Established in 2007, pint-size nanobrewery East Coast Beer Company offered its first beer, the robustly rewarding Beach Haus Prohibition-Style Pilsner, during 2010. Co-owners Brian Ciriaco and John Merklin, world-traveling technologists both of them, grew up during the late ‘80s craft beer movement started by Samuel Adams, Sierra Nevada and Anchor Steam. Envious of the large contingent of small breweries dotting European towns they sojourned, the home-brewing partners brought experienced lead brewer Tom Pryzborowski aboard to develop their initial prohibition-fashioned libation. Working under the tutelage of Climax Brewing’s Dave Hoffman gave Pryzborowski the trained scientific technique Ciriaco and Merklin sought.
Merklin explains, “Before prohibition, German immigrants typically made pilsners using American ingredients that had higher grain and hop content and more flavor, body and alcohol content. When we brewed our first batches, we wanted a full-bodied beer that had a smooth, easy finish.”
The result: a vigorous, pale-bodied, citric-ripened concoction that reaches a creamy honeyed malt summit. A well-balanced changeup more filling than lighter pilsners, Beach Haus’ grassy-hopped spicing underscores corn-sugared cereal graining and tart lemon-peeled bitterness.
Utilizing a Rochester-based contract brewer for bottling and distribution, East Coast Beer Company will offer an approachable malt-roasted, hop-toasted, fuller-bodied Beach Haus Winter Rental Dark Lager by autumn. They’re also developing a pale ale.
Ciriaco snickers, “My lifelong passion to brew must’ve come from delivering beer from the refrigerator to my father during football season when I was only a kid.”
BOAKS BREWERY – POMPTON LAKES
I first met entrepreneurial Boaks Brewery zymurgist Brian Boak at Ramsey Liquors when he was handing out samples of an interesting Belgian-styled beer he’d just concocted. Open since February 2008, Boak’s first two beers became staples around Jersey. The above-referenced Two Blind Monks Dubbel and resilient Monster Mash Imperial Stout are readily robust ventures into ‘Big Beer’ styling.
“My mother used to call me a beer snob at 17 because I drank Molson Golden. If you go back to 1977, there were no American craft beers marketed and very little imported beer,” Boak recalls.
Fast forward to 1999 when he was shopping at Linens & Things and saw a $25 beer kit. He had his kids buy it for Father’s Day and went from brewing five to 30 gallon batches. Instead of employing mere extract he began using all grain malts.
“It got out of control from there,” he snickers.
Now available in Jersey and 64 percent of neighboring Pennsylvania, Boaks gets contract brewed at Butler’s High Point Brewing (makers of the fabulous Ramstein beer line). Summery yellow-fruited Double BW Witbier has now taken off. A light-bodied English mild ale, Brown Magic, will hit shelves soon, though Boak hopes its modest 4 percent alcohol range won’t discourage beer geeks. He’ll re-introduce Abbey Brown Ale, a luxurious Belgian knockoff with higher chocolate profile than Two Blind Monks, in the autumn.
Connoisseurs will cheer tap-only Wooden Beanie, an intoxicating slow sipper, aged in Jack Daniels barrels with Madagascar vanilla beans using Abbey Brown as its foundation.
On July 16th, two Boaks events will coincide. There will be Selinsgrove Beer Festival and a beer tasting at Crystal Springs Resort, Vernon, New Jersey.
CLIMAX BREWING COMPANY – ROSELLE PARK
Splitting time as brewmaster at Artisan’s pub and owner-operator of Climax Brewing, Dave Hoffmann ran a homebrew supply store before creating Jersey’s first microbrewery. Under the Climax banner, he introduced peat-malted, butterscotch-fruited ESB in ’96 just as the craft beer movement took hold. His pleasant wood-burnt caramel-sugared IPA and citric-spiced tea-like Cream Ale followed soon after.
Though draft-only Maibock tapped out early June, Hoffmann recently purchased bottling line for six-packs to be sold in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, DC and Jersey. Thirsty blue-collar types should enjoy Munich-styled Climax Helles Lager, an elegant, citric-licked session beer, perfect for mass consumption.
On tap for summer is a 15th Anniversary Barleywine that has shown early signs of being excellent. Mild, hop-roasted Nut Brown and a newfangled Oktoberfest are scheduled for autumn.
CRICKET HILL BREWING – FAIRFIELD
Now in its ninth year in business, Cricket Hill Brewing was started by owner/operator Rick Reed in 2002. Smaller than Flying Fish, putting out 1,800 barrels per year, this middle Jersey brewery recently hit new heights with Cricket’s Nocturne, a rich, Munich-styled dark lager placing cocoa-seeded black chocolate chalking against peat-smoked molasses malting. Standard fare includes wheat-cracked, floral-hopped American Ale, raw-honeyed, lemon-peeled Colonel Blides Cask Ale, light orange-limed, wheat-husked East Coast Lager, herbaceous oats-dried Jersey Summer Breakfast and sour-fruited stylistic departure, Hopnotic India Pale Ale.
Edison native, Mehmet Kadiev, took over brewing operations this May. He’d worked at Fayetteville, Arkansas-based Hog Haus for three years before moving back when his contract down south expired. Beforehand, Kadiev lived in San Diego, becoming inspired by the ‘90s West Coast brewpub revolution.
