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 state of beer in the State of New Jersey is pretty good. As of this writing, we are near 100 breweries in the Garden State. I’ve got two solid breweries very close where I live now (Conclave Brewing and Lone Eagle Brewing), and as of 2 years ago, a really good brewery close to the city in which I grew up (Linden, NJ) – Wet Ticket Brewing in Rahway, NJ. Wet Ticket recently celebrated their second anniversary. I didn’t make it to their celebration, but I stopped in and met my parents before celebrating their anniversary a couple of weeks ago. I also visited Wet Ticket shortly after they opened in 2017. Let’s just say I don’t think I’ll let 2 years pass between visits, or at least having some of their beer.
Co-owners Tim Pewitt and Al Povalski met through a mutual friend, both fascinated by craft beer. Tim started as a homebrewer and brings about 25 years of home brewing experience with him, which is a familiar story for many independent breweries. Though I don’t know how many of those home brewers turned brewery owners had over two decades experience brewing. At this point, I’ll just say Tim’s years of experience show in the beer. Although Union County, Roselle Park specifically, is home to Climax Brewery, there wasn’t a true brewery/taproom experience in Union County. Rahway is and has been a city under revitalization, so when a former Woolworth’s location became available on Main Street, Tim and Al found their location. Not a bad location, either. When the brewery first opened, nobody seemed to be walking the streets on Fridays. Since then, Tim and Al say they see much more pedestrian traffic. There’s a parking garage across the street, Wet Ticket is a couple of doors down from local staple the Townhouse (home of the world’s greatest thin crust pizza), so the location within Rahway is fantastic.
Tim and Al were all set from a passion point of view, they just needed a name. A family member suggest Wet Ticket as the name. This is a reference to Prohibition in the United States. Politicians wishing to bring an end to Prohibition ran on what was called a Wet Ticket. Good ingredients for a successful brewery so far: good location, good name, and owners with knowledge and passion for the liquid that comes from water, hops, barley/malt, and yeast.
It is around this point in most of these Brewery spotlights that I say, well, what about the beer?
That’s part of the interesting here with Wet Ticket as I’ve visited the brewery twice. Both visits occurred in April before having dinner with my parents (who live in a neighboring town) to celebrate their anniversary. During the first visit to Wet Ticket, my parents and my wife and I brought some pizza from neighboring Townhouse Tavern into the brewery. Like many breweries in NJ, you can bring outside food into the brewery. The Townhouse is a Rahway and Union County institution, my family and I have been going there since before I was born. My mother ate there several times while she was pregnant with me (when it was called Paolini’s Townhouse) so I guess you could say I have been enjoying the world’s best thin crust pizza since before I was born. Whenever family who moved out of state come back to visit, pizza at the Townhouse is a requirement. But enough about the Townhouse…for now.
During that first visit to Wet Ticket, the folks at the brewery were really nice, and gave a mini tour of the facilities. I’m guessing Tim Pewitt was there, but I can’t say for certain. During that initial visit and on my most recent visit, I was very impressed with how open and clean the brewery is. From just about anywhere in the brewery, you can see into the brewing area. Part of the open ambiance is from the large window which affords pedestrians from Main Street a pleasing, inviting look into the brewery and for patrons inside the brewery, provides a great deal of natural light. The bar area is nice and clean, with posters of the beer labels adorning the wall as well as several other interesting art pieces from local artist John Ward, a friend of Tim’s.
I had five beers during that first visit, the two that stood out the most were their Kick the Bucket Brown, which was a tasty interpretation of the style. A brown ale is typically seen as the “workhorse” of a brewery’s lineup and this was nicely made. The other standout is arguably their first flagship ale, the Kölsch, an easy drinking German ale. Their Kölsch, simply called Kölsch is a fine interpretation of the style and a beer they call the “Swiss Army Knife of the Wet Ticket lineup.” The other beers I had on that initial visit didn’t stand out for me as much as the brown Kölsch and the Brown Ale – a saison, an oatmeal stout, and a Blonde. At the time, I wasn’t a fan of IPAs so I didn’t try any of their hop forward beers. That Kölsch, though? That was really nice.
The brewery recently invested in a canning machine, which really gives them the flexibility to can beers as they make them. Many breweries utilize mobile canning companies, which are great and afford breweries with limited space the opportunity to have their beer canned. However, with the growth of breweries like Wet Ticket, the breweries are a little more beholden to the canning company’s schedules. Having a canning machine allows Wet Ticket to have more control.
Like many breweries, Wet Ticket is often trying new styles, new takes on established styles, and new beers in general. They call these beers “Test Ticket” beers. These are small batch beers that debut in the tap room, for example. If the beer proves “successful,” i.e. it sells well and people like it, the beer “graduates” to regular rotation. Trolley Hopper began this way, as did their anniversary porter, Rahway or the Highway. Trolley Hopper was one of those beers, Tim said, he felt good about from the start. Again, a couple of decades worth of home-brewing experience comes in handy. Beyond the experimentation, Wet Ticket has a solid line up of beers in regular rotation, the aforementioned Brown and Kölsch as well as a Hoppy Kölsch, a Double IPA called Dream Ticket, a series of single hop beers they call One Way Ticket, a single IPA named Spanktown IPA, and an Imperial Oatmeal Stout. Seasonal releases include a very popular summer ale “Tastes Like Summer” Watermelon Wheat, Blood Orange Pale Ale and fall beers like Scarecrow Juice Pumpkin Ale and a Pecan Porter. When they can a beer, they are the ones putting the beers in bars and stores as Wet Ticket self-distributes.
