Thursday, November 3, 2011

The ever-enduring metaphor for bad beer

Hey, we don't condone toilet humor, but when you discover the wellspring of piss-water beer, er uh bad beer, it's a public service to point it out.

Flying Fish talks move to Exit 3

Once upon a time, like in 1995-96, Flying Fish described its emergence on the craft (back then micro) brewing scene as going from minnow to fish.

Now, the soon-to-be-departing-Cherry Hill brewery, and its 14,000-barrel output, is growing from a tuna into marlin, so to speak. A bigger Fish, indeed.

Via the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild newsletter today and its own website, FF offered some details of its planned move to Somerdale (that's Exit 3 in beer series lingo), where it will make beer on a state-of-the-art 50 barrel German-manufactured brewhouse and draw its juice (or some of it) via rooftop solar panels. (Still in Camden County, Somerdale is just a bottle cap's throw from Cherry Hill.)

A decade and a half after launching with an ESB (one that would in six months' time earn compliments from famed beer hunter Michael Jackson), an extra pale ale (a light beer without being nondescript light), a tasty porter still remembered by a few folks (alas it's gone, morphed into an imperial seasonal with the addition of coffee), and quickly weaving an abbey dubbel into the lineup, Flying Fish is tripling its capacity and promising some changes to its flight of beers. (In our recollection, FF has never brewed a lager. And since you can find head brewer Casey Hughes from time to time enjoying a Sly Fox Pikeland Pilsner at Good Dog in Philadelphia, maybe a pils is in the Fish's future.)

Interesting, too, is the fact that FF's expansion comes amid a surge in New Jersey craft brewing, with the addition of seven new licensees since mid-2009, and only a couple of casualties in that bunch (Newark's Port 44 Brew Pub, which closed last summer after only a year on the scene, and Great Blue Brewing, a nano that sort of started and stopped amid some technical troubles, but hasn't thrown in the towel).

It's a good time to be following brewed-in-Jersey.

Jersey beer trivia: Flying Fish is the only brewery in the state (maybe even the country) to have a cartoon drawn for it by a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist. Two-time Pulitzer winner Steve Breen, who worked at the Asbury Park Press in the 1990s, sketched a Cheshire-like cat perched between a pint of Fish and fish in a bowl, devilishly eyeing the brew Fish, not the finned fish.

Make it big

Some Jersey-brewed big beers to talk about: a first-ever barleywine by Tun Tavern brewer Tim Kelly; the upcoming release of Cricket Hill's pro-am brew; a reprise of Climax Brewing's imperial stout; and a new dimension in take-home beer from Trap Rock.

Thirst for first
Brewers come and go, but sometimes the beers they make end up staying, brewed by the next hands to take over. And sometimes a few of the predecessor's beers stay in mind. Such is the case at the Tun, where memories of Ted Briggs' barleywine have survived for some folks more than four years after Ted left Atlantic City. (Ted's now the brewer at Lander Brewing in Wyoming.)

Amid that scenario, Tim Kelly, who took over for Ted in May 2007, decided to brew a barleywine. Coming in at 11% ABV, it's one of the biggest beers Tim has made professionally, edging out a Belgian tripel made last spring off a pro-am contest sponsored at the Tun, a wee heavy Tim did in 2010 and a Belgian brown he has done for the holidays in years past.

"Rumors keep perpetuating that I did this awesome barleywine and I hadn't done it in a while; they must be confusing me with the former brewer ... So to appease everyone, and also to challenge myself a little, I decided to develop a barleywine," Tim says. "It's dry-hopped with Cascade, aged on French oak; it's been conditioning for a couple months now. It will come out after the pumpkin lager, so this will probably be after Thanksgiving. I'll probably end up bottling about 100 bottles for retail sale, sit on them and let them age and sell them next year."

The pumpkin lager (a 7% brew) is almost gone, and when it does kick, that will open up a tap for a maple black walnut brown ale that Tim brewed a few weeks ago.

Stout royalty
Speaking of pro-ams, next month will see a teaser release of Cricket Hill's imperial stout, brewed from homebrewer Bill Kovach's recipe that bested 32 other brews in the contest Cricket Hill sponsored a year ago.

Brewery co-owner John Watts says the 10.5% ABV stout is set for official release in bombers in January, but fans of the Fairfield brewery will get an early shot at it in a prerelease event to coincide with a mid-December Friday open house.

Folks long familiar with Cricket Hill know the brewery staked out a place on the Garden State beer-scape with a flight of session beers and has been moving deeper into reserve-series big beers, notably among them an 8.5% barleywine done in 2010 that also got some bourbon barrel treatment.

Some of the barrel-aged stock got stashed away for special occasions, John says, so Cricket Hill fans should keep an eye out for them. "I can tell you, a year of aging on that, it's spectacular," he says.

Stout royalty, redux

In nearby Roselle Park, next month brewer Dave Hoffmann plans to turn out bomber bottles of his Hoffmann Doppelbock, a traditional toasty, caramel-like heritage brew (Dave's of German lineage), formerly only available from Climax Brewing as draft and in 64-ounce growlers.

"I've been making it for a long time, for like 10 years now. It's one of my favorite styles. I make it every year for the holidays," Dave says.

Climax Brewing began turning out six-packs last summer thanks to a newly acquired bottler. The bomber-bottled bock marks Climax Brewing working yet another label from its beer lineup into the brewery's new packaging model.

Early next year, look for another Climax brew to come out in 22-ouncers: an imperial stout that will make a reprise after a decade-plus hiatus. To be named Tuxedo Imperial Stout, the brew salutes the black cat, Tuxedo, that has mouse-policed Climax's brewery for 13 years.

"She did her job for all these years, so we take care of her now. She's getting older, so before she dies I want to make a beer for her," Dave says. "It'll probably be 8 or 9% alcohol, big and burly, a little hoppy in the finish ... it's the recipe I made 10 or 12 years ago. I made it twice already, but it was a long time ago, but this time it will be in bottles."

Rock in a bottle
Speaking of bottles, brewer Charlie Schroeder at Trap Rock has racked off about 30 1-liter bottles of the Berkeley Heights brewpub's Jet Fuel Double IPA, a step toward getting Trap Rock's bigger beers into more user-friendly take-home sizes (high-alcohol brews in growlers, especially ones like barleywines, aren't always the best idea, easy to finish in one drinking session).

Jet Fuel (yes, the brew's name speaks to the New York Jets and their followers in the Trap Rock locale) clocks in at 9.5% ABV, stuffed full of Nugget, Challenger, East Kent, Willamette and Bramling Cross hops.

Trap Rock added a third 7-barrel fermenter last month (it now has 3 of them, plus three 15-barrel tanks) to boost capacity, keep pace with growing demand and enable more runs of the bigger, specialty beers.

The long-range plan, Charlie says, also includes having have more of the big brews available in the take-home bottles and to set some of them aside as reserve brews for inclusion on the beer menu.

The new tank has necessitated some rearranging in the brewery space, plus some additional installation, before the bigger beers will be completely integrated into the brewpub's work flow.