A shoobies guide to beer at the shore.
by Will Pumphrey
Maybe it’s because I’m spoiled, living in the blue-collar beer mecca of the United States. Great craft beer is so accessible to me. Sometime back in 2011, I’d somehow become the worst kind of beer geek. A beer snob. It was a poignant email from Cameron Saunders to a former colleague of mine about rare beers that read, “There is beauty to be found in a Blue Point Toasted Lager.” That opened my eyes to enjoying the beers that are more readily available, and not just the “one offs,” etc.
How easy it is for us to forget about our local beer scene. We have some great breweries crafting some fantastic beers. Not just the limited stuff. Yards Brawler? Victory HopDevil? I, for one, have sometimes taken them for granted. So what happens when we leave the area?
While the craft beer scene was exploding in Philadelphia, there wasn’t too much going on “down the shore.” My wife and I have a small condo in Wildwood, New Jersey. While it doesn’t have all the glitz and glamour that Seaside Heights has, thanks to a TV show I won’t reference again, we’ve been going there for years.
There are some places to grab solid beers, but the larger bars that some of my friends insist on going to, usually don’t have options. All I want are options. Blue Moon is NOT an option. For the longest time, I would have killed to have the beers that I take for granted show up on a tap line at the shore.
Now that the craft beer boom is alive and well, thanks to some solid beers being put out in New Jersey, we have just that.
Not only are the bars offering better beer options at the shore, but with a few law changes over the past year, on-site beer purchases at the shore breweries are now an option. Before the law change, visitors to a New Jersey brewery were allowed four 4oz. tasters as part of their tour. They couldn’t leave with any beer! While the four breweries that I would classify as “shore breweries” are all self-distributing, they’d have to rely on the guest to like their beer, leave the brewery, and find a bar that was serving the beer they liked.
You can easily see how this was a flawed system. Since the law changes in 2012, breweries can offer pints, growlers, and even kegs to people who take their tours. They are also becoming destination spots for the “weekend warriors” visiting the shore, but also for locals who don’t’ want to venture to Philadelphia or Delaware.
Longtime New Jersey resident, Justin Vitti says, “I would find myself venturing over the bay to Dogfish Head Brew Pub at least twice a month… now, if I go twice a year that’s a lot. There are great breweries putting out great beers in New Jersey now. I want to support their efforts.” One of those breweries is Carton Brewing.
The brainchild of cousins Augie and Chris Carton, and friend and home-brewer Jesse Ferguson, Carton Brewing, in Atlantic Highlands, NJ, is just six blocks from the local beach, in the town where they were raised. I’m not sure you can get more “local shore brewery” than that.
This brewery was founded on the idea that craft beer enthusiasts traveling to the shore points have griped about for years. There just wasn’t much selection in New Jersey. The trio began brewing beers they wanted to drink. Augie and I had a brief discussion about Ithaca Flower Power, and how initially I heard bartenders say, “It tastes like Bell’s Two Hearted.” I always felt that was discredit to what Ithaca had made with their beer.
Carton Brewing doesn’t want to make a beer that people will say is similar to something in the beer market. Take their flagship Boat Beer. This is described on their website as both complex and a session beer. For the longest time, trying to use these two words in a sentence would get chuckles from almost everyone but Lew Bryson.
However, challenges like this are what drive the trio behind Carton Brewery. Reviews say this beer is “full of grapefruit and pine” and it “explodes in your mouth.” It has all the flavor of a 7-8% IPA, in 4.2%. A pretty remarkable feat when the market has recently been flooded by double and triple palate crushing IPAs.
Augie says, “Our goal is to be in every bar in Monmouth County, the coolest bars in New Jersey and everywhere I want to drink in New York City.”
Carton Brewing has quickly become a destination spot for locals and vacationers alike. Beer enthusiasts are visiting the brewery for beers and then seeking those beers out at the local bars.
Fortunately, there is a reciprocal relationship with local bars and restaurants. After having Carton beers on tap, people head to the unmarked building at 6 E. Washington Avenue to see what’s brewing, literally. (Augie and the crew have their sights set on a hand-painted sign on the building, which is a throwback to the local businesses of long ago.) Here, they can purchase the freshest beer they can get. Not only is the beer fresh, but also, you can buy it in a stainless steel growler. “We are six blocks from the beach. You can’t bring glass on the beach.” says Carton. You can’t argue with that.
