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…
”Beer Trails” or promotional efforts for breweries located in a county or region aren’t new. For one of my Birthday Beer Tours, my wife took me on the Bucks County Ale Trail in neighboring PA. With the maturation, growth, and evolution of the beer scene in New Jersey Beer over the past decade, and most importantly over the last 5 years or so. As of this writing (according to New Jersey Craft Beer), New Jersey can boast are over 100 breweries, and 150 including brewpubs. In other words, the time is ripe for some official “Beer Trails” in New Jersey to be promoted. Laws and bills are being enacted to relax some of the stringent laws in New Jersey. Specifically relating to this post: Bill A-1091, which requires “the state Division of Travel and Tourism to advertise and promote tours of breweries in New Jersey.”
According to the language of the bill, the Division of Travel and Tourism is to identify a series of breweries to be a part of a brewery trail. The division would create no less than three brewery trails to be identified for the program and special consideration will be taken for those who are geographically close to other breweries or have a specific theme or are surrounded by the arts, cultural, historical, entertainment, or other tourism destinations.
Enter the Hunterdon County Beer Trail.
The NJ Tourism site, VisitNJ.org now has a dedicated page to the breweries, wineries, and distillers of New Jersey and proves that yes, Central Jersey does indeed exist even if the tourism website doesn’t exactly have their regions divided correctly! I live in Somerset County and Hunterdon County is one of our neighboring counties. In fact, one of the breweries on the Hunterdon County Beer Trail is less than two miles from my front door.
Spearheaded by Bob King, one of Lone Eagle Brewing’s Co-owner’s, The Hunterdon County Beer Trail is a partnership between local brewers and the Hunterdon County Economic Development to highlight these small business and obviously drive patrons to visit. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Lone Eagle (and pointed out in one of early brewery spotlights here at the Tap Takeover) is their commitment to the community. Bob spread that commitment from the Flemington community out to his colleagues and peers across Hunterdon County.
I’d visited a few of these breweries over the last few years before the Beer Trail kicked off, but I was more than happy to visit them once again to complete the “Passport.” Although I’ve done full features on a few of these breweries, I’ll do a brief summary of each brewery in alphabetical order.
Conclave was the first brewery of this group to be established in Hunterdon County back in 2015, and for quite a while, they were the brewery closest to me so were effectively my local brewery. They’ve proven great expertise at all styles, particularly IPAs, which are highly acclaimed and sought after in the New Jersey beer community. Shortly before the pandemic struck, Conclave moved just down the road to a much larger location. This new location allowed an expansion of their tap list, and much more room for seating both indoors and out. Enough room, in fact, to host music acts fairly regularly. Favorite beers (of the 35+ I’ve had from Conclave): Clearly Pils (German Pilsner), Espresso Morning Stout (Coffee Milk Stout), Mexican Morning Stout (Spicy Milk Stout), Sable (Imperial Stout), Gravitational Pull IPA, Moonwater IPA, and Hop Ritual with Vic Secret (Pale Ale) .
When Descendants opened in 1995 as The Ship Inn, it was the first brewing company to open in New Jersey since prohibition. The business renamed and launched as Descendants Brewing Company in May 2021. Located a short walk away from the Delaware River, the brewpub is housed in an old Victorian Home. I only had one beer that day, the ESB, but the beers brewed on site are a nice mix of American, German, British, and Belgian inspired styles in addition to an impressive list of several bottles, draughts, and cans from “guest breweries.” Descendants is the only brewpub in Hunterdon County and I intend to get a full meal during my next visit because the menu looks outstanding.
Highrail Brewing opened in July 2019 in downtown High Bridge, NJ. The brewery is situated on a small, yet quaint and charming main street with a pizzeria and a coffee shop across the street among other local businesses. I visited in August 2019 for the first time shortly after the brewery opened and I was quite impressed with the two beers I had at the time, the first was Stayin’ Local, a wheat ale with peach that was perfect for summer. The other beer I had at that time was Saewert’s Oatmeal Stout, which was a smooth and tasty Oatmeal Stout. When the beer trail was announced, it was reason enough for a second visit, plus I wanted to try the NJ Craft Beer collaboration Tart & Thankful. This beer is a Cranberry Fruit/Fruited Sour Beer, which I reviewed late 2021 and a beer I thoroughly enjoyed. I also had their pumpkin ale, PITA Pumpkin ale, one of the more flavorful and balanced pumpkin beers I’ve had in a while. High Rail makes clean, tasty beers on the whole and are well worth visiting.
