Beer Nuts

Hoppy New Year! Area Brewers Highlight Plans for 2018

By JEFF LINKOUS | Jan 17, 2018

Happy New Year, and happy new beers. We’re not too far into January to say that first one, nor too early into 2018 to talk about what craft breweries in our area have in mind for this year (Year of the Dog, in case anyone is keeping track).

That means cans and barrels, porters and stouts, and summertime favorites coming back when the waves are bitchin’ and the barbecue pit’s hot. Pinelands Brewing, Ship Bottom Brewery and ManaFirkin Brewing all head into this year with a tailwind, even if there’s growing competition on the edges of our market.

Here are some highlights:

Start-up ManaFirkin’s first eight months in business brought a good problem to have: steady interest from craft beer enthusiasts descending upon the taproom. That challenged the Stafford brewery’s production pace. Keeping 10 beers on tap, said ManaFirkin brewer and co-owner Donn Hoosack, offered a freshman-year test of their output against their goal to always have something new to go with the emerging fan favorites of IPAs and saisons.

“We were struggling to keep 10 up all summer,” Hoosack said last month, in the margins of a busy brew day. “We now have 18.”

The off season has provided breathing room. Hoosack has been stocking the pantry, so to speak, while bringing some new recipes to ManaFirkin’s beers-brewed roster.

“It’s been fun over the last few months. Every other week, I’d go brew something new,” Hoosack says. “So I back up a staple, and brew something new.”

That’s how Hoosack was able to work into the flow a Russian imperial stout and Belgian tripel, parking both beers in oak barrels that once held Laird’s Applejack brandy. ManaFirkin snapped up a dozen of the barrels, and Hoosack has been stashing beers in them. He dosed one of the barrels of imperial stout with yeast used to brew the tripel to give the stout a Belgian signature.

“It’s my first barrel project, so there are a lot of unknowns, in a sense, but it smells really good.”

Speaking of barrels, Ship Bottom brewer Jake Stablein didn’t waste any time putting the brewery’s beers (a stout) into a shipment of four bourbon barrels from Kentucky distiller Heaven Hill last fall.

Barrel-aged beers are just part of the 2018 picture for the brewery in Bay Village in Beach Haven. Ship Bottom kicked off its single-hop beers series last month, with an eye toward putting a single-hop on tap every other month. (For the beer geeks, the inaugural hop was Azacca. Next up is Ekuanot.)

Summer’s a long way off, but Stablein said for now it looks something like this: “Just being able to brew all kinds of different stuff, be it a blood orange wheat ale, something as simple as that, or a nice beach beer in the Mexican lager … those were hugely successful last year.”

To get there, you have to go through a Baltic porter and doppelbock. Stablein said the porter, a style sibling to the Russian imperial stout, is planned for February. The doppelbock, or double bock, a souped-up version of the signature seasonal German dark lager, is an Aries thing, sign of the ram, March. (Bock is a German word for goat.)

Last year saw Ship Bottom make an intrepid move with draft beer for takeout. The brewery kicked glass to the curb in favor of cans – 32-ounce aluminum crowlers. To be clear, Ship Bottom still fills glass growlers of all stripes. The brewery doesn’t sell new glass jugs anymore, just the giant filled-and-sealed cans.

Talk of cans takes us to Little Egg Harbor, where Pinelands Brewing entered the can market with its top-selling beer, Swamp Donkey IPA. Last week, the brewery and its mobile canner, Tripod Canning, did another round of the IPA, plus its vanilla bean porter.

Co-owner Mike Broderson said cans have extended the brewery’s reach, putting the Pinelands brand in a dozen and a half packaged goods stores, a new market for the brewery.

“We didn’t have anything to offer them before,” Broderson said of the liquor store shelves. Pinelands’ cans are now in stores from Stafford to Northfield.

The brewery, fast approaching its fourth anniversary (March), also plans to can its signature single-hop, single-malt ale, 08087, plus its Pinelands Pilsner.

Four-pack cans of specialty brews are also in the big picture, but bringing the core beers to the can market is the immediate focus.

In the meantime, Broderson said the brewery is doing some industry outreach with a Wednesday, Jan. 17, open house for bar and tavern accounts (current and potential), event promoters and the brewery’s distributor, Hunterdon Brewing.

“It’s partially a thank you, and partially an introduction to all the people out there in a certain mile radius, so they can come in and try the beer,” Broderson said.

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