In fact, the 2019 batch of Watermelon Wheat (as of this post in late April 2019) should be rolling out soon. When fresh watermelon is in season, Tim, Al, and company buy as many watermelons as possible. For a 20 barrel batch, 80-90 watermelons are used and they add the watermelon when the beer is about ¾ fermented. Like last year, Wet Ticket will be putting cans of Tastes like Summer Watermelon Wheat into distribution. Also on the horizon is another batch of their highly acclaimed (avg rating on untappd of 4.16 of 5 bottle caps) Imperial Oatmeal Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels. I won’t let a bottle of this pass me by again.
Although their cans list Wet Ticket as established 2013, the brewery on Main opened in 2017. In those two years, the Wet Ticket name has grown, both in terms of the quantity of beers they produce and the reputation they’ve earned. Tim and Al’s baby also has established itself as a fixture in the growing resurgence/revitalization of downtown Rahway. 25 years ago when I lived near Rahway, it didn’t necessarily have the reputation as a destination. It was a place to pass through on the way to your destination. Except for the Townhouse, of course. Sure the Union County Performing Arts Center was in Rahway, but in recent times more restaurants have been popping up. At least three of those restaurants (CubaNu, Nancy’s Townhouse, Meatballs and Brews) seem to always have one Wet Ticket beer on draught.
Several of the beers pay homage to the community and City of Rahway, such as Spanktown IPA, Rahway had the infamous nickname of Spanktown around the time of the Revolutionary War. Another brew, the one I reviewed earlier this week, Trolley Hopper, pays homage to the lost Rahway Trolley. Starting back in 1928 and for about forty years, The Rahway Trolley line connected Westfield, Clark, Rahway, Woodbridge and Perth Amboy. Their latest beer, brewed for their second anniversary, is an Imperial Porter named Rahway or the Highway.
Wet Ticket has been establishing a name for themselves and personally speaking I went from an IPA hater to an IPA embracer. A couple of weeks ago, like two years ago, my wife and I met my parents for my parents’ anniversary dinner, both my dad and I had a glass of Trolley Hopper. I liked it and so did he. So much so that we walked out with a couple of cans of the beer. We headed over to CubaNu for dinner where they had Fully Juiced on tap, freshly tapped is it were. Another delicious beer. Fully Juiced was another beer Tim had a really good feeling about when he was brewing the first batch.
While I liked Wet Ticket’s beers during my first visit in 2017, I thought the quality improved by the time I visited two years later. Wet Ticket is the first brewery in Union County (the County of my birth and where I grew up) to have a fully functional tasting room and to be a destination taproom in the truest sense of the word. At the heart of Rahway’s Main Street, Wet Ticket should be a destination for people wishing to sample finely made beer. With plenty of restaurants within walking distance, patrons can sate their hunger, too. The brewery is conveniently located near Rahway’s NJ Transit station and a short drive off of Routes 1&9 (in this part of NJ, Route 1 and Route 9 are the same highway) and not too far from the Garden State Parkway.
In addition to being available at local restaurants (as well as bars and stores across the northern part of NJ), Wet Ticket is active in the community. They do a regular Yoga night, Flow to Flights. They’ve led and participated in donation drives for the Rahway Food Bank as well as food and supply drives for stray cats. They are hosting a pre-party for an upcoming concert at the nearby Union County Performing Arts Center. In short, Tim, Al, and all the folks behind the scenes at Wet Ticket Brewing are helping to foster a strong sense of community along with making great beer. Their eye-catching logo was crowd sourced and later touched up by Wizdom Media, a local design firm in Rahway down the street from Wet Ticket. Wizdom Media also provided the label art for Trolley Hopper, Kolsch, Dream Ticket, and Watermelon Wheat. The great art for Fully Juiced came from a family member, while the can art for One Way Ticket and Rahway or the Highway came from a former Wet Ticket brewery worker, who now works for Boston Beer/Samuel Adams. If being “draughted” to work for Boston Beer isn’t a sign that Wet Ticket is recognized for doing good things with their beer, I don’t know what is.
Wet Ticket is a brewery definitely worth visiting and their beers are undoubtedly worth sampling should you come across them in a beer store, restaurant, or bar. The taproom is welcoming and inviting, especially with how open they are to allowing food to be brought in by their patrons. I know I’m very likely to visit again and enjoy more of their beer in the future. In fact, on Thursday May 9, Wet Ticket is hosting a NJ Craft Beer “Beer Up”/Meet up which I’m hoping to attend.
Some other links of interest:
Al Gattullo Craft Beer Cast featuring Tim Pewitt (April 16, 2019) (Hell, if you are reading my ramblings on beer, you should be listening to Al every week. He features a good mix of local NJ and national independent breweries.)
Special thanks to Tim and Al for taking some time out of their busy schedule at the brewery to speak on the phone and provide details for some of what I’ve included in this post. All errors are mine alone.