Beer Review: Toms River Brewing’s Blueberry Blonde Summer Ale

Name: Blueberry Blonde Summer Ale
Brewing Company: Toms River Brewing
Location: Toms River, NJ
Style: Blonde Ale
ABV: 5.1%

“A delightfully refreshing ale highlighting NJ’s most well known fruit.”

TomsRiver_BlueberryBlonde

From Tom River Brewing’s instagram post promoting the beer:

New Jersey is the blueberry capital of the world. This light bodied blonde ale is packed with fresh home grown blueberries picked at the peak of the season. This crushable ale is brewed with Pilsen, Marris Otter, Vienna malts and hopped with Cascade and Citron hops giving a refreshing finish that is perfect for the hot summer days and warm summer nights to come. Cheers🍻.

It hasn’t been quite a year since I reviewed a beer from Tom’s River Brewing, but this beer is such a fantastic summer beer, I have to share my thoughts. The blueberry is one of my favorite fruits and New Jersey happens to be one of the largest producers of blueberries in the country and Hammonton, NJ is the “Blueberry Capital of the World.” So, adding blueberries to beer is a natural fit for a New Jersey brewery.

On to the beer…

Pop of the can, the beer pours a light purple/blue into the glass and I get the pleasant aroma of blueberries. Obviously, the blueberries prevent this beer from looking the true part of a “Blonde Ale,” but that is to be expected.

The first sip is very pleasant indeed. The blueberries are the most prominent flavor element, but they aren’t tart and overpowering in the way blueberries can be. The hop presence comes in on the finish of the beer. Per Toms River, this beer has Cascade and Citra hops, two of the classic hops in American Craft brewing. They both provide a slight bittering element that is a nice balance to the sweetness from the malt and blueberries.

This beer is a good example of a fun beer – flavorful, approachable, and featuring relatively local elements. Blueberry Blonde Summer Ale is a fantastic seasonal ale and perfect for summer. Although I’ve only had about a half-dozen beers from Toms River Brewing, this one is a definite standout for my tastes.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4 bottle cap rating.

Draught Diversions: October 2020 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…

Shorter days, darker nights, and cooler temperatures arrive in October. Bigger beers begin to dominate the shelves in October although seasonal creep for Christmas Beers is also the norm now as favorites like Tröegs Mad Elf began appearing in the middle of the month. October 2020’s six pack includes beers from long time favorites, one new brewery, and a brewery I should be seeking out more often. A variety of styles this October; a couple of IPAs, a couple of dark beers, and a barleywine. Let’s dive in, shall we?

I Voted (Troon Brewing Company) | IPA – American | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Troon brews some of the most sought-after beers in the State of New Jersey, with a reputation for big stouts, kettle sours, and hazy hoppy ales. (They rarely call their beers “IPA”) So when I took my wife on a wonderful socially-distanced tour of Sourland Mountain Spirits (on the same large farm complex), I had a pour of this beer at the Brick Farm Tavern (also on the big farm complex). This beer is a delicious, hazy IPA with a magnificent blend of hops. Now that I know how close Brick Farm Tavern is (which is a person’s best shot at getting a Troon beer), I’ll have to stop there in the future.

HopCyclone Hazy DIPA (Tröegs Independent Brewing) | IPA – Imperial / Double New England | 4.25 bottle caps on untappd


It has been far too long since I had a new beer from Tröegs and I haven’t had a new IPA in my fridge for a while. HopCyclone ticked off both of those boxes and is an outstanding New England style IPA. There’s a blend of four hops in this beer, Citra, Sabro, Sultana, and Simcoe, which are a great combination. I like Simcoe quite a bit and that seems to shine through really nicely, overall the beer has pleasant hints of citrus, peach, and pineapple. Plain and simple, HopCyclone is a great beer.

Workingman’s Dublin Porter (Toms River Brewing) | Porter – Other | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Tom’s River Brewing keeps impressing me. This is an Irish-inspired Dublin porter, which isn’t a surprise considering the brewery’s roots. Madagascar Vanilla beans and local honey add another layer of flavor to the beer. What those adjuncts do in this beer is soften the bitterness of the coffee, for an overall tasty beer.

Whip (Carton Brewing Company) | Pilsner – Other | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Sully photobombing this shot. Pilsners, especially great ones, are perfect for sitting on the porch relaxing while your dog keeps watch over the yard.

Carton has been brewing and canning a series of Pilsners over the past few months, this one they are calling an “American Pilsner.” I call it a delicious Lager/Pilsner. There’s a very clean flavor profile with the core four elements of beer working in harmony. This maybe the lightest yellow pilsner I can remember having, but damn if it isn’t a fine beer.

