The Tasting Room

  A couple of years ago, in a rare act of allowing more
freedom for constituents, our New Jersey legislators
relaxed the restrictions on how breweries can conduct
their business. This led to a virtual explosion in the
growth of the brewing industry in the Garden State,
adding to the economy by increasing the amount of
ingredients that must be bought, taxes that must be
paid on product, real estate and energy, and rental
payments to landlords, not to mention the bottles,
cans, kegs, tap handles, caps and labels to be bought.
All these factors create a need for brewers, helpers,
assistants, clerical staff and even sales and delivery
people.

    Basically, the legislation allowed brewers to open up
“tasting rooms” and sell beer directly to the general
public under the pretense of giving a tour. To be sure,
for at least as long as I’ve been alive, brewers both
large and small have been giving tours that are
entertaining and educational and usually end with a
gratis sampling once safely back in their hospitality
room. I’ve been on many of these, but always for the
educational and entertainment aspect, rather than the
free glass or two of Pabst or Budweiser. I don’t need to
drive to Pottsville for a free glass of Yuengling after a
tour.

    Under the new law, however, the term “tour” has
taken on an entirely new meaning. No longer must a
visitor gather with a group of other visitors, and led by
a tour guide, travel throughout a warehouse, delivery
platform, malthouse, brewhouse and packaging plant.
Instead, he has several other ways of “touring” before
being allowed to BUY as much as he likes at the end of
the tour. I’ve been to a dozen or so of the new start-
ups here in Northern New Jersey and while they provide
the beer lover with a new venue in which to drink fresh
beer, it seems as though some of them just wanted to
open a beer bar without the expense of a liquor license.


  
 I don’t include well established breweries like Cricket
Hill or Climax, that have also opened tasting rooms, in
that category. (More about them later). Rather, I’m
talking about breweries which opened AFTER the new
laws, and which have nice little tap rooms complete with
bars and stools, and are open anywhere from four to
seven days a week for as long as ten hours a day.
Some actually give a tour, others make a joke out of
complying with the law, and still others completely
ignore the requirement of a “tour”.

    I first stopped at Cypress Brewing Company in
Edison about a year ago. Being the only customer at
the time I was given a personal tour by one of the
owners, who informed me that brewery was named after
the street in Colonia, Cypress Drive,  where his partner
lived and only a few short blocks from I grew up. They
make some very nice beers and are open seven days a
week, eight hours a day, except for Saturday when

they’re open for ten and Sunday when they’re only
open for nine. Keeping compliant with the law, they
must either give a hell of a lot of tours or a patron must
have a hell of a lot of time to drink beer while waiting for
the next one to begin.

    Magnify Brewing Company in Fairfield is the same
kind of set-up: small tasting room with bar and tables in
an industrial park, and open every day except Monday
and Tuesday. I was offered a five minute tour on my
first visit, but subsequent visits afforded me only the
opportunity to drink their beers, which are okay, but
which, for some reason, are served in Mason jars, which
I hate. I’d rather drink out of a solo cup. I do not, but
for those who prefer to drink something stronger than
suds, an added benefit of visiting Magnify is that there
is a distillery located right next door.

    Leaving Magnify heading east on Route 46 and
passing by one of my favorite stops, Cricket Hill, took
me to Little Ferry and the brand new Brix City Brewery
which boasted decent beers, nothing particularly
outstanding, and nothing remotely resembling a tour.
Just a large well-attended barroom, open seven days a
week, and fairly reasonable pricing. The Jaromir Pils was
very good.

    After having visited the operation at Brix City, on my
next stop, Demented Brewing in Middlesex, I figured I
could just walk in, take a seat and order a flight of the
dozen brews they offered. Not so! I was told that
before they could serve me I’d have to take a tour. I
asked when the next one started and was informed that
it’s a self guided tour that I could begin immediately by
entering a doorway to my right. I entered, took one
step in, executed a 180 degree turn, reentered the bar
area, sat down and was asked “How did you like the
tour?” and “What’ll ya have?” The same thing happened
just today when my son and I popped in after a
Somerset Patriot’s ballgame. Although they’re complying
with the LETTER of the law, somehow I don’t think that’
s exactly the SPIRIT of the law. Not that I care. I hate
most laws, anyway.

