Shift Beer: What Do New Jersey Brewers Actually Drink?

Brew team Departed Soles
Departed Soles brew team from left to right: Brian Kulbacki, Tyler Hansen, Brant Schweinsberg, Mike Nazzaro, and John Giunta. Photo by Ryan Mimmo

As craft beer drinkers, we love to explore the latest flavors and styles that our favorite breweries concoct: Milkshake IPAs, Hazy New England IPAs, Pastry Stouts, and, well, you name it. Have you ever wondered what brewers themselves are drinking after a tough day in the brew house? I have. I conducted a highly unscientific poll of some of my favorite breweries and got some surprising answers.

Low and Light, but Tasty

Augie Carton of Carton Brewing (Atlantic Highlands) set the tone for most of the answers. “This Town only exists because we had to brew more than a tippy worth a month…” he admitted. This Town is a classic lager that clocks in at under 5% ABV and is accented by fruity and flowery Opal hops. The “tippy” is a little home-brew system the staff uses to quench the thirst of the brew crew. This Town became so popular with the brewers that it ended up in cans all around Monmouth County. Carton’s Highlander Weiss series, a funky take on tart Berliner Weiss, is popular, too. “We held back 20 cases of Tak just to get one brewer through until the next time we brew it,” he told me. Tak is brewed with pickled cherries and is only 3.9% ABV.

Carton Brewing This Town lager
Carton Brewing This Town lager. Courtesy of Carton Brewing

Three 3’s (Hammonton) Mike Geller agrees with the idea of a lager. “Without a doubt, if our Pitter Patter Pils is on, that’s everyone’s go-to,” he said. Don’t underestimate the beauty of crisp pilsner! However, Geller does admit that when the thermometer dips low there is a corresponding uptick in Coffee Porter consumption after shifts.

At Backward Flag, Torie Fisher is on board with the lager idea as well. “I agree with most–I’m reaching for any light lager I might have around.” They don’t actually brew a lager yet but Fisher has an alternative option: “Out of our regular line up my go to is our Oak Armored Pale,” she said. “It’s light and crisp and is the closest thing to a lager I brew right now.“ She also recommends pairing it with some bourbon at home.

Malty but Nice

According to Brett Bullock, of Screamin’ Hill Brewing (Cream Ridge), “One of our favorite shift drinks is Grumpy Farmer. It’s a 4.1% English-style pale ale that is the perfect way to cap a long day of farming or brewing.” English pale ales tend to have a more prominent malt presence than their American cousins which makes sense for Screamin’ Hill. All of their malt is grown right there on their farm.

If you’re old enough, you might remember one of the earliest craft beer crazes–amber ale. Although it’s considered passé today, Donn Hoosack of Manafirkin Brewing (Manahawkin) likes to wind down his brew day with Don’t Look Back in Amber which features his favorite malt called Denhoff from Two Track Malting Company in North Dakota. It imparts notes of toasted biscuit and pecan.

“I can drink this beer by a fire or fishing on a boat baking in the sun,” Hoosack said. “It’s our universal everyday drinking kind of beer. It pairs well with almost any food or situation, kind of like a hybrid golf club, and you definitely want one of those in your bag.” Sounds like it might be a good choice at the 19th hole, too.

Salty and Sour

The gang at Flying Fish (Somerdale) likes to reach for something sessionable and refreshing. Salt and Sea is a slightly tart session sour with a hint of strawberry and lime that they introduced last year.

Jersey Bites, Pete Culos, Jersey Breweries
Salt and Sea Variety Pack from Flying Fish Brewing in Somerdale

Lou Romano tells me, “This year, we’ve brewed two new variations, one with blackberry and kiwi, and another with pineapple and mango.

So the debate around here lately has been about which is the favorite: the ‘OG’ version, or one of the new ones?” You won’t have to choose because they’re putting all three in a variety pack this spring.

flying fish brew crew
Flying Fish brew crew from left to right: Barry Holsten, Chris Vaughn, Mike Zarzecki, Brian Vanderslice, Lea Ann Wood, Mike Jadach. Courtesy of Flying Fish Brewing

The theme carries over with the surf culture represented by Last Wave Brewing (Point Pleasant Beach). “If there’s one beer that we gravitate towards regularly, it’s our Lightly Salted Ale because it balances drinkability with hop flavor so well,” said Nick Jiorle.

Jersey Bites, Pete Culos, Jersey Breweries
Lightly Salted by Last Wave Brewing, Point Pleasant Beach

“It’s a beer we built for the Jersey Shore, with a light grain bill and kolsch yeast, which makes it easy to drink a few after a hot day in the brew house–or on the beach–but with late hop additions that give it a bright, tropical finish.” A pinch of salt makes this 5.3% ABV beer a real thirst quencher.

Jersey Bites, Pete Culos, Jersey Breweries
Bert Roling (left) and Nick Jiorle (right) of Last Wave Brewing share a beer in their brew house.

The Outliers

Brian Kulbacki at Departed Soles (Jersey City) sort of agrees with the group, saying, “I would say 89.3% of the time, I’m having whatever lager we have on draft, or one of our traditional, lighter bodied dark beers (Modcup Stout, Nuts, Mean Muggin).”

However, Kulbacki likes to zig when others zag. “I won’t lie–I love how our Little Neo’s Pastry Stout came out, and when I’m having a fun night out after work, I’ve been starting with that since its debut two weeks ago.” I guess 10.7% of the time a pastry stout is the way to go. Who am I to argue?

Brew team Departed Soles
Departed Soles brew team from left to right: Brian Kulbacki, Tyler Hansen, Brant Schweinsberg, Mike Nazzaro, and John Giunta. Photo by Ryan Mimmo

Last, but certainly not least: Gretchen Schmidhausler, whose Little Dog Brewing (Neptune City) has a lineup rife with day-ending beers. Duck Boy Pale Ale finished with floral and citrus Cascade hops seems like it would fit the bill. Or, how about her signature Gesundheit! German Altbier? It’s malty and easy to knock back. So, which one does Gretchen prefer? “Honestly, other than QC (quality control) in the brew house each week, I come home and have a glass of red wine.” It’s not always all about the beer.

Brewing great beer is both a science and an art. It’s also a lot of physical work. That’s especially true at the craft brewery level. Cheers to New Jersey’s hard-working craft brewers and to the beers they drink.