New Jersey’s Beer in Review: 2011

I’ve had a mug full of fun being the beer editor of JerseyBites this past year.  It’s been my privilege to meet some interesting people, taste amazing beers and generally get my beer geek on.  As the end of the year approaches and nostalgia sets in, it’s only fitting to look back and see what some of my favorite beer folks have been up to and maybe get a peek at what 2012 has in store.

Way back in the beginning of the year I made the trip down the turnpike to visit with Gene Muller of Flying Fish Brewery.  Well, since then, it seems that Flying Fish has made some travel plans of their own.  They are moving to a new facility in Somerdale, NJ!  It’s much bigger than their old building and, according to Gene, “The new building is going to let us make our beer a lot more efficiently and even more environmentally friendly. We’re going to have solar on the roof, rain gardens to repurpose storm water, and high efficiency equipment throughout the facility. We’ll also finally have the capacity to bring out some new styles and new packages, like 12 packs.”  Now that’s my kind of green beer!   Christmas present alert: Since they weren’t able to do another in their Exit series this year, they are re-releasing some from the cellar!  If you visit the brewery on December 10th or 17th, you can buy Exit’s 4, 9, 13 and 16.  Gift boxes available!

While Flying Fish has been on the New Jersey craft beer scene for a long time, there’s a couple of new kids on the block picking up steam: Carton Brewery and Kane Brewery.  Maybe my new year’s resolution should be to stop mentioning them both in the same paragraph.  Their styles and philosophies are different and each deserves to stand alone as a quality brewery.   That said, both have a similar business model and are rocking the local taps.  It seems like every day I hear that another bar or restaurant has added one of them to the tap list.   As far as Augie Carton is concerned, “It’s going well.  We are getting out there and getting positive feedback.  So far, Jersey likes it and that’s the mission.” Michael Kane tells me that a Belgian style red will be coming out early next year.  He’s also setting up a couple of new, smaller brew tanks so we’ll have to keep an eye out for what comes out of them.  His Drift Line winter seasonal “is selling really well.  We only planned on one batch, but it’s going so well we’ve done two more and plan to have it available through the end of the year and into the new year.” There’s also an Imperial IPA on the way too!

Speaking of taps, you won’t find more in one place in the Garden State than at Maloney’s in Matawan.  They are known for their beer dinners and with a  new chef it’s only going to get better in 2012.  There’s a Saint Bernardus beer pairing on December 16 and “We will have some really phenomenal Belgian beers on tap for that event for the first time.” according to Meghan.  “We love our imports here and consider that to be something that sets us apart from our competitors.”  With over 70 taps, I don’t know who their competitors are but there’s also a Winter Solstice celebration on December 22nd featuring Anderson Valley beer.  Dogfish Head swims up in January and La Chouffe will warm your heart in February for Valentine’s day.

As we’ve seen, Chris LaPierre of Iron Hill in Maple Shade is all about the collaboration.  I heard he was going to Belgium and sure enough, “Yep, I’m going to Belgium to brew at the DuPont Brewery. I’m very excited about that. I’ve always been a fan of Saison DuPont and modeled my gold winning recipe on it. So it’s going to be great to actually go there and see what they do.” Color me impressed!  If that’s not enough he is, “also excited about the release of the collaboration we did with Jerry Vietz of Unibroue. I can’t really say it’s a collaboration as the formulation was all Jerry! I really just showed him how to work my system and did all the cellarmanship of the beer. I had a great time working with him though and it reminded me of how precise you have to be when you work in a production brewery. That beer will be released on February 28th. Jerry will be here for the release and we should have a couple other Unibroue products on tap that evening.” Put it on the calendar.   If you missed out on his Pumpkin Ale Redux (3 different pumpkin brews) this year, there’s plans to ramp it up again next year.

Finally, for auld lang syne’s sake, I reached out to Gretchen Scmidhausler the former brewer at Basil T’s in Red Bank, and the subject of my first article for JerseyBites.  I’m happy to report that Gretchen is still in the New Jersey beer scene.  She’ll be working as the Administrative Liaison for the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild.  Even more exciting, she’s launched Gretchenbrew, a consulting, beer education and tastings venture!After the first of the year I will have more of a presence and will have much more to say.” says Gretchen.  I know I’ll be listening and I’ll make sure you hear about it too!

2011 was a good year for beer in our state.  Clearly though, there will be more to explore in 2012 and I can hardly wait!  Happy Holidays and I’ll see you in the tasting room!

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,