Casks in Delaware County
By Gary Monterosso
Look up the word "esoteric" in your Merriam-Webster and it would say, "limited to a small circle." Perhaps no where is this truer than in the Garden State where cask conditioned ales, frequently referred to as "real ales," are enjoying much success in the north, but have had limited exposure in the south.
Part of the reason for this deals with the demographics of the state of New Jersey and the locations of the breweries, brewpubs and great beer bars. The Garden State Craft Brewers Guild's map of member breweries shows the majority of businesses situated from Trenton and above. Combined with the closing or change of venue of two brewpubs in the south, Kokomo's and Cedar Creek, that part of the state is left with just one brewery (Blue Collar) and one brewpub (Tun Tavern), neither of which is producing real ales. Somewhat farther north, Flying Fish is active in making selected ales available on cask to a limited number of locations.
Fish's president and founder Gene Muller explained, "At one time or another, we can make our entire lineup of beers available on cask. We sell to those places where we know they will handle the beer properly."
One of those locations arguably is one of the finest taverns to be found anywhere in the state: Andy's Corner Bar, in Bogota, located in the extreme northern part of New Jersey.
George Gray of Andy's explained his secret in promoting cask ales by saying, "We have a well trained staff who know beer. We are beer geeks but we have customers who are even bigger beer geeks. We regularly have 10 beers on tap, including a couple of casks which move well. Andy's tries to have beers from Climax, Flying Fish, Heavyweight and, on occasion, Brooklyn."
Old Bay Restaurant in New Brunswick is one of the top beer bars in the area, having 22 beers on tap, including cask offerings from Climax and Heavyweight, among others. The decision to install their two engines was easy, according to manager Kevin Williams: "We are one of the better beer bars so it was a progression to put in casks. We debut them on Wednesday, assuring us of having some for our customers for the weekend. Our sales are steady."
Also in New Brunswick is Harvest Moon Brewery and Cafe. Their brewer, Barry Holsten, reports his cask sales are "doing fine. There always is the process of educating the customer but I find people are looking for something new and different. They want something more specialized, more eclectic. I see a new resurgence in this industry."
From a brewer's point of view, making some products available on cask is a way to experiment a bit. Ocean Township's Heavyweight Brewing has, in its young (about a year and a half) history gained a niche as producers of unique and "big" beers. Owner and brewer Tom Baker said, "I recently took my Baltus (O.V.S. "Our Very Special," merged with turbinado sugar) and set aside some for cask to a few of our outlets. I added some orange zest and a little coriander to it. I got to try some recently at Andy's Corner Bar and liked how it came out. At one time or another, I'll cask everything we make."
The Ship Inn Restaurant and Brewery in Milford is New Jersey's first brewpub, opening in 1985 and producing the state's first consumption-on-premises beer. Formerly an 1860's Victorian structure, The Ship once was a bakery, then an ice cream parlor with a "speakeasy" in the back during the days of Prohibition.
Cask ales have been an integral part of The Ship's slate since its inception. Co-owner Timothy Hall stated, "We are a British pub. Our brewery was installed to allow for cask brewing. We feel this distinguishes ourselves. We harbor a specific market."
Hall acknowledged he enjoys visiting other sites, feeling it gives him a better perspective on trends. He added, "It's comforting to see the acceptance of casks as I travel and visit different establishments both here and in New York City, for example. I can tell you that our cask ales are tried by more and more people."
Some of The Ship Inn's beers have included Hop Monster IPA, Best Bitter and "the beer formerly known as Celebration." Count on three or four casks at any time.
Gaslight Brewery & Restaurant in South Orange (Essex County) has one beer engine running at the present time but entertains thoughts of a second someday. Brewer Dan Soboti said he likes to dry hop and have differing versions of a particular beer. He added, "People like to do a side-by-side taste test. Casks are holding their own and may be more popular than they were a little while back." Casks are tapped on Thursdays, making them available for the weekend. Look for their popular Pale Ale or a Porter cask recipe.
Morris County's Long Valley Pub and Brewery features last year's GABF multi-award winning Tim Yarrington as its brewer. There are seven beers on tap at Long Valley and the hand pump (which Tim bought himself) features a rotation, including the popular Wee Heavy. Though his casks are "doing well," a never ending problem is in educating both his staff and the customers.
Long Valley has offered real ales for three years.
J.J. Bitting Brewing of Woodbridge, about a half-hour south of Newark, also features a GABF winning brewer in Brad Reninger. Although sales also are doing well, Brad admits some people may be turned off from certain cask ales because they may see them as "warm, flat and sometimes cloudy." His Pale Ale or Bitter can be found on hand pump.
Walking distance from Princeton University is Triumph Brewing, where two beer engines can be found. Tom Stevenson, brewer at Triumph, has been crafting real ales for exactly four years. He said, "we train our staff whose job it is to educate our customers. Obviously, a difference between casks and our other beers is the cellar-like serving temperature. We recommend trying the samplers to get a feel for what we offer."
Watch for their Gothic Ale (herbal, no hops) or Scottish Ale at the beer engine.
Beer lovers in the southern part of New Jersey tend to cross the Ben Franklin Bridge and head into Philadelphia where there are outstanding taverns serving real ales. Among those are Fergie's Pub, Nodding Head, Monk's Cafe, Bridgid's, Brownie's Pub and Grey Lodge Pub. At many of these locations, beers from New Jersey breweries and beyond can be found.
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