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Growing beer in the Garden State

New Jersey’s nickname “The Garden State” is well earned. This state we’re in is famous for all sorts of crops, from blueberries and cranberries to Jersey tomatoes. But you may not know that microbreweries are cropping up all over the state, producing a wide variety of new brews.

Since 2012, thanks to legislation that eased sales restrictions on beer, microbreweries are booming. Today there are 57 breweries or brewpubs – mostly small – 27 soon-to-open breweries waiting for full approval, and another handful in the early stages of start-up. And many of these brewers are going the extra mile to form a connection with New Jersey’s land and its beer drinkers.

Gene Muller of Flying Fish Brewing Company moved his brewery to Somerdale (Camden County) in 2012 to craft his beer in the most environmentally friendly way possible. The facility has solar panels, rain water collection and energy-efficient boilers.

The “Exit” series of beers, which pays homage to the New Jersey Turnpike, uses local ingredients like honey, blueberries, coffee and even oysters from the Delaware Bay.

“Using local ingredients gives the beer a sense of place,” Gene explained. “It’s also part of our mission to support the producers in our local communities.”

Last summer, Gene visited New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s Franklin Parker Preserve as part of the “Beers Made By Walking” program, which encourages brewers to make beer inspired by nature hikes.

“I think the big takeaway our team had on the hike was that the Franklin Parker Preserve was this amazing gem,” Gene said. “It also highlighted just how much diversity there is in the Pinelands. A lot of folks think it’s just sand and pine trees, but each area has its own unique characteristics.”

In September, Flying Fish will release Exit 5 Pinelands Sour Forage Ale, which will be brewed with pine needles, goldenrod and wintergreen.

Another brewery, Screamin’ Hill in Cream Ridge (Monmouth County), has a much more tangible connection to the land – it overlooks the Bullock family farm.

The 100 acres of preserved farmland is owned by the same family that runs Screamin’ Hill Brewery and many of their ingredients come straight from fields only a few steps from the tap room. Their pumpkin ale, for example, uses the same pumpkins grown on the farm for close to 20 years. Fresh hops come from vines out back, and eventually the barley, wheat and rye from the farm will be used to make their own base malt for brewing.

New Jersey’s brewers aren’t just relying on the land for their hops, grains and water. They are even turning to preserved land for their yeast – the ingredient in beer that converts sugars to alcohol and carbon dioxide.

Tuckahoe Brewing of Egg Harbor Township (Ocean County) recently released “Silience,” a wild ale made using 100 percent wild New Jersey captured microflora from the Pine Barrens. The process produces beers that vary in taste, but usually have a distinctly sour or “funky” quality.

“It was humbling to watch a small conglomerate of micro-organisms that are floating around us at any given moment, transform a sugar water solution into such a complex and elegant beverage,” said Sean Towers, one of the brewers.

But making all of these delicious beers is not the only product of New Jersey’s growing microbreweries. According to the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild, craft beer provides 9,500 jobs with an annual economic impact of more than $1.2 billion. Brewers also support other local businesses and each year they recycle four million pounds of spent grain to New Jersey farmers for high-quality animal feed.

If you have tried craft beer and it’s just not your thing, don’t fret. The Garden State is producing hard cider, too, thanks to places like Melick’s Town Farm in Oldwick (Hunterdon County). John Melick, a 10th generation farmer, teamed up with cider maker Scott Wyant to turn some of the farm’s apples into three different varieties of the trendy libation.

So the next time you are scouring the store shelves for a picnic, party or date night, why not try a Jersey craft beer? Or better yet, visit one of the many breweries across the state. Find a listing and map at https://newjerseycraftbeer.com/new-jersey-breweries/


Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Far Hills.

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