Lone Eagle was the second brewery to open up in Hunterdon County since the big law change of 2012 and they’ve seen some impressive growth. I outlined the beginnings of the brewery in my feature back in 2017, but since then, Lone Eagle has increased capacity with a new purpose-built brewing facility and some brewer changes. Of the breweries on the trail, I’ve had more beers (55 as of this writing) from Lone Eagle than the others (and more than most breweries in general). For a few years prior to the pandemic, the brewery hosted a Board Game night in their spacious loft. In addition to playing some fun games and making new friends, Board Game Night afforded me the opportunity to sample a vast array of beers, often a flight or two a night. It has turned out that every other year I’ve brought a growler of their beer to Christmas Eve (most recently, Grandma’s Cookie) and it was always a hit. I’ve reviewed three beers from them (Belgian Strong Dark, King Köslch, and their 5th Anniversary Barrel-Aged Eisbock), in addition to those beers, their Russian Imperial Stout is quite tasty, their Märzen is always good and their Hefeweizen is top notch. The brewery is in an excellent location, spacious, inviting, and the people pouring your beer are super friendly.
Odd Bird Brewing was the first brewery I visited after the launch of the Hunterdon County Beer Trail and I visited a second time when my wife took me on the annual Birthday Beer Tour. She didn’t realize I visited (she usually tries to go to breweries I haven’t visited), but I was more than happy to visit Adam and Karen once again because they make terrific beers. Since my feature on Odd Bird Brewing was posted only a few months ago, I’ll excerpt some of that here. The location is rather unique, especially compared to the other breweries I’ve visited in NJ. Risler Avenue/NJ State Route 29 parallels the Delaware River at the southwestern end of County Road 523 – a lovely drive to be had on a late summer/early fall day. Odd Bird is located in an old auto body shop, which is in the same building/location as the Stockton Eagle gas station, and that building is next to a restaurant, Cravings. That set up/location does sort of fit in with the name of the brewery. Odd Bird Brewing is, in my mind, what a quintessential local brewery should be. Great people who own it, who make delicious beer, with a unique taplist of beers that will attract more than just the immediate locals. The brewery has such a wonderful character and ambiance that is more than complimented by the classic styles brewed to near perfection. I had four beers from them, including one that made my favorites of 2021, their cask conditioned ESB, Extra Stockton Bitter, as well as a tasty Amber Lager, a Pilsner, and a Saison.
The newest brewery on this Beer Trail, and as of this writing in January 2022, one of the newest breweries in the State of New Jersey. I’ve been driving past this location regularly for a couple of years as they are very close to my house. I went opening weekend when they were still getting settled into their rhythm and had a few samples. At the time, only 2 were beers on untappd and they were probably the two I liked the most, The Churchill, an ESB, and Jack the Tripel a Belgian Tripel. I also had a brown ale that was fairly tasty. Given how close they are, I really should make another few visits in the near future because the facility is beautiful, the people were very nice, and they grow their own hops! How cool is that? I think the only other brewery who grows their own hops is Screamin’ Hill in Cream Ridge.
Like other breweries on the HCBT, I’d visited Sunken Silo previously, shortly after they opened in February 2020. I like that they call themselves “Brew Works” as opposed to “Brewing Company” or “Brewery.” I recall the brewery being quite busy that chilly Friday evening during my first visit in 2020. The brewery was equally busy on my visit in January 2021. However, I was able to strike up a nice conversation with Christian, the Beertender working that day. I learned that Sunken Silo managed to weather the pandemic pretty well, thanks in large part to crowler and to-go sales. The brewery is next door to the popular Metropolitan Seafood Gourmet, a thing that sets the brewery apart and provides a great opportunity for patrons of one business to patronize the other business. The brewery’s name is an homage to the Round Valley Reservoir, a.k.a. NJ’s Bermuda Triangle:
“The Round Valley Reservoir in Clinton Township, Hunterdon County, was formed in 1960 when the New Jersey Water Authority constructed two large dams and flooded a large valley, which had formerly been occupied by a farming community.”
Quirky name and history are neat, but fortunately, the folks at Sunken Silo (owner Jeff Donlon, Brewer Production Manager/Brewer Fred Mattrey, and head brewer Matt Harrison) make tasty beer, including their Wystouti American Stout I enjoyed and reviewed earlier this week. I know I’ll be visiting the brewery again.
This was a fun campaign and the folks behind the Hunterdon County Beer Trail have promoted it quite well. They’ve mentioned a “second season” and future seasons, which I’m eagerly anticipating. The first “prize” for completing season one of the trail passport is the glass pictured above, I wonder what will be next. If it is a shirt, I’ll just make a small suggestion to the organizers: please make them in XXXL! I’ll be looking to finish the next season either way because there are a lot of new and different beers for me to try, right?