Draught Diversions: Interview with Mike Kivowitz of NJ Craft Beer

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…

Welcome to Jersey Beer Week at the Tap Takeover! A week long celebration of all things Beer in New Jersey. This is the second (or third?) year New Jersey Craft Beer is spear-heading the initiative, a week of events at NJ Breweries, bars featuring NJ Beer nights, and a week to #DrinkLocal and enjoy New Jersey beer rather beer from out of state.

To help kick off the week here at the Tap Takeover I figured I’d interview Mike Kivowitz, the main man in the New Jersey beer community who created New Jersey Craft Beer almost 10 years ago. I’ve met and chatted with Mike at a few events and breweries over the years and you won’t meet a nicer guy who has great taste in beer. Talking to him,  you get a sense of just how much he enjoys the community…and how much he enjoys seeing others take part in the New Jersey Beer Community.

Mike is one of the major reasons why the New Jersey beer community is the great place it has become over the last decade. New Jersey Craft Beer is a great resource for all things NJ Beer, whether it is information about Breweries in the state, stores that feature NJ beer, or a calendar of beer events in NJ.

The best part, for me and many members, is the Loyalty Program in the form of the NJCB Discount Card. For just $25 per year, you get an New Jersey Craft Beer card (all of mine are pictured below) which gets you discounts at liquor stores (the majority of the stores in my area offer 10% off all craft beer purchases), a range of discounts at breweries (money off flights or merchandise, for example), discounts at restaurants (anywhere between $1 off each beer you purchase to 10% off the entire bill!), and discounts at various beer events (Beer Festivals, Beer/Brewery Sponsored 5K races, etc). In short, it is the absolute best $25 I spend every year and often pays for itself by March. If you are visiting a brewery in New Jersey, there’s a decent chance you’ll run into Mike or one of his many co-conspirators.

Without further adieu, here’s a 12 pack worth of questions for our interview.

1. I’m sure most of the visitors to this blog have a passing knowledge of NJCB, but what is your TV Guide description of NJCB?

The source for beer in NJ with a loyalty program designed to explore beer all over the state.

2. What is this whole New Jersey Craft Beer Week all about, then?

Drinking in Jersey. Drinking Jersey beer.

3. New Jersey Craft Beer was founded in 2010, almost a decade later and the beer landscape has evolved. What is the biggest change to Craft Beer in NJ since you started NJCB?

The growth of local offerings. I launched NJCB with like 14 breweries on the list, now it’s 115+. Local breweries lead to bars and stores carrying more local.

Editor’s Note: The About page on New Jersey Craft Beer shows the large growth of the organization since its inception in 2010.

4. What is the most challenging and frustrating element of running NJCB?

Getting people to go to events. Everyone has events all the time. Getting support for some of them is hard. Especially when I spend like 70 hours of work on a 3 hour event and 10 people come. It’s souring but I learn and try harder next time.

5. What is the most rewarding element of being the go to guy for all things beer in New Jersey?

Meeting people and seeing how NJCB has changed their lives.

6. It might show some bias if I asked you your favorite NJ beer and brewery so I’ll ask you what your favorite style is and favorite non-NJ brewery.

West Coast IPAs will always be my favorite style. Firestone Walker is a good example of a non-NJ brewery I love.

7. What would you say is the one thing you would like people in NJ to get out of New Jersey Craft Beer?

Have fun. It’s beer. Just get moving and see what’s going on outside the keyboard you are reading this on. Ohhh, be nice too.

8. What 2 or 3 breweries in NJ deserve more attention? Everybody knows Kane, Carton, Magnify, etc. But with over 100 breweries, some are likely to fall through the cracks or not be as widely known.

Kelly Green Brewing, Vinyl Brewing, Bonesaw Brewing, Czig Meister Brewing, Hackensack Brewing and I can go on.

Editor’s Note: I wholeheartedly agree with Mike’s suggestions of Czig Meister Brewing and Hackensack Brewing Company.

9. What beer do you want to have again for the first time?

Spellbound’s Vices Porter on nitro I want everyday.

10. Do you have any correspondences or work in conjunction with similar organizations in neighboring states? Like Breweries in PA or NY Craft Beer?

I mean, yes and no. Most of the people I know that run other sites, I knew back in in and before I launched NJCB. Like Brew York New York for example. Some of the new guys like Breweries in PA started because of NJCB and reached out for input. I’ll talk to anyone, just don’t try to rip me off and steal my baby like that Instagram guy that’s now out of business. I don’t want to mention their name though.

