Located in a freestanding gold Mediterranean stucco building at Toms River-based Seacourt Pavilion, Artisan’s Brewery & Italian Grill is owned by the Gregorakis family and began brewing operations 10 years ago. Its dimly lit piano bar, tranquil dining experience, and private cigar lounge provide casual intimacy.
On my latest stopover in June, I sat at the U-shaped, slate-topped central bar, eating delicious feta-stuffed lamb meatballs and cream of mushroom soup with five softly approachable beers and one robust Bavarian pils.
“I concentrate on making well-balanced beer,” brewer Dave Hoffmann claims as he tenders a newly brewed German Pilsner that retains a bold, hop-embittered aggression to counter its crisp rye graining and dainty citric wisp.
Hoffmann, whose separate Climax Brewing microbrewery started bottling in ‘96, doesn’t try to hit you over the head with outrageous hop bittering or obnoxious alcohol persistence, keeping beer profiles accessible to mainstream customers as well as obliging aficionados. Though his springtime weizenbock and maibock were gone by time I arrived, tart banana bubble-gummy Hefeweizen nicely sufficed.
Best selling standard fare includes grassy-hopped, yellow-fruited Artisan’s Lite Ale and subtle pine-needled, red-fruited West Coast IPA. Better still are nutty molasses chocolate-y Nut Brown Ale and caramel-toasted, coffee-roasted Artisan’s Red Ale.
BASIL T’S – RED BANK
An authentic Italian restaurant-brewery nearing Jersey’s shoreline, Basil T’s is 20 miles north of Toms River-based Artisan’s and 15 miles south of Woodbridge-based JJ Bitting in the seafaring borough of Red Bank. Owned by the Rallo family and operating since ‘97, Basil’s long-time brewer Gretchen Schmidhausler recently departed, replaced by ex-Pizzeria Uno brewmaster Mike Sella.
At Basil T’s, doors open directly to a snug green tile-floored rectangular bar across from the dining area (with fresh mozzarella cheeses displayed). Exquisite wood interior adds warmth and a plethora of Italian wines contrast fine homemade beers. Hundreds of personalized beer mugs hang from the bar.
Fabulous homemade pizza dishes are recommended alongside citric, dry-grained lightweight Ms. Lucys Weimaraner Wheat and dry, tea-like Scottish seasonal Iceboat Ale. Medium-bodied, best-selling fare includes piney, citric-spiced Rosie’s Tail Waggin Pale Ale and caramelized, red-fruited Basil’s Rocket Red. Recommended dark ales are bitterly coffee-burnt Big Vig’s Short Order Porter and black chocolate-roasted Maxwell’s Dry Stout.
During June revisit, got familiar with two more exciting brews alongside wonderful zuppa di piselli (rustic pea soup w/ cheese-grated vegetables). Though I’d missed stylishly intriguing Cocoa Fuoco by two days, spice-tingled citric spritzer Extra Special Bitter and superior adjunct ale Honey Basil Wheat, with its sweet-honeyed basil, thyme, and hibiscus illusions, kept afternoon patrons happy (alongside the ever-popular Maxwell’s Stout).
EGAN & SONS – MONTCLAIR
Near downtown Montclair, Egan & Sons is tucked into residential Walnut Street. Opened October ’07, the upscale, brown-bricked restaurant-saloon features striking tiled ceiling, front and side patios, quaint bar, panel-sided tables, cozy booths and rear dining.
Salvaging exquisite wood furnishings from a Dublin Castle pub, Egan’s overall classical setting, fine whiskeys and English grog supplemented conservatively well-crafted beers brewed at small loft level. A white-marbled dumbwaiter brings food orders from basement kitchen to central bar.
Upon May 2011 inspection, retried two standard brews, a fine India Pale Ale and Hooegaarden-like witbier. I then discovered dry maize-leathered, lemon-peeled Todd’s Tipple Lager and the more appealing apple-spiced, orange-dried, juniper-embittered Red Ale. As convincing were piney grapefruit-peeled, perfume-hopped Odd Fellow’s IPA and softer lemon-wedged, hibiscus-dried Summer Wheat.
