure so far this year. Trap Rock sold 3,050 growlers in 2009 and 2,640 the year before.

The extra fermenter, which will supplement the brewery's two 7-barrel tanks and three 15-barrel tanks, will allow Charlie to brew an extra two batches of beer per month.

"I'm brewing six to eight times a month. I need to be at eight to 10 times a month just to keep up with current demand," he says.

The additional tank will allow for monthly brews of Hathor Red lager, a beer that has been made with ale yeast on occasion to facilitate faster turnaround and not tie up tank space. Charlie says the new fermenter will prove critical for working the brewpub's Oktoberfest seasonal into next month's production schedule, not to mention allow for big beers like barleywines, strong ales, Belgian triples and imperial stouts.

Those big beers figure into Trap Rock's plans to produce a lineup of bottled specialty beers. Charlie says the brewpub plans to buy a single-head bottle filler for that task.

"I get requests to make these beers all the time and have to tell people I just don't have the room to do it," he says. "How many bottles am I going to sell? I don't know, but taking home a growler of barleywine is not ideal. You want to (drink) that when you want to, not that night or the next day."

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cape May Brewing opens doors to public

A week after supplying its first draft account, nano-sized beer-maker Cape May Brewing welcomed the public with its first open house, a four-hour meet-and-greet on Saturday that featured beer sampling and a tour of the brewery's facility nestled in an industrial park-like building alongside Cape May County Airport.

More than a dozen craft beer enthusiasts paid a call on the state's smallest beer-maker and were treated to tastes of a one-off malty brown ale-like dark IPA, and the brewery's launch beer, a deep-golden IPA informally called Jump The Jetty.

Cape May Brewing kicked off July by picking up a tap handle at Cabanas, an oceanfront bar and grill, with Jump the Jetty, which is actually registered with beer industry regulators as Cape May IPA.

Located just a bottle cap's toss from the brewery, Cabanas (on Beach Avenue in Cape May) quickly blew through the IPA over the Fourth of July holiday weekend but is now pouring the beer again thanks to a second sixtel delivery.

Notching nine brew sessions since getting its state license in mid-May, Cape May Brewing is right now the Garden State's only producing nanobrewer. Somerset County nano Great Blue, licensed in March, has been idled with some technical problems with its brewing equipment.

Cape May Brewing cranks out 25 gallons for fermentation, a production rate that for now has the brewery at about one-third of its capacity. The batch volume is produced via combined brews on a horizontal brewsculpture fashioned from repurposed 15-gallon beer kegs, a setup not unlike what you would find in a homebrewer's garage. For its sixtels, the brewery relies on Cornelius kegs, saving money by forgoing the purchase of more traditional kegging equipment.

"It's a brewery, but it's a very small brewery," says Ryan Krill, who's a partner in Cape May Brewing with his dad, Robert, and college friend Chris Henke, an engineer by profession who built the company's brewing rig. "We're not trying to take over the world, and we're not trying to get nuts. It's an affordable business plan."

Ryan says the trio were pleased with Saturday's open house turnout, which had them filling growlers of both IPAs, selling pint glasses and logoed baseball caps, and discussing how the brewery is trying to establish itself.

"I didn't really know how many people would show up today. The only advertising we did was put it on Facebook," Ryan says. "Everything for us so far has been a slow release, a soft open at Cabanas, see how the beer's received ... A lot of people want to carry us, but the whole plan is to take our time, be slow, feel out the beer business, see what we can get ourselves into."

Ryan explained how Cape May Brewing will pace its output: "We're just doing Cabanas now. After about a month, we'll have a good feel for how much they need and how much we need at the tasting room. After that point we'll see how much extra we have, then we can work on new accounts. But we're not going to try and get a new account and then find out we can't supply a new account."

Chris adds: "As we've been saying, it's just figuring it out. We go slowly so we don't get ourselves in a situation where people are yelling at us for not keeping up the supply."

As far as the beers go, if you've had the opportunity to taste Jump The Jetty, you can expect some tweaks to dial up the hop character. The ale trends toward a milder take on IPA, less bitterness up front. "It's good, but it's not exactly where we want it to be ultimately," Ryan says. "The next batches have been hopped up more."

The dark IPA, likewise, sidesteps some of the more traditional hallmarks of the style, and answers some of those variations with a toasty character.

The beer is the result of attempting something off the beaten path with ingredients on hand. "We had an extra day to brew. We said let's brew something different – before that we had four batches of IPA – so we said let's try something different," Chris says. "So we collected all the hops we had in our freezer ... doubled up on our dark malt, which is crystal 50, and we got a very interesting beer.

"We really don't know what to call it. I've been calling it dark IPA because the base was kind of an IPA, but they were older hops so we didn't get the extraction that we thought we'd get out of the hops, bitterness-wise. But you do get the dark malt; that hits you at the end. You get that dark, toasty feel to it," Chris says.

NOTE: Check with the brewery's Website or Facebook page for future open houses.