Beer Nuts

New Kegs on the Block: ManaFirkin Brewing Opens in Stafford

By JEFF LINKOUS | May 24, 2017
Photo by: Jeff Linkous Brewery owner Donn Hoosack (right) shares knowledge with his guests.

Raise a toast to the latest addition to Southern Ocean County’s craft brewing scene. ManaFirkin Brewing opened to the general public on Saturday, May 20, with a nine-beer lineup that included the Stafford Township startup’s Cobra KaiPA India pale ale (yes, the film “The Karate Kid” should come to mind) and Wake the Firk Up, a coffee stout brewed with the proprietary coffee at LBI’s Shore Good Donuts.

ManaFirkin was founded by friends Todd Hunt, owner of Precision Plumbing in Manahawkin (and a co-owner of Shore Good Donuts); Donn Hoosack, a physician assistant at Brick Hospital; and Mick Committee, owner of WHC Appraisal Group in Manahawkin.

Hoosack holds the brewmaster title at ManaFirkin; nearly a dozen years of homebrewing have prepped him for this moment. A lot of porters, stouts and his go-to style, the IPA, not to mention saisons and wheat beers (hefeweizens), brewed as a serious hobbyist, now inform his commercial ale brewing efforts: Ice TeaPA, Beach Saison, Kalsch Kolsch, Taddy Sesh, East Bay Blonde, Peace Pipe Porter and Steeped Stoopid Stout.

To get ready for the beer-drinking public and brewery tours, ManaFirkin warmed up with an open house the day before for emergency responders, and a gathering of family and friends the weekend before. (Check its Facebook page for tour hours.)

Taking its name from an onomatopoeic mashup of Manahawkin and firkin – the 11-gallon cask that brewers love to fill with specialty beers – ManaFirkin is the outgrowth of Hoosack, Hunt and Committee’s passion for beer and their quests to find great brews. Think vacations that allow for brewery side excursions, or travel planned around a brewery stop.

The beer pilgrims find themselves offering a stop for likeminded ale adventurers and other folks finding an interest in craft beer. Joining Pinelands Brewing in Little Egg Harbor and Ship Bottom Brewery in Beach Haven makes for the kind of trifecta that winds up on beer-travel itineraries. (More on that in a minute.)

Walk into ManaFirkin’s converted business park-like warehouse neighboring SOCH Auxiliary’s Old & New Shop, and you quickly notice the bar and taphandles of repurposed tools and other implements. The brewhouse and an array of fermenters and bright beer tanks – stars of the tour, where the beer’s made – are set off and stand along the back wall and a side wall.

As brewery sizes go, ManaFirkin comes in at a cozy 3.5 barrels, a common capacity size for startups in the brewing industry for several years now. (A barrel is the brewing industry trade unit; one barrel equals 31 gallons.) In contrast, Cape May Brewing has a 30-barrel brewhouse. Cape May, however, started out quite cozy, like ManaFirkin (actually even smaller), and its steady expansion became part of its story.

ManaFirkin has growth worked into the business plan; there’s plenty of current space to add more tanks to ferment and carbonate the beer. (It’s a familiar saga for new breweries to experience a need to expand capacity soon after opening.) The brewery also has dibs on some neighboring office space now in use by state transportation staff working on the Causeway Bridge project. That space would come in handy for ManaFirkin’s storage and distribution.

CAPTIONING THE MOMENT: Southern Ocean County now has three craft breweries producing beer (four when you include Forked River’s Backward Flag Brewing). I’ve been around New Jersey craft brewing for 22 years, and actually I’ve waited for such a moment: locally brewed beers.

So what does this mean? Big picture, it speaks choice, community pride and economics. Towns across New Jersey have come to embrace the craft brewing industry (Mount Holly, home to Spellbound Brewing and Village Idiot Brewing, is always my go-to example), and appreciate its potential to goose commerce and draw crowds who frequent the local businesses.

You can carry out the economics another decimal place: jobs. Craft breweries are job creators, even if a lot of the employment is part-time (they are small businesses, after all). ManaFirkin has already created seven jobs.

Then there’s the matter of profile. For a tourism area, it certainly helps put our area on radar beyond the traditional summer recreation of fishing, surfing and boating, for instance.

For beer fans looking to wander, a cluster of breweries to visit (and check on social media) is attractive, a bigger bang for the day tripper/vacationer buck. Plus, for those beer enthusiasts, that trifecta of breweries makes things more exciting (think collaborations and special releases).

One more point to consider: Southern Ocean County now, statistically speaking, owns a piece of the craft beer industry growth spurt that’s still playing out across New Jersey.

Pinelands Brewing, Backward Flag, Ship Bottom and now ManaFirkin have all opened in the past three years. For beer lovers, that’s a real paradise.

ANOTHER NEW KID ON THE BLOCK: This time a year ago, signs proclaiming New Belgium beers on tap at area bars were all over the place. They’re good beers, and a great (overdue, even) addition of a well-known Colorado brand to what’s in distribution in New Jersey.

This summer, look for Cigar City Brewing’s beers, another well-regarded brand now in the New Jersey market. Cigar City made its Jersey debut with an appearance at the Atlantic City beer festival this spring. Look for Cigar City’s Jai Alai IPA; it’s a standout in a style that’s well represented.

Cheers.

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