Saturday, January 26, 2013

1-barrel brewpub in the works

The scenic top part of the Garden State is in line to get another brewpub.

Maryann and Dion Harris, owners of Tuscany Brewhouse, a restaurant-bar that already keeps its patrons' glasses filled with craft beers, plan to add a 1-barrel brewery setup to create their own line of house ales. (Nearby brewpubs in the area are Krogh's, nine miles west in Sparta, and Long Valley, about 30 miles south in Washington Township.)

Tuscany Brewhouse filed an application for a restricted brewing license with state regulators a little over two months ago. The application is among at least four pending with the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, and one of three for licensing as a brewpub.

The year-old establishment (it celebrated its first anniversary last month) sits along Route 23 in Oak Ridge, a community that straddles West Milford in Passaic County and Jefferson Township in Morris County. The area is New Jersey's black bear country, hilly and picturesque with lakes and streams.

Tuscany Brewhouse is a place were you can find Jersey-made beers, such as High Point's Ramstein Winter Wheat doppelbock, plus regional brews like Victory's Hop Devil to go along with a surf-and-turf dinner or burger. 

"We have 16 beers on tap ... Ramstein, everyone loves Ramstein; Ithaca IPA, we sell a lot of that ... Cricket Hill over in Fairfield, beers from Vermont ... We try to put on a lot of local or regional beers," says bartender Tom Gilroy, whose mother owns the restaurant and is a longtime restaurateur. 

The idea to add a small brewing system in the restaurant basement is part business, part beer enthusiasm. It evolved, Tom says, from positive feedback on the homebrews (some IPAs and pale ales) he made and shared with family and friends. 

"It started off with the love of good beer and brewing your own beer," says Tom. "It didn't start off with the idea of making money." 

Keith Jennings, another Tuscany Brewhouse bartender, will share brewing duties with Tom. Production is targeted to be about 4 barrels a week. The restaurant is looking at equipment (including bright tanks) from Stout Tanks and Kettles.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Catching up on Iron Hill-Voorhees

Architect rendering of IH Voorhees facade
If you've been keeping score on Iron Hill brewpub, then you've noticed their second location in New Jersey – their 10th overall – hasn't open in Voorhees yet.

Last summer's announced date of winter 2013 was, of course, a projection, subject to how quickly the business could speed through any needed approvals, get the necessary renovations done and the doors open. 

It's a process. And, alas, things don't always follow the forecast.

But despite the delay, there is a bright spot: The folks at Iron Hill have started renovation work – the underground plumbing – at the site in the Voorhees Town Center (what used to be Echelon Mall) and now forecast to open Monday, July 15.

"We started last week. We're under way. We'd like to have been open by now …" says Mark Edelson, who founded the brewery-restaurant with Kevin Finn and Kevin Davies. 

Once the plumbing work is done and concrete gets poured, construction will shift to putting up walls. The brewhouse installation is expected to happen in May. The system is already built. The company moved forward with their equipment order from Canadian manufacturer Specific Mechanical Systems (Victoria, British Columbia) to avert any delays on that part of the project.

"That's the one thing we didn't hold off on because it's usually late. It's done. It's sitting in storage. It's brand new: It was constructed, made, and it's sitting in a warehouse right now," Mark says.

Iron Hill is a longtime customer of Specific Mechanical. Even the occasions in which Iron Hill has acquired used brewhouses (Maple Shade's equipment came from the shuttered Independence Brew Pub in Philadelphia), they've been ones made by Specific Mechanical.

"We want our brewers all working on the same equipment," Mark says. "We were on a tear for a while, when used equipment was available we were buying it. With the proliferation of breweries right now, the used market has dried up essentially. The price went up, so used equipment costs the same as new."

This month, Iron Hill marked the first anniversary of its ninth location, Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia. That project, from drawing table to opening went comparatively smooth, Mark says, given the location and the fact that the space pretty much needed a complete makeover to convert it from a former clothing store to a restaurant-brewery.

"It was built for light retail, and we're not light retail, and with all the infrastructure for power and gas and sewer that a restaurant takes, it wasn't there." he says.

If you're a craft beer fan, take that as a good sign for Voorhees.

NJ craft beer goes bullish with Bolero Snort

Two brews down, and many more to go. 

But if Bob Olson and Andrew Maiorana had their way, Ragin' Bull and Blackhorn would have been flowing from New Jersey bar taps a year ago, if not earlier. 

As things stand, though, the two lagers are now in fermenters at High Point Brewing Company, the contract-brewer for Bob and Andrew's Bolero Snort Brewery, based in Bergen County. 

After six months of planning and a year of dealing with regulatory paperwork, the developing craft beer enterprise that has been widely followed and anticipated by a lot of beer enthusiasts across North Jersey is beginning to take its place in New Jersey's growing craft beer scene. 