HARVEST MOON – NEW BRUNSWICK
Well-placed inside New Brunswick’s industrious central Jersey metropolis, Harvest Moon Brewery serves local Rutgers students, businessmen and beer geeks. Opened in ’97, its antique wood bar curls to the right of this upscale, brick-walled, high-ceilinged pub. New brewer Kyle Mc Donald pilots the stainless steel brew kettles. On an earlier ’06 visit, I ate meritorious Duck Confit Salad while quaffing standard brew fare.
Peppery Saaz-hopped Moonlight Ale, floral-hopped, grapefruit-soured Elmes’ Mild Manor, orange-grapefruit-moistened Full Moon Pale Ale and dark-fruited British Nut Brown were bettered by black chocolate-centered Oatmeal Stout, red-fruited Shoot The Moon IPA and yellow-fruited, Irish-styled Jimmy D’s Firehouse Red.
On recent a June trip, I tried two Belgian-styled beers alongside a hyped-up IPA and fascinating barleywine. Candi-sugared, banana-clove-coriander theme propelled white-peppered Belgian Wit that was bettered by orange-bruised, apple-spiced, melon-sweet, banana-pureed Belgian Saison. Fruitier than less embittered Full Moon, Pop’s Sturgis Double IPA placed pale-crystal malting beneath oaken pine-needled bark bite and grapefruit-peeled, apricot-pear fruiting. I loved the newest version of Moonshine Barleywine, a lusty potion, saturating cherry-bruised melon, cantaloupe, tangerine, peach and mango tropicalia with Irish whiskey, buttered rum, bourbon and burgundy illusions. Many of these brews will be available all summer long.
IRON HILL BREWERY – MAPLE SHADE
With eight locations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, Jersey finally got its chance to experience the ‘casual upscale atmosphere’ of Iron Hill Brewery when Camden suburb Maple Shade licensed a two-story site in 2009. Taking its name from an historic Revolutionary War Landmark, Iron Hill is arguably the greatest ‘chain brewpub’ in America. Privately owned, its best individual pub, in my opinion, is the capacious red-bricked Wilmington, Delaware riverfront outpost, which crafts more exquisite specialty beers than the others.
Though I haven’t visited yet, Iron Hill’s freestanding Maple Shade location has been given thumbs up by several beer aficionados. Serving fine house beers alongside seven site-specific seasonals and one cask conditioned version this June, brewmaster Chris Lapierre’s tanks have been busy. Expect a German Pilsner in July. Go to ironhillbrewery.com for more info.
JJ BITTING BREWING CO. – WOODBRIDGE
Based at a 100-year-old red brick grain depot with archaic three-story tower, JJ Bitting opened in ’97. Situated across Staten Island, this red-bricked pub flaunts a rustic, wood-floored square bar, stone-floored dining section, back deck and balcony area. Good pub fare goes well with rangy handcrafted beers.
Admirable lighter fare includes spicy floral-hopped Garden State IPA, fructose Raspberry Wheat, malt-spiced Victoria’s Golden Ale and yellow-fruited Rat Pack Pilsner. Heartier thirsts lean towards best-selling dry-hopped, caramel-roasted Avenel Amber and cappuccino-milked, tobacco-chewed Cappa Cappa Crusher Porter.
I hung out with brewer, James Moss, during a sweltering June afternoon, quaffing three previously untried potions. Moss, in his second year, worked at RAM in Tacoma before heading east. His well-rounded beers represent an array of American-styled elixirs. Approachable hop-spiced, grapefruit-embittered Whales Brew IPA boasts apple-candied, apricot-cherry tang. Coffee-roasted, black chocolate notes consume Blackjack Stout. Your best bet is the cask-conditioned Barleywine, a cherry-bruised, prune-stewed, burgundy-spiced softie with chocolate creaming.
As I finish my selections, dinnertime’s approaching and the bar fills up with casual businessmen and women getting off the train across the street. Meanwhile, midsection brew tanks ready summer seasonals such as Woodbridge Light, Strasse Hefeweizen, Raspberry Wheat and Triple XXX. Happy hour is 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday.