Chocolate Caramel Cookie Sharing Size (Free Will Brewing Co.) | Stout – Imperial / Double Oatmeal | 4.5 bottle caps on untappd

Free Will Brewing has a taproom in Peddler’s Village in Lahaska, PA and during the month of October, there was a socially distanced haunted walking ghost tour called Murder Mystery: Homicide and Hauntings from Without a Cue, which was a blast. Of course I grabbed a beer from Free Will, this is their Hallowe’en beer, four different stouts inspired by popular Hallowe’en candy. This one is inspired by the famous “right cookie” and “left cookie” brand and was an outstandingly balanced sweet stout, brewed in collaboration with Breweries in PA. Cool label art, too

Helldorado (2017) | Firestone Walker Brewing Company | Barleywine – American | 4.5 bottle caps on untappd

Firestone Walker calls this a “Blonde Barleywine,” I call it an outstanding barrel-aged big beer. Firestone Walker has such skill with barrel aging so when I noticed a local shop had a 3-year old barrel aged barleywine from these masters of blending and barrel aging, there was no way I was NOT getting myself a bottle, especially at a $9 price tag. This is one of the best barleywines I’ve ever had. The beer has a strong bourbon aroma and the flavors that emerge include vanilla, chewy hops, toffee, and caramel. Simply an outstanding beer.

Another solid month overall for new beers, I could have easily highlighted 8 to 10 beers this month. Only one real drainpour, a Salted Caramel Pumpkin Ale, which was disgustingly oversweet.

Draught Diversions: Toms River Brewing (Toms River, 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…

It has been a very long time since I posted one of these Brewery Spotlights mainly because the Pandemic has severely impacted on-site consumption. Some breweries; however, have been able to pivot in the current landscape and grown. Some breweries have very successfully shifted to canning more beer and home delivery, some breweries have been able to increase their distribution reach, while other breweriess have been able to allow for on-site consumption thanks to outdoor biergartens. Toms River Brewing has been able to lean on all of those options thanks to their successful rebirth in 2019.

I touched upon Toms River Brewing about a year ago when a handful of NJ breweries closed and/or re-branded. In that post, Toms River Brewing was one of those “re-launched” breweries, the proverbial Phoenix to rise from the former Rinn Dúin Brewery. When a company named Advanced Biotech announced they were taking over the brewery in 2018, and renaming it, some eyebrows were raised. It seemed very corporate and a little peculiar for a “Biotech” company to purchase a brewery. The name change was completely understandable and works better in the current beer landscape in NJ. Toms River is one of the largest and most prominent Jersey Shore towns, the 8th most populated municipality in NJ, and gives the brewery a more clear and local identity. Unlike Rinn Dúin, there’s no question of where the brewery is located.

A couple of things to unpack there…Toms River Brewing is largely a new brewery compared to Rinn Dúin. While they’ve retained the same head brewer and couple of the beers (primarily their core beers, St. John’s Irish Red Ale and Sweet Nothin’ Honey Cream Ale), nearly everything else about the brewery is essentially a new brewery. The taproom was completely renovated and now has 16 draught lines, the brewing system was upgraded/expanded, an outdoor biergarten was constructed, the beer lineup was considerably updated (previous flagships of an English Brown and Scotch Ale, while styles I enjoy, not exactly two styles upon which to lay the foundation of a brewery) are no longer present. More IPAs are part of the lineup, of course, plus a few stouts and a fairly wide range of styles. While I’ve been seeing cans of their beer since the middle of last year thanks to their increased dedication to distribution, the grand reopening of the taproom was November 2, 2019.

The Core Lineup – courtesy of Toms River Brewing’s website

The branding has leveled up quite a few notches, as design firm Bezerdesign was hired to re-brand the brewery. All the cans are now sport the big “Toms River Brewing” circle prominently in the center, a claddagh at the top of that circle. Most of the beer cans with are wrapped with a different color of banded Celtic knots/braid. Their cans are immediately recognizable. In the current landscape with over 100 breweries in NJ (with quite a few popular breweries not too far from Toms River Brewing at the Jersey Shore), thought and planning is required to go into launching a business. That thought and planning also includes the beer portfolio, the most important element. But the branding does stand out on the shelves, at least to my eyes.

Not everything about Rinn Dúin is gone; however. Bob the Brewer Warzecha, who was the head brewer under the previous banner and George, the assistant brewer, are still around making the beer. Well, George Lissenden was more of a “volunteer” than actual employee, but since the relaunch, George is an actual assistant brewer. Both gentlemen have experience in home brewing (Bob about 25 years!), passion for beer, knowledge of beer, and have roots in Toms River. So some of the good things (and there were quite a few) about Rinn Dúin were smartly retained.

