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.

Draught Diversions: June 2019 Six Pack

Draught Diversions is the catchall label for mini-rants, think-pieces, and non-review posts here at The Tap Takeover. We hope you don’t grow too weary of the alcohol alliterative names we use…

June brought some good beers to me, but what else is new? There’s an abundance of good beer to be had, the toughest part is figuring out which new beers to try. As for this month, it was a return to the usual mix of IPAs and other styles with half of the beers from NJ breweries. What can I say, I’m drinking from local breweries more and more as of late. I wouldn’t be surprised if two of the beers this month make an appearance in my Year End round-up/Favorite beers of 2019.

Weissbier (von Trapp Brewing Company) | Hefeweizen | 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

von Trapp is one of the premier brewers of German-style beers. While most of their output is on the Lager side of the beer family, a brewery focusing on the German styles has to brew a Hefeweizen, that most German of ales. This is a pretty good interpretation of the style and worth a try.

Beer Geek Breakfast (Mikkeller Brewing San Diego) | Stout – American Imperial / Double | 4 bottle Caps on untappd

I think this was the first beer I had from one of the Mikkeller Brewing companies (there’s a few around the world) and it is just about everything you’d want form an oatmeal stout. Following the now accepted rules of breakfast stouts, this one also has some coffee in the mix, making for a very pleasant bittersweet hit that balances well with the smooth oatmeal elements.

Maibock Hurts Like Helles (Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers) | Bock – Hell / Maibock / Lentenbock | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

A couple of reviews back I featured a tasty bock and I am very pleased I was able to snag this somewhat seasonal bock from Jack’s Abby because it might just be the best Maibock/Helles Bock I can recall having. There’s a beautiful caramel feel to the beer with a slight touch of hops that provides for that ever-overused phrase of balance but damn does this beer provide great balance.

More Cowbell Saison with Pear (Lone Eagle Brewing) | Saison / Farmhouse Ale | 3.75 bottle Caps on untappd

June was the first time in a few months I was able to make it to Lone Eagle for the Monthly Board Game night and I’m glad I did. Always a good time with the group of games. Lone Eagle recently hired a new brewer, Brad Adelson who has experience at two of my favorites, Founders and Victory. This Saison was one of his new beers featured that night. The Saison base beer is good, but I really liked what the addition of the pear to the show brought – a pleasant, sweet, rounded finish. I’m looking forward to trying more of Brad’s beers.

Follow the Gull (Cape May Brewing Company) | IPA – American | 4 bottle Caps on untappd


Cape May Brewing Company consistently impresses me with every beer I have from them. Their IPA game is super strong and the style they are best known for producing. Follow the Gull was initially a one-off for Cape May County’s 325th anniversary but it proved so popular it is now in regular rotation. The Citra and Azacca hops shine most strongly in this one. Not quite a New England style IPA, but definitely more East Coast juiciness than West Coast piney-ness. Delicious.

Overhead (Kane Brewing Co.) | IPA – Imperial / Double | 4.5 bottle Caps on untappd


I’ve said quite a bit about Kane in some of these six pack posts but in all the years I’ve been enjoying NJ beer, I hadn’t had Overhead before this past Sunday. It, along with Head High are the two IPAs that helped but them on the map. This is probably the best Imperial IPA from a NJ brewery I’ve had and I think quite a few people agree. In all the best ways, it reminds me of Dogfish Head’s 90-Minute, but there’s something different enough in the hops used or maybe the malt that sets Overhead apart. It is simply put, an outstanding beer.

Like last month, there were a couple of clunkers, a couple not worth mentioning. However, one really bad beer was Sprecher’s take on a Scotch Ale, a style I normally like quite a bit. This one; however, is the epitome of a drain pour for me and one of the worst beers from a brewery of this size and longevity (founded in 1985) I ever head. There was a very unpleasant smokiness to the beer that was flat out gross.

Beer Review: Jersey Cyclone’s Beach Blonde Lager

Name: Beach Blonde Lager
Brewing Company: Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company
Location: Somerset, NJ
Style: Lager – Helles
ABV: 4.3%

“Jersey Cyclone boldly storms out of the gate with a damned fine Helles Lager.”

