The Brewer's Apprentice

October 2000

By Gary Monterosso

Ask an experienced homebrewer for the reasons why he or she embraces this craft and you are likely to get many answers. But what if you have given some serious thought to making your own beer but feel you either lack the know-how or simply don't want to purchase the necessary equipment to get started?

If you are a resident of New Jersey (New York or Connecticut, also), there is a viable option: The Brewer's Apprentice, one of just a couple of dozen or so "brew-on-premises." Located in Freehold, NJ, in the central part of the state, The Brewer's Apprentice, owned and operated solely by women, takes the apprehension out of brewing for the novice and provides support for the more experienced homebrewer.

Jo-Ellen Ford, one of the company's owners, offered the following: "People who don't homebrew can find it somewhat intimidating. We take the fear out of it by trying to recognize the level of the person coming to visit and by making them feel comfortable in what they are doing."

Jo-Ellen and her partners Barbara Hamara and Penny van Doorn (Jo-Ellen's mother and sister) had no real knowledge of brewing a few years ago. She explains, "We created The Brewer's Apprentice, which opened on December 7, 1996, from scratch. I had a love of fine beers and had read about the existence of this type of business. We then went to Canada, did research, and decided this was what we wanted to do."

The concept behind a "brew-on-premise" or "BOP" is simple. The customer produces a high quality beer (many offer wine, cider or mead) at the location of the enterprise. It can be thought of as renting the equipment, buying the supplies, time, space, recipes and receiving first-hand support and expertise. Plan on spending a few hours on your first visit as you make your own beer. Oh, don't forget to give your beer a name and to create your own label design which you will pick up when you return to bottle your finished product two weeks later. You will walk away with six cases (72 bottles) of 22 oz. bottles.

The cost is dependent on what is produced. At The Brewer's Apprentice, many of the beers start at about $135, with some of the more specialized beers running somewhat more. There are group discounts available.

One of the most attractive aspects of brewing at a BOP is the fact that the customer is not responsible for cleanup. On my initial visit to The Brewer's Apprentice this past summer, all my equipment was ready and waiting for me as I met my scheduled appointment. When it was time for me to bottle, again, all my supplies were there.

The Brewer's Apprentice maintains a listing of approximately 125 beer recipes and the number continues to swell in part because of the support of the many homebrewers in the area; people Jo-Ellen refers to as "my loyal partners." Additionally, there are about five other employees, many of whom are homebrewers, providing assistance both to her and to clients.

Jo-Ellen and Barbara particularly are proud of some awards their company has won in the last couple of years. At the Second Annual BOP Brew-off held last December in Chicago, their recipes won two Bronze medals. Fraulein Blonde Bock won in the Specialty category and Celebrate Ale, a derivation of the popular version by Sierra Nevada, was recognized in the Pale Ale division. The year prior, their Honey Wheat took a Bronze in the Specialty grouping.

The Brewer's Apprentice also carries an array of supplies, such as fresh malt, hops and yeast, in addition to all the basic equipment the homebrewer may need, including carboys, bottles, cappers, fermenters and so on. What they don't have can be ordered. By the way, you can purchase gift certificates, a great holiday gift.

Oh, in case you might be wondering, I made an American Pale Ale called Beavertooth Ale, using a combination of Crystal and Wheat grains, mildly hopped. My brewing buddy crafted a Coffee Stout, brewed with Kona coffee. Both of us were delighted with the quality of our beers and have scheduled our next visit with plans to create a Holiday Ale.

The Brewer's Apprentice, 179 South Street, Freehold, NJ 07728. Phone: 1-800-903-BREW or 732-863-9411. Fax: 732-863-9412. Email: Website:

Hours: M, W, Th, F from 1:00-8:00pm, Sat/Sun from 10:00am-4:00pm. Closed Tuesdays.

®Gary Monterosso. All Rights Reserved

Gary Monterosso