Distributed throughout the Garden State, Cricket Hill’s the official beer of the Philadelphia Roller Girls. Friday brewery tours draw up to 50 people per tasting. On tap for July: a new Belgian Dubbel.
FLYING FISH BREWERY – CHERRY HILL
Celebrating 15 years in business, Cherry Hill’s increasingly popular Flying Fish Brewery gained further recognition when their lineup of ‘big beers’ named after New Jersey Turnpike exits hit shelves in ‘09. The largest microbrewery in the state (14,000 barrels per year), this big ‘Fish’ could also be found in Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Regular selections include pastry-caked, mocha-malted ESB Amber, dry-hopped, barley-toasted Extra Pale Ale and cognac-warmed, brandy-wined Belgian Dubbel. Pungently coffee-roasted, chocolate-soured Porter kicks butt when available. Special Turnpike-related fare includes Exit 1 Bayshore Oyster Stout, Exit 4 American Trippel, Exit 6 Wallonian Rye Belgian Ale, Exit 11 Hoppy American Wheat and Exit 13 Chocolate Stout.
Brewer Casey Hughes came aboard around 2002 after working at Key West Brewery for seven years. His love of beer got Hughes involved with professional brewing a week after turning 18.
Presently, Flying Fish is in expansion, building a new brewery with better capacity. For the summer months, Hughes will concentrate on Farmhouse Summer Ale and a new batch of Exit 16 Wild Rice Double IPA. Though it’s one of his favorites, Hughes isn’t sure he’ll have time or space to brew Espresso Porter this year.
For its 15th anniversary commemoration, tropical-fruited Exit 9 Hoppy Scarlet Ale will be available. Check flyingfish.com for expansive events listing.
HIGH POINT BREWING – BUTLER
One of the most unique and efficient craft breweries in the United States, High Point Brewing, proud makers of the slowly expanding Ramstein beer line, was started by a conglomeration of individuals headed by Greg Zaccardi. He has augmented his initial lineup of German wheat beers and traditional lagers with herbaceous, citric-hopped, American-styled Pale Ale and a reintroduced Belgian knockoff.
This summer, Ramstein delivers its awesome Imperial Pilsner and the award-winning Double Platinum Blonde (a hybrid Bavarian wheat beer with cider-spiced banana-clove overtones and lemony orange tartness that won best in show at 15th annual Tap New York Beer Festival at Hunter Mountain months back).
“Oddly enough, we have to start producing our Octoberfest, which needs to be matured by September. We’ll focus on Blonde Wheat thereafter. Wheat beers are typically warm weather drinks popularized for year-round consumption,” Zaccardi says.
While the contract brewed Boaks beers are decidedly different from Ramstein’s product, another departure is the soon-to-resurface Project X, a Chimay Red Ale clone utilizing Belgian Trappist yeast. Its previous success was enormous. Zaccardi was extremely pleased by the results.
“There’s a standing order for our core brand so there’s not much space for experimentation. We’re constantly playing catch up with our regular rotation,” he confirms.
NEW JERSEY BEER COMPANY – NORTH BERGEN
Matt Steinberg’s warehouse brewery began in May 2010, serving keg favorites such as soft-toned, coffee-fronted Garden State Stout, dewy, peat-grained mesquite-smoked Weehawken Wee Heavy and citric-spiced Hudson Pale Ale. Currently under construction for renovation, New Jersey Beer Company is certainly off to a good start.
RIVER HORSE BREWERY – LAMBERTVILLE
Straight from a ‘Meet the Brewer’ session at Jersey City’s popular Iron Monkey, River Horse Brewery co-owner Chris Walsh keeps busy tweaking old recipes and developing new ones with head brewer, Chris Rakow (a Rutgers engineer major). Walsh and fellow investment banker, Glenn Bernadeo, initiated capital for the revamped brewery in August ‘07.
Celebrating its 15th anniversary with a summertime Saison, River Horse expanded its lineup beyond standard-bearers such as robust, barley-roasted, honey-malted Hop Hazard, maple-sapped, butterscotch-licked Special Ale, chocolate-y almond toasted Lager and caramel-roasted, fruit-speckled Belgian Freeze (aka Frostbite).
“We started a program to test new recipes on tap only. Hop-A-Lot-Amus Double IPA became a more approachable beer than the bitterer ones that taste like you’re sucking on a hop cone,” Walsh explains.
Now serving Jersey, New York City, Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware and D.C., River Horse cut back on other territories to concentrate on flourishing local demand. With a brewing capacity of 8,000 barrels per year, the South Jersey brewery designed a tremendous, mulling-spiced dessert beer, Hippo Lantern Pumpkin Ale last year, and plans to craft an autumnal Dunkelweizen and wintertime Chocolate Porter as part of the Brewers Reserve series.
“Our Tripel Horse is our highest alcohol beer, and most popular. But the yeast strain is crazy. There’s not a style with a wider range than a Belgian tripel. But our seasonal Summer Blonde (a sourdough-honeyed Graham Cracker-like moderation) does just as well,” concludes Walsh.