From the Untappd page for Beach Blonde Lager:

An awesome beach day deserves an awesome beer! We used three types of classic German malts and Loral hops to craft this malt forward yet dry beer. With a bready flavor, subtle lager yeast character and cracker dry finish, this beer is a much needed addition to every beach day cooler!

As I pointed out in my NJ Beer/Brewery Check in on Tuesday and last month’s Six Pack, Jersey Cyclone is a new brewery out of Somerset, NJ. I’ve made three visits since they opened and have enjoyed just about everything I’ve had from them. When I learned they had a lager brewing during my second visit to Jersey Cyclone, I was very excited.

I knew the Helles Lager, Beach Blonde Lager, was a beer I really wanted to try since I’ve gravitated towards the lower ABV beers, especially Pilsners and Helles Lagers of late, as I pointed out in my 2nd anniversary post. My father -in-law loves his lagers, too, so I figured getting a growler for Father’s Day would be a great opportunity to try and share the beer.

The beer pours a somewhat darker goldenrod than I’d expect from a Helles Lager. In the end, that color was the only thing a little off about the beer. The aroma hits the notes of a lager and the first sip….the first sip is nice. So that first impression is a crisp flavorful beer. There’s a little bit of maltiness, with a very nice bready/crackery finish.

This beer has a roasty or baked finish that reminds me of some of my favorite lagers, like Carton’s This Town, Cape May’s Lager, Weihenstephaner Original. Drinkability is an obvious, probably overused word to describe a good beer, but Beach Blonde Lager has this in spades. The taste is so spot on and that finish lingers enough that you don’t want it to go away so you immediately have to take another sip.

To say that I was impressed with this beer is an understatement. For a brewery’s first release of a lager, it is damned good. Hell, any brewery would be well-served to have a lager of this quality available on a regular basis. Like I said in my untappd check-in, this beer is everything you want in a lager and a fantastic representation of the style. As it turned out, my father-in-law had more of the growler than I did, he loved the beer.

Not necessarily a comment on the beer, but the brewery itself. I’ve had my growler(s) filled at many breweries, especially over the last few years. Most places do give the growler a wipe down, but I’ve received my fair share of growlers that were a little sticky from beer that overflowed. I can’t recall seeing other breweries do what Jan (owner of Jersey Cyclone) did – he gave the growler a little squirt with a water bottle to ensure the growler nice and clean and not sticky.

While this beer currently has “Beach” in the name, I hope Jersey Cyclone keeps this available year round, or at least keep one of their taps dedicated to a lager of some kind, be it a Pilsner, Amber Lager, Bock or even a Pale Lager. Most breweries stick to the Ale half of the beer family initially, faster brew times for ales and the ales lend themselves to additives that can hide “mistakes” in the brew process. A bold choice to put out a lager less than a month into the brewery’s life and one that pays off.

With people gravitating towards lagers, it is smart for a new brewery to have a lager on tap, especially a lager this good.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Hella Delicious (Level 5)

Hell yea helles! This traditional German pale lager is typically full-bodied, mildly sweet, and light-colored, making it a perfect go to for any occasion. That’s 25 different beers with the style of Lager – Helles or Bock – Maibock / Heller (Helles) / Lentebock.

Draught Diversions: NJ Brewery & Beer Check In

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…

Is the bubble bursting or is the NJ Craft Beer landscape simply maturing? Read on for my take on the subject…

That’s been a “hot topic” of discussion in beer circles, and NJ Beer circles specifically. The third NJ brewery over the last 12 months has closed its doors, in one definition of the phrase. More specifically, these are the first three breweries to open after the 2012 laws passed to have closed. Earlier in the year (April 2019), Rinn Duin brewing became Toms River Brewing. Demented Brewing in Middlesex closed at the end of April 2019 after about a month of very public drama on social media. This past week/early June 2019, Common Sense Brewing in Bordentown closed and is in the process of being purchased/taken over by Tindall Road Brewery out of Robbinsville. Tindall Road didn’t have a location but their website claims the brewery to be active “since 2017” which is probably when they established the name.

Three brewery changes in a few short months is worth noting. One is a blip, two is a little more thought provoking, but could three be a pattern? Or could it just be a coincidence. I’ll provide my perspective of these three brewery changes below.

