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 appetizing.

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.

No matter. 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 than most.

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

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Kurt Epps