Something’s brewing on the Battleship New Jersey
By DAVE ALLEN • For the Courier-Post • June 25, 2010
In spreading appreciation of craft beer around the region, the Flying Fish Brewing Co. is employing what you might call a statewide strategy.
This end-to-end approach mirrors growth in craft beer throughout the state. For a taste of what New Jersey’s breweries are producing from north to south, the Garden State Beer Festival Saturday on the Battleship New Jersey is the place to go.
The past year has seen the addition of one new start-up to the state’s lineup and the continued success of Flying Fish and Iron Hill Brewery in Maple Shade, two of South Jersey’s brewing outposts.
Along with bringing attention to the state’s native cultural offerings, Flying Fish’s Exit Series promotes environmental preservation efforts and other local concerns. A stout brewed with oysters, named after Exit 1 in Salem County, brought attention to wildlife restoration efforts on the Delaware Bay. The Exit 16 beer, released this spring, promoted the work of the Hackensack Riverkeeper in the Meadowlands.
“It took a lot of research, but there’s a lot of interesting history,” Muller says. “People are really embracing it.”
Closer to South Jersey, the brewery recently unveiled Exit 6, a citrusy, Belgian-style beer brewed with rye and named for the exit near Florence in Burlington County. That beer will make an appearance Saturday, along with three of the brewery’s year-round and seasonal offerings.
The success of the Exit Series, along with continued growth of its regular drafts and bottles, have helped to increase Flying Fish’s sales in the past year, even with the sagging economy and leisure dollars for craft beer hard to come by.
“It’s a good time for the industry and we’re trying to build on that,” Muller says, calling craft beer an “affordable luxury.”
Flying Fish isn’t the only one drawing on Garden State history. The state’s newest brewery, the New Jersey Beer Co. in North Bergen, brews 1787 Abbey Single, a Belgian-style beer named after the year of statehood.
The brewery’s Hudson Pale Ale and Garden State Stout also reflect local and statewide themes.
In Maple Shade, Iron Hill Brewery’s success is due less to New Jersey pride — its other seven locations are in Delaware and Pennsylvania — than to local enthusiasm. At the 2009 festival, the brewpub still was weeks away from opening and the last year has been marked by tremendous growth and success.
According to head brewer Chris Lapierre, membership in the brewpub’s Mug Club — an insider group with access to limited-edition beers, as well as personalized 24-ounce mugs — has climbed to more than 1,600, far exceeding membership at any of the chain’s other locations in Pennsylvania. Lapierre recently completed the location’s 100th batch.
“When we open a new restaurant, we expect it to be successful,” says Lapierre, head brewer at Iron Hill Maple Shade. “It has been beyond what we could have expected.”
Lapierre says loyal customers come to him with ideas for new beers. Some seek strong beers with high alcohol contents and others want brews with a lot of hops.
Iron Hill’s lineup for Saturday will consist of three of the chain’s lighter staple beers, available at all locations, and a Belgian-style white ale.
This year’s festival follows closely on the heels of Philadelphia’s sprawling Beer Week. This year, events spilled over into New Jersey and both Iron Hill and Flying Fish had a presence on both sides of the Delaware.
Even though some local beer enthusiasts still might feel the effects of Beer Week in their wallets, Muller and Lapierre don’t think that will have an impact on attendance Saturday.
As evidence, Lapierre points to a sold-out beer dinner at Iron Hill held the Tuesday after Philly Beer Week. It seems appetites for beer in South Jersey haven’t been filled. Saturday’s event goes on rain or shine and all tickets include a self-guided tour of the battleship before entering the festival.