Saturday, March 17, 2012

Irish sights & sounds at Cricket Hill tour

Some images from the tour at Cricket Hill in Fairfield.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Great Blue opts not to renew license

Another casualty among New Jersey's craft brewing enterprises.

Great Blue, a 2-barrel brewery on the Suydam Farm in Franklin Township, Somerset County, opted to let its licensing and bonding run out.

Ryck Suydam, one of the principals in the brewery that was licensed early last year, says the decision to idle the family-owned brewery resulted from not having a person available to run it.

"My son was my brewmaster, and he works for another brewer full time and just couldn't do both. I didn't have anybody in the wings, and I couldn't do it with my schedule," says Ryck, who also runs the 300-acre family farm and is a partner in Suydam Insurance Agency. "So, the brewery is in mothballs for the time-being. The entity still exists, but the license has non-renewed."

Known for wide range of produce and commodities, including eggs, pork, hay, vegetables, melons, berries and flowers, Suydam Farm also grows hops. Ryck says some hop varieties will be cultivated this growing season, but not to the degree of past years. (The farm has grown hops since the 1990s.)

"It's just not cost-effective compared to the other things we do grow on the farm," he says.

For craft brewery start-ups in New Jersey, 2011 was a hot year, with five brewing enterprises being licensed by state and federal regulators. Great Blue, named for the herons that feed at a pond on the farm, led the pack, getting licensed Feb. 28, 2011. (In chronological order, last year's class of new breweries goes like this: Great Blue, Cape May Brewing, Kane Brewing, Carton Brewing and Tuckahoe Brewing.)

With a brewhouse that once produced beers for the now-defunct Cedar Creek brewpub in Egg Harbor City, Great Blue had planned to target its beers made with its own Jersey-grown hops for markets near the farm, a take on the concept of farm to fork, in this case, farm to glass.

The brewery led off with a red ale nearly a year ago, a beer made as much to work out the brewing processes on its equipment as much as anything. But the matter of who would tend the kettle proved to be an early problem, and with all of the competing interests and time constraints of the owners, finding a brewer proved to be something that was not easily resolved.

Great Blue's exit/hiatus from the Garden State's craft brewing scene follows the shuttering of Port 44 Brew Pub in Newark, which closed last summer.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

For Cricket Hill, summer starts now, runs longer

Rick Reed pours at Brewer's Plate event
The news out of Cricket Hill is their newly acquired 30-barrel fermenters have been put into service – an imperial IPA and their hot-weather seasonal, Jersey Summer Breakfast Ale, are the brews that the Fairfield beer-maker announced last week had christened the tanks.

Going beyond that tidbit of news, owner Rick Reed says Cricket Hill will bump up its production run of the summer seasonal this year and make some packaging adjustments.

New 30-barrel tanks
"We'll do 20 batches; that's up by two brews. We'll do more draft and less bottles. We'll cut back the bottles and increase the sixtels," he says.

Speaking of those two fermenters (bought from Switchback Brewing in Burlington, Vermont), Rick says the extra tank space will boost annual production capability to almost 4,000 barrels, up from 2,600.

The brewery has also added a new chiller to handle the additional tank load, plus a grain silo that is forecast to help trim operating costs.

On the festival trail this month, you can expect to run into the Cricket Hill folks at Beer on the Boards in Point Pleasant Beach (March 24) and the Atlantic City beer festival (March 30-31).

The Cricket Hill crew beneath Springsteen pic at the March 11th Brewer's Plate at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Boaks Beer on a touch screen

Will the app look like this?
Coming to the iTunes Store – the Boaks Beer iPhone and iPad app.

Boaks founder Brian Boak says the free app being developed by a New York City ad agency will be debuted at the Saturday afternoon session of the Atlantic City beer festival (March 31).

"For people who have iPhones who are there for the early session, there's going to be some very special VIP privileges they will be able to get, using their iPhones," Brian says.

"The balance of the app is going to (let you) be able to learn about Boaks and find out where Boaks Beer is available and to get us your email so we can keep you updated, have you friend us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter."

The app actually is expected to be available a few days ahead of the beer festival. However, Brian says, some features will be locked until the formal debut.

The idea for the confluence of personal gadgets and beer marketing is obvious: steering beer drinkers to the brand.

Brian Boak (right) at Brewers Plate in Philly
"The more people who interact with us, the more people are likely to try Boaks Beer. The more they learn about Boaks Beer, the more likely they will try it," Brian says.

Boaks entered the New Jersey craft beer market in 2008 as contracted-brewed label. The Pompton Lakes company's lineup of Belgian-style beers and an imperial stout are brewed under contract by High Point Brewing in Butler.

New Jersey Beer Company, based in North Bergen, was recently added as a contract brewer and last week brewed a Belgian brown (Abbey Brown, 7% ABV) for the Boaks label.

A changing of the guard at High Point

A bittersweet moment at High Point Brewing's first open house of the year and the release its 2012 Ramstein Maibock.

The event on Saturday (3/10) was also a sendoff for head brewer Bryan Baxter, who's leaving to join Otter Creek Brewing, the Middlebury, Vermont, brewery known for Stovepipe Porter, Copper Ale, Wolaver organic beers, and now a component of Long Trail Brewing of Burlington, Vermont.

Before the doors opened for the Ramstein event, owner Greg Zaccardi gathered the brewery's volunteers and thanked Bryan for his dedication to High Point, presenting him with personalized 2-liter, German-style growler.

Bryan says Vermont had virtually become a second home, and the Otter Creek job he starts March 19th grew out of that.

"I've been going up there pretty much every summer with my fiance, and we always were stopping in. I got to know their brewmaster and their head brewer," he says. "It's an opportunity right now I can't refuse. It's a way bigger brewery. I'll be able to learn a lot of crazy stuff."

Bryan took over as High Point's brewer in 2008, when Paul Scarmazzo retired after a stroke. He quickly put his own stamp on the Ramstein wheat and lager beers, including the brewery's well-received seasonals. Ramstein Oktoberfest and Maibock earned top ratings by BeerAdvocate and RateBeer during his tenure.

"Bryan came in cleaning kegs, like everybody does, scrubbing kegs, working side by side with Paul, helping out and learning the importance of cleanliness and exact careful brewing techniques," Greg says. "He demonstrated he could do the job when Paul retired."

Leaving, Bryan says, is tough: "This is my home. Greg's my friend. He's not my boss, he's my friend. He gave me the opportunity to take over."

Alexis Bacon (at left with girlfriend Melody Bioletti), the assistant brewer under Bryan, now moves up to head brewer.