Last week brought the brewing of Ragin' Bull, a sessionable (5% ABV) amber lager that Bob says would beckon the likes of a Bud or Coors Light drinker to something fuller in flavor; the more-assertive Blackhorn (6.5% ABV), an American black lager, was brewed on Tuesday. 

"For the craft beer enthusiast, Blackhorn would be right up their alley from day one," Bob says.

Like a lot commercial beer-makers, Bob and Andrew come to the industry as accomplished homebrewers, with the laurels of finishing in the winner's circle at homebrew contests to boot. Bob, 29, has a day gig as a construction industry consultant. Andrew, 27, is a CPA at JP Morgan Chase.

Bolero Snort (the name is Robert Olson anagrammatized) got off the ground not unlike the Boaks Beer route. Brian Boak founded his beer business through a contract-brewing arrangement with Greg Zaccardi's High Point Brewing in Butler, the makers of the Ramstein lineup of German wheat brews and lager beers, like the top-rated Ramstein Munich Amber Lager (Oktoberfest), a wheat doppelbock that yields the brewery's Icestorm eisbock. 

Like Brian, Bob and Andrew bought a fermenter and had it installed at High Point in December to ensure the brewery had capacity to accommodate their contract brews. (Brian had a tank installed at High Point in April 2009.)

But unlike Brian, Bob and Andrew intend to takeover production in their own brewery. Siting and construction for that are calendared for next year, barring any planning hiccups.

In the meantime, the agreement with High Point guarantees monthly brews of Ragin' Bull and Blackhorn. The early going will see draft-only brews, but March and April are being targeted for bottling.

Bob and Andrew will self-distribute in North Jersey but plan to tease their beers in South Jersey in April at the Atlantic City beer festival, the state's biggest craft beer festival stage.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Jersey's Finest, and a new age of NJ craft beer

Sen. Norcross draws first pint
Call it a great beer collaboration, if you want.

But Wednesday evening's release event for Flying Fish and Iron Hill's third swing at a Jersey's Finest brew had the hallmarks of a new day dawning, an ushering in of New Jersey Craft Brewing Industry, Version 2.0.

An American IPA dosed with experimental hops was the feature, the vehicle to celebrate the camaraderie of Jersey craft brewing; the industry neighbors that production brewer Flying Fish and brewpub Iron Hill are; and the growth spurt that New Jersey's industry has been experiencing on either side of an overhaul of the state's regulations. 

New Jersey has moved into a new era, thanks to the state Legislature and a bill signed by Gov. Chris Christie last September. Flying Fish president Gene Muller and Iron Hill co-owner Mark Edelson walked point on the legislation, logging a lot of hours talking to lawmakers and attending committee hearings.

Jersey's Finest ice sculpture
Coming at the end of a Garden State Craft Brewers Guild meeting, Wednesday's event was attended by a bevy of Iron Hill-Maple Shade faithfuls, plus new and longtime Jersey craft beer industry faces, and featured a trio of other brews put on tap for the occasion. 

On had for the ceremonial first pour were Michael Kane, founder of Kane Brewing (Ocean Township);  Ryan and Bob Krill, owners of Cape May Brewing (Rio Grande); Becky Pedersen and Ben Battiata, owners of Turtle Stone Brewing (Vineland); and Tim Kelly, brewer at the Tun Tavern brewpub (Atlantic City). 

Michael Kane and Casey Hughes
Kane and Cape May Brewing both celebrated first anniversaries last summer; Turtle Stone's one-year mark is coming up in March.

Flying Fish, as many people know, is up and running in a newer, larger home in Somerdale, while Iron Hill just started work on its second New Jersey location (its 10th overall), targeted to open in Voorhees in mid-summer.

If you looked a little closer in the crowd you would have spied John Companick, whose Spellbound Brewing is on the drawing board.  (Savvy beer folks know of John's association with Heavyweight Brewing, the former Monmouth County brewery that closed up shop in New Jersey in 2006, but morphed into the Earth, Bread + Brewery brewpub in Philadelphia.)

A closer listen to crowd chatter would have cued you to the news that Bolero Snort Brewery just launched and has two beers that will soon be hitting taps in North Jersey.

Such growth, lawmakers say, was the goal when they and the governor updated New Jersey's craft brewing rules. State Sen. Donald Norcross, who took the honor of drawing the first pint of the Jersey's Finest IPA, calls the current quick pace a bonus.