    A month ago I drove up to Hackettstown on a Friday
night to visit a couple of the new breweries there,
Manskirt and Jersey Girl. Manskirt, open every day save
Monday is in an old bank building on the main drag in
the center of town. The guy behind the bar was wearing
a kilt, hence the name. There was no tour and only
average beer. There were four brews available and two
of the four were porters, offering little variety.


Jersey Girl Brewing (love the name) is actually in an
industrial area in Mt. Olive and makes very good beer
which is understandable, since I heard that one of the
owners is related to Carol Stoudt, of the acclaimed
Stoudt Brewery of Adamstown, Pennsylvania. But there
is a slight problem with the employees’ ability to make
more money for the management or for that matter, for
themselves. They had six beers on tap and were
offering a four beer flight for $8.00, about average. I
wanted to try the other two but didn’t want full pints
because I had to drive home. I asked for a “half flight”
but was told the computer system wasn’t set up to do
half flights. I asked the girl why I just couldn’t buy two
samples for $4. Again she said the computer wouldn’t
allow it, but that she could just GIVE them to me. I took
advantage of this noble gesture and happily drank
them, knowing the $4 was neither in the owner’s pocket
nor her pocket, having stayed securely in MY pocket!

    My neighbor and I went to the grand opening of the
Twin Elephant Brewery in Chatham and after judging the
wait for a tour would be over an hour, waiting in line
beerless, we left. I returned the following week , found
no line and was instructed to not head directly for the
tasting room, but to access it by walking through the
brewhouse, which apparently constituted a tour.  
Actually, one of the very personable owners was seated
in there answering questions. They had some pretty
decent brews with some fairly lengthy names such as
“Mini Horse with Kicks Saison” and “On the Off Chance
Red Kolsch”. Innovative and cute but I need neither to
appreciate good beer.

    Cricket Hill’s compliance with the new law is kind of a
downer for long time Cricket Hill fans. Previously, the
Friday night open house of the brewery offered almost
unlimited free samplings of the excellent Cricket Hill
beers enjoyed while listening to owner Rick Reed rant
and rave about the evils of Anheuser-Busch.(some of
the rants are available on youtube). Unfortunately, the
Friday night tours are no longer free, but the prices are
reasonable and the excellent beer is as fresh as you can
get.

    My favorite tour is at Roselle Park’s Climax Brewery,
New Jersey’s oldest craft brewery. Climax adhere’s to
both the letter and the spirit of the law. It’s only open
on Friday nights for three hours and is located at the
rear of owner Dave Hoffman’s machine shop. Currently
there are no taproom, barstools or Mason jars. Instead,
the delicious Climax and Hoffman brews (Climax for ales
and Hoffman for lagers) are served in solo cups while
standing in an actual working brewery. The hourly tours
do not require a visitor to move more than a step or
two away from the taps while surrounded by the
ambiance of pallets, full cases, empty cartons, sacks of
grain, forklifts and everything else necessary to make
and market our favorite product. Another benefit of
visiting Climax is that you don’t have to feel like you’ve
entered a grocery store. With only a few exceptions
Climax beers are made according to the German purity
law of Rheinheitsgebot. If you’re looking for “Orange
Crush Lager”, “Mango Ale” or “Peanut Butter and Jelly
Porter”, go elsewhere. Climax just makes great beer
along traditional guidelines.

    I have not as yet visited any of the nouveau
breweries south of the Raritan River, but I’ll bet a good
deal of those also subscribe to the letter rather than the
spirit of the law. I’m sure that soon our overly zealous
legislators will begin to tax and regulate them out of
existence, so beer lovers should visit a few tasting
rooms while they still have the opportunity.



                         Cheers!

    









            Dan
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