Dates: 3/29/19 – 6/19/19
Reported by: The Stoutmeister
First let me just report it! We hit 101 NJ Breweries in 80 days. These included ALL NJ Breweries with open tasting rooms.
During the 2019 Atlantic City Beer and Music Festival, brewery hopping passports were given out; this year, it was distributed by the Community Food Bank of New Jersey in exchange for a donation of $5 or more. The passports are meant for beer drinkers to explore participating breweries and try the other brews besides what we sampled at the festival. Pretzel and I are NOT beer experts but we do respect our own taste. More often than not, we disagree with the connoisseurs and that is why Pretzel’s Beer Blog was designed for “common people” like us. We, the members of what we call the “Beer Posse” all have different preferences in beer. I, for instance, like dark beer (porters and stouts); hence, my Beer Posse name is the Stoutmeister, while Pretzel, our fearless leader, has no specific preference; she is the all-beer-styles kind of a drinker. That does not mean, however, that I will not try IPA, Belgians, lagers, etc. What I do not like in beer, are those that taste like alcoholic seltzer. Sadly, to say, some people expect beer to taste that way. But, gone are the days of boring mass-produced beer; craft beer is here to stay and with it comes all the creativity in styles and flavors. I have NO EXPECTATIONS when it comes to craft beer. Kudos to New Jersey brewers; please do not stop surprising me!
We did the 2018 passport last year and we were very proud to be the first people to complete the tour. We decided that we will not even attempt to repeat that feat. You know, been there, done that… But NO! Good Time Tricycle Productions, who produce the AC Beer and Music Fest, threw in an enticing bonus. Whoever submitted the “most creative” passport, would be upgraded to VIP tickets for the 2020 Atlantic City Beer and Music Festival. OK, we were hooked, or rather Pretzel got that strangely disturbing gleam in her eye, which meant she has a new project! She had not 1, but 3 ideas for the creativity aspect of the passport. There included:
- Create a photo scrapbook of every passport brewery visited.
- Take Big Head cut-outs of the event organizer Jon Henderson and his assistant Claire along for the adventure, and ensure they were included in our photos for the scrapbook.
- Make an extra credit passport that included ALL of the other breweries in NJ with open tasting rooms, that were not included in the original passport. This would add up to over 101 breweries in total.
Thus, we decided to take our time and visit ALL the breweries including those that did not participate in the passport. We were going to be in the general area of these participating breweries, so why not do all of them, right? Well, we must have done it very efficiently because we still managed to turn in the first passports to the AC Beer Fest organizers.
Just like last year, we geographically looked for clusters of breweries that we can manage to visit in a single road trip. We figured that we could handle up to 5 breweries in a day-long beer hopping run although we had done road trips where we visited up to 7. The TRICK to being able to accomplish that without being arrested for DUI is whether or not you have a designated driver, DO NOT DRINK IN EVERY BREWERY you visit. Many of these breweries offer canned or bottled beer to go. You can also bring empty growlers and have them filled (but we prefer canned or bottled beer because they last longer). If the beer you are interested in is on tap, they will even let you have a taste before you buy! Our breweries in New Jersey are WONDERFUL; they all want us to enjoy their beer!
Being able to sample our local beer, loving or hating the brews, and/or finding some of these breweries in very obscure places (where even your GPS had trouble locating them) are not the only benefits of these road trips. Whenever we arrive in a tasting room at off-peak hours, we managed to have a chat (small talk if you prefer it) with the bartenders, the other guests and even the owners and brew masters of these establishments. During our trips, we met very interesting people, for example, the co-owner of Bonesaw Brewing Company who actually signed our passport on their page since they did not have an AC Beer Fest stamper. The same thing happened at Cross Keys Brewing Company. At Heavy Reel Brewing, it was SO CROWDED that we never got the chance to chat with anyone; but anyway, it was our last stop of the day so we decided to buy a crowler of one of their brews and then we drove back home. Some tasting rooms were just way too busy to strike a conversation with anyone.
In our conversations with the brewers, we realized that we share the same views with some of them. I will not mention any names of brewers who agreed with me but I thought IPA is a fad and that people like them right now (like men wore bangs in the 60’s when the Beatles were topping the charts). I noticed that more and more brewers are expanding their beer styles. There are still a few out there that brew mostly IPA but compared to last year, more brewers have already expanded their beer styles beyond IPA. That simply shows that people’s taste for beer can change in a matter of time. On the flip side, we have found brewers who insist on what a particular beer is supposed to taste like; well, that is their choice but where is the creativity there? Some say that any flavor in beer should be subtle. I can agree to that; but I also like to be able to identify the aroma or the subtle taste without needing a clue from the beer’s description. I would even appreciate a “mysterious” flavor in beer for as long as it does not taste like everything else of that style. Some brewers have the right idea of occasionally brewing a small batch of experimental beer; they let their patrons try them out to determine its marketability.
