Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and posts that don’t just focus on one beer here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…
It has been over a month since I last focused on a single brewery here and as promised last Tuesday, I’d be giving an overview of Flounder Brewing in Hillsborough, NJ. I’ve been enjoying their beer for a few years now and living in the neighboring town, it has been very nice to see the brewery grow over the past few years since opening in Hillsborough in 2013 as the twelfth licensed NJ brewery. Part of that is seeing their line-up of tasty beers evolve along with that growth.
I could go on about the history of the brewery and how Jeremy Lees started homebrewing, which is how a majority of nano/microbreweries begin, but that is fairly well documented in the Craft Beer community, specifically the NJ Craft Beer community. Flounder’s history is probably best captured in “Catching the Big One: The Story of Flounder Brewing Company,” created by film students at Rider University. I’ve embedded the video at the bottom of this post (running time is about 15 minutes) which does a great job of giving a historical perspective to Jeremy Lees brewing venture known as Flounder Brewing.
A brewery starts with the beer and Flounder’s flagship beer is “Hill Street Honey Ale,” a great, easy-drinking every day beer that Jeremy’s friends enjoyed and the beer upon which the foundation of Flounder’s great line up of beers is built.
Hill Street Honey American Ale possesses the nice golden color of a classic ale. While starting out as a hybrid American Pale-Amber ale, over time and tweaking it has rounded out to fall more into the blonde ale family, a little hop forward with a pleasantly smooth finish that will let you keep enjoying them as you relax. Hill Street Honey’s bitterness is complimented by a whole bunch of New Jersey harvested honey that we add in during key parts of the brewing process.
These separately timed additions help spread out and layer the honey sweetness and citrus aromas throughout the brew thanks to the honey from the orange blossom. All of this complemented with smooth, slight biscuit flavors from the several types of grains we add in there. All this is brewed up then the magic of yeast takes over and we exclusively use yeast from Jersey’s own yeast company that just helps meld all of the flavors together into a wonderful American Ale.
It is a simple, delicious anytime-of-year session beer, yet it has a whole bunch of complex layers to it if one breaks it down. Great citrus and floral aromas, smooth and creamy head and mouthfeel, and a nice finish of citrus in the aftertaste.
The brewing facility and tasting room, situated in an office / industrial park in Hillsborough, NJ, might not seem an ideal place for a brewery. As I’ve come to learn over the past year or so, it isn’t uncommon especially in NJ. NJ Craft Beer giant Kane is located in a similar type of environment though their brewery is considerably larger, while Conclave Brewing, another local favorite is located in a similar office park. But back to Flounder. When they first opened their doors, they were in a relatively small unit and although their brewing capacity was relatively small, the quality was excellent. They were doing great things for a few years, continually winning awards at local brewfests, selling out of their beer when they were open for growler fills. Flounder was also one of the early nanobreweries in the state of New Jersey and New Jersey’s 12th Limited Brewery license.
A few years after launching, something special happened to Flounder Brewing. The Boston Beer Company, A.K.A. Samuel Adams has a special program they call the National Brewing and Business Experienceship Award, which is something like an apprenticeship for smaller breweries and Flounder Brewing was the recipient of the award in 2016. As a result of this experience, Samuel Adams and Flounder collaborated on a beer – Devil’s Nectah, a Helles Lager brewed with Cranberries and Honey. Helles meaning bright in Germany, Helles Lager is intended to be light refreshing beer that is similar to a Pilsner. I had the chance to sample some of it and was wowed by how delicious the beer was. The tart of the cranberry came together perfectly with the sweetness of the honey. The collaboration between Flounder and Samuel Adams was a very limited brew and I hope Flounder is able to bring back this tasty treat in some similar fashion.
In the approximate year since the Samuel Adams collaboration and “Experienceship,” Flounder Brewing has expanded, Jeremy Lees and crew doubled their rental space and have expanded the amount of beer and variety they brew. Perhaps most importantly for consumers, they expanded their hours of operation as well. Initially, they were only pouring growlers for patrons once or twice a month. They first expanded to once per week and are now open every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The tap room has a couple of bar tables set up where folks can chat and enjoy delicious, freshly made beer. On a cool fall or spring evening, Flounder Brewery is a nice place to stop for a pint and good conversation. I’ve stopped in the brewery for growler fills quite a few times, the place is always full and there have been lines to fill the growlers or pick up the limited bottle releases.
Brewer Brad Polinski, T.O.B (The Other Brewer) of Flounder, as he calls himself on untappd, shared some time with me over a few of the delicious beers he, Doug Duschl, and Jeremy have been brewing. One thing that stood out in our discussion was just how great the folks at Samuel Adams were and continue to be in supporting Flounder’s growth. Not just from a brewing perspective, but from a business perspective and growth perspective. Even now, a year later, Samuel Adams has been open to provide Flounder great advice and insight even from a phone call away.
Brad has been brewing with Flounder for almost four years now. While Hill Street Honey Ale is the beer that helped gain Flounder their initial notoriety, Brad’s Genevieve’s IPA is probably the number two beer in Flounder’s line up. The beer is named in honor Brad’s grandmother:
“A humble dedication to Brad’s Grandmother, our staple IPA showcases a blend of five American hops that lend to it’s hazy, and juicy grapefruit character.”
Flounder brews about twice per week to meet the demands of the customers who visit on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays as well as the local restaurants and bars where Flounder’s beer can be found on tap. They’ve built up very strong relationships with quite a few local restaurants including The Landing in Hillsborough and the Bound Brook location of the Chimney Rock Inn where at least one of their beers can always be found on tap. The demand at local restaurants, coupled with the lines and a filled brewery on the three days per week Flounder is open to the public has them primed for even more expansion in the near future.