11. Despite some of the obstacles, the number of breweries in New Jersey has grown consistently since 2012. Aside from the quality of the beer itself, what do you think are the key factors that will help a brewery succeed in New Jersey?

Quality is #1. Everything else is sort of hard to explain. See, some breweries just want to remain downtown/main street and not promote their beer on shelves but then they don’t want to do events, then when they do events, it’s like ohhh, I can only get this at one or two places around the brewery and not anywhere else. Then there’s the opposite where places only package the standard stuff and no one can get it anywhere else but the brewery but they sell kegs at every bar. Those people don’t want to leave their house. Sooo distro, labels/artwork, sales people, educated retailers. I can probably lump more into #2.

12. This question will likely generate a lengthy response, but here goes. With the evolving laws around beer in NJ, specifically the limits being placed on small, independent breweries, what can individuals do to prevent the rules from halting the great progressive growth of breweries and goodwill in the NJ Beer Community?

Editor’s Note: Visit SaveNJBeer.com for more information on the laws that could significantly impact many of the independent breweries in NJ.

Speak up. Write to your local officials and explain how you spend money and where and why. Also, get informed on the actual laws and wording. There’s 1 thing we need to do and that’s work together.

Draught Diversions: Hackensack Brewing Company

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…

I know I’ve said this a few times here at the Tap Takeover (and to anybody unfortunate enough to be in my presence in “real life”) but keeping up with the rapid growth of Craft / Independent Beer around the country and new brewery openings in New Jersey is not an easy task. But when family members enjoy beer almost as much as you do, you learn about breweries near them as the breweries open. Especially when that family member brings a couple of crowlers and a growler to your house for your annual family Fourth of July Party. The brewery I’m alluding to is, of course, Hackensack Brewing in Hackensack, NJ.

After having some of their beers on the Fourth of July, I made an impromptu visit to the brewery with my wife and my aunt and uncle. (My uncle is more like a brother as there’s fewer years between the two of us than there are between my wife and my brother in law, but I digress). Anyway, my wife and I were heading up to my uncle’s house and he twisted my arm and suggested we visit Hackensack Brewing. Who am I to say no to my uncle?

The brewery is a little unassuming in terms of where it is located, if you don’t know it is there, you can easily pass it. Mike Jones and his crew set up shop in an old warehouse of sorts. When we arrived, the sun was out, so the big bay doors were open with plenty of standing room visible from the parking lot. Through the main entrance, there’s a very nice and inviting taproom, with some board games and a table at one side and barrels stood up as tables throughout the taproom for plenty of standing and conversing. It was fairly early in the day, but there were already a few people in the brewery. At the center of it all seemed to be big Mike Jones, head brewer and one of the owners. That’s a good thing, because a visible owner/brewer can be a good thing for any business, especially a business like a small brewery that generates a sense of community.

Image courtesy of Hackensack Brewing’s Facebook page

Mike came across like Sam Malone of Cheers, except a little more outgoing and with a North Jersey accent. Everybody knew him, he seemed to know everybody walking into the brewery, and remembered my uncle from when my uncle grabbed the crowlers and growler earlier in the week. The two reminisced about legendary beer bar Andy’s Corner Bar in Bogota, NJ, a spot known nationally for its amazing beer selection. Many a North Jersey resident learned to appreciate great beer at Andy’s over the years. No less an authority than Michael Jackson had wonderful things to say about Andy’s. I had a few beers there over the years, too.

An affable owner/face of the brewery is great, but making beer is the name of the game, so about now is a good time to get to that. A little bit more on Mike later. I was going to go with a full pour/pint of something, but my wife convinced me to go for a flight. Smart suggestion especially with the varied selection. I appreciated that wide variety, which included the requisite IPAs and Pale Ales, as well as a stout, a Blonde Ale, a couple of lagers, a Pilsner, and a Fruit Beer.

