Friday, July 22, 2011

Calendar note: Lions, tigers & beers, oh my

A menagerie of Jersey animal-named craft breweries at this Saturday's Summer Ale Festival at the Philadelphia Zoo.

Flying Fish ... River Horse ... Cricket Hill, plus Triumph (think of its Pennsylvania brewpubs for this one) and Climax Brewing are on the card for the fundraiser festival, now in its third year. (Alas, bad news if you don't have a ticket: it's sold out.)

The event is a special one for Climax owner Dave Hoffmann. Dave's a huge fan and supporter of zoos (the big cats are a personal favorite of his) and enjoys putting zoo tours on his itinerary whenever he travels.

"I've been to so many zoos ... San Diego, I went to a couple of really big zoos in Europe, couple of big zoos in Canada. I've been all over the place, lots of zoos," he says.

These days, Dave does fewer festivals than he did when he launched his Roselle Park-based brewery 15 years ago. But he jumped at the invitation to be part of the brewery lineup for last year's edition of the zoo festival and again this year.

He gives the Philadelphia Zoo high marks.

"At the Philly zoo you can get real close to the animals, like the big cats, the gorillas. Whereas in most of the other zoos, they're kinda far away. It's a really good zoo, very well kept," he says.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Brew trifecta for Kane

Three brews in the fermenters at New Jersey's newest craft beer-maker, Kane Brewing.

The Monmouth County brewery broke the seal* on its brewhouse earlier this month with a Belgian single (a blonde ale) dosed with a Trappist ale yeast from East Coast Yeast.

After a short production break to fine-tune some of the brewery's control systems (i.e. gylcol), brewer Clay Brackley and founder Michael Kane fired up the kettle at the end of last week, brewing an American pale ale and a West Coast IPA.

"The first brew day was little longer, since were getting used to everything. The second and third days went smooth. We hit our gravities and volumes," Michael says. "The flavor profiles are looking good."

For beer geeks and the curious, German pils malt, some Vienna malt and wheat make up the grain bill for the 5.2 percent ABV Belgian blonde that's likely to be just one batch this summer but is expected return next year as Kane's summer seasonal. It's hopped with Styrian and Saaz.

The brew also serves as a step-up for the Trappist ale yeast, since it will get used in an upcoming big Belgian brew intended for the fall season taps, although the actual style hasn't been decided yet.

Michael traced the specifics of the second brew, the American pale ale, describing its grain bill as 2-row with some Munich malt, a touch of rye, and crystal 77, and hopped with Columbus and Hallertau in the boil and finished with Cascade and Centennial. You can expect the "C" hops for the dry-hopping.

"We hope (the rye) will add a little spiciness, more than you get with the average pale ale," Michael says. The brew will be around 5.5 percent ABV.

The third beer features pils, 2-row, cara-pils and crystal 44 malts, angling for a lighter color and drier finishing IPA at 6.5 percent ABV. "We weren't going for a super malty IPA, but we wanted to make sure there was some body to it," Michael says.

The brew was hopped with Columbus and Chinook in the boil, with later additions of Citra, Ahtanum and Centennial. Michael says it will be dry-hopped with some combination of those varieties.

This year has been an especially active one for craft brewery start-ups in the Garden State, with three licensed so far. Right now Kane Brewing is the state's newest craft brewer, a title it's not likely to hold for long, as Carton Brewing in Atlantic Highlands moves closer to licensing and its official launch. That could come sometime next month.

Calling Ocean Township home, Kane occupies industrial park space not far from where Heavyweight Brewing made its celebrated artisanal beers before closing shop five years ago. The closing left Basil T's brewpub in Red Bank as Monmouth County's sole craft brewery.

Basil's opened its doors in 1996 – a big year for craft brewery start-ups in the state – and Red Bank in particular has been at the forefront of craft beer in New Jersey, with the long-defunct Red Bank Brewery and its craft lagers part of that history. (Departing Basil's brewer Gretchen Schmidhausler got her start with Red Bank Brewery.)

In addition, Triumph Brewing once eyed the artsy town for a second location. (Triumph opened in Princeton in 1995 and followed that up years later with brewpubs in New Hope, Pa., and Philadelphia).

Triumph is again considering a presence in Red Bank. If that comes to fruition, Monmouth County could end up with four craft breweries, more than any other county in the state, and outpacing its neighbors to the north, Middlesex County and Essex County, by one. (Middelesex County is home to brewpubs JJ Bitting, Harvest Moon and Uno Chicago Grill & Brewery. Essex County has craft brewers Cricket Hill, Gaslight brewpub and Port 44 Brew Pub. It's also home to the outsized mainstream brewer Budweiser in Newark.)

*Figuratively speaking, of course. Not an equipment malfunction.

Black Belgian IPA, would you believe?

Another collaboration beer by South Jersey brewing neighbors Iron Hill and Flying Fish.

The previous one was a chocolate coffee stout, and this one isn't getting any lighter: Black Belgian IPA, a collision of styles that reflects a shared tongue-in-cheek nod from brewers Casey Hughes (Flying Fish) and Chris LaPierre (Iron Hill) to the trend of collaboration beers.

