Moon over New Brunswick

March 16, 1996

By Kurt Epps

Imagine all the plans, applications and preparation necessary to open up New Jersey's fifth brewpub. Add to that the cost of advertising, marketing and public relations and the anticipated gut excitement of a gala grand opening in the heart of revitalized downtown New Brunswick. Consider doing everything that needed to be done: dotting all the i's, crossing all the t's and making sure your product was at its peak of flavor. And then imagine having to hang a sign on the door the night of the opening saying, "The Moon will NOT be out Tonight."

That's exactly what happened to Scott Falk, head brewer of the brand spanking new Harvest Moon Brewery/Cafe, and it was not because of anything they had done or failed to do. It seems that the ABC's of the NJ ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Commission) had gotten bogged down in reams of red tape and a plethora of paperwork.

If the Harvest Moon is any indication, perhaps the state of NJ had better hire more staff as microbrewpubs begin to proliferate throughout the Garden State. Although the opening was postponed for one night, the eventual christening on March 14 was a smashing SRO success, as a seemingly unending line of brew enthusiasts filed in past the two glass-enclosed, gleaming mash tuns supervised by the 24 year old Brewer Falk.

Unable to balance the rigors of his studies at the University of Vermont with his penchant for locating superb brews, Falk decided that he would do what made him happy--brew beer. Having attended Ipswich in Massachusetts, he and old friend Kristen Sullivan (although she hardly looks to be drinking age herself) went after their dream. They got financial backing from Kristen's dad Mitchell, who also owns the Oyster Point Inn in Red Bank, and another investor named Barry Goldsmith.

The investors must have had supreme confidence in the combined brewing and managerial skills of their young proteges, because putting the Harvest Moon on line took nearly $900,000, which, in anybody's lingo, is not exactly dry yeast.

But the investor's gamble seemed to be rewarded with a packed house on both floors of this architecturally unique pub. One wag commented that a major chunk of the investment could be retired with the proceeds from this night's crowd, and there may have been some truth in the assessment. It was also rewarded by the product served up by Falk and his knowledgeable and amiable assistant Jim Watson, himself only 24 and a grad of the same university that guided Falk into other than academic endeavors.

Perhaps the beer nut should send a thank you to the university, for with his brews, Falk has obviously done his homework. Using a "keep it simple" philosophy, The Harvest Moon produces four beer styles right now with plans to add two more to the stable, a porter and a red ale. Falk and Watson, by their own admission, are not afraid to take risks in their brewing to achieve that special uniqueness which sets apart great beers from good ones.

Currently on draft is Crazy Girl Golden Ale, a delightful brew made with Pale and wheat malts, and Northern Brewer and Cascade hops. It yields substantial smoothness, a pleasant nose, a beautiful golden color and graceful wheat notes. This brew, a special request of the men who put up the brewbucks, should become a favorite at the pub, especially as the warmer weather approaches.

The next style (they'll serve you four 4-oz. samplers for $3.50) was a brown ale with the unusual name of Flag-Me-Down Brown. Although beer geeks with a preference for American brown ales might not dance in Harvest Moon's crowded aisles over this one, the brew has a unique taste with an interesting finish. Similar to Newcastle's, it is well worth the $3.50 cost of a pint. That price, by the way, drops to just two bucks during Happy Hours from 4-7PM each day. A 60 oz. pitcher of any brew will run you $11.00 ($8.00 during Happy Hours) and a 23 oz. Imperial Pint, $4.25.

The third style, Full Moon Pale Ale, is a superb and interesting brew. With an unusual, but good, finish and a remarkable nose, this is actually very close to an IPA. Don't be surprised if it rekindles memories of an IPA from yesteryear called Ballantine. Full Moon Pale Ale can only be described with a word that in family magazines must be metaphorically recorded as "made with testosterone." Have a pint or twain with Jim Watson (whose day gig is that of a civil engineer) and he may just share a very closely-guarded secret about this brew.

The fourth offering is Sully Oatmeal Stout. This is an exceptionally flavorful stout, although uncharacteristically thinner than the stout aficionado might expect. Made with a mixture of Pale, Roasted, Chocolate, and Oatmeal malts and hopped with Northern brewer and Tettnang, Sully Oatmeal Stout should not disappoint. In fact, many patrons of the fairer sex were seen transporting this stout about between the two different levels of the pub.

Joining an ever-increasing litany of pub owners and brewers who specialize in micros, Falk and Watson are quick to note the changing tastes and buying habits of today's better "educated" and more sophisticated brew patrons. The clientele on this night was an eclectic and hectic mix, but generally the pub hosts those in the 25-35 age bracket, and that's whether next-door-neighbor Rutgers University is in session or not. One can only imagine what kind of crowd would have shown up had the State University not been on Spring Break.

Much like a double-decker English bus, there are two distinct atmospheres of this pub for satisfying different moods of brew drinkers. The downstairs, with a full view of the brew equipment, is for mingling and gawking in addition to drinking. Its ambient noise is a mixture of conversation, laughter, and clinking glasses worthy of any good pub. The owners plan to make an area of the downstairs into the "Cafe" section where smoking will be permitted, adding for some, perhaps, the less welcome noise of gagging, coughing and choking to the mix.

A short walk to the rear of the room brings you to the wide staircase with massive banisters of dark oak, an original part of the house, which leads you to a more sedate, but equally vibrant, dining area that seats 85. As you ascend or descend, you can't help but wonder about the many uses to which this space has been put over the years. Prior to the Harvest Moon, and in very recent history, a tavern and a Steak House occupied the area. Though those businesses did not last, one got the definite feeling that this one was going to be different.

As you enter or leave the Harvest Moon, be sure to wave to Scott, a 50's and 60's oldies fan, as he goes about his noble craft. If your eyes are sharp, you may just catch him mouthing the words to that old hit by the Capris, "There's a Moon out Tonight."

The smart money says this Moon will be out for many nights to come.

Harvest Moon Brewery/Cafe
392 George Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
908-249-MOON (6666)

®Kurt E. Epps 1996 All Rights Reserved

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Kurt Epps