KROGH’S – SPARTA
Across from picturesque Mohawk Lake in rural western Jersey, Sparta’s Krogh’s Restaurant (a National Historic Landmark), is tucked into a Swiss chalet edifice with low ceilings, wood-lacquered walls and rear brew tanks. Serving homemade cuisine since 1937, this cozy tavern began brewing operations in 1999.
Krogh’s left dining area and right side bar feature old wooden furnishings perfectly indicative of its idyllic western Jersey surroundings. Seafood, burgers, chicken, ribs and cajun food went well with brewer Dave Cooper’s lighter staples on my initial ’06 visitation.
Maize-dried Krogh’s Gold and straw-grassed Three Sisters Golden Wheat were approachable. The local favorite is prune-soured, fig-dried, champagne-fizzed Alpine Glow Red Ale, with its oaken vanilla, apple, cherry and cocoa souring.
Heartier palates lean towards bitter, piney-hopped, lemon-spiced, orange-peeled Brogdon Meadow Pale Ale, nutty molasses-smoked Log Cabin Brown Ale and coffee-bound Old Krogh Oatmeal Stout.
After repeated visits, settled in on a hot May day to try Cooper’s latest bold ale. Defiantly atypical, Gruney’s Belgian Dubbel allows molasses-sapped, burgundy-port-barleywine boozing to engage sharp, hop-roasted fig, purple grape and earthen fungi.
Cooper claims, “This year’s version of the dubbel came out best. I used the basic recipe but put a little molasses in. This summer, we’ll once again make a Cream Ale and Belgian Wit. An Octoberfest will appear in the fall. Then we have our 1,000th brew, planned to be a Doppelbock, readied after Labor Day.”
During August, Krogh’s will again sponsor Best In Show from the New Jersey State Fair beer tasting, featuring the winning elixir on tap at the brewpub. Last year, hop-headed Sorachi Patersbier took the prize.
LONG VALLEY PUB – LONG VALLEY
Residing at a refurbished 200-year-old gristmill in the bucolic westerly Schooley mountaintops of a secluded village from which it takes its name, Long Valley Pub has served fine appetizers, burgers, sandwiches and entrees to go along with well-crafted brews since 1996. Entering through a stone trestle to a good-sized patio leading patrons into an antique wood interior with 1771-built fireplace, central bar, rear brew tanks and separate upstairs dining space, this capacious haven matches its woodsy, ranch-styled motif to several earthen, mineral-grained brews.
Dry, green-hopped, corn-sopped Grist Mill Golden and astringent perfume-spiced, orange-dried Hookerman’s Light befit grain-harvested rural splendor and suit softer thirsts. Citric, hop-spiced German Valley Amber is a local favorite. Bitterly grapefruit-herbed LV’s Best Bitter is drier alternative.
During May, I discovered dry-grained Signature Pale Ale, an unfiltered wheat-husked, mill-grained, lemon-backed moderation.
Upcoming summer beers at Long Valley include Bartleyville Rye, a pumpernickel-breaded dry body, and newly refined Inspiration English IPA.
PIZZERIA UNO – METUCHEN
I first visited Metuchen’s unique Pizzeria Uno Chicago Grill & Brewery in 2006. Unlike all other stateside restaurant chains, this Jersey franchise serves its own craft beers. Though brewer Mike Sella recently took over at Basil T’s, ex-Climax Brewing associate, Christopher Percello capably handles the copper kettles of this freestanding family-styled Route 1 sports bar.
I quaffed prickly dry-hopped, lemon-bruised Bootlegger Blonde Ale, fruity caramel-roasted Station House Red Ale, citric-peppered 32 Inning Ale and coffee-beaned Gust-N-Gale Porter on my initial family visit. Showing greater depth were sharp floral-fruited Ike’s India Pale Ale and terrific Weiss N’ Bock (with buttery rum, bruised orange and banana-pear notes). In June ’08 I tried Seltzer-like, lemon-peppered Belgian Wit. In July ’10 I stopped by for floral, citrus-soured Hefeweizen and unearthed nebulous Scotch-dried Scotch Ale.
Be prepared for an updated Hefeweizen this summer.
