Region’s Craft Beer Swagger Grows With Plan for Third Area Brewery
Labor Day is here, and summer’s in the home stretch, sprinting toward the finish line. We can wistfully look back at the season, the beers we shared or tried for the first time, or we can intrepidly project, imagine the next adventure. I prefer the latter; there’s something on the horizon, a rising profile. It’s good. It’s beer.
Here’s why: This time a year from now, we could be reminiscing over a fourth Beach Haven craft beer fest, HopSauce (late spring), and toasting the launch of a new brewery. Make that another new brewery.
This season, we saluted Ship Bottom Brewery’s joining Pinelands Brewing on Southern Ocean County’s craft brewing scene. And before the August calendar page was half full of X’d-out days, word was filtering out to beer enthusiasts about a new start-up brewery on the drawing table.
ManaFirkin Brewing, a 3½ barrel (a barrel equals 31 gallons), is planned for a former furniture warehouse along Bay Avenue. Todd Hunt, Donn Hoosack and William Committee envision producing five flagship beers and three or four other styles to rotate through their tasting room taps. They’re all home brewers, but Hoosack has been at it the longest, 10 years.
There’s a lot to say about having a third craft brewery in our midst. Think local, regional and statewide. The grassroots impact can be looked at from an economic standpoint, job creation and consumer spending. Pull back a little wider and the view finds Southern Ocean County’s craft beer scene fitting in with other areas to the north and south, where vibrant beer cultures exist, shaped by the breweries local to them. We’re filling in more of the coastal ale trail, from Monmouth County down to Cape May County.
Step even farther back to see all of New Jersey, and craft beer’s popularity continues to be expressed in terms of growth. The tally of new small-batch breweries across the state continues to climb as more people are drawn to the industry, whether as investors putting up money, home brewers who re-imagined their beer-making hobby as a commercial enterprise, or people involved in ancillary and trade services, such as producing label designs or tricking out walk-in refrigeration.
THE ‘NEW’ DEAL: Right now, ManaFirkin is still in its early stages but has the crucial blessing of the host town, and beer fans can track progress on Facebook and other social media. Late winter/early spring is the target for getting open. But there’s always a lot to do with a brewery launch – licensing, tax paperwork, local code and permit stuff, not to mention equipment installation. That can take time, and launch dates can be a moving target. So patience becomes the watchword.
Nonetheless, the idea that a brewery is being planned for Stafford is compelling, for reasons that go beyond the local economic impact and greater choice for consumers. It’s about our area’s craft beer cred. It’s trending up.
A third brewery within very close proximity to the other two helps put all three locations on beer enthusiasts’ itineraries. More actually is better. It boosts the allure of the region, having three nearby places to sample seasonal brews, IPAs, one-off creations during a weekend afternoon craft beer excursion. That said, let’s not ignore the resulting economics: You have people spending money in three local economies.
To test that notion of synergy, I stopped at Ship Bottom Brewery’s taproom in Beach Haven a week or so back, asking folks there about how they had learned of Ship Bottom. From some beer enthusiasts in the crowd, the answer I was looking for I quickly heard: The trip to LBI was a spinoff of their plans to tour Pinelands Brewing in Little Egg Harbor. They heard Ship Bottom was open and added it as a stop on their brewery tour plans.
That circumstance can easily be reversed (and will be in due time). The mainland trip spins off from the Island beer plan. It becomes very easy to picture a Stafford brewery in that equation.
Competition, a good thing.
Friendlier regulations for starting a brewery in New Jersey, which came courtesy of Trenton four years ago, have led to an undeniable spike in competition. But the tide of new startups hasn’t altered the communal spirit of craft brewing. It’s part of the beer experience. Brewers like to talk with other brewers. They also like to collaborate and boast of the beers that result from their combined efforts.
Craft beer enthusiasts win, too. Collaboration beers become an attraction (especially if there’s a release event created for it), another reason to tour the breweries and later hit the restaurants and bars that have it – and other beers – on tap.
All of this adds up to a rising profile for the wider region, too. Given the interest in craft brewing, our area’s profile is growing alongside other regional craft beer areas doing the same. That opens the door for more craft beer collaborations and more festivals – more craft beer tourism.
That’s why at the end of this summer, if you’re into craft beer, it’s more interesting to look forward than backward. Where we’ve been is the torchlight for where we’re going.
It’s good. It’s beer.