This past Thursday, I hopped in the car and headed down the New Jersey Turnpike. My destination was Exit 9 but I had to take exit 4 to get there. If that sounds confusing it’s because I was bound for Flying Fish Brewery in Cherry Hill to watch them label the latest in their Exit Series beers, Exit 9.
I met Flying Fish President (and, as he puts it, head janitor) Gene Muller at Basil T’s after a New Jersey Brewers Guild meeting that coincided with the premier of the Basil’s/Tun Tavern collaboration Choco Chili beer. Gene invited me down to Cherry Hill for the labeling of Exit 9, and I was happy to accept.
It was my first trip to the brewery and my first impression was that it is much smaller than I imagined. Isn’t that always the case? Somehow, Gene and Head Brewer Casey Hughes push out 12,000 barrels of beer a year. It’s obvious that the available space is used efficiently and they are running at peak capacity. The good news for New Jersey beer lovers is that beer doesn’t sit in the warehouse more than a week, so it’s about as fresh as you can get! More good news it that Flying Fish is in the beginning stages of an expansion project. That means Gene and Casey will have more leeway and more room to concoct many more innovative recipes!
The Exit Series of beers celebrates the different regions of New Jersey as defined by their New Jersey Turnpike exit numbers. Check out their website for the complete lineup. It’s a pretty eclectic mix of beers and when I asked Gene where they brewed test batches he told me they didn’t. When you’re an expert in your ingredients, you can make up a recipe that you know will work. So I guess you just hit the road and pay the toll. That’s confidence. Gene also told me that this series is a labor of love – literally. It takes about twice as much effort to produce these beers as compared to their standard six pack beers. Watching the labeling process, I could definitely see how they put the “hand” in hand crafted beer!
OK, so what is this Exit 9 anyway? According to Gene, it doesn’t fit into any specific style and is described as a hoppy scarlet ale. Since exit 9 is known as the Rutgers University exit, that seems appropriate. Don’t expect a bright red beer though! It’s coppery-orange hue is a picture in and of itself. The orange peel you get from the nose lets you know up front what kind of hops to expect. Those citrus hops are well balanced though and don‘t completely take over the palate. Exit 9 weighs in at 9% abv. and isn’t shy about it either. The dry warming boozey-ness stays just in the background the whole time. The website suggests spicy foods or sharp cheddar as good pairings, but it will also liven up your otherwise bland corned beef and cabbage come St. Patrick’s day. I did my tasting in a brandy glass with no accompaniment and I think that might be the best option. You need to enjoy this one all by its lonesome.
Exit 9 takes to the road on March 9th, at the George Street Ale House in New Brunswick. Don’t let this fish get away!
I know I’m going to sound like a homer, but Exit 9 is my favorite of the series. Exit 16, a wacky wild rice IPA and Exit 6 Wallonian Rye are close runners up. I admit that I don’t have the entire series in front of me to taste side by side and that my favorite beer is quite often the one I’m drinking at the moment. However, the characteristics of Exit 9 can’t be easy to pull off without major sweetness and without a hop assault on your taste buds. Flying Fish did it though!
Peter Culos is the editor of “Beer Bites,” a new monthly feature about breweries, bars and good beer in the garden state. A graphic designer by day, and a life long New Jersey resident, Peter was first introduced to the novel idea that beer could actually have flavor during several visits to the UK. He’s been riding the craft beer bus ever since. It has been called the ultimate social lubricant and Peter’s philosophy on beer is, “I’d rather split my last good beer with a friend than drink the whole thing by myself.” Besides beer he also likes history, dogs, Jeeps and painting. In the past, he has written a History and Art blog for the Weider History Group and occasionally contributes to his own blog, history-geek.com. Life is short. Drink good beer.