Flounder’s growth has attracted more people to work and assist, including Doug Duschl who was brewing his own beer under the Brooks Brewery brand. He’s got some interesting recipes on the horizon that would appeal to folks who enjoy their beer with a strong bready profile. Doug has an Oktoberfest and an Imperial Pumpkin brewing which should be ready for Oktoberfest at the end of September. Doug poured a small cup of Oktoberfest in its current state and it smelled wonderful. It wasn’t in a tasting condition, but I’m looking forward to trying it in about a month.
Brad said he’s brewing a Double IPA version of his popular Genevieve IPA. Additionally, he’s got ideas for a more fall related beers, a pumpkin saison, and a Pumpkin Spice Latte beer named “Breakfast Ale” with Cold Brewed Coffee. This isn’t necessarily pumpkin beer because there’s no pumpkin in it, rather a beer brewed with Pumpkin Spices, lactose, and coffee. I had some of it last year at Thanksgiving and enjoyed it a great deal, so I’m looking forward to how the cold brewed coffee will enhance the flavor.
Brad said his favorite beer to brew isn’t always the same, it is determined by his mood and is often experimental. He’s got a Saison/Sour hybrid in process now. When not enjoying the product of his brewing labors, he goes for Firestone Easy Jack, a session IPA. Doug is a beer drinker after my own heart. Although he didn’t say what his favorite was, from what he was saying he enjoyed and what he’s brewing, he seems to gravitate towards the bready, maltier beers, beers on the opposite end of the spectrum from IPAs.
Many brewers consider what they do, brewing beer to be the convergence of art and science. You have to know the science; the water is the most important ingredient, the appropriate temperature to add ingredients for nuanced flavors, and similar ideals in order to brew properly. Important things like that. The creativity is what a great brewer adds to the ingredients, what only the brewer can add. Along those lines, Brad has a wonderful saying:
“Drink my beer and you know how I was feeling.”
What Brad means is this: you’ll know how he was feeling that day when he created that beer. If he needed a pick-me-up and was craving coffee, he wanted to make a coffee beer. If he wanted a cup of OJ, he wanted to make an IPA that was juicy. The thoughts on the recipe itself revolved around what season it was, and his cravings/moods.
As Brad and I were chatting, I could see the small tasting room of the brewery fill up and a line forming at the bar/cashier. People were there for the great beer and for the community. It was easy enough to strike up a conversation with the folks sitting near us, regulars at the brewery. It made for a very welcoming and relaxing experience. One thing that also came across both in my conversations with Brad, Jeremy, and Doug as well as a couple of the other patrons was the NJ Beer community as a whole. The beer community in the Garden State has been growing rapidly over the past few years, going from a small handful of breweries in 2013 to nearly 70 now. The strength of community is that most breweries and brewers know they are in it together, they know if one of them grows, the others grow. They help each other out and work together to make beer in NJ a true community. A lot of that can be attributed to Mike K.’s NJ Craft Beer program/community which is a great resource for breweries and craft beer consumers alike.
On to some of the other beers I’ve had from Flounder. I’ve already covered in detail the delicious Iced Coffee Stout Brad concocted. The very first beer I recall having from them was when I attended the “Big Brewfest” in Morristown, NJ in February 2014, their flagship beer “Hill Street Honey Blonde Ale.” As I said, a wonderful, “everyday” beer. When I say everyday beer, I mean the beer I want on Fridays with my pizza. The beer that received the fan favorite or People’s Choice award back in 2014 is what seems to be another staple of Flounder’s line-up – the “Saison du Flounder.” This is a lovely farmhouse ale that I’ve had around Easter-time the past couple of years.
Flounder brews a Dark Ale, “Espresso Brown” that also has coffee beans in the brewing process with a nice malt body for a full, rich beer. Similarly, the “Murky Brown” is a take on a classic Brown ale. .One of their newer beers is a refreshing Pale Ale, “Jersey Fresh Honey Pale Ale” similar to the Hill Street Honey, but with a bit more hoppiness.
On my most recent visit to Flounder, I tried three beers I’ve been wanting to try for a while. I’ve been wanting to try their take on the classic Bavarian Hefeweizen and I was not disappointed. A light brew that leaned more on the banana flavor than clove, this was a good beer to start the evening. Next up was “Dinkelweiss,” Flounder’s take on a Berliner Weisse. I’m relatively new to enjoying sour beers and this style specifically, but I do enjoy the light, tart ale quite a bit. This style typically has a fruit syrup added, either in the bottle or when at a brewery, you can add your own. The beer stands very well on its own, but in this case, I added Elderflower syrup and it was even better. Surprisingly, as it warmed up a bit, the syrup and beer combined with the slight warming to room temperature allowing the syrup to enhance the already strong base flavor of the beer. I say surprisingly because I usually only like higher ABV stouts and dark ales as they warm up. Lastly, I had the “Sourlands Wheat,” a hoppy pale wheat ale brewed to commemorate the annual Sourlands Music Festival in Hillsborough.
I suppose the bottom line is this – Flounder Brewing exemplifies what great craft brewing in America is all about. People passionate about their craft, a community that embraces them, and a brewery that is a welcoming community of its own. Local, fresh ingredients, keeping their patrons satisfied, and growing successfully. I’m very pleased to have seen Flounder start out with great beers, earn the “experienceship” with Samuel Adams, and to see the growth of the brewery continue. The liquid is the ultimate determination of quality, and by the reviews on untappd and the people filling the brewery, Jeremy, Brad, and Doug are doing things extremely well.
I’m looking forward to watching Flounder grow, enjoying their staple beers, and trying whatever those brewing wizards concoct next.