PORT 44 – NEWARK
I’ve known brewmaster Chris Sheehan since his days at Manhattan’s capacious Chelsea Brewing Company. A Buffalo native who earned his stripes in San Francisco and respectable defunct New York brewery Neptune, the lanky zymorgist specializes in strong dark ales. Serving as the guiding light for Port 44 Brew Pub, Sheehan’s bringing Newark’s glorious pre-prohibition past back. Tucked into Commerce Street a few blocks from the Prudential Center in Newark’s business district, Port 44 opened May 2010.
Upon recent reinvestigation, I found Sheehan alone at the bar alone ‘round noon and started bustin’ his balls. But he wasn’t lonely. He was entertaining a friend he’d met going to Denver’s Great America Beerfest who’d temporarily gone upstairs to check out more of the provincial oak-furnished, stone-tiled ambience.
Projected to pour 900 barrels of beer this year, Port 44’s fine continental cuisine and affordable $3 happy hour house brews ring true for off-hours merchants, white-collar aspirants and college dilettantes alike.
Alongside Sheehan, I consumed the oaken version of Cailleach Scotch Ale, an earthen, peat-smoked whiskey sentiment with raisin-pureed, black cherry, prune and vanilla sweetness. Sheehan’s latest favorite, Ziegelstadt Alt, retained a sharp, dry-hopped, orange compote resolve above dark-roasted caramel malts, boysenberry, red gooseberry and evergreen lingonberry.
Creamier than most in its stylistic range, mellow Newark Bay IPA brought woody grassy-hopped dryness, tannic grape tartness and mild juniper bittering to orange-candied peach, apple and pineapple.
By time I exited, several cute Seton Hall law students were celebrating graduation, quaffing lighter-bodied suds such as citric-spiced Goldfinch Ale and grapefruit-peeled Siren’s Wheat while the local business crowd arrived full force.
THE SHIP INN – MILFORD
Jersey’s first brewpub stationed one block from the Delaware River in the rustic westerly village of Milford, The Ship Inn opened in 1995. Overlooking a creek, inside a historic Victorian building, this British-styled pub house gained a reputation as a prohibition speakeasy. Pewter mugs hang from the left side bar where Samuel Smith bottles, pint glasses, growlers, whiskeys, rums and other spirits line the shelving.
On an overcast Sunday in May, long-time brewmaster Timothy Hall joined me as I quaffed two previously untried beers, one new year-round offering and one rightful award-winning staple, Panhead Porter. Hall’s uniquely vintage Peter Austin system delivers distinctive handcrafted whole-grain ales, many boasting British heritage.
Right in line with this rainy spring season, Spring Mild retained a delicate English-styled bitterness, placing crystal malts and musty fungi earthiness in a dramatic peat-smoked, tobacco-dried grain setting.
Even better, the tongue-tied Pheasant Plucker was definitely the “pleasant fucker” I laughingly requested. A busy yet approachable brown ale, its Scotch-splotched peat-smoked malting picked up dry mocha-cocoa affluence and dark-spiced kelpee seaweed oiling.
Doing me a huge favor, Hall headed to the ground level brew tanks and poured me a slightly green version of a viscous pale ale made with local honey over an Extra Special Bitter base. This supreme concoction, known as Killer Bee, brings soft-focus citric intrigue to glutinous raw honey sapping and recessive butterscotch malting. Presently set for regular rotation alongside pumpernickel-toasted Extra Special Bitter, citric-dried Best Bitter and baked-breaded Golden Wheat Light, the bees-waxed bittersweet treat will have heads floating like butterflies.
Before heading out, Hall informed me The Ship Inn will brew an India Pale Ale for the early summer and a bitterer offshoot, Northwest IPA, to follow.
TRAP ROCK BREWERY – BERKELEY HEIGHTS
Absolutely the most exquisite Jersey brewpub, Berkeley Heights’ intimate English Country Inn, Trap Rock Restaurant & Brewery features upscale American-French cuisine as well as long-time brewmaster Charles Schroeder’s fine libations. Opened in 1997, the quaint, brown-toned, slate-adorned pub offers elegant warmth from its cozy dual fireplaces to its woodsy back deck garden.
