We haven’t lost our passion for PBR. Rather, we’ve gained an appreciation of the artistry involved in brewing. Today’s beer drinker wants to experiment, as does the modern brewmaster. This collision of curiosity and creativity culminates in modern craft beer, a canvas for which brewmasters to experiment freely.Craft beers, although required to contain a majority of traditional ingredients (malt barley, yeast, hops, etc.), are known for their unique takes on classic variations and innovative, bold new styles. While the beer itself still speaks volumes to its popularity, the story behind the beer has gained considerable clout amongst the masses. Of the 3,000 breweries in the states, roughly 99% are small or independent craft breweries, and each has their own tale to tell.
To speak generally is pointless when it comes to craft beer because there are so many, and amassing a ‘top 50’ list would be far too opinionated. Instead, since we’re based in New Jersey, we’d like to focus on in state craft breweries. Some homegrown, Garden State gems we’ve enjoyed from time to time. While we’re in the midst of the dog days of summer, we’ll focus on their seasonal summer ales. It’s a broad category, but most within can be defined as ales that are pale-blonde in color, light in body and drinkability, and refreshing in flavor. Here’s a few of NJ’s finest, a brief spiel on their story and their beer of the season that’s likely available in a liquor store near you in the tri-state area.
River Horse (Ewing) Summer Beer: Summer Blonde, 4.5%
What does a hippo have to do with beer? Nothing. But it makes for a pretty great mascot and logo, not to mention a hell of a conversation starter. River Horse has been around since the mid nineties, but in 2007 they experienced a revival when two former self proclaimed ‘finance geeks’ took over. Chris and Glenn left the finance world because they hated their jobs and wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves. How liberating is that? Today, thanks to their polished business oriented minds and refined approach, they’re one of Jersey’s most popular breweries with a modest selection in variety and potency. They’re determined to produce the most scintillating beer possible by pledging to use the highest quality ingredients in their diligent process. Great story, great beer.
River Horse’s summer beer is called Summer Blonde, a masterful blend of three different kinds of both hops and malts. Summer Blonde has a welcoming lemony aroma with a simple yet complex flavor, featuring a soft grain front end following by a clean citrusy balanced finish. This one has got everything you could ever want in a summer beer, and you better believe we’ve got a six pack or two stored away in our fridges.
Flying Fish (Somerdale) Summer Beer: Farmhouse Summer Ale, 4.9%
Founded in ‘95, Flying fish was the world’s first microbrewery to operate online, helping lead to larger exposure and beneficial press coverage. Today they’re the state’s largest craft brewery, boasting a range of both year-round and seasonal selections. They’re also the state’s most decorated brewery – seven time medalists at the Great American Beer Festival – for what its worth.
Flying Fish’s summer beer is called Farmhouse Summer Ale, distinctly different in taste than that of River Horse’s. A unique blend of imported and domestic ingredients, this ale features fruity notes from the yeast, a spicy and earthy taste from the imported Styrian Goldings hops, and a clean dry finish. Perfectly paired with nearly anything you plan to throw on the grill, and it’s even recommendable as a kick-ass marinade.
Cricket Hill (Fairfield) Summer Beer: Jersey Summer Breakfast Ale, 5%
The newest of the three breweries, Cricket Hill has yet to build a fable around it’s name. They’ve grown steadily since their conception in 2002, with their straightforward approach being among their calling cards. They aren’t trying to trick you with smoke and mirrors, they aren’t trying to be something they’re not. Their goal simply is to produce meticulously prepared, high quality beer without boastings of hop bombs or unreasonably high alcohol percentages.
Cricket Hill’s summer beer is called Jersey Summer Breakfast Ale, and it’s name alone separates itself from competitors. The brewers at Cricket Hill think this lightly hopped ale fits, ‘just as well with bacon and eggs as it does with a backyard barbecue.’ It’s their take on a traditional belgian yeast, complete with the definitive tangy fruit and clove taste. We tested their recommendation of pairing their beer with a nice bacon egg and cheese sandwich, and we gotta admit the proof is in the pudding. Give it a try.
This list shouldn’t discredit other members of New Jersey’s craft brewery family. With nearly 40 craft breweries statewide opting craft is great not only because buying local means supporting local business and commerce. You’re also putting miles on your taste buds. It’d be an injustice to refrain from exposing them to new experiences. There’s great beer right in our backyards, have some damn pride and give them a try.