Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A planned brewpub & blessings through beer

Just two years ago, word that the Garden State was getting a new brewery was enough to make it seem like the Earth had moved.

After all, Iron Hill brewpub was the first craft brewer to open in the state after a 10-year drought, and that opening came just three years after the loss of well-regarded Heavyweight Brewing.

But that was then. This is now.

And 2009 is starting to seem more like a whisper compared to the shout that is this year's pace of new brewery openings and breweries in development: Kane Brewing, Carton Brewing, Cape May Brewing, Great Blue Brewing – those are just the ones to be licensed since January; there six more craft beer-makers in development, from a production brewery to nanobrewers to a brewpub.

Count among those in development Laetare Brewing Company, the brainchild of Brian Donohoe, the Rev. Brian Woodrow and Casey Cavanagh, whose project on the drawing board is a brewpub that would pour Belgian and Irish ales, among other styles, and serve a menu of burgers, woodfired pizzas and steaks.

But they also envision Laetare – Latin for "rejoice" – as something else: a place where beer can bring some spirituality to people's lives through conversation, counting blessings and enjoying the things in life. “Crafting exceptional beer with the intention of bringing people together in an atmosphere of celebration!" is their tagline.

"We're hoping to show that it can be enjoyed in a spiritual sense, in a family and friends atmosphere," says Donohoe. "We want beer to bring people together, not have the end goal of just becoming drunk."

"Laetare Brewing Company is close to striking out into the drinking world in effort to re-educate folks about a lost art, rejoicing," says the Rev. Woodrow, a homebrewer-priest and parochial vicar at St. Theresa Roman Catholic Church in Little Egg Harbor. "In my ministry, I come across so many folks who are down on their luck and unfortunately turn to the drink as a sort of self-medication.

"The drink is a gift from God and like many of his gifts, we tend to overdo it a bit. Enjoying a beer for the sake of enjoying a beer seems to be a lost art. It's our hope to change that, one fine drink at a time."

The Rev. Woodrow, who has known Donohoe since Donohoe's senior year at St. Rose High School in Belmar, has supplied ample guidance to the project. In all, there are six people involved in the project, but Cavanagh and Donohoe, both students at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, are the ones taking the lead.

Hailing from Manasquan, Donohoe, 22, is majoring in hotel and restaurant management and will graduate from James Madison in December. Cavanagh, 21, of Frederick, Maryland, is majoring in graphic design and will graduate next May. (Cavanagh created the company's chi-rho logo.)

Right now the project is in the very early stages, says Donohoe, who spoke from Washington, D.C., by phone on Monday. The goal is to have a location chosen by this Thanksgiving, with an eye toward a December 2012 opening. Their preference for a location is Monmouth County, with Asbury Park an early possibility. (They have also considered Belmar. The company's location for now is given as Spring Lake, owing to some investors in that area who have signed on.)

Laetare's lineup of brews would include St. Patrick's Irish Red (a tribute that resulted from spring break trip to Ireland), Chapter XL Belgian Ale (a nod to St. Benedict and the guidelines for imbibing), an American-style IPA, a black IPA (called Man in Black, à la priests' garb), and a nut brown ale or kölsch.

Nearly a year so far in development, the brewpub project is an extension of Donohoe's interest in homebrewing and his crossing paths with Cavanagh after a performance at James Madison by the four-piece rock/alt-country band that Cavanagh fronts (he plays guitar and seven-string banjo). Donohoe says he introduced himself, and the conversation touched on music homebrewing and craft beer.

A homebrewer for 2 1/2 years, Donohoe learned the craft from his father, a hobby brewer whose beers were made using malt extract. Donohoe's quest for more brewing information led him to all-grain brewing. Brewing beer, or simply enjoy some craft beer, and enjoying conversation with friends became an activity that followed Sunday Mass, Donohoe says.

At school in Virginia, Saturdays took on a similar themes: brewing beer or just enjoying beer and conversation, often to a soundtrack of Cavanagh and his band playing. Those Saturdays "got more people into craft beer and brewing," Donohoe says.

Ultimately, Donohoe says, it all became an inspiration – Laetare.

Monday, August 1, 2011

No more runner-up; this time he's champ

July in New Jersey doesn't resolve to August without a new state homebrew champion being crowned.

This year Dave Pobutkiewicz lays claim to the title of Best of Show in the New Jersey Sate Fair homebrewer competition, taking home the honor with a helles bock that the Pompton Lakes resident will get to reproduce for the taps at Krogh's brewpub in Sparta as his top prize. (Dave's victory was announced over the weekend on the Facebook page of Sussex County United Brewers and Alchemists homebrew club.)

This bock is a stalwart brew that's taken Dave a few places, notably the Great American Beer Festival in Denver as a finalist in the Samuel Adams LongShot homebrew contest, back in 2007. (That's Dave pictured with Jim Koch from Boston Beer Company.)

Brewed at the start of 2011, Dave says the beer (6.75% ABV) came together perfectly. Not that it hasn't before. Dave's a brewing zealot, meticulously keeping notes on his many brews. (Just this past weekend, he brewed a cream ale and an IPA hopped solely with East Kent Goldings). Members of his beer club, Defiant Homebrewers, also thought Dave nailed it with his latest take on his helles, and they've sampled enough incarnations of the bock to know.

"Everybody was like, 'This is the one,' " Dave says.

Dave's no stranger to the State Fair contest – for years, he's routinely finished somewhere in the winner's circle, including runner-up to the top prize. But this is his first Best of Show, and with the 2011 title under his belt, there's plenty of satisfaction.

"I can mark this one off the list," he says.

Yet, it's the LongShot contest that is sort of a Holy Grail for him. Four of the six homebrews he entered in the State Fair contest also were submitted in this year's LongShot competition. (His helles, an ESB, Oktoberfest, and Belgian strong dark were entered in both contests, while a nearly 2-year-old 12% barleywine and a hefeweizen rounded out his fair contest submission.)

Alas, a chance at LongShot glory, to have his recipe reproduced by Boston Beer for a national release, eluded him this year.

"The LongShot I try really hard for," Dave says. "I've been there before. I gotta get back there; I gotta repeat on that."

Climax fires up new bottler

An inside look at the bottler acquired by Climax Brewing.

For the first time in its 15-year history, the Roselle Park-based maker of ales and lagers began putting its beers in 12-ounce bottles and six-packs, a move that for the most part retires the 64-ounce growlers that were the brewery's longtime shelf presence at packaged goods stores.

After a month of set-up and testing of the bottler it bought from Fegley's Brew Works (Allentown and Bethlehem, Pa.), owner Dave Hoffmann launched the new packaging last week with a run of his India pale ale (a top-seller for Climax).

Dave already has label approvals for his nut brown ale and a golden ale, so those will hit 12-ounce bottles soon, as will seasonals like Dave's eponymous Hoffmann Oktoberfest. Dave's also expanding his reach, lining up a distributor for South Jersey.