Garden State Craft Brewers Fest 2001
By Gary Monterosso
So, repeat after me, "Microbrewed beers are good, mass produced beers are bad." Right? I'm here to tell you that, despite what you may have heard elsewhere, size really doesn't matter. Did the megabrewers have their beginnings in that way? All started as small businesses and all grew because, somewhere down the road, they did something pretty darn well. Two companies which continue to impress are Boston Beer, maker of the Samuel Adams product line, and Anchor Brewing of San Francisco, owned by Fritz Maytag of appliance fame. I've enjoyed many of their beers for years and continue to do so. Are we to cease and desist because they no longer share the camaraderie of those hundreds of America micros? Have Boston and Anchor become "the bad guys?"
In mid-July, I attended the 5th Annual Garden State Craft Brewers Guild Festival, held for the first time in Trenton. Previously, this Festival has taken place in extreme northern New Jersey, a major factor why I never attended. Thus, in hopes of attracting more of a balance, the Sovereign Bank Arena at Mercer County was chosen as the site for 2001 show. Though there were the usual complaints, given the date of the gala I welcomed being in air conditioning. The Guild itself consists of 16 member breweries and brewpubs, with Climax Brewing of Roselle Park choosing not to join. The president of the Guild is Tom Stevenson a remarkably creative, yet acerbic brewer from Triumph Brewing of Princeton.
Of the 16 enterprises in the Guild, not one is considered a large-scale brewery. Anheuser-Busch probably spills more beer in a day than most of these folks sell in a year. Yet, in this industry, many seem to equate smallness as a sign of quality. It's almost as though the "hands on" type of operation as exemplified by these breweries, frequently owned and operated by three or fewer people, insures superior quality. Is this accurate?
I was asked to work for much of the day, as my fellow writers from our state, part of an organization called the New Jersey Association of Beerwriters (NJAB), manned the Guild's table, hawking their T-shirts, distributing brochures and generally serving as goodwill ambassadors for them and the breweries of New Jersey. The time I got to spend meeting with the brewery representatives and sampling their products was limited. I was, however, able to talk with scores of attendees and gain an idea of their favorite beers from the day. Of the few beers I tasted, I tried to concentrate on those which people had told me were exceptional or, for some perverse reason, were just plain bad. I found both.
Among the better ones from breweries of local interest were Blue Collar's "Hopalong Pale Ale," a full-bodied, balanced knockout, Flying Fish's "Grand Cru," a citrusy Belgian beauty and Tun Tavern's "Bier d'Tun," a Belgian-style golden ale with a smooth, malty finish. I may have been the most pleasantly surprised by that one. Heavyweight Brewing seemed to have the most interest from those in attendance, possibly because of the uniqueness of the beers this company produces. I will admit to a slight connection to Ocean Township's Heavyweight as they debuted a beer that the aforementioned writers and I made with the company's owner, Tom Baker. We made a German style of beer that was hoppy (bitter) and full-bodied. Called "Stickenjab," a combination of the words "sticke," or "secret," and "njab," a reference to our writer's group, I found the public's acceptance to be overwhelming, based on interviews. A "stickebier" was a special beer sold to a company's best accounts. A few of the people from my "scientifically unofficial" survey suggested I try a Belgian-style beer made by Krogh's, a brewpub in Sparta. I do so and found it to be decent but hardly worthy of such high accolades.
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