Demented Brewing Publicly Implodes, Closes

Demented’s closure was the most visible closure in NJ Beer (Beer Advocate forum discussion), it was also one of the first to open and close since the 2012 law passed that enabled breweries to have taprooms and serve beer on premise.  Demented Brewing established themselves in 2015 in Middlesex, NJ where the closest brewery was Harvest Moon Brewpub in New Brunswick. In other words, an area without a nearby brewery. They made some good beer, with some beers that were well-above average (by my ratings, over a 4-bottle cap rating on untappd). Cypress Brewing in Edison, NJ opened around the same time and were the closest brewery, but not exactly convenient for folks looking to make a visit to both breweries. Put it this way, you’d have to get on a congested highway and drive over 10 miles to get between breweries, they weren’t close to each other like the three breweries in Hackettstown, some of the NJ Shore breweries, the breweries in Hammonton, or even the Mount Holly breweries. In short, Demented was largely successful because they were relatively uniquely located and produced better than average product. Kegs were in bars in Central New Jersey and cans and 22oz bottles could be found in bottle shops since they had a distribution deal. In other words, it seemed like they were growing naturally at a nice rate.

Personally, I liked Demented quite a bit and had a quite a few of their beers, visited Demented probably as much or more than any of the NJ breweries since they were a mile or two from where I worked, close to where a few friends live, and close to my brother-in-law’s house. My first review here on the Tap Takeover also happened to be of one of their beers. In participating a few NJ beer online circles (NJ Craft Beer, reddit/njbeer, and Beer Advocate’s “Mid-Atlantic” forums), the consensus about the beer seems to be that it was good enough that Demented could have had a relatively lengthy lifespan. NJ Food writer Pete Genovese anointed Demented the best brewery in NJ when he did his Best Brewery tour in NJ. While that selection was rather controversial, at the very least, the “win” gave Demented some attention.

Demented Brewing’s problems were financial in nature in that they had difficulty paying taxes and didn’t always pay their employees. No matter how good the product is, the government won’t let you continue if you don’t pay your taxes. The employees won’t want to keep working if they don’t get paid. Just watch Bar Rescue. Sadly, some good people were working at Demented. Demented also had two annual Bottle Clubs – one for sours, one for stouts – almost like a subscription. Many who paid up front will not see the beer they paid for and will likely not see that money again.  All told, a sad end to what was a pretty good thing.

Rinn Dúin becomes Toms River Brewing

I knew very little about Rinn Dúin brewing aside from knowing they opened in 2014 at the early stages of the NJ Craft Beer boon. This was just 2 years after the big 2012 law passed. Their focus was on English and Irish styles as the name Rinn Dúin might imply and the brewery even temporarily closed in mid-2018 at one point. Having started in 2014, their reach in the State didn’t quite expand the way some other breweries who started at the time did, or even to the extent that Demented did who started a year later. In other words, much of what I say here relative to Rinn Dúin is from a bit of a remove.

From what I was able to surmise from some online posts, it seems they went bankrupt, but made good beer, just not styles that were lighting the world on fire.

I don’t know how embedded in the local bar scene Rinn Dúin was, whether they were able to get the kegs into bars in Toms River and neighboring locals. I assume they were since they’d been in business for nearly 5 years before changing over to Toms River Brewing. They may have done some brewery-only or super-local bottle/can releases, but they didn’t seem to expand beyond Ocean County, NJ from what I was able to observe. Rinn Dúin did seem to have a nice partnership/business relationship with local minor league baseball team Lakewood Blue Claws, which is the kind of thing you’d hope to see between “small” businesses.

Scrolling through Rinn Dúin’s facebook page, it appears they were fairly active in the community, had yoga nights and musicians; many things a lot of successful breweries do. On the other hand,, not many people were talking about the brewery outside of an occasional mention in a thread like “Unspoken NJ Breweries” in the Beer Advocate discussion forums (and the updated/2019 thread). As recently as February (two months prior to the name change/takeover), this brewery was still making and pouring beer as Rinn Dúin, whichh is when I had their tasty cream ale Sweet Nothing at the Meadowlands Beer Expo.

