Collaboration is King: Local Partnerships in the New Jersey Craft Beer Landscape

A few weeks ago, I received a press release from Mike Skudera of newly minted Jughandle Brewing in Tinton Falls. They’re not much more than a month old but have already partnered with Booskerdoo Coffee in Asbury Park to make a coffee porter. According to Booskerdoo’s James Caverly,“We are excited to partner with Jughandle Brewing. They have an impressive operation and are very knowledgeable about making craft beer.”

They certainly are. They’ve also made a smart business decision.

Collaboration among brewers has been going on for quite a while, but now there’s a growing trend for collaboration between breweries and other local businesses. The results are proving to be some very creative and tasty beers.

As Jughandle knows, coffee and porter are a natural fit. Kane Brewing’s Morning Bell, which gets its roast from local favorite Rook Coffee, has received rave reviews. The addition of lactose makes it smooth and bold. In Somerset County, Flounder Brewing has tapped Fieldstone Coffee Roasters in neighboring Hunterdon County to provide the kick to their Espresso Brown Ale and Iced Coffee Stout. They sound pretty good, don’t they? Dark City, Departed Soles and Tuckahoe Brewing are all sourcing locally roasted coffee. In fact, it’s pretty hard to find a brewery that isn’t.

Carton Brewing certainly is. Fair Mountain Coffee is right around the corner in its little shore town of Atlantic Highlands. They also collaborate with the bakery right across the street. According Augie Carton, The Flaky Tart has helped them out by roasting pumpkins for Carton’s Pumpkin Cream Ale—a refreshing departure from the pie spice theme (think sage). In turn, the Flaky Tart uses Carton’s stout in a version of their cheesecake.

Ship Bottom Brewing collaboration beer features Chicken or the Egg's logo right on the label
Ship Bottom Brewing collaboration beer features Chicken or the Egg’s logo right on the label

Inspiration struck Rob Zarko about three years ago at the annual celebration of beer and hot sauce known as Hop Sauce Fest in Beach Haven. Zarko, the man behind Ship Bottom Brewing, thought that local breakfast joint The Chicken or the Egg (or “Chegg” colloquially) had a pretty killer hot sauce that would be good in a beer. Hot Sauce IPA? Well, not exactly. He had to deconstruct Chegg’s recipe to exclude the vinegar which just couldn’t work in a beer. After his fine tuning of the hops, this brew sports just a little tingle of heat at the end. Zarko admitted that at the time, Chegg had a more recognizable brand than Ship Bottom but, in the end, the collaboration has been great for both businesses. The Chicken or the Egg is even featured prominently on label.

The breweries I’ve mentioned here are just a small sampling of those participating in collaborations around the Garden State. While they sound like a lot of fun (and surely are) there’s also sound business theory to back them up. In a 2016 doctoral study titled Exploring Craft Brewery Owners’ Success Through Stakeholder Involvement, Daniel M. Leland used methodological triangulation (I have no idea what that is either!) to come up with four themes that lead to a brewery’s success. According to the study they are “employee satisfaction and retention, nontraditional marketing, commitment to quality, and development of local relationships.”

New Jersey craft brewers, and breweries around the country, are finding success by partnering with their neighbors. Besides being a feel-good story, there are real business benefits. As the study cites, “The implications for social change include partnering of breweries with local establishments, which can foster increased sales for both businesses and provide better jobs for the local community.”

So, pour me a coffee porter. Here’s to the local communities they support!

Photo at top: Jughandle Brewing partners with Booskerdoo coffee. (Photo by Mandy Hanigan)