Draught Diversions: Village Idiot Brewing Company (Mount Holly, NJ)

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…

The Mount Holly area is home a decent number of independent breweries that have gained a solid reputation over the past half decade or so. Forgotten Boardwalk is near Mount Holly, the great Pennsylvania brewery Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company is just across the river, Spellbound Brewing is in Mount Holly as is today’s featured brewery, Village Idiot Brewing Company.

Located in downtown Mount Holly, NJ, the brewery has been around since 2013. Sadly, in 2015 one of the owners, Rich Palmay, passed away. But the brewery forged ahead. In 2018, Village Idiot received a Silver Medal at the Great American Beer Festival for their Belgian-Style Tripel. In other words, some ups and downs over the course of the brewery’s lifetime.

Village Idiot may seem like a random name to give a brewery (and a pretty good one that conjures up the great “mascot” for the brewery), but there is a meaning to the name. When Vincent Masciandaro and Rich Palmay went to the bank for the loan required to start the brewery, they had the date wrong and were a week late. Vince said they were village idiots and the name stuck. As I said, a good name that pops on the sign hanging outside the brewery. That alone draws the casual customer to the door.

The story may be familiar: two home-brewing friends made well-received beer and when the NJ laws changed in 2012, they thought to open a brewery. So with that, Village Idiot was among the first wave of breweries to open once those laws changed. Located in a former pub, you really couldn’t ask for a better location: the Historic Downtown of Mount Holly, NJ.

Before going on a six-brewery tour on a grey Saturday in November, I didn’t know too much about Village Idiot Brewing other than the name and where they were vaguely located. I also recalled that NJ food writer Pete Genovese had good things to say about them. Beyond that, just that they were in a region with a growing number of independent breweries. As I said, Village Idiot Brewing has a great location, but the former pub also provides a great atmosphere. It feels like a neighborhood bar and an added level of that comfort and welcoming sense is a a pair of couches near the back of the pub.

The bartenders were very personable and there was a decent sized crowd for the middle of the day. Unfortunately, I made things a little difficult for the guys behind the bar when I forgot about a step and spilled my flight. Vince was behind the bar and helped to get my flight refilled (at no charge!) despite the relatively crowded bar.

So, how did the beer taste?

At Village Idiot, you can get a flight of six beers in a small baking tray. Knowing very little about their output, I think, made for a better flight for me and gave me reason to try styles I might not have otherwise tried.

Yes, I realize this is a blurry photo. But if nothing else, it shows off the fact that Village Idiot typically has 14 beers available.

The first beer was a style I don’t see often and haven’t had very much, a Rye beer. Specifically, “Rich’s Revolutionary Rye.” I only realized as I was learning more about the brewery in preparation for this post that this beer is made in honor/homage of the late Rich Palmay. This was a great start to the flight and I really liked the flavor of the Rye grain in the beer. I’d consider this a good “every day beer” even though the ABV of 6.1% is slightly higher than a typical “every day beer.”

Not exactly the most stable way to carry a flight of beers, but six is a great number.

The second beer is another “homage” beer – “Wentzstefaner” a portmanteau of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz and the great Weihenstaphaner brewery. The beer is a Hefeweizen (or Hefe Weissbier as Weihenstephan calls their wheat ale) and is pretty good.

Third up was another Rye Beer. I don’t think many breweries have multiple Rye beers on tap simultaneously, but Village Idiot did on the day I visited. That was a good thing because “Da Nick” is another tasty beer. As I said in my untappd comment, I think I’m starting to like Rye beers and this Rye IPA (as the brewery calls it) was a welcome taster.

Then the second half of the flight started, and these were sweet beers including the “Peanut Butter Cup – Chocolate Porter.” I tasted copious amounts of peanut better in this beer with some chocolate. A little too sweet for me, but I imagine for those who like the style, it would work really well. In fact, my brother-in-law, who was part of our group on that day, loved it and his favorite beer is probably the most famous peanut butter chocolate beer, DuClaw’s Sweet Baby Jesus.

Next up is the beer that was the best I had at Village Idiot and one of the best of the day for me (I had about 2 dozen tasters that day visiting 6 breweries) – “Monkey’s Breath – Banana Bread Ale.” If you told me before that day that one of the best beers I’d be drinking that day would be a banana bread beer, I don’t think I would have believed you. But goddamn this beer is delicious. What elevates the beer experience is how Village Idiot rims the glass with cinnamon sugar. The beer is delicious on its own, don’t get me wrong. But that little extra (literal) spice really makes this beer a full experience. I could definitely see myself filling a growler with this beer or having it again.

The final beer of the flight of six was another dessert beer: “Elvis is in the Building.” This beer was like combining the other two “dessert” beers with elements of chocolate covered bananas and peanut butter. This was on nitro, so the fluffiness from the nitro added to the dessert feel of the beer. After having this beer, I’ve come to the realization that I nitro beers aren’t my thing. I don’t think the beer was bad, but the fluffiness, high level of sweetness, and the fact that I had two sweet beers just before this one contributed to this one not working for me.  Again, I don’t think it was necessarily a bad beer, it just didn’t work for me. The crew I was with that day; however, really liked “Elvis is in the Building.”