I think the name change is good and gives the brewery more of a local flavor. There was a press release earlier in the year about the buyout that reads a bit on the corporate/business side with talk of a “vertical integration plan.” The original name, Rinn Dúin, while not bad might work in a more mature beer landscape or even a beer landscape from the early 90s. Much as I enjoy a Guinness and a good Irish Red Ale like Great Lakes’ Conway’s Irish Ale, Irish/English styles aren’t the most popular/sought after styles. I realize Rinn Dúin had a more diverse output than that. Again, my observations are from quite a distance and relatively superficial.

What I can say about the name change / re-branding / relaunch is from a similar remove, but the observations are positive. Toms River Brewing is already canning their beer with canning giant Iron Heart Canning. They’ve been relatively active on social media and it looks like there’s potential for this brewery. With Icarus Brewing in somewhat nearby Lakewood (14 miles away), visiting one of these breweries might compel people to visit both breweries.

Common Sense Brewery Closes, Purchased by Tindall Road Brewery

This is the most recent brewery closure and marks the third over the last four months. I do have some more knowledge of Commons Sense Brewing than Rinn Dúin, at least. I visited Common Sense in November 2018 as part of my birthday brewery tour. In fact, Common Sense was the last of six breweries our group visited that day. The brewery looks great from the outside, is extremely well-placed in downtown Bordentown, NJ (a very underrated downtown), and has a very nice and inviting taproom.

But then you get the beer.

I had a flight and what I had was subpar, at best. A very thin Porter that tasted on the edge of being skunked, a decent Pumpkin Ale (helped by the spice rimmed glass) and what, in hindsight, seems strange – two brown ales. Brown ales are fine, in general, but not a style that you’ll typically see more than once on a daily taplist from a brewery. One of the brown ales I had was OK, but the other was outright undrinkable. Easily the worst beers I had that day out of the six breweries, but to be fair, three of the other breweries are relatively established award-winning breweries (Spellbound, Neshaminy Creek, and Village Idiot) and one a well-respected “elder statesman” of NJ brewery (Forgotten Boardwalk) so the comparison may be a little unfair. On the other hand, bad beer is just bad beer no matter how you cut it.

Common Sense was open for less than two years. If some of the comments on social media from locals and people who claim to have relatively intimate knowledge of the brewery are to be believed, than it seems like there was almost a Bar Rescue situation going on with at the brewery. People giving beer away, monetary issues, and a lack of knowledge about making good beer and running a business.

I only learned about Tindall Road Brewery a day after I learned of Common Sense’s closure, so hopefully there’s a positive outcome for whatever this brewery ends up being called. Third State Brewing who celebrated their fourth anniversary this month (June 2019), less than 10 miles away in nearby Burlington, helps to make this area a soft destination for beer fans. Tindall Road has been posting some of the progress of their takeover on their facebook page.

Side note – interesting naming for the two closed breweries – Demented and Common Sense. Almost a harbinger of things to come.

All is Not Dire, Quite the Opposite!

Despite these three brewery closures, I would argue that the bubble is not bursting at all as some might argue. I would even suggest that the “bubble” metaphor isn’t appropriate at this point and rather landscape is appropriate. A landscape implies a longer life span while a bubble implies something not very long-lasting. Quite simply, the New Jersey Craft Beer landscape is maturing. While there have been small independent breweries and brewpubs in the state for twenty or more years like High Point/Ramstein, Cricket Hill, Harvest Moon Brewery (where I had my wedding rehearsal dinner) and so forth – the landscape was really reborn, or reseeded to continue with a landscaping metaphor, with the aforementioned 2012 law change.

What happens when things mature? Things fall off, things change, things evolve – people lose their baby teeth, caterpillars weave a cocoon around themselves and emerge as a butterfly. The independent/craft beer scene is doing just that, I’d posit. Breweries not strong enough to survive and going by the wayside could even be seen as a healthy feature of something that is maturing and evolving. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if, before the year ends, another brewery or two goes through a closure/buyout/takeover like the three I highlighted in this post did..

You could also call this a “Brewing Darwinism” of sorts – the strong breweries are surviving, breweries like Kane Brewing, Carton Brewing, Icarus Brewing, Cape May Brewery, River Horse, and Flying Fish of the NJ beer scene. Hell, Cape May split into two companies, a brewery and a distributor. What further shows the strength of the NJ Beer Landscape is how some of the breweries that have opened are from people with experience at breweries like Kane, JJ Bittings (one of the oldest brewpubs in NJ), and Flying Fish. Additionally, breweries like Lone Eagle (Flemington), Bonesaw Brewing (Glassboro), and Mudhen Brewing (Wildwood) are attracting brewers with experience at leading, respected breweries like Dogfish Head, Founders Brewing, Victory Brewing, Funky Buddha, and New England Brewing Company to brew beer in New Jersey, brewers who have received awards. With just over 100 breweries in New Jersey, that is still a relatively small number of breweries compared to the population of the State.

