Friday, November 25, 2011

Is it there yet? Just a little further

Some R&D and interacting with the public ...

When Flounder Brewing finally opens its doors, followers of New Jersey's growing ranks of craft beer makers can expect the Somerset County nanobrewery to do some batch testing of recipes on its new equipment, and letting the public sample some of those beers at brewery open houses.

After that initial phase, you can expect a more formal launch/opening of the Hillsborough brewery, with an invitation extended to town officials to take part. (Think sometime in the spring for this one.)

"I still have new equipment that I have yet to use because I don't have the utilities. I have new water to contend with because I haven't brewed in that space yet," says Jeremy "Flounder" Lees, one of the brewery's founders. "It's going to be a couple of months of batch-testing and letting people come into the tasting room and try those batches and things like that, letting people start to interact with the brewery and try the beer before we're really actively going out to liquor stores."

Earlier this month, Flounder Brewing checked in with federal regulators at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau about the company's brewers notice, the paperwork the planned 1-barrel brewery needs signed off on to become a commercial brewery. The mid-month discussion with the TTB went well, Jeremy says, with just some minor details that federal regulators wanted addressed.

Right now, utility work (gas and water) is being done at the Hillsborough brewery, and Jeremy remains optimistic state regulators can wrap up Flounder's brewery application, then inspect the facility and grant a license by year's end.

"It seems like if all goes through with the federal stuff, according to what I just talked to them about on the phone, we should definitely have that federal license in this year," Jeremy says. "The state, we just have to submit a whole bunch of secondary information. Hopefully that's going to be what they need, and then they're going to have to do a site visit. I have no idea when that will be."

As much as federal and state regulators seem like a predominant focus for getting into business, there's still a third master that also must be satisfied: Turning the warehouse space Flounder leased into a manufacturing enterprise means going through the local officials for a bevy of things, including construction permits and building-use classifications. Dealing with some of that has been like groping along in the dark.

"Everything I had to submit to the township all made sense in the end," Jeremy says. "The problem was, it was really hard trying, for the most part, to navigate your own way through all these hoops and everything, going in and trying to ask questions about what has to be on the construction permit folder when you've never done it before.

"Fortunately, Hillsborough has a very good business advocate that works in the township. He helped get a lot of things cleared up for me as we were moving, and my landlords, too, because they want to see the brewery finally open there."

Working with the town has had its advantages, namely helping to create a buzz about a new brewery coming.

"Everybody I've bumped into, from fire inspectors to construction people to just in general people in the township are all excited. They're all looking forward to trying the beer. We have a lot of people with us on Facebook that are right from Hillsborough," Jeremy says.