My wife, Pretzel, had the idea to carry with us cut-out head images of the people from Good Time Tricycle Productions, the organizers of the AC Beer and Music Festival. Those head images managed to start a conversation with LOTS OF RANDOM PEOPLE who got a kick out of our idea to share our adventures with the organizer via those large cardboard pictures on a stick. It actually made our road trips more fun than just to drink beer! It was also an opportunity to introduce Pretzel’s Beer Blog and likewise, the Atlantic City Beer and Music Festival especially in breweries that do not participate in beer festivals at all.
Most breweries are open only on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, so we planned most of our road trips on those days. Whenever Pretzel and I had a chance for a road trip, off we went! Pretzel was like a military general planning an invasion! She had a map of New Jersey with ALL the breweries marked in color-coded fashion. The colors of the markings were based on whether it is a passport or non-passport brewery, or maybe a production only establishment or if it is a brew-pub. Any locations that we have already visited are also marked with a different color to make it easier for us to find the places that are yet to be visited. In addition to this map, Pretzel also had a spreadsheet containing the address, phone number and business hours of the tasting rooms. That was how we planned the optimized sequence of breweries to visit in every road trip. We never had to use any of the phone numbers we saved to ask for directions if the GPS fails to find a location; although, we almost did it on one occasion while looking for High Point Brewing Company. Luckily, Pretzel’s GPS on her iPhone pointed us to the right direction. It helps to have a backup GPS. We simply repeated this routine on days when most brewery tasting rooms are open; but we had no idea that we could visit ALL New Jersey breweries (except brew pubs and production-only sites) in just 80 days!
And now, let me do my special shout-outs!
- Cross Keys Brewing Company for keeping our little secret about the cut-out images of the AC Beer Fest organizers. Our passport run is now complete so that is not a secret anymore.
- Hidden Sands for keeping the Watermelon sour in your beer menu; Pretzel and I were never a fan of sours but you folks made us change our minds.
- 13th Child Brewing Company for being able to infuse “on the fly” your choice of flavors to beer that you might think is otherwise boring.
- Avalon Brew Pub for the most interesting men’s room (with the beer keg urinals) although the ladies were not happy with their “not-too-inspired” restroom.
- Beach Haus Brewery for selling our favorite beer (Wachamalager) in cans.
- Last Wave Brewing Company for Right Coast Coconut Porter, my favorite porter from this adventure.
- Climax Brewing Company for the most detailed brewery tour and for a nice discussion with the owner, David Hoffmann, regarding the NJ Craft Beer legislation.
- Angry Erik Brewing for the most interesting bar area. The bar looks like a Viking ship complete with a dragon’s head at the bow, and a dragon’s tail with hops as the tail. This one-of-a-kind bar was handmade by the owner of Angry Erik Brewing.
- Brooks Brewery and your brew master, Arthur, for brewing your 99 Luftbananas (Hazelnut Banana Hefe) and the Chocolate Cherry Double Stout; they were delicious!!!
- New Jersey Beer Company for producing their tasty blood orange IPA (I usually do not enjoy IPA style beer but this is one IPA that I will go out of my way for).
- Loved getting a chance to babble with the owners, bartenders, and brew masters at many of the breweries visited. Our favorites included Colleen and Mike Frye from Frye Brewing Company, Kris at Manskirt Brewing, Dave Hoffman from Climax Brewing Co (the oldest microbrewery in NJ), Pola from Lower Forge, Arthur from Brooks Brewery, Johnnie and Annie from Third State Brewing. We also met some new friends along the way including Kameleionalani and Austin at NJ Beer Company and Anthony and Joseph at Cypress.
- Best Merchandise – Village Idiot Brewing Company and Jersey Girl Brewing Company.
- Best Murals/artwork – High Point Brewing Company, Departed Soles Brewing Company, Manskirt Brewing, Icarus Brewing Co.
A couple closing notes on what we learned along our travels…
- Don’t judge a brewery by its cover. Many of our favorite beers came from small or divey breweries such as Brooks Brewery, Troon Brewing, and NJ Beer Company.
- A tour shouldn’t be a chore (nice rhyme, huh?). Pretzel loves to take the live tours, interact with the brewers and ask questions on their processes. On many tours, the guide has given us tastes of not-yet-released brews in the pipeline or beers that have not met their Quality Control standards and are not offered in the tasting rooms. (Actually, some of these skunk beers are not bad! Remember, we are not connoisseurs.)
- We prefer the breweries where we can sit at the bar and get a chance to strike up great conversations with bartenders, owners, and clientele. The breweries where you are herded into the ordering line, don’t offer the same kind of intimacy, as you order your drinks and take them back to your table.
- Have fun! The NJ Beer scene continues to grow and evolve. Go explore our NJ breweries (and take a friend).