Just two weeks after Demented closed in Middlesex, Jersey Cyclone opened about a mile or two away in Franklin Township/Somerset, NJ. Having visited Jersey Cyclone three times since they opened on May 4, 2019, I can say that I’m pretty impressed with their output, but more about one of their beers later in the week.

It isn’t just Jersey Cyclone having recently opened. Breweries continue to open in New Jersey on an almost weekly basis. Equally as important to a maturing landscape is that existing/established breweries are expanding – Flounder Brewing in Hillsborough is moving to a barn (or group of barns) not far from the current location that will provide them far more space. Angry Erik in northwestern New Jersey just moved into a facility they built after about five years in an office park. Lone Eagle in Flemington is expanding, by constructing and another building for manufacturing on their lot. There’s been word for at least a year that Conclave Brewing in Raritan/Flemington increasing capacity. Perhaps the most exciting thing for many NJ beer fans, longtime mainstay Bolero Snort is in the middle of building their facility in Carlstadt, NJ after years of gypsy brewing.

So yeah, the New Jersey Beer landscape is maturing, evolving, and still growing and healthy DESPITE the most recent legislative roadblock thrown in front of the breweries. But that problematic legislature is another topic.

At this point in the NJ Beer/Brewery landscape’s maturation; however, breweries more than ever need to produce better than average beer, not just passable beer. They need to brew beer that makes people come back for more. This is, of course, in addition to being smart about owning a business. Because the NJ Beer Consumers palates are maturing alongside the brewery and beer landscape.

 

Beer Review: Czig Meister Brewing’s The Herdsman

Name: The Herdsman
Brewing Company: Czig Meister Brewing
Location: Hackettstown, NJ
Style: Bock – Single / Traditional
ABV: 6.7%

“Czig Meister’s (Matt Czigler’s) German brewing skill and knowledge are on full display in this spot on take on the classic German Bock.”

Unfortunately, my reflection makes an appearance here

I’ve made it no secret that I enjoy the beers coming out of Czig Meister in Hackettstown, NJ. I also have proclaimed my enjoyment of Bocks beers and desire to see more of the style available, in all their varieties. So, when Czig Meister announced their third anniversary party the first weekend in June (Happy Anniversary!) I was hoping they’d still have this traditional German beer still available because I knew I was going to attend. I was planning on featuring one of their beers this week as a nod to their anniversary and I’ve been wanting to feature a bock for a while. Obviously they did or else I wouldn’t be writing about it and those two things came together.

The Anniversary party was in full swing when I arrived, with Czig’s large outdoor Biergaten relatively packed and the line to get beer both inside and outside weren’t short, but they were moving. The atmosphere, on the whole, was super friendly and the weather was perfect. The party was a great showcase for what a great community the NJ Craft Brewing community is, I was chatting with a couple of folks from Twin Elephant and saw folks from Fort Nonsense. Granted, those two breweries are relatively close and Czig Meister is one of the largest in Northern New Jersey. But on to the beer…

The beer poured into the glass a brownish amber and looked just like I’d expect a Bock to look. I’d say it is a little darker than the traditional German Amber Lager (i.e. the Columbia Street Lager from Karl Strauss I reviewed a couple of weeks ago) and slightly less carbonated. I smell malt, sweetness, and maybe a little nuttiness. I like how this is shaping up for me.

The sweet malt presence is the first thing about the flavor I noticed. The traditional caramel-like flavor is very present, too, and it doesn’t go away. That is most definitely a feature for me for this beer. Some bocks have an aftertaste that is too bitter or too earthy for my tastes. That aftertaste is nowhere to be found with this beer. The caramel sweet-smooth flavor follows through to the end and picks up some nuttiness, giving the finish a nice rounded and appealing overall profile.

