The women clean up
July 31, 1998
By Kurt Epps
"If you can boil water, you can brew beer," say all the homebrewing
books. Well, yes, but there's a lot they don't tell you about.
As any homebrewer knows, there's nothing like drinking and sharing your
own fresh brew. But making it is a messy process. "If you ain't wet, you
ain't working," goes the brewer's slogan.
The setup and cleanup parts of
brewing are hardly pleasurable, very time consuming and often daunting
deterrents to one's frothy enthusiasm. Add to that the purchase of
ingredients, the requisite sanitizing of equipment and bottles, the
necessity of little gadgets that don't necessarily come with your
homebrew kit--itself not a cheap investment-- and you gain great respect
for those dedicated to the cause.
Cost is also an important consideration. Many homebrewers brew in five
gallon batches, making the yield approximately forty-eight 12 oz.
bottles. Ingredients (hops, grain, malt extract, corn sugar, Irish moss,
perishable supplies) for such a batch could easily cost between thirty
and forty bucks - provided you can get them. Depending on how exotic you
want your beer to be, the cost is sometimes more - a great deal more. And
don't forget bottles which have to be acquired and then carefully
sanitized. While a buck a bottle is not a big price to pay for good,
fresh beer, clearly just being able to boil water really doesn't tell the
Enter beer establishments known as BOP's (Brew-on-premises).Owners of
BOP's recognize that, despite some media claims to the contrary, the
desire for fresh, flavorful, quality beer has not abated. Its growth has
slowed somewhat, but it's still growing. Very popular west of the Rockies
for some years, these businesses allow homebrewers of any experience
level to come in and brew their favorite recipes, using supplies and
equipment on hand. More importantly, you leave your mess there for others
to clean up. You then return two weeks later to collect your beer, put it
in your trunk and drive off, hopefully, into a sudsy sunset.
In the Garden State, however, there is only one such establishment.
Centrally located in Freehold, NJ it is called The Brewer's Apprentice.
And it is perhaps the only completely female owned and operated brewing
facility in the country. The proprietors are Jo Ellen, Penny and
Barbara--the former two daughters of the latter.
To regale you with the morass of red tape, legislative inertia, delays
and regulation snafus that these gals--all Perth Amboy natives-- had to
surmount would fill more space than we writers are allotted. It took them
nearly a year to get opened, and during that year they had to pay rent on
the building without generating any profits.
That has changed.
The shop, located behind other buildings in a shopping plaza, is
immaculately clean and can accommodate up to six separate brewers at
once. What's nice about the place is that anyone can be a successful
homebrewer their very first time out. Under the watchful eyes of the
three women, the novice can choose a beer style, select, measure and add
ingredients, and pitch yeast prepared meticulously by the ladies. From
there it's a matter of watching your brew get expertly transferred to a
keg for storage and fermenting under ideally regulated conditions.
You can select your own name and label for your special brew, and when
you return two weeks later to retrieve it, you'll pack up seventy-two 22
oz. bomber bottles of your own homebrewed treasure to enjoy or share with
friends. The cost usually comes out to under two bucks a bottle, and they
guarantee the quality of your beer. However, if you use your own recipes,
the flavor is your department.
What's even nicer about the place are the people who run it and work in
it. Friendly, down-to-earth and repositories of brew knowledge and
experience, they will guide you every step of the way. Mom Barbara is
likely to throw on a pot of coffee and bring out some crumb cake or
sticky buns for noshing. It's like brewing in your favorite grandmother's
And "Grandma" doesn't miss a trick when it comes to either brewing or
hospitality. Her daughters Penny and JoEllen must have inherited her
attitude, because they make you feel right at home, and, curiously, you
begin to feel like a family member almost immediately. Even unrelated
regular patrons like "Uncle" Joe Lobby are considered part of the
extended family. Joe took the PubScout's young children under his wing
immediately and had them measuring, grinding, filling and pitching as
genially and caringly as their own uncles would have.
These ladies are following a time-honored tradition of women in brewing
that goes as far back as the Beer Goddess Ninkasi of Ancient Egypt. And
though Ninkasi never decreed that women must clean up after men, my guess
is that the Beer Goddess smiles down on her disciples and hopes they
"clean up" in another sense.
I couldn't agree more.
The Brewer's Apprentice
179 South St.
Freehold, NJ 07728