Tap List at Hackensack Brewing Company on July 6, 2019

A four pour flight for $10 is a good price and I think they were four ounce pours. I started off with Nu Bajan Breakfast Blend, a 5.1% ABV blonde ale with vanilla and coffee. The standard Nu Bajan Blonde is a Blonde Ale with vanilla, this variant is aged on coffee beans and is a wonderful beer. Conventional wisdom with beer typically slots coffee to stouts as a flavor adjunct (outside of Carton Brewing’s Regular Coffee game). The coffee is perfectly balanced and there’s some added sweetness that makes for an extremely flavorful ale. A great start. The second in the flight was the Parking Lot Pilz, which I reviewed on Tuesday but I wanted it super fresh from the tap. The freshness was a slight improvement on an already great beer. Beer number three was another Lager, as regular readers may have noted or as I pointed out a couple of months ago, I’ve been drawn to lagers quite a bit lately. Beach Badge is a 5% ABV Pale Lager that has some fruity notes at the end thanks to the Sabro hops utilized in the beer. Very refreshing and a great summer / warm weather beer. The last of the flight was Fruit Stripe, a 5.5% ABV Fruit beer with apricot for a sweet refreshing finish.

Flight, clockwise from top left: Nu-Bajan Breakfast Blend, Parking Lot Pilz, Beach Badge, Lawn Stripes

As for the beers I had on the Fourth of July, which my uncle brought, both were IPAs of the New England/Haze variety. The first was Musket Haze, effectively Hackensack’s flagship beer. This beer is a 6.3% ABV New England IPA which poured super hazy and was a delicious juice bomb. Citra and Motueka stand out in this beer if I’m not mistaken. This is a beer that draws all the IPA and haze lovers into the brewery, it is Hackensack’s most checked-in beer on untappd. The other Hazy was It Was All A Dream an Imperial New England IPA that was even juicier and more flavorful. This one has Citra (as just about all NEIPAs do) and Idaho 7, a hop that does some nice things, too. Overall, these two beer were excellent examples of the Hazy IPA/IIPA.

Like a lot of independent, “local” breweries, Hackensack brewing pays homage to the history and culture of the area with their beer names. The aforementioned Parking Lot Pilz is “An ode to the tailgating culture we grew up with in North Jersey/NYC” i.e. The Meadowlands, a short drive from Hackensack. Musket Haze is dedicated to New Bridge Landing, a key crossing during the Revolutionary War (“The Bridge That Saved a Nation“) just up the road from the brewery. Nu Bajan Blonde hearkens back to pre-Revolutionary War days, when Hackensack was known as New Barbadoes Township. The people of Barbados are referred to as “Bajan” (pronounced “bay-jun”), hence the beer’s name. Moment’s Notice, a 5% ABV Stout, is an ode to Hackensack’s unique place in Jazz history. In the 1950’s the sound of Blue Note records, and thus the sound of Jazz globally, was defined by Rudy Van Gelder and the artists that came together in the recording studio he set up in his parent’s living room up on Prospect Avenue. Moment’s Notice is a track of off of John Coltrane’s masterpiece “Blue Train”, recorded in that Hackensack living room back in 1958. Blizzard of ’96 is a nod to the big blizzard that hit New Jersey (and the whole Northeast) in 1996. I think that was one of the few times, and maybe first, that Rutgers University cancelled classes because of the weather. I remember how bad the snow was, I was working at the Menlo Park Mall and it closed because of the storm just as I arrived for my shift at Herman’s World of Sporting Goods. Mike first brewed this Weizenbock when the brewery opened and he told me the beer went much faster than he expected. I love weizenbocks and wish it was on tap when I visited. Oh well, just an excuse to visit the brewery again if it shows up on tap.

Thought the mirror was cool, too bad I made it into the picture. But you can get a glimpse of the open area.

Let’s get back to Mike, shall we? Like Tim Pewitt and Wet Ticket, Mike (at least when I visited the brewery) was the face of the brewery. He took time to speak to me as well as all the other patrons, making sure people were happy and felt welcome at Hackensack Brewing. In chatting with Mike, I asked how long he’d been brewing beer and he said about 15 years. It shows in the quality of the beers I had and as I said on Tuesday, the fact that he brews such a delicious Pilsner is further proof of Mike’s skill. Talking to Mike a little more, the guy has passion – passion for the beer he makes, knowledge about the hops and ingredients he uses, passion for being part of the community in Hackensack, and the NJ Beer Community. In other words, like Tim, or Joe Fisher of Man Skirt Brewing, Mike is exactly the kind of person and personality who should be running a brewery. A great guy and a great brewer.

Mike also mentioned a canning line (or canning machine?) was on the horizon in the near future. I was also impressed that barely 6 months into their “life,” Hackensack Brewing has a crowler machine and a fridge full of crowlers for easy to-go beer. If my research is correct (and the articles linked below is where I found the information), Hackensack Brewing opened up with 8 taps. Again, I visited the first weekend in July, five months after they opened, and the number of taps increased from 8 taps to 12 taps. That tells me Hackensack Brewing is making beer people want to drink.