As I said in my post last year, I didn’t know much about Rinn Dúin except that it existed and was one of the breweries to open shortly after the 2012 Executive Order. I learned last year as I was preparing my feature on Icarus Brewing that Jason Goldstein, owner of Icarus Brewing, spent part of his career there. Since Toms River Brewing came into existence last year (May 2019), I’ve been seeing cans of their beer in stores near me with frequency. That logo and branding, while not exactly the most unique, does stand out very well on the shelf and gives the brewery a visual identity. In my mind, that’s a success.

From here on out, there will be no more mention of the words “Rinn Dúin,” because of what Lacey Striker, VP Marketing, Tap Room and Office Operations of Toms River Brewing states below. Lacey essentially runs the day-to-day operations of the brewery, which makes her one of the few, but growing number of, women not just working in beer in NJ, but leading a brewery in NJ. Lacey is no stranger to the adult beverage industry, having experience in the wine and spirits industry. That knowledge she gained and her market savvy helped to relaunch Toms River Brewing as a new entity.

It’s a completely different brewery.” – Lacey Striker

Every year, my wife and few of our friends take a road trip down to the Chicken or the Egg in Beach Haven and we stop at a brewery on the way home. Because of everything I noted above, Toms River Brewing has been on my radar and they were a short drive off the Garden State Parkway exit 82A on NJ Route 37, they are one of the few breweries along our journey to open at noon and have outdoor seating. In other words, it was a pretty easy decision to make.

Image courtesy of Toms River Brewing’s Facebook

Unfortunately, it was raining the day of our trip and visit. Fortunately, Toms River Brewing (as noted above) has a lovely outdoor biergarten and the tables have big umbrellas. Another plus, like many breweries in NJ who are legally not permitted to serve food, Toms River Brewing allows their patrons to bring food, which was another plus. The food was kept warm on the 40 minute drive from LBI to Toms River in some coolers, for those worrying about the food.

We situated ourselves at the table and I ordered a Pilsner…many people will go for the IPA as their first beer at a brewery visit (because they are so ubiquitous), but as many of my readers know, I’m a Lager for Life kind of guy. I was very pleased with my choice. Just look at how that bright beer pops on an otherwise grey day in that picture atop this post! Just Pils was very flavorful and hit the spot pairing perfectly with my Burrito Gordito. The second beer I had was the highlight and one of the better coffee stouts I’ve had in quite a while, the outstanding Top O’ the Morning Coffee stout, which I reviewed earlier this week.

Image courtesy of Toms River Brewing’s Facebook

I usually have more photos I’ve taken in these posts, but between the rain and the limitations on indoor gathering, I only snapped photos of the two beers I drank and enjoyed. This time around, I’ve “borrowed” a few photos from Toms River Brewing’s facebook page. I did have to go inside to use the restroom and the taproom is really, really nice. It is very inviting, with plenty of room and a gorgeous bar. I saw some of the employees chatting and wearing masks and let them know how much I enjoyed the beer. In particular, the owner (I’m guessing Jim Mulligan), addressed me because I resemble one of the brewers. We had a chuckle, but he made sure to walk through the biergarten as patrons started sitting at tables to see how everybody is doing. He further told me the brewer I resemble built out the biergarten since he has a background in construction. Between the outdoor biergarten and the indoor taproom, the brewery has a great air professionalism and being well-thought out. In short, our group of people felt quite welcome at the brewery.

Interior of Toms River Brewing’s Taproom, image courtesy of Toms River Brewing’s Facebook

I’ve only had five beers from Toms River Brewing at this point…but as can likely be surmised, what I’ve had has been quite good. I’m happy to know they are keeping the Sweet Nothin’ Honey Cream Ale in the lineup. I had it last year at the Meadowlands Great Beer Expo when they were still using the previous name of the brewery. Last month, I had their Koastal Kölsch for the first time, I think they brewed it for the first time this year. Last year, I had the St. John’s Irish Ale, which is spot on for the style. Their lineup of beers I’ve seen on social media and in the stores around me is intriguing, maybe beer I’d like to try the most is Black Rabbit Black Lager. Other beers in the line up include the Sweet Chai ‘O Mine Cream Ale; Celtic Sunrise Blood Orange Pale Ale, a Belgian Pale Ale; Out on the Razzle Cranberry Winter Blonde Ale, which I hope returns in the Winter; and Irish Goodbye Imperial Stout looks delicious. Actually, three of the people with me during the visit (my brother-in-law, and two of our friends) had and enjoyed the Irish Goodbye.