Village Idiot was in the middle of the brewery tour that day, I only knew a little bit about them before arriving at their door, but I found myself really liking the experience of the brewery and the beers. The atmosphere is super relaxed, has a bar area as well as a couple of couches where a group of people can relax and play board games. Like many breweries in New Jersey, food cannot be made and served, but can be brought into the brewery from elsewhere; like the pizzeria across the street.

Village Idiot is definitely worth the visit: well-above average beer, great atmosphere, solid location, and good people. Not too many breweries can boast a Fruit Beer as their best beer (from our group and what I’ve seen elsewhere about the brewery) which also makes this a standout brewery. Well, that’s not the only reason to visit because all their beers are quite good. About the only real criticism is that their beer labels could use a little work. I think the best thing I can say about them is that were Village Idiot a little closer, I would find myself visiting more often and filling growlers as regularly as I do for the breweries in my immediate area.

Village Idiot Brewing Web site | Instagram | Facebook | twitter

Some other links of interest:

Draught Diversions: Steam Whistle Brewing (Toronto, Canada)

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…

Here’s a change of locale for a brewery post, North of the US border in fact. For my job, I’ve traveled fairly frequently this year to the tune of about one business trip per month. I don’t always have time or the opportunity to do much more than stick to the work/conference schedule for these business trips, but on one recent occasion, a brewery was literally across the street from where I was spending much of my time, so I of course had to visit. The location? Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The brewery? Steam Whistle Brewing.

The water tower is visible from blocks away, a beacon to follow for well-crafted beer.

Toronto is one of the Great North American cities and is Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel’s inspiration for the fictional DC Comics city of Metropolis, home to the Daily Star (now Planet) and of course Superman. Be that as it may, at the hub of downtown Toronto is the Metro Toronto Convention Center (where I was spending much of my time), Rogers Centre (home of the Toronto Blue Jays), and the world famous CN Tower. Near all those locations, directly across the street from the MTCC and adjacent to the CN Tower is Steam Whistle Brewing, which occupies an historic railway Roundhouse, thus the name Steam Whistle.

Steam Whistle is a relatively small brewery, especially in terms of what they produce. That focus; however, on ingredients, process, and care has allowed the founders of the brewery to create a delicious Pilsner.

Image courtesy of Steam Whistle Brewing’s Website

Walking in, the first thing I noticed was how bright and inviting the brewery was. There were some tables in the back near the brew tanks and a nice bar with friendly bartenders. Also noticeable – only two taps. That’s right, Steam Whistle only pours two beers – a Pilsner and an unfiltered version of the Pilsner. In essence, just one beer. And one beer using the tried and true four simple ingredients of a classic beer (from the “our beer” page on Steam Whistle’s Web site):

Steam Whistle is one of the only remaining Pilsners in the world that still adheres to the strict standards of the Bavarian Purity Act of 1516. We brew using only pure spring water, malted barley, hops and yeast. No corn syrup, no foam enhancers, no artificial preservatives.

The brewery has received several awards, including Toronto’s best microbrewery as well as other awards for the beer, for the brewery, as a workplace, and for how green/environmentally conscientious the brewery is. But to win those awards on essentially one beer is pretty fascinating. Sure, untappd will show other beers the brewery has made as one offs, but by and large Steam Whistle staked its reputation on a finely crafted Pilsner.

The delicious, fresh Pilsner I enjoyed at Steam Whistle Brewing.

…and what a delicious Pilsner it is (my untappd check in). The convention center had cans of the beer for one of the evening events, but I wanted to wait to try the beer fresh at the brewery and I’m glad I did. I haven’t had too many Canadian beers so I wasn’t sure how they’d compare to beers from America or Germany. But this beer, in its fresh from tap pour is absolutely fantastic and one of the better Pilsners I’ve had recently. This is a treat of a beer that shows just how simple basic ingredients can create an elegantly crafted beer at the hands of a master. Of course, I’ve been on a Pilsner kick for the past couple of months so that may have factored into how receptive my taste buds were to the beer, if I’m being totally fair.

The variety of ways you can take home some Steam Whistle Pilsner, including their award winning Suitcase pack.

The first day I visited I had the large pour of the Pilsner. The brewery is, as I said, a great space and with the international nature of Toronto, naturally going to attract people from all over the world by virtue of its location. I had the chance to chat with a chap from Scotland about the beer and other worldly things. I was about halfway through my beer when the brewery filled up very quickly. A Toronto Blue Jays game had just concluded and as I was exiting, there was a line to get into the brewery since it was at maximum capacity. I suspect they have this problem very often.

The second day, just before jumping on the train to the airport, I had the unfiltered version of the Pilsner (my untappd check in) which I enjoyed even more than the standard Pilsner.

The Unfiltered Pilsner, only an 8oz pour, may have been a tad better than the standard Pilsner.

I remarked to the bartender how delicious the beer was and lamented the fact that Steam Whistle is only available in Canada and not in the States. He said that may be changing. If the brewers are able to maintain the flavor and a hint of the freshness in the beer as it journeys across the border, that will be good thing for fans of well-crafted Pilsner in the US.

Full view of the front of the Roundhouse

I don’t know how many folks reading this will be visiting Toronto, but I can without hesitation heartily recommend a visit to Steam Whistle Brewing.