I haven’t seen beer from Hackensack Brewing near me in Somerset County yet. Then again, some of the beer in the breweries more local to me haven’t traveled up to Bergen County yet. However, with the aforementioned canning capabilities and the quality of the beer, I wouldn’t be surprised if taps and stores start selling some of Mike Jones’s delicious beers soon.

Barely a half a year into being open and Hackensack Brewing is already making a name for themselves with the quality of the beer they make. They are definitely worth the visit because they make great beer, have a fun tap room, and with The Alementary just around the corner, Hackensack is growing into a beer destination.

Cheers to Mike Jones, Alex Ferenczi, Herbert Lamont Barr III, and Irfan Qureshi to many years of great beer!

Hackensack Brewing Web site | Instagram | Facebook | twitter | Hackensack Brewing on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | untappd

Some other links of interest:

 

Beer Review: Hackensack Brewing’s Parking Lot Pilz

Name: Parking Lot Pilz
Brewing Company: Hackensack Brewing Company
Location: Hackensack, NJ
Style: Pilsner – Other
ABV: 8%

“Not just an impressive Pilsner out the gate for a new brewery, but a damned good Pilsner all around.”

From the untappd description of the beer::

A crisp, refreshing, balanced pilsner

From Hackensack Brewing’s Facebook Post

An ode to the tailgating culture we grew up with in North Jersey/NYC. Parking Lot Pilz, a super well-balanced lager made to suit all your pre-gaming needs. Pairs well with burgers, chicken, shopping cart pretzels, and nosebleed seats.

When you host a fourth of July party every year, and most of your guests know you like good beer, you tend to get plenty of beer. My uncle, who knows how much I like Pilsners, brought a crowler of this beer (among others) to the party. It was early in the day and for me, a Pilsner is always a good start so I didn’t waste too much time before I decided to pop open the crowler and share it with some of my guests (including my dad and father-in-law).

For all the beer I’ve mentioned here and had over the years, this was the first beer I had from a crowler. Pouring the beer, I didn’t get too much of an aroma that made the beer stand out. Since we were all drinking from Red Solo Cups, it wasn’t exactly easy appreciate the color of the beer in its full glory, but yeah, it was yellow and looked how you’d expect a pilsner to look. The picture below snagged from Hackensack Brewing’s Facebook page shows the beer in its glory. Looks are only a small part of the game. We all know the flavor and taste is the main thing.

Ohhh yeah…this is a very tasty pilsner. Parking Lot Pilz leans more on the Czech side of the pilsner style so there isn’t as much hoppiness to the beer. A little softer than the German style pilsners, but there’s still a nice crispiness that is the hallmark of a good pilsner. The low IBU (20) proves out the milder hop presence (I only checked the IBU as I was writing this review). The lower hop presence is by no means a value judgment…I like the beer for what it is, and how it measures up to the specific style and not for what it isn’t. In other words, stylistically, Parking Lot Pilz is on point

Because there were many people (35+) at the party, a few people had some of the pilsner from the Crowler. My dad liked it quite a bit, and he leans more towards IPAs. My father-in-law, who leans more towards the lager side of the beer spectrum, was really impressed with Parking Lot Pilz, too. My brother-in-law was impressed with the beer, too. But no sooner did I finish my full pour did the crowler come up empty. Not a bad sign for the quality of the beer.

I like when my Pilsners and Lagers (especially the Helles Lagers) have that toasty, crackery finish and Parking Lot Pilz has that. There’s a really nice malt bill in the beer that gives the beer a flavorful body. I visited the brewery this past weekend and I wanted to make sure I tried the Pilsner fresh and boy is it even better fresh from the brewery. No surprise there, really. Again, not a knock on the quality of the beer out of the crowler, because it was damned good at my house.

All told, this a an extremely flavorful Pilsner. A beer any brewery would be proud to produce at any point in that brewery’s “lifespan.” Given that Hackensack Brewing only opened up January/February 2019 and they first made this available to the public in April, I’m even more impressed with the quality of the beer. I’ve yammered on about the skill and precision required to make lagers, especially pilsners, so brewmaster Mike Jones deserves big kudos for coming out strong with such a great lager game and a beer this flavorful that proves how good a Pilsner can be.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap (fresh at the brewery) / 4-bottle caps From the Crowler after an 1-hour car ride rating.