The senator, a Camden County Democrat, was a key sponsor of the legislation that freed New Jersey craft breweries from a regulatory chokehold that made it not just tough to launch a brewery in the Garden State, but to keep one in business. One of the event's brews, a dry-hopped, cask-conditioned blend of Flying Fish Hopfish and Abbey Dubbel, paid tribute to the legislation, taking its name for the Senate bill number, S-641.

"There was an article today (Wednesday) about Pennsylvania," says Sen. Norcross. "They have gone from 10 to over a hundred breweries in the last decade, and that's the type of expansion we're looking for in the state of New Jersey. The design was to try to increase the productivity of our craft brewers in the state. We have the added benefit that this is actually turning out the way we had it planned."

From left: Ryan Krill, Tim Kelly, Casey Hughes

New Jersey's first craft brewery, Ship Inn, opened in 1995.

Until Iron Hill opened its Maple Shade brewery-restaurant in 2009, New Jersey slogged through a 10-year drought of new, home-state beer-makers. Though still not the friendliest of business climates in which to site a brewery, the state licensed five new breweries in 2011, and two last year.  

Right now there are at least four brewery license applications, such as one from Pinelands Brewing in Ocean County and Tuscany Brewhouse in Passaic County, pending with state regulators. Other projects across the state are in various stages of development, like Spellbound Brewing.

"If not for that bill passing, we were seriously thinking about putting our production site in Pennsylvania or New york," says Bob Olson of Bolero Snort Brewery. "The fact that it has will definitely keep us here." 
Gene Muller (right) talks to Ben Battiata

Bolero Snort launched this month with a pair of contract-brewed lagers, Ragin' Bull and Blackhorn. Bob, who spoke by phone Thursday, says the business plan for self-distributing Bolero is to have its own brewing facility, ideally sometime next year. In the interim, High Point Brewing (Butler), makers of the Ramstein wheat and lager beers, will do their brewing, stocking Bolero's warehouse in Bergen County.

Working together
Brewery collaborations continue to be popular. In Garden State, the Jersey's Finest banner owes to a Garden State Craft Brewers Guild initiative from a few of years back. 

Flying Fish and Iron Hill were the first breweries to put their minds together for a Jersey's Finest beer, offering a mashup of stouts (chocolate and coffee versions brewed independently and later blended) in January 2011. The Tun Tavern and Basil T's in Red Bank followed suit with a brace of chocolate-chili pepper beers. 

By that summer Flying Fish and Iron Hill's brewers, Casey Hughes and Chris LaPierre, were working together to produce August 2011's Iron Fish, a black Belgian IPA that, with a tongue-in-cheek nod, employed about every beer trend you could think of back then.

Flying Fish and Iron Hill's latest round of collaboration is much more straight-forward, using some hops from a Washington State farm that also grows apples and berries. 

"It's a nice hoppy IPA, using all experimental hops," Casey says. "I'm really happy with it. I think it turned out really nice: golden, light, dry, crisp, drinkable with a nice hop character, nice bitterness to it. 

"We kind of went by the seat of our pants and just brewed, and played around with the hops as we had them. It's funny. If you look at our recipe, it says 'high alpha hop, low alpha hop, and Roy Farms hops.'"

Monday, January 21, 2013

Fresh momentum for Pinelands Brewing

Exterior of industrial park units

 An odyssey of sorts is coming to an end for Pinelands Brewing, a South Jersey brewery project that's been on the drawing board since 2010.

Founder Jason Chapman says the 1-barrel brewery he's planning to launch has the green light to move into a 1,000-square-foot unit in an Ocean County light industrial park, ending a siting process that's taken Jason and his project partner, Luke McCooley, through three or four counties. 

The search has led the two from Egg Harbor City in Atlantic County, to Belleplain in Cape May County, and now to Little Egg Harbor Township, a bayfront town at the southern tip of Ocean County. 

Little Egg Harbor officials have been receptive to the project. Late last year the town's planning board gave its blessing, granting approval for a manufacturing business that the town does not list as a permitted use in its code book. 

Jason weighs some specialty grain
That approval, on top of settling on a location, represents fresh momentum for Pinelands Brewing, whose application to the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control for a production brewery license has been pending for for nearly a year. (The application to state regulators is dated April 9, 2012.)

"Though it's taken a long time to get to this point, it's been worth the wait, just dealing with the different towns," Jason says. 

Little Egg Harbor officials seemed the most agreeable to having a brewery in town, he says. 

"We've gotten positive feedback. Our approval was unanimous, and they took a guy to task for a pool and shed project, and a (planning) board member voted against that," Jason says.

So a key hurdle has been jumped. 

Now the task shifts to getting inside the building and turning it into a brewery so it can be inspected by regulators and licensed. "The landlord said we could move in February 15th," Jason says.

In the meantime, he says, a web page is being built, and paperwork with federal and state regulators will be given some new attention.