"I kinda like the idea of collaborations. It's always fun to brew with your friend, but I've always thought that they're more about marketing than anything else," Chris says. "I can't say that there are too many collaboration beers that I've had that I see they came up with something that either of the brewers wouldn't have come up with on their own.

"We both think they're kinda gimmicky, but we also think they're a lot of fun to do, which is why we're doing it. And because we think they're gimmicky, we decided to throw in every gimmick we could think of, and two of the big trends out there right now are black versions of beers that aren't usually black and Belgian versions of beers that aren't usually Belgian. So we thought we would do a Black Belgian IPA. And to make it even more trendy we're going to barrel age some of it."

But to be sure, the brew won't be all about parody.

Like last January's mashup of IH's Luca Brasi coffee stout and FF's Exit 13 chocolate stout, a collaboration borne more out of serendipity than actual planning (Chris was grabbing some yeast one day last fall at Flying Fish when Casey gave him a sample of Exit 13 that tasted like a natural fit with a coffee stout in Iron Hill's serving tanks) you can expect the results of the next crossover beer to put flavor ahead of gimmicks and trends.

There's just too much award-winning brewers' sense heading into it.

"We already know that Belgian yeast character works well with American hops. I do a few American-Belgos here; Casey won a gold medal with his American-Belgo (Exit 4). We also know that hops will work with black beers. We do a black IPA here that's very popular. Hops work with black beers and Belgian black beers work together, too. We're kinda combining all three of those, we know two of those things will work together and think three of them will together as well."

Unlike the chocolate-coffee stout collaboration, which was a firkin filled with a blend of beers that then got a little extra treatment (vanilla beans, cocoa nibs and Belgian yeast to prime it), the next brew will be designed from the ground up and will be full batch for Iron Hill's tanks (think 7 to 10 barrels).

The brew will be at least the second collaboration this year for IH: Chris did a saison with his girlfriend Suzanne Woods, of Sly Fox (although it wasn't a true Sly Fox collaboration) and third overall since opening in Maple Shade.

And it looks like this will be Flying Fish's third collaboration. Exit 6 Wallonian Rye, which came out a little over a year ago, was done with the folks at Stewart's Brewing in Delaware.

NOTE: The Black Belgian IPA gets brewed July 27th and will be released on Aug. 27th in conjunction with Iron Hill's IPA event. Chris has been been saving a quarter keg of every IPA he has made since about January and plans to tap eight of them that day, plus some FF Exit 16 Wild Rice Double IPA (a brew that debuted around March 2010).

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Carton Brewing fires up kettle in test run

Carton Brewing christened its 15-barrel brewhouse Sunday with back-to-back brews of a not-for-sale American pale ale called Boat Beer that, along with an amped-up IPA, will make up the brace of beers the Atlantic Highlands brewery is targeting for launch.

Another round of brewing was planned for Monday, with back-to-back runs of the double IPA called 077XX. (The name is a play on Monmouth County ZIP codes).

"Boat is our session pale ale: kolsch yeast, German malt bill and American hops. It's a 4.2 (percent ABV) session beer hopped within an inch of its life to keep it interesting for the whole session," says co-founder Augie Carton, explaining the brew that was first in the kettle.

The beer is bittered with Crystal and Nugget hops, with later additions of Galaxy, Citra, Cascade and Nugget again.

"We started (brewing) this morning. We just added our hops in the boil, so we're about an hour out from finishing it. And then we're going to do it again. Thirty barrel fermenters, 15-barrel brewhouse, so we're doing that twice to fill the fermenter," Augie says. "We did a water brew yesterday (Saturday) to make sure all the seals worked. But this is it. This is a first, true 15-barrel brew of this recipe that we've pilot-brewed probably 30 times."

The two days of beer-making were allowed under a temporary permit from state regulators, who granted the special permission so Carton could put the brewing equipment through the paces while a representative from manufacturer Newlands Systems was available to provide technical guidance for brewer Jesse Ferguson. (That's Jesse up top and at left; Augie is pictured at far right in photo below.)

The expected 60 barrels of beer from the brewing sessions won't be commercially available until the state officially issues Carton its limited brewery license. Augie expects that to happen sometime next month.

The brewery is awaiting installation of its kegging equipment and cold storage unit. The latter is expected to be installed by the end of the week. In addition, the brewery is also waiting for local officials to give a final blessing of the brewery building renovations.

Despite those unfinished details, Carton Brewing is on the cusp of becoming the Garden State's 24th craft brewery, following a run of six breweries coming online in New Jersey in just the past two years.

Two breweries opened last year – New Jersey Beer Company (North Bergen) and Port 44 Brew Pub (Newark), while 2011 has so far seen nanobrewers Great Blue (Somerset County) and Cape May Brewing getting licensed, and the larger production brewer Kane Brewing (Ocean Township) launching this month.

Three more nano breweries – Flounder Brewing in Hillsborough, Pinelands Brewing in Egg Harbor City and Tuckahoe Brewing – are in development, as is larger production brewer Turtle Stone Brewing down in Vineland.

The reality is, 2011 could wind up as New Jersey's biggest year ever for craft brewery start-ups – eight – should all of the projects in development come online behind those breweries that were licensed this year.

Right now, 1996 is the year with the most start-ups: six.