When Matt Czigler told his parents that he was forgoing a potential career in medicine for the beer brewing arts, you can understand that they were surprised. “They paid for my undergraduate education so my dad was like ‘Noooooooooo. I thought you were going to med school, now you’re going to be a glorified janitor?'”
If there was a doctorate for beer, Czigler would qualify. He took his education in chemistry and rejiggered it with the help of hands-on brewing training in Munich to start Czig Meister Brewing Company in Hackettstown. Since its opening last May, the craft brewery has provided a spacious, German beer hall-style facility for enjoying expertly made beers.
The Jefferson Township native didn’t have hop varieties, yeast strains and proper boiling temperatures in mind when he attended the University of Maine for Microbiology, Molecular & Cellular Biology and Biochemistry. “I was interested in the tiny things like bacteria and viruses. The goal was to be a research biologist,” he said on a snowy Saturday afternoon in Czig Meister’s tap room. “When I graduated, I couldn’t get the job I wanted and ended [up] working with collagen at a bio-med company.”
Dissatisfied with the work there, he picked up brewing as a hobby when he found old brewing equipment in his parents’ basement. He eventually found a relationship between his studies and brewing. “There’s definitely an experimental quality to it that combines chemicals and biology,” he explained. “I ended up brewing every weekend and writing my own recipes.”
The connection was strong enough to skip grad school in 2011 to attend Chicago’s Siebel Institute, the oldest brewing academy in America. Czigler’s chemistry degree got him accepted alongside students who worked for years in the industry. The second part of his education took him to Munich. “It’s as cool as you think,” Czigler said. “At the end of class each day, you’re required to drink a different half liter of beer [about 16 oz]. We would learn about the different styles of beer in relation to the region they came from. Then when you’re done, you go to a beer hall with your classmates to drink again ‘to study’.”
Two days after graduation, he landed a job at Adirondack Brewing in upstate New York. Splitting time between Lake George and North Jersey to help out on his parents’ horse farm became too much, so he took the head brewer position at Kane Brewing in Ocean Twp. That’s where Czigler’s A Night to End All Dawns barrel-aged imperial stout won gold at the coveted 2014’s Great American Beer Festival in Denver.
After honing his craft for two years, he felt ready to branch out on his own. Even though Czigler has a German-Hungarian last name and his education is from Germany, his plan was to make a beer for every taste. While IPAs and pale ales drive craft beer sales, his vision was variety: stouts, milk porter, hefeweizens, spiced, sours, Belgian trappist, etc.
To create that variety, one of the brewery’s year-round beers is the Huntsman kölsch, which is a German-style of beer brewed mainly in Cologne. It’s a clear, easy-drinking beer with a bright yellow hue and a dry, grainy taste. For the British-inspired red ale called the Prospector, caramel malts give it a fruity sweetness to balance with the hop bite. If you can handle the strong 10% ABV beer, Czig’s potent Belgian quadruple could make a trappist monk break his vow of silence.
To go along with that vision of variety, he needed to find a large space that recreated the German beer hall atmosphere and reflected the old-world theme of the beer. After trying for buildings in Morristown and Newton, Czigler found that Hackettstown was eager to house a production brewery. The township and mayor helped him secure a brickware warehouse just off the town’s main road (Rt. 46).
When you enter the space, you’ll find plenty of communal tables, couches, stools and benches, which came in handy on opening day’s rush of craft beer fans. But fittingly, it was their Oktoberfest celebration that became their biggest day.
One of the best features of a tap room? You can try beers that are not distributed or are experiential. Taking a page out of Maine’s Allagash Brewery’s rule book — you work, you brew, no matter what your position — every member of Czigler’s staff gets a turn at brewing a pilot beer that will find its way onto the tap list.
Little did Czigler know that his brewery would eventually become a family affair with his mom, dad and sisters pitching in to help run the day-to-day. His staff is something Czigler takes pride in. “We’ve got a great staff here. When it’s a family business, you know and trust them. I can bounce ideas off them and they will give me an honest response,” he explained. “All the reviews and feedback we get is how personable the staff is and how they know their beer.”
For now, the Czigler family continues to pump out amazing beers. On the opposite end for Matt, he doesn’t get out much to try new beers. Luckily enough, his customers bring beer to him. Just look above you on the i-beams for his large collection provided by visitors.
Need a local craft beer for the big game? Check out our list of 10 local session beers.
Name: Czig Meister Brewing Company
Standout Beer: The Huntsman Kolsch
Know Before You Go: Tasting room provides pints, flights, growler fills and merchandise. Check Facebook for up-to-date hours, upcoming releases, events and tap list. Food is allowed in the tap room. Pet friendly.
About the author: Chris Castellani writes about the NJ beer scene for BestofNJ.com. He also writes the travel blog Why Am I Not There?
- Hero (Top) Feature Image (& Additional Images): © Chris Castellani