Currently, Carton beers are available in Monmouth County, much of Northern New Jersey, and about 20-30 bars in New York City, which is about sixteen short miles by boat from the brewery. As a testament on the impact craft beer is having, Augie says, “Enough places around are interested in the quality of life improvement that interesting, fresh beer provides—that we have been operating at capacity from day one.”
Kane Brewing Co.
Michael Kane founded Kane Brewing in 2010. An avid homebrewer and well-traveled beer enthusiast, Kane decided on his shore location because he had spent time there when he was younger and thought it would be a great place to raise a family. He quit an investment-banking job in 2010 to pursue his dream of brewing. Since then, he has been full-time at the brewery, even serving up beers in the tasting room.
Kane Brewing self-distributes to about 120-150 locations in New Jersey at any given time. With five full-time employees, Michael is happy with the strides the brewery has made since August of 2011, opening with a twenty barrel brewing system.
Kane Brewing considers itself to be a regional brewery. While some of the short-term goals are to distribute a little farther, Michael says, “Our goal isn’t to distribute nationwide.” Their beers have made it as far south as Cape May County, featured at Good Night Irene’s Brew Pub.
The occasional 750ml may eventually make its way on to the “beer swap” section of a few websites, but don’t expect to see Kane Brewing beers show up on the shelves in California. They love their local clientele and the locals love them. They won “Best of the Fest” at the Asbury Park Beer Fest in 2013. People from the area support the brewery. Guests are buying pints to drink in and growlers to take home.
“People are excited to see local beers on tap. Beer drinkers are looking for fresh, well-made, locally produced beers “
Local bars that normally wouldn’t have a craft beer on tap are carrying his beer because he has local ties to the community. You can walk into local bars in Asbury Park and see six taps. Five are what you would expect and one is reserved for Kane Brewing, a show of support to their local offering.
Cape May Brewery
Ryan Krill and Chris Henke, Villanova alum and college friends, and Ryan’s dad, Bob Krill, opened Cape May Brewery in 2010. The Krill’s, living in West Chester, PA but having a house in Avalon, were having the same beer issues echoed at the shore. Where is all the good beer?
Now in 2010, there were some good options for craft beer, but mainly these were craft beer destinations. The group decided that they could brew good beer in Lower Township, NJ.
On top of thirty plus years in the pharmaceutical business, Bob Krill happens to know a bit about carpentry. With his help, and the help of some dedicated employees, Cape May Brewing started to become a reality. Even the keg washer was built, yes built, from scratch by Chris Henke.
This project is truly a “labor of love.” With six wineries in the area, a brewery seemed like an obvious fit to Ryan Krill and his partners. The response to Cape May Brewing has been remarkable. Locals love having access to their beer and being able to visit the tasting room, which fills-up on the weekends.
When asked about the impact his beer has had on local restaurants and bars, Krill responds with a diplomatic, “It’s hard to say, but I think people that come into the brewery look for our beers when they are out. Restaurant customers see our beers and come visit the brewery.”
Cape May County local, Keith McGee, sees the impact Cape May Brewing is having on the local scene. “People are excited to see local beers on tap. Beer drinkers are looking for fresh, well-made, locally produced beers and Cape May Brewing is delivering on all accounts.”
Like Kane and Carton, the laws that enable the selling of beer on-site have had a huge impact on exposure to their beers. They are gearing up to release 750ml bottles of Sawyer’s Swap American Barley Wine. Krill states that the brewery opened with a 4-barrel system. Currently, they are using a 15-barrel system and are looking to add on in the near future.
Krill also states, “Cape May Brewing has surpassed its five year plan in one-and-a-half However, there isn’t a lofty goal of beer domination. Again, a modest Krill simply says, “We want to be a successful, regional brewery.” If the local response to their beers is any indication, they are well on their way.