Images in collage courtesy of Toms River Brewing’s Facebook. Clockwise: “Out on the Razzle Cranberry Winter” Blonde Ale, “Irish Goodbye Imperial Stout, Celtic Sunrise Blood Orange Pale Ale,” “Black Rabbit Black Lager,” and “Sweet Chai ‘O Mine” Cream Ale

Since their grand opening, Toms River Brewing has hosted local musicians, they’ve partaken/hosted Community Fund Drives, hosted Trivia Nights, hosted local PBA Fund Raisers, and of course hosted St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Like I said, the space (both inside/taproom and outdoor biergarten) is inviting and made to be social spaces. The honey in their Cream Ale is from Zenjas Honey Farm, in Toms River. One of their beers, Boots on the Ground is an IPA in honor of US troops, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Gary Sinise Foundation. So you could say that Toms River Brewing is both a place for communal growth and a company that gives back to the community.

Image courtesy of Toms River Brewing’s Facebook

In other words, from limited experience, Toms River Brewing is a brewery to take seriously as a player in New Jersey’s evolving craft beer scene. They may not be in the Elite, rarified air of Kane, Carton, Icarus, or Cape May Brewing yet. That is by no means a knock, because they’ve only been producing, canning, and distributing beer as Toms River Brewing for a little over a year. I think even the good folks at Toms River Brewing would admit they aren’t quite in that Elite Group yet. What I can say is that they produce quality beers, in a nice range of styles, you’ll be able to find and depend upon for good flavors. The taproom and biergarten should be a must visit for independent beer enthusiasts making the rounds of the Jersey Shore breweries. I for one, will be seeking out their beer again in the near future. The Celtic Sunrise Blood Orange Pale Ale should be in stores as this post goes live!

Some other links of interest and sources of information for this post:

Toms River Brewing Web site | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Toms River Brewing on NewJerseyCraftBeer.com | Beer Advocate | untappd

Beer Review: Toms River Brewing’s Top O’ the Morning Coffee Stout

Name: Top O’ the Morning Coffee Stout
Brewing Company: Toms River Brewing
Location: Toms River, NJ
Style: Stout – Coffee
ABV: 5.1%

“A smooth, extremely drinkable and balanced Coffee Stout – one of the better I’ve had, especially of the non-barrel-aged variety.”

From Tom River Brewing’s beer list/untappd description:

Coffee before beer or sometimes (if it’s that kind of day) beer before coffee. In that spirit, we collaborated with Bubby’s Beanery right here in Toms River to create Top O’ The Morning. This beer was brewed with Bubby’s blend of Honduran roasts, lending flavors of sweet milk chocolate, cashew and caramel. We then added lactose to carry the acidity of the coffee and to provide heft and mouthfeel. The infusion of robust coffee flavors provides a jump start to your day…morning, noon or night.

Toms River Brewing is a NJ brewery I’ve touched upon briefly here at the Tap Takeover and will again in the future. (Hint: I’ll be posting one of my “brewery spotlight” posts later in the week.) I’ve been seeing cans of their beer in some of my local stores over the better part of the last year and I finally stopped at their brewery recently, during a rainy day on the way back from Chegg’s in Beach Haven. The second beer I had that day is what asserted itself in my taste buds with a pint of deliciousness and has me here writing about it.

On to the beer…

I knew I wanted something a little darker, I saw what Toms River had available via untappd before we even left our trip and the description above really had me intrigued.

The beer I was given in the very interesting glass is dark as dark can be. Only if you look very closely can you see the black Toms River Brewing logo on glass. In other words, the beer looked the part of coffee stout. The aroma of roasted malts that wafted from the glass to my nose was another good sign.

Sometimes you can tell from the first sip of beer everything you need to know about it. That’s exactly what happened with Top O’ the Morning, I got the full flavor of stout and coffee in that first sip and it was delightful. The lactose brings a very welcome sweetness to the beer, adding to the sweetness from the roasted malts and balancing the coffee’s natural bitter elements. There’s also a pleasant lacing of chocolate throughout each sip of beer.  All these flavors blend very well together.

Image courtesy of Toms River Brewing’s Facebook

I’ve had plenty of coffee stouts where the bitterness from the coffee, or overly roasted beans and malts are very off-putting. Toms River skirted that issue completely. The finish on this beer was so good, I found it a little difficult not to consume it in one quick gulp. If I can really level any criticism at the beer (and it is very minor at that), a smidge more bitterness would have been welcome. However, I tend to drink my coffee fairly sweet, so the sweetness in this beer from the lactose is a nice mirror to how I typically drink my coffee.

