Trapped, rocked in New Jersey
April 18, 1997
By Kurt Epps
Craft brew lovers should not go to the Trap Rock Brewery expecting a
typical brewpub experience. Oh, the brewpub trappings are in
evidence - the gleaming mash tuns and fermenters visible through glass
walls (immaculately kept, too).
There is plenty of what the PubScout
calls "Brewpub Hubbub" (that's a pleasant cacophony of voices, laughter,
dinnerware noises and glasses being filled). And the decor is
sufficiently rustic as to be absolutely pleasing to the eye. Indeed, you
may be forgiven if you think you're in a comfortable English Country Inn
in the Lake District. You're not, though. You're in Berkeley Heights, NJ
at a place that's just two weeks old.
Many brewpubs opening today try to capture a certain "feel" by offering
relatively standard American fare along with their brews. But don't go to
Trap Rock expecting burgers and fries, or maybe some creative bar pies or
pastas. No, ma'am. This is not your typical family place.
Besides its incredible brews, what sets Trap Rock apart is its food.
There is a trend developing in NJ brewpubs (check out Basil T's in Red
Bank or JJ Bitting's in Woodbridge) offering exceptional cuisine to go
along with fine brews. Chef Bruce Johnston is a find, turning out very
high quality American Bistro fare. From appetizers (don't miss the Thai
Shrimp) to entrees (Monkfish, Pork Tenderloin) to dessert (an absolutely
phenomenal Creme Brulee), Trap Rock is serving notice that it has arrived
in many ways.
Many of the foods, brought by an exceptionally attentive and efficient
wait staff, are prepared with the brews, too. And Trap Rock's brews,
though only four in number, are five stars in quality.
Brewmeister Scott Sutera, 27, commutes daily from Tuxedo Park, NY to
Trap Rock--a round trip of about 140 miles. But brewlovers should be
grateful that he makes the trek. The former Ruffian assistant--and Jay
Misson protege-- has learned his lessons well.
The proof is in the
quality of each of his brews. His Ghost Pony Ale may be the perfect
"transition beer," a refreshing brew made with Pale Crisp and wheat malts
and hopped with Czech Saaz hops. Rising Sun Wheat (the owner's favorite)
has a distinctive flavor that yields notes of banana and clove. This
effect is produced by a special yeast, the origin of which is one of
Sutera's most closely guarded secrets.
Six Witches Stout, named for six
unexplained bumps in a local road supposedly produced by the risen
graves of disenfranchised witches, is not as heavy nor as bitter as, say,
Guinness or Murphy's. But it is delightfully smooth, creamy and is bitter
enough to make it eminently drinkable year round. The shining star in the
batch, however, is Hathor Red, one of the few red ales that is every bit
as delicious as it looks. On color alone, this one should take prizes
wherever it goes. The story that explains the name is somewhat less
All beers are $3.50 a pint and $4.50 for 23 oz. A sampler of
all four is available for $5.50.
Scott has planned a Cranberry Wheat and an IPA that should be out soon.
The wise beer-nut will call the place to find out when they're ready.
Trap Rock also serves premium single malt Scotches and is prepping its
upstairs rooms for beer tastings and cigar nights.
The upstairs room may be needed for regular service, though, because the
place is packed. SRO, in fact, starting around 6PM on the weekends.
Remarkable that, considering the owners, Chip Grabowski and Bob Moore
have done virtually NO advertising about the place. Two separate visits at
different times indicated that they may not need to advertise at all.
Word about Trap Rock seems to spreading quite nicely, thank you.
Accordingly, Trap Rock's biggest problem down the road may be parking
space. With parking spaces already at a premium, they will need to find
ways for patrons to ford the stream that separates an adjacent parking
lot from the main building.
Whatever you have to do to get to the place is well worth what you'll
find when you get there. Trap Rock may have a longer brewpub honeymoon
That should keep Brewer Sutera hopping in more ways than one.
Unless, of course, he finds an apartment closer by.
Trap Rock Brewery
279 Springfield Ave.
Berkeley Heights, NJ 07922
®Kurt E. Epps 1997 All Rights Reserved