Saturday, December 17, 2011

Beach Haus to double portfolio in 2012

fter adding
a new black lager to its lineup this year, East Coast Beer Company now plans to double the labels under its Beach Haus brand in 2012.

That means a total of four Beach Haus brews in the regional craft beer market for the Point Pleasant-based company, which contracts with Genesee Brewing of Rochester, N.Y., for its flagship Beach Haus Classic Pilsner and the schwarzbier cold-weather brew, Winter Rental.

The company's first entry in the key seasonal beer market, Winter Rental was released in October, a little over a year after East Coast celebrated its one-year anniversary as part of the Garden State craft beer scene.

Sometime next year, East Coast founder John Merklin says, a pale ale and an as-yet-undecided style will join the year-round pilsner and the schwarzbier.

A number of styles are being pilot-brewed to come up with that fourth beer, an approach John says is intended to make the decision-making process as organic as possible. It's a matter of finding the right fit with the existing Beach Haus labels, plus keeping with the company's business model of making brews that are, by turns, accessible to novice palates and interesting and challenging for the more adventurous craft beer drinkers.

Meanwhile, John says, Winter Rental has done well in the marketplace, outpacing expectations. And, as part of the Beach Haus brand, it has even given a some lift to its sibling, Classic Pilsner, as the summer turned to fall and beer tastes and preferences resolve to darker, more robust brews.

About the video
At the Somers Point Beer Festival in October, interviewer Tara Nurin, of the women's group Beer for Babes, talks to East Coast Beer's John Merklin about the milestones the company has observed over the brand's first year in the Garden State craft brew market.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Homebrew permit closer to being scrapped

New Jersey's homebrewers are a step closer to doing legally what they have done under state regulators' noses with impunity for a couple of decades now – make beer without signing up for a $15 permit.

Lawmakers this week approved a bill that would do away with the oft-ignored homebrewing permit requirement, sending the measure to Gov. Chris Christie for his consideration. Based on the support he has shown so far for the state's craft beer interests – specifically his declaration of American Craft Beer Week in New Jersey last May – there's a fair chance Christie could sign the measure.

The practice of making beer at home for personal consumption was legal even back during Prohibition, when the production and sale of commercially brewed beer, wine and spirits were outlawed. Homebrewing has enjoyed the federal government's expressed blessing since the late 1970s, when President Jimmy Carter signed legislation to that effect.

New Jersey lawmakers officially sanctioned the hobby in the early 1990s. Back then, homebrewing enthusiasts who championed the practice accepted Trenton's imposing a permit requirement as a trade-off for getting it set down in writing that making up to 200 gallons of homebrew per year was legal. In short, it was the best deal to be had, as far as getting state lawmakers to say what the federal government had been saying, and thereby fending off any local code enforcement officers who wanted to act like a revenuers.

Despite the requirement, however, state regulators were never exactly heavy-handed about enforcing the permit obligation, nor the restriction that the beer homebrewers made be served only at the locations where it was made. No one has ever been busted by the Division Alcoholic Beverage Control for not having a permit. And in fact, the number of homebrewing permits issued annually over the past six years by ABC, for example, has barely approached 400, while the Colorado-based American Homebrewers Association says the ranks of Garden State homebrewers on its membership rolls dwarfs that figure.

But it's hardly suckers and scaredy-cat homebrewers who chose not to be scofflaws with regard to the state permit requirement.

Historically, most of the people who apply for the permit are those who make use of brew-on-premises businesses, like Brewers Apprentice in Freehold, or Brew Your Own Bottle, in Westmont. And with good reason: Brew-on-premises operations are sitting ducks for enforcement, and the owners risk their businesses by not having patrons sign up for the permit before making beer at their sites.

Nevertheless, despite the apparent history of non-existent enforcement, a sponsor of the measure still struck a dramatic and populist tone about the need to dispatch the permit requirement. (And for the record, it's a good thing Trenton has stuck up for homebrewers, even if there is a hint of naiveté to it.)

"Homebrewers should not be viewed in the same light as the bathtub gin makers, moonshiners and swill brewers from Prohibition, nor are they running speakeasies out of their homes," says state Sen. Joseph Vitale of Middlesex County, home of the WHALES homebrew club. "Today's homebrewers and winemakers take up the hobby to produce a product for their own enjoyment and which they can share with their families. Getting rid of this permit requirement is the right thing to do."

Vitale goes on to say: "For the person who wants to simply try to reproduce their favorite beer at home, or the enthusiast who wants to make a high-quality beer of their own, the state shouldn't treat them as it would a commercial brewery. It's about time we clear out this unnecessary and unenforced permit requirement from the books, and lift the scofflaw status from thousands of residents who simply want to lift a pint of their own creation without fear that the state's peering over their shoulder."