Bars Serving Up Craft Brews
Dave Stefankiewicz, owner of Good Night Irene’s in Cape May County, currently boasts thirty-eight taps. Dave’s idea to re-concept the family owned “Poplar Café” with an aggressive tap list came from his travels through the southwest and northeast regions of the US, being impressed by the small, local brewery beers that were so much better than the imports he usually chose because of their more robust flavor profiles when compared to the adjunct lagers.
“Drinking habits have changed. People want better beer.”
The selection at Irene’s is one of the most diverse you will find at the shore, with their tap list reaching fifty-four when the outside beer garden is open in the summer. The list is curated with a good mix of local, when available.
When I asked Stefankiewicz about keeping thirty-eight good beers on tap at all times, he responded by saying, “Finding good beer isn’t necessarily a problem. Finding good beer that is marketable and getting folks to drink it is the magic.” Magic is being made with local beers on his wall.
Irene’s was one of the first bars to pour Cape May Brewing Honey Porter and IPA. Dave says the beers were “…flying off the wall.” While Kane Brewing beers made a brief appearance last year, there is much anticipation of their return and some Kane “swag” hanging on the walls of the bar.
“There is a natural synergy between the shore’s beer bars and the local breweries. It’s my impression that people who come to drink at the shore will gravitate toward the NJ beers just like I drink the Vermont and Colorado crafts when I go snowboarding in those states.”
Tim Fitzpatrick, owner of The Crest Tavern in Wildwood Crest, NJ says he started to see a move towards craft beer about eight years ago. The guests coming into his establishment wanted better beer.
“Drinking habits have changed. People want better beer,” says Fitzpatrick, an admitted “beer geek.”
When we talk about local beers at the shore we have to mention Dogfish Head in Milton, Delaware a lot closer (not to mention a scenic ferry ride) to Cape May County.
Dogfish was adopted as a “local craft beer” by much of the small beer community at the time. Fitzpatrick’s bar has been serving Dogfish Head 60 Minute since it became available in NJ, back in 2003.
The Crest Tavern had ten taps in 2003. Nine of them were the usual suspects you’d expect at your neighborhood bar. Tim is up to twenty-three taps and a beer engine at this non-assuming stop in Cape May County. Tim says that his line-up of better beers is especially great in helping his guests pair their beer with food.
As for his clientele, Tim says, “We see a lot of new people, but the people who have been coming in here are drinking better beers.”
While the larger production breweries are getting the current buzz, we can’t forget to mention the thriving brewery and restaurants that are catering to the community.
Basil T’s in Red Bank, NJ is serving up great Italian cuisine with beers brewed on-site. Artisan Brewery and Italian Grill is offering four beers brewed in-house to complement their menu. The Tun Tavern in Atlantic City has been a destination for shore craft beer lovers for years, with historic roots going back to 1685. These are all great stops on your way to the beaches.
What’s in Store
Breweries and bars are not the only locations for better craft beer selections at the shore. Guy Potts, a Hunterdon beer rep since 2008, says he’s seen a huge jump in his accounts over the past five years. He estimates a 30-40% increase in accounts since he started, coupled with an increase of product in the majority of those accounts.
What does that mean for the average beer consumer? Liquor stores are stocking and carrying better beers. “Canal’s in Egg Harbor has over 150 bottles from the Hunterdon portfolio. The Rio Grande Canals has about 100.” That’s just from Hunterdon.
While Hunterdon has the largest ‘craft’ portfolio, there are other players in town. Kramer, Warren, and Harrison along with liquor purveyors with some beer under their umbrella such as Allied and Southern, mean there is a steady stream of great product making its way into the Garden State. New Jersey liquor stores can sell beers by the case, by the 6 pack, and sometimes,
by the bottle.
Overall, the craft beer scene at the shore is starting to blossom in its own right. Liquor stores are carrying better beer because customers demand it. Breweries are opening and able to sustain their business all year round, thanks to local support. Craft beer bars are catering to craft beer drinkers. Local bars are offering local craft taps because they want to see the hometown guys thrive.
This is a business model that we have seen before. The success of the Philadelphia beer market is a testament to a community coming together to support the beer culture. The best thing we can do to help our shore communities move forward is to support their local beer and the establishments who sell it…and don’t wear shoes to the beach.