Glass-enclosed brew tanks greet customers upon entering the attractive mahogany interior, leading to a formal central bar, supporting casual right dining area and more refined left booths. Fabulous Single malt Scotch, bourbon, cognac, wine and cocktail selection complemented breath-taking chow (calamari, ribs, hummus, pizza).
On a June swing-by I tried light-bodied, citric-floral Ghost Pony Helles Lager, lemon-bruised German-Czech crossbreed JP Pilsner and mild, pale-malted, lemon-hopped Hathor’s Amber Ale. Tart, banana-cloved, lemon-limed summertime session beer Schroeder Weiss retained a bubble-gummy sweetness.
Hopheads will lean towards dry grapefruit, rind-embittered delight Kestrel IPA and sharp, nut-fruited, crystal-malted, English-styled charmer Stealthy Mule Ale. Low alcohol Belgian pale ale, Saison Du Roc, brought black-peppered, lemon-peeled bittering, orange rind tartness and coriander-ginger spicing to the fore. Dark ale aficionados will enjoy coffee-roasted, chocolate-malted, peanut-shelled, oats-dried Capt. Carl’s Oatmeal Stout.
Upcoming summer fare includes a Bavarian Wheat, Blueberry Saison and unspecified Rye Beer. A new fermenter and bottling line for point-of-purchase sales will be installed to handle increased volume.
TRIUMPH BREWERY – PRINCETON
Making a tremendous showing with its latest stylish elixirs, Princeton-based Triumph Brewery (with new Philadelphia location and entrenched New Hope railroad site) came on strong during a June fling. Entering through a narrow hallway, this capacious, Cathedral-like, red-bricked bar exhibits traditionalist charm. Brewer Tom Stevenson’s latest spot-on offerings proved to be fascinatingly diversified.
Seated at the upper bar sharing a flatbread Tuscan pizza with my wife, I tried well-defined Euro-derived brews this sweltering Saturday at noon. Honey-glazed ham, bacon, salami and pastrami drift into cedar-smoked beechwood recession of German-styled smoked beer Rauchbier. Lactose-bound Grover’s Mill Coffee & Cream Stout retained impressive egg-creamed froth and creamy mocha nuttiness of Guinness, daubing clean, milked-coffee midst with peat-smoked whiskey and chocolate sentiments. Better still, Pictish Ale exemplified a non-hopped Scottish heather ale, placing hibiscus, rosebud, lavender and lilac beside honeyed crystal malting. My wife’s light-bodied, citric-spoiled, wheat-honeyed, dry-finishing Honey Blonde, couldn’t contend, but still sufficed.
Standard fare previously perused include citric-peeled Amber Ale, barley-toasted Vienna Lager, caramelized rye-malted ESB, coffee ice-creamed Oatmeal Stout and raspberry-tart, brimstone-leathered Framboise Strong.
TUN TAVERN – ATLANTIC CITY
Located next to Atlantic City’s Convention Center in the Sheraton Hotel since ’97, Tun Tavern is known for the “best steaks in Jersey.” Opening to a U-shaped bar with left side brew tanks and secondary loft bar, this commodious, blue-walled, wood-furnished public house features high ceilings, an open kitchen, roomy dining area and routine mash tun aroma.
Tim Kelly, a home brewer who went to the American Brewers Guild before working at Flying Fish Brewery, has been at Tun since ‘07. Standard fare includes apricot-blanched spritzer Tun Light Golden, cocoa-powdered hop roaster Irish Red, peachy floral-hopped All American IPA, red-fruited, juniper-hopped Devil Dog Pale Ale and mild, black chocolate-y Black Jack Oatmeal Stout.
“I like the crazy one-off beers like the Chocolate Chili Beer I did with Basil T’s Gretchen Schmidhausler,” Kelly informs. “I’ve done a Gruit-styled Winter Warmer and some bigger beers. A friend of mine grows hops we used for homebrewing. Now we’ll use them to dry-hop the pale ale and IPA.”
Since there’s a large influx of Russian and Ukrainian gamblers that visit Atlantic City in the early autumn, Kelly will be readying a traditional rye-breaded European-styled ‘kvass.’ A summertime hefeweizen will precede an autumnal pumpkin beer and Octoberfest followed directly by an unspecified barleywine.