In fairness to the ABC, the agency had the authority to peer over homebrewers' shoulders but chose to keep its distance. The bigger sin has been the $15 fee the law demanded (though never actively pursued), which you could interpret as a tax on homebrew.

And for the record, the American Homebrewers Association has said Trenton lawmakers have the right idea about scrapping the permit, but the wrong notion about striking homebrewing from the state's books. The AHA prefers language declaring homebrewing legal and exempt from taxation be put on the state's books, just forget the permit.

Also what's lost on Trenton, apparently, is the close tie homebrewing does in fact enjoy with commercial brewing, the former being a feeder system to the latter. As is the case across the country, there is a large number of commercially licensed craft brewers in New Jersey who jumped into business based on their homebrewing prowess. And many more are considering following suit.

Nonetheless, Trenton has given beer enthusiasts in New Jersey something to toast.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tuckahoe becomes NJ's newest brewery

Tuckahoe Brewing became New Jersey's newest craft brewery today, getting the green light to legally make beer from state regulators who inspected the company's facility in northern Cape May County.

Matt McDevitt says he and his three partners, Tim Hanna, Jim McAfee and Chris Konicki, celebrated the moment by having some beers and making plans for Tuckahoe's inaugural brew on the company's 3-barrel Psycho Brew setup. That magic moment of striking the first mash is tentatively set for the latter part of next week.

Matt, the brewer of the foursome, says a run-through on the brewing equipment was conducted using water and that some technical details were being addressed ahead of firing up the system for the first brew.

Tuckahoe Brewing plans to enter the Garden State craft beer market with a triad of flagship brews: DC Pale Ale, Steelman Porter, and a Belgian brew, Marshallville Wit.

Located in Dennis Township, Tuckahoe becomes the fifth production brewery to be licensed by the state this year, coming in behind Carton Brewing in Atlantic Highlands in Monmouth County. The state signed off on Carton and its 15-barrel brewhouse during the mid-summer.

Two other breweries in development, Flounder Brewing in Hillsborough and Turtle Stone Brewing in Vineland, are on pace to follow Tuckahoe.

Craft beer tally & geography
By any measure, 2011 has been one of the busiest years for craft brewery start-ups in New Jersey, which now has 24 licensed craft breweries – 13 brewpubs and 11 production breweries of varying size scattered throughout the state.

If you're into the trivia and geography of it all, Tuckahoe now puts Cape May County into the class of five counties that host more than one craft brewer. (A few miles south, in Lower Township, you'll find 1.5-barrel brewer Cape May Brewing, which was also licensed this year.)

Elsewhere, there is Hunterdon County with a pair of craft breweries (Ship Inn brewpub in Milford and River Horse Brewing in Lambertville) and Essex County (Cricket Hill in Fairfield and Gaslight brewpub in South Orange; you can exclude Budweiser in Newark, since it's not a craft brewery).

The distinction of hosting three craft breweries each goes to Middlesex County (brewpubs J.J. Bitting in Woodbridge; Uno Chicago Grill and Brewery in Metuchen; and Harvest Moon in New Brunswick) and Monmouth County (Kane, with a 20-barrel brewhouse in Ocean Township and also licensed this year; Carton; and Basil T's brewpub in Red Bank). There is talk of Triumph opening a new location in Red Bank, a move that would bump Monmouth County into the lead in the brewery count.

The state's oldest craft brewers are Ship Inn and Triumph brewpub in Princeton, both in their 16th year of operation. The oldest craft production brewery is Climax in Roselle Park, which opened in 1996, a year that also saw the opening of five other breweries, notably among them Flying Fish, the state's largest craft brewery.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The western front

Once upon a time, you'd never pour a Flying Fish beer hopped with Cascades.

When the brewery first started sending beer out the door back in 1996, ESBs dosed with Cascades were the rage and found all over as the craft beer market started taking hold in New Jersey. You couldn't swing a mash rake without hitting one, and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale taught a lot of people what the most widely used craft beer hop tasted like.

But Flying Fish steered clear of the ubiquitous West Coast hop for its ESB, opting instead for a combination of Chinook and Mount Hood. (Their ESB now uses Magnum, Fuggles and Yakima Golding).

And lo, these many years Cascades have never been a signature flavor in a Flying Fish beer.

But there's an end point to everything.

So for the first time ever, Flying Fish will put Cacades in a beer, in fact christening 2012 with a draft-only hops-happy red ale at 7% ABV that will round out its flavor profile with Columbus and Chinook hops.

In a note on their website, Flying Fish promises this reddish-hued January release will have a piny nose, malty background and big hop finish, calling it a West West Coast hoppy red, once for the hops, the other for the brewery's location on the west side of New Jersey.