The beer has the perfect density and feel for the style, too. That element, coupled with the balanced taste, make this one of the more enjoyable coffee stouts I’ve had in quite a while. The craftsmanship and quality of this beer have me eager to try more beers from Toms River Brewing in the future

Beer and coffee are two of my favorite beverages, which is why I love a good coffee stout. With Top O’ the Morning, Toms River Brewing blended the flavors of these two beverages together in great harmony.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

 

Draught Diversions: June 2020 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 has rolled in and out, the pandemic continues, as does my focus on local/New Jersey beers. One non-NJ beer in this six pack, but some of the usual suspects from NJ made an appearance in June. A pretty decent mix, style-wise, with two IPAs. Despite my recent Lager Leanings, most of the lagers I’ve been enjoying (outside of those I’ve recently reviewed) have been past favorites.

Here in NJ, restaurants and breweries have opened for outdoor consumption, which accounts for the last beer in this six pack. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to visit some breweries in July for outdoor communal consumption.

Fuego (Tonewood Brewing Company) | IPA – American | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

In the few beers I’ve had from Tonewood, I’ve yet to have a bad beer. This straight up IPA may be the best I’ve had from them yet. There’s an absolutely perfect hop blend giving the beer both a citrus/juicy component, but also the hallmark bittering and slightly piney components often associated with West Coast IPAs. I brought a six pack to a socially distanced poker game and wound up drinking three of them myself the beer was so damned good. I know Kane is considered the IPA King of NJ (and rightly so), but Tonewood’s Fuego is outstanding and probably one of the best IPAs brewed in The State of New Jersey, at least that I’ve had the pleasure of drinking.

Picture in Reverse (Kane Brewing Company) | Old Ale | 4.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Speaking of Kane, this is a beer I picked up at the brewery when I visited in September 2019. Old Ales are an interesting style in that they are often a blend of beers with strong malt and molasses character – those two elements are on prominent and delicious display in this beer. I’ve noted many times that Michael Kane and his crew are masters of the art of barrel-aging beer and that refined craftsmanship is the highlight of this beer. The bourbon-barrel notes are in elegant, perfect harmony with the big malt character of this potent ale. I think Picture in Reverse is an annual release for them so I’m hoping to get a bottle of it this year.

4th Anniversary (Czig Meister Brewing Company) | IPA – Imperial / Double New England | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

Unfortunately, the pandemic prevented Czig Meister from having their 4th Anniversary party, but they still brewed a potent and delicious Imperial New England IPA to celebrate. This is a fantastic beer with wonderful tropical fruit notes all over the place and a nice hop bite to balance out the sweetness. What was most surprising is how easily it went down for a beer at 10% ABV.

Köastal Kölsch Style Ale (Tom’s River Brewing Company) | Kölsch | 3.75 Bottle Caps on untappd

Toms River Brewing (f/k/a Rinn Dunn) is a brewery whose beers I’ve been wanting to try more of, and a brewery I’m looking forward to visiting. My neighbor decided to have us over one evening for some beers and conversation. Much to my pleasure, he grabbed a four pack of this crusher. I liked it so much I had two cans that evening. This is a really nice beer for the summer lounging.

Light & Sweet (Carton Brewing Company) | Cream Ale | 4.25 Bottle Caps on untappd

To say that Regular Coffee is one of Carton’s most beloved beers is an understatement. It is a “franchise” or “brand” within the portfolio, or as Augie says of the variants, the “Regular Coffee” Game. This one is about half the ABV at 6% and there seems to be more sweetness than the standard “Regular Coffee.” This version is Nitro which gives the beer some good body and is simply delicious. Almost as good as the original Regular Coffee, except this one won’t sneak up on you and smack you on the back of the head with a baseball bat with a high ABV. In other words, you can have a couple and still be relatively OK.

Tanker Truck Sour Series: Persian Lime Gose (Two Roads Brewing Company) | Sour – Fruited Gose | 4.5 Bottle Caps on untappd

This was the first beer I had at a bar/restaurant since the pandemic. In NJ, outdoor dining was permitted and fortunately, one of our favorite places, The Stirling Hotel, has ample outdoor dining. As for the beer, this Persian Lime Gose might be one of the best Goses I’ve ever had and one of the best I’ve had from the consistently excellent folks at Two Roads Brewing. The lime was perfectly tart and sweet, the touch of salinity brought it all together. I could drink 50 o of these on a hot day as it is eminently refreshing.

Plenty of good beers, the only one that really didn’t work for me was Cowfee Break from Bolero Snort, a coffee porter. The taste was off and it was rather thin for the style. .

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.