I had four total beers during my stay at the anniversary party, chatting with old friends and new alike. All four beers I had (three were 4oz tasters) were very good, but the delicious, sweet caramel aspect of the Herdsman lingered on my palate for quite a while after having the beer. Later in the evening when I was on my couch, I still caught hints of the caramel somewhere in my sense of taste. Again, this is a good thing.

A note on the label/can art. Czig Meister has developed a pretty consistent branding across all of their canned beers that makes their beer very identifiable, from a brand perspective, on the shelf. For The Herdsman, they went simple and to the point, featuring the iconic image of goat which has long been associated with Bock beer..

Czig Meister has a very solid reputation in the New Jersey brewing scene. Much of that reputation has been built on the vast number IPAs they brew, many which are part of their “Deep Sea Series.” The Herdsman is one of the rare Lagers they’ve brewed and have made available in cans. Sure they’ve done a pilsner and a few other lagers such as a special Dopplebock, but a “single” or traditional Bock shows the knowledge, skill, and confidence Matt and his crew have in their brewing abilities. As precise as a Pilsner can be, a Bock is just as complex a style to brew successfully and to keep dialed in with the appropriate flavor profile. That confidence is well-founded with this on-point interpretation of a Traditional Bock. I hope this beer continues to be part of Czig Meister’s portfolio.

One last Happy Anniversary to Czig Meister, a brewery that produces delicious beer and has some good people making that beer.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

I’ll Be Bock (Level 10)

Once you’ve had just one, there’s no doubt you’ll be saying “I’ll be bock” for another. That’s 50 different Bock beers.

Beer Review: Tonewood Brewing’s Freshies

Name: Freshies
Brewing Company: Tonewood Brewing
Location: Oaklyn, NJ
Style: Pale Ale – American
ABV: 5%

“The growing NJ brewery’s flavorful, hoppy take on the classic American Pale Ale is well-worth a spot in your cooler/refrigerator..”

From the Untapped page for Freshies:

Freshies – 5.0% ABV – American Pale Ale – A soft and crushable Pale Ale brewed with Wheat and hopped with Simcoe, Amarillo, and Cascade hops.

Tonewood Brewing opened up in 2015 and has been brewing well-received beer since then. Located in Oaklyn, NJ,  they aren’t exactly close to me, so I was very pleased to see a few of their beers at one of the three liquor stores at a major intersection on my commute home. Keeping to my recent trend of mostly lower ABV beers towards which I’ve been gravitating, I grabbed a six pack of Freshies with its relatively low 5% ABV.

Cracking open the can and pouring the beer into the glass, a pleasant hop aroma wafts to my nose. The beer is golden yellow and with the hints of citrus in the air, Freshies is very inviting to the senses. It is almost cloudy/hazey along the lines of the Northeast/New England style of Pale Ales, but not quite. The nose doesn’t lie with this beer, big hop presence, almost as much as an IPA. More of a pleasantly aggressive hop presence than some of the IPAs I’ve had, in fact. Lots of hops on the first taste and all the way through.

The hops used in this beer – Simcoe, Amarillo, and Cascade – are some of the most popular hops used in Pale Ales and IPAs. For example, Cascade is used in arguably the most important American Pale Ale – Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale. Tonewood’s take on the style is less malty than Sierra’s flagship ale, but that’s not a knock on the quality at all. The blend of hops gives the beer its own identity. That blend, coupled with the ample wheat used in the beer, gives the beer a softer feel and with the relatively low ABV of 5%, makes for a flavorful beer that falls into the currently overused term of “crusher” category. In other words, great flavor along with a not-bludgeoning-you ABV.

Freshies is a delicious beer that is a fine addition to the style of American Pale Ale. Perhaps the best way I can describe this beer is as follows: between the color, level of haze, and hop profile, Freshies perfectly straddles the line between a “traditional” American Pale Ale and the juicy Northeast/New England Pale Ale. It compares pretty favorably to some of the other pale ales I’ve enjoyed recently and mentioned here on the Tap Takeover including Kane’s Sneak Box and Industrial Arts’s Tools of the Trade. While it may not be as widely known as those two breweries and beers, Tonewood’s Freshies, for my drinking dollars, is no less a beer.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Pale as the Moon (Level 21)

Ahh, the trusty pale ale; crisp, refreshing, and always a good choice in a bind.