Last night I touched down in Minneapolis from I really fun trip in New Jersey. While my friends from Minnesota were dealing with the seasons’ first snowfall, I was walking along the Jersey Shore eating fresh seafood, searching for a good pork roll sandwich, visiting the sites, and of course checking out the craft beer scene:
In a lot of ways the New Jersey Craft Beer scene reminds me of the scene here in Minnesota in 2009. People are curious about it, the brewers aren’t quite main stream rock stars of the community yet, and the state is still under a bunch of archaic laws. For instance, whenever I walked into a brewery, before I could get to the beer, I had to be offered a tour. Now some breweries had really creative ways around this, such as handing me a brochure for a “self-guided tour”, but others the brewer was waiting for us. Other oddities were that breweries couldn’t partner with food trucks as easily, and the business hours were very short. But among all the legal chaos, there are a fine bunch of brewers paving the way for great things to come. So if you ever make it out to this hidden gem, be sure to check out some of these local places:
Sometime you just never know what is going to happen when you step in a new brewery and introduce yourself. Will they be open to talk to you? Will they look at you with skepticism? Well Dark City Brewing in Asbury Park, NJ answered that question for us on our first stop. After coming in, I was offered my complimentary tour, and after introducing myself I met with Kevin the CEO of Dark City. He was eager to give us our first taste of New Jersey beer, and talk to us a little bit about the history of brewing and the New Jersey craft beer scene. Dark City had the most comforting and modern tap room. They also had the most balanced beers covering the spectrum of seasonal pumpkin beers, a couple of sours, and then your usual lineup of IPAs to Porters. This place was the most rounded of our stops, and had something for everyone. My favorite beers from Dark City were Zombie Walk (Pumpkin), Wesley (Gose), Code Violation (Porter), and Summerfield (Berliner Weisse).
Last wave is a new player on the New Jersey Craft Brewery scene, having only been open a few months in the coastal town of Point Pleasant Beach, NJ. Just because they are new doesn’t mean they are not producing some good beers, and carving out their niche in the industry. This surf themed tap room was a great stop after walking the nearby New Jersey shore, and the brewery is nestled in with a bunch of fine restaurants nearby. The beer here is softer, less carbonated, and has a more “British Pub” feel to them. The dark beers at Last Wave were really the beers to shine here. My favorites were Right Coast (Coconut Porter), and Red Sky (Red Ale).
In Lakewood, New Jersey we found the most creative brewery on our trip, Icarus Brewing. They had some crazy combinations that just worked. Banana Shandies, yup, they got it! Habenero/Pineapple infused, yup, they got that too. The team at Icarus is pushing the New Jersey Craft beer scene in new directions in their unique happy-go-lucky, rebellious ways. I would also like to state for the record, I had the MOST raw fun at this brewery. The three tap room managers we talked to were a hoot, and full of knowledge and passion for craft beer! This brewery is a great place to go if you want to be entertained, not just by the hosts, but by the plethora of games to play, and of course the uniqueness of their beers. My favorite beers were: Pineapple Hindenburg (Peppers/Pineapple), The Real Blonde (Blonde Ale), Mr. Oktoberfest (Marzen)
Kane Brewing in Ocean, NJ is the New Jersey equivalent to Surly Brewing. It is the most known, most sought after, and is a experienced veteran in a field of relative up and comers. Kane was also the busiest tap room we visited, and the only one with a line out the door. This was not all hype either, the brewery delivers. From a mechanical perspective Kane Brewing was leaps and bounds beyond any other brewer we had on this trip. It is the only brewery that could transplant into our North East Minneapolis craft beer scene and go toe to toe with our best and brightest. This is not a knock against any of the other breweries on this list. They were all good breweries with GREAT personality. But to appeal to the beer snobs of the world, you need the laser precise brewing process that Kane seems to have perfected. Beers to try: Mexican Brunch (Imperial Porter), Sneak Box (Pale Ale), Night Swimming (Helles)
Jughandle in Tinton Falls, New Jersey can be one of the breweries that can be overlooked with other nearby larger breweries. But it would be a mistake to miss this place if you are in the area. Jughandle is a great little brewery with some personality and spunk! They brew some very different beers, and can give your pallet a break from a scene saturated in IPAs. Although, they do make a mean IPA if that IS your thing. This brewery is well rounded. They don’t do a bad beer, and all beers met my personal “Good to drink” title. A couple of them that really stuck out where The Bee Sting (Farmhouse/Honey), Berliner Weisse /w Raspberry, and the Bourbon Barrel-aged Breakfast Stout.
Carton brewing is our last stop on the New Jersey tour. Carton is in Atlantic Heights, NJ and is conveniently near a plethora of great eating establishments. Currently Carton is in a VERY hard to spot location just off the main road, but they are moving into a new larger facility just around the corner. The tap room is in a room located on the second floor. It’s a neat “basement living room” cozy feel to it. Carton is very proud to be from New Jersey, and I think the beer here best reflects the New Jersey culture: A generous hop bite, with a mellow, laid back, malty background. If hoppy beers are your thing, this brewery does it best. Beers to try are: Boat Beer (Session), B.D.G. (Brunch Dinner Grub) (American Brown), 077XX (Imperial IPA)
Most people don’t think about vacationing in New Jersey. But then again most people wouldn’t enjoy a double egg pork roll sandwich either. To them, I say “Don’t be a Benny, get your ass down here for a Ripper, Tomatoe Pie, and some really great Craft Beer!
Stay Local My Friends! Prost!