Beer in a Box

In a novel approach to the way freshly brewed beer can be
carried home, a Hunterdon County brewery has decided to go
the route long used by wine and more recently by coffee and
soda purveyors. The Ship Inn Brew Pub in Milford now gives its
customers the chance to buy its beer in a box.

"There really isn't much of a learning curve," said Tim Hall, the
brewer. "There aren't a lot of people doing this."

Since it opened in 1995, patrons to the brewery have been able
to take the brewed-on-premises beer home in half gallon jugs
called growlers, that can be refilled multiple times, but Hall said a
lot of the decision to switch to a cube was economical and
environmental.

The boxes are inexpensive and biodegradable and are a favorable
alternative to glass bottles. Hall, who has spent a lot of time
abroad as both a student and tourist said that he was unaware of
the stigma that boxed adult beverages have in the states.

"In Europe, it's really good," said Hall standing behind the dark
wood bar on a chilly morning. "At first, I was getting strange
looks from customers."

Sideways glances did not last long however. The Ship Inn began
to test the five and 10 quart boxes in the fall of 2006 and by last
summer had made them a staple of the pub. The idea has caught
on and they are now selling about an extra 100 gallons of beer
each week.

A brew pub is defined as a restaurant that brews small batches of
beer on premises. State law prohibits the pubs from selling their
suds through distributors. A micro brewery is traditionally
defined as one that produces up to 15,000 barrels per year. A
barrel holds roughly 31 gallons.

Currently the Ship Inn has three of their homemade beers on
tap. There is an English Bitter Style Ale, a cask conditioned
-unfiltered and low carbonation beer served from a hand pump -
ale and Golden Wheat beer that Hall calls more of a "lawn
mower" beer, designed for people who still might be leery of
craft brews.

Of the nearly two dozen brew pubs and micro breweries in the
Garden State, the Ship Inn is the only one currently pouring into
boxes, according to the state brewer's guild.

Hall said he researched the idea for a few years and had to
reconfigure the pub's taps to accommodate the new system. In
the spirit of fresh beer, they are only filled when ordered.

"You won't find them sitting on a shelf or cooler," he said.

There are a handful of brew pubs across the country that are
also boxing their beer, including Rubicon Brewing in Sacramento,
CA which has been offering gallon boxes for the last few years.

But in large, the idea of boxing beer is a new thing.

Julia Herz, a spokeswoman for the Brewers Association, a
nonprofit group devoted to professional brewers, said that while
"alternative packaging" has become a trend in craft brewing, she
and others at the association had not heard of the cardboard
contraptions.

"From a cost perspective it's probably a helpful decision," she
said in a telephone interview from Colorado.

She noted that many craft brewers are also returning to the idea
of cans - a container that can also carry a negative image - saying
that in 2007 at least 25,000 barrels of suds wound up in
aluminum cylinders. Micro brewers who are using cans said it is
cheaper than bottles, it better helps retain flavor and helps their
product stand out on shelves that are becoming more and more
crowded with craft beers.

Dan Soboti Jr., who brews at the Gaslight Brewery and
Restaurant in South Orange said that they would likely stick with
glass growlers for the foreseeable future.

"We talked about it, but we decided that it wasn't going to work
for us," he said.

Hall said that he sells between 30 and 40 boxes and growlers per
week and once a cube is filled, the beer stays carbonated for 2-3
weeks. The five quart box sells for $18 and the 10 quart for $28.
Each comes with a reusable plastic tap that can be screwed onto
the spigot and reused by return visitors. The box itself isn't built
for more than one use, though the brewer said it's possible to
get a second round out of it. When the box is emptied, drinkers
can break it down and toss it in with the recycling.

Customers to the Ship Inn, like Richard Kroth of Milford, like the
box because they last longer than growlers. And with a young
child at home, he's not able to get to the pub as often as he'd like.

"It's just really easy," he said.

Looking forward, Hall says he hopes to add some new beers to
the rotation that are "full of flavor but have a low alcohol
content."

In doing so, he hopes to bring new drinkers to the craft brew
bar, and see them leave with a box tucked under their arm.


--
John  Holl
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