Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Brewery launches Nos. 5 and 6 for 2011?

Catching up with New Jersey nanobreweries-in-development Tuckahoe Brewing and Flounder Brewing, both of which project they'll enter the Garden State craft beer market before the end of the year.

Tuckahoe (in northern Cape May County) and Flounder (in Somerset County) have submitted their paperwork to federal and state regulators. How swiftly the processing of their licensing applications and brewer's notices by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control goes will be a significant factor regarding when their doors open.

But both breweries are optimistic their matters before the regulators are on track, and right now they're busying themselves with the build-out of their facilities.

Tuckahoe Brewing
Last week, Matt McDevitt, Tim Hanna and Jim McAfee, three of the four guys behind the brewery – the fourth is Chris Konicki – extended an invitation to check out their brewery-in-progress, located in a small industrial park in Ocean View (that's in Dennis Township, just west of the shore town of Sea Isle city). A 3-barrel brewing system from PyschoBrew is expected to arrive sometime this month, as are two 8-barrel fermenters. A keg washer arrived last week.

Step inside their space and you'll notice one of Tim's old surfboards, the front seat of a 1980s-vintage Dodge van (perfect for sitting down and enjoying a beer while camping) and a freshly built flight of stairs that leads to a loft office area, retro-furnished with a turntable and hip collection of vinyl, the kind that disappeared from most people's minds and stereo consoles decades ago. Next-door neighbors are an organic coffee roaster (Harry & Beans) and a seafood market (Casey & Ben's); both could figure into Tuckahoe's brew lineup (think oyster and coffee stouts).

Tuckahoe's business plan calls for hitting the market – the foursome anticipates a November launch – with a year-round American-style pale ale, called DC Pale Ale; the fall-winter seasonal Steelman Porter; and Marshallville Wit for the warmer weather months. (The names are all drawn from northern Cape May County lore; DC is short for Dennis Creek, a Delaware Bay tributary.) The brewery also wants to source local ingredients for its brews whenever possible and is talking with a nearby farmer about growing barley for brewing. (They will have to find a maltser, however.)

Matt, who handles the brewing, and Tim served up prototypes of the porter and amber pale ale turned out on a homebrew rig that's now a pilot brew setup. Dosed with Centennial, Amarillo and Willamette hops, the pale clocks in around 6 percent ABV and offers a quite worthwhile drinking experience.

Matt and Tim backed up the pale with the Centennial-hopped porter, a 6 to 7 percent ABV brew that was roasty and well balanced, quite quaffable beneath a dense, tan head of foam. With this brew around, Cape May County winters are going to be much anticipated.

Matt says he's still fine-tuning the Belgian wit recipe. So far, he's turned out versions of the 4.5 percent ABV brew using Fuggle hops, coriander, bitter and sweet orange peel, chamomile, clover honey and grains of paradise.

Flounder Brewing
Hurricane Irene was quite cruel to inland New Jersey north of Route 195, the east-west interstate that New Jersey wears like a belt. Hillsborough in Somerset County caught its share of the late August tempest's thrashing, and the subsequent flooding set Flounder Brewing's timetable back some, says Jeremy "Flounder" Lees, one of the nanobrewery's founders.

The brewery is on high ground, so it fared the storm well enough, with a shade tree on the property coming down. However, the town itself saw a fair amount of standing water and has been left trying to catch up on official business in the aftermath.

That matters when your brewery needs a construction permit from town hall and has to submit some new drawings of the site for review. On top of that, the plumber the brewery uses has likewise been swamped by storm-related emergency work.

The upshot is the delay Jeremy noted, but he still envisions a soft opening around the holidays with a gingerbread brown ale and honey-infused amber ale, called Hill Street Honey.

Despite the storm clouds, there is a rather bright silver lining for Flounder Brewing.

The brewery picked up $6,000 in financing through the Brewing the American Dream program, the Boston Beer-ACCION USA partnership that makes micro-loans available for fledgling breweries.

The brewery was able to get the financing after the program was broadened to serve start-ups, which otherwise would have had to show a half-year's worth of revenue to qualify for cash. That's obviously something difficult to do when you're not already in business, but rather trying to launch a business.

In any event, the cash has enabled Flounder Brewing to start larger than it had initially planned by purchasing a pair of 55-gallon kettles – one for wort boil, the other as a hot liquor tank – and a 35-gallon kettle for mashing.

If things go smoothly from here on out for Flounder and Tuckahoe, and they are able to launch this year, 2011 will go down as a very vibrant year for start-ups, a year that also saw the licensing of nanos Great Blue Brewing and Cape May Brewing, as well as production brewers Kane Brewing and Carton Brewing.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Only 8?

Wading into the tide of beer popularity, 24/7 Wall St. profiles eight brands that have been running out of gas over the past few years.

It seems like there should be more than eight.

But maybe that thought is just a reflection of the fact that most of these macros taste the same. (Or a bias toward stupid commercials for Coors Light and its gimmick of the can telling you when the beer is cold. Ditto for triple-hopped Miller Lite, the light beer you're told to man-up to, when that should be a contradiction of terms.)

The King of Beers' crown has lost its luster. That's not a dig at Dudweiser, er, Budweiser, just a fact of accounting: Bud's sales have tanked 30 percent over the past five years. Michelob's have skidded more than twice that.

Blame changing demographics for the turning of the tide, that and the fact that a dumbed-down lager just doesn't say much in a world where tasting what goes into making beer actually counts. And is expected by a growing contingent of craft beer enthusiasts.

Peer into things a little more and you'll notice people just turning 21 now have so many more choices of beer and swiftly gravitate to the array of flavors, ever exploring for not just what's new but what's interesting and tasty. Add them to the ranks of those who have been part of the craft beer scene over the past 20 to 30 years and you have a huge, widening crack in the wall of the big macrobrews.

There's the old beer culture joke (often seen on T-shirts) Life's too short to drink shitty beer ... Eight tanking big brands is just another way of saying that.