Friday, March 2, 2012

Apples, IPA & getting in Over Head

Owner Michael Kane tops off a growler
There's beer in wooden barrels, beer in bottles and, of course, fermenting wort in the shiny stainless steel tanks off the brewhouse.

Kane Brewing, one of last year's additions to New Jersey's craft brewing landscape, has been a busy fledgling brewery. Since opening its doors last July, the Monmouth County ale-producer has been well received, and is running ahead of its own projections of where it would be in the Garden State's craft beer market at this point.
"At the holidays – the night before Thanksgiving, the night before Christmas Eve, because Christmas Eve was a Saturday – those nights were mobbed, probably two of our best days so far," says founder/owner Michael Kane, "and it was only a couple of hours that we were open."

And that's just in the tasting room, the cozy rally point for tours of the 20-barrel brewhouse, visible through the taproom's window. Outside the brewery's doors, busy translates to servicing between 70 to 100 draft accounts from northern Ocean County and along coastal towns in the brewery's home county, to select spots in North Jersey and oasis-like good beer bars in Sussex County.

"What surprises me is the number of accounts we're on," Michael says. "That's gone a lot better than we had forecast. You obviously hope for more, but the plan was to be on a lot less accounts than we are. The local restaurants and bars have been responsive to having a local beer on. They also enjoy the beer, too. A lot of people will try it because it's local, but they keep coming back for it because it's pretty good beer."

Outrunning your projections also means playing some catchup with cooperage and laying some plans for the approach of summer (the population in the shore area jumps sharply with the beach season). The brewery has been bumping up its stock of sixtels, buying those new, but looking for used half barrels to hold down expenses.

"We don't really want to bite the bullet and buy those new, so we're going to keep looking and stretch what we have for now. Cooperage is an issue," Michael says. "The summer is the concern, between the kegs and the capacity. It's a good problem to have, I guess."

Since opening, Kane has produced a clutch of brews, including some one-offs (to keep the tasting room's taps dynamic) and some specialty creations awaiting release. Others, of course, form the backbone of the brewery's beer lineup.

Head High (6.5% ABV), a West Coast-leaning IPA, is a Kane staple, dosed with Columbus and Chinook hops (boil), and Ahtanum, Citra and Centennial (late addition and dry-hop); the IPA has also appeared as a one-off with Zythos, a new blend of hops that Kane opted to give an audition. Afterglow (5.5% ABV), a rye pale ale, is another flagship brew.

"Our plan was to push out more variety," Michael says. "I think we got bogged down a little bit with the beers we have, just trying to keep up with the demand for those."

Variety is in the pipeline, though. So is an extended reach for the brewery, tucked in small business park off busy Route 35 in Ocean Township.

A Belgian wit is development, and distribution to the Princeton area (Kane self-distributes) is coming more into focus.  South Jersey? Well, that's a far-off story, one where some patience is asked. But it's not off the radar, however: Kane plans to be at the Atlantic City beer festival March 30-31. (They'll also be at Beer on the Boards festival on the Point Pleasant Beach Boardwalk March 24.)

As winter fades, some of the Kane brews are passing the baton.

Like the fall seasonal oatmeal brown, Drift Line (5.8% ABV), which proved popular enough to hang around for a winter encore. "The response was really good and the demand was there," Michael says, "and we kind of kept brewing it." But it's now ready to give up the stage.

Single Fin Belgian blond (5% ABV), Kane's launch brew from last July/August made with a well-attentuating Trappist strain from East Coast Yeast, is working its way back into the lineup for the summer.

But ahead of that is a recently released American extra stout, Port Omna (6% ABV) for St. Patrick's Day ("We're big fans of the celebrations that happen down here," Michael says); on the heels of Omna is an imperial IPA, Over Head, that's finishing up in the fermenters and timed for the end of this month; another brew, Malus (9.5% ABV), was racked off into 750-milliliter bottles, corked and caged, three weeks ago. Two hundred white-box cases of Malus are stacked around the brewery, bottle-conditioning now for release in due time.

"It's just a matter of waiting for them to do their thing," Michael says. "We have to make sure they're carbonated, make sure they taste right, get some labels on them. It's up to the beer whenever they're ready."

Besides being a specialty item for the market, the apple-infused Belgian strong ale was the crash-test dummy for a six-head, gravity-fed wine filler the brewery will use for bottling its barrel-aged and other unique brews. (The inaugural bottling went well, Michael says. The cork-and-cage 750s are Kane's only bottled offering; the lion's share of the beer is draft-only.)

The reddish-colored brew was made with a reduction of 100 gallons of freshly pressed apple cider, used like an addition of Belgian candy sugar in the boil, plus cinnamon and grains of paradise.

"It took us actually a couple of days to reduce (the cider) down. We ended up with 25 to 30 gallons," Michael says.

Meanwhile, a stand of just over a dozen whiskey barrels (Jim Beam), most of them filled with an imperial stout made last fall, sits along a brewery wall, just off the tasting room. (Recently, a Wild Turkey barrel was filled with Port Omna for aging.)

"It's 11% percent and change," Michael says of the imperial stout, racked into the barrels Oct. 10. "It will probably pick up a point in the barrels. They were pretty bourbony."