This October marks the 5th anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, the effects of which the East Coast is still dealing with today. Those NJ Transit delays planned for this summer? Blame Sandy. For New Jersey Beer Company in North Bergen, the storm not only flooded their space, it nearly ended their business.
Looking at the warehouse and tap room walls, you can see water marks at waist-high level. These markings serve as a reminder of how the brewery survived that devastating ordeal. “Once the water subsided, we were up and running again to make great beer,” says chairman Paul Silverman.
Today, NJ Beer Co. is known for producing beers that pay tribute to all things Jersey. From their flagship LBIPA (a riff on Long Beach Island) to their Skyway Saison (a tribute to the Pulaski Skyway), their cleverly named pints are sure to bring a smile to any New Jerseyans face. Since opening in 2010, they’ve expanded their line-up of beers and have been actively canning and bottling their wares.
The journey to stouts, pale ales and abbeys started with founder Matt Steinberg and head brewer Brandan O’Neil. After a series of setbacks that included the bottling line breaking, they sought out investors and were lucky to find Jersey City real estate developer and craft beer fan Silverman, who’d always wanted to open a brewery.
Their original line-up includes Hudson Pale Ale, a refreshing, go-to beer for the everyday drinker that even Henry Hudson would appreciate, as well as the old-world style 1787 Abbey Single. The name pays homage to New Jersey being the third state in the union, while the beer itself is a low-alcohol Belgian-style ale with a bright golden hue. For those looking for something a bit different, there’s the Garden State Stout, which is a tribute to the “hardworking people of New Jersey, from Brick City to Silk City.” This jet-black stout is brewed with chocolate malts and Belgian chocolate for a hearty taste and smooth finish.
It wasn’t until two years into the operation that their flagship LBIPA was created. In fact, while the first batch was fermenting in the tank, Sandy hit and flooded the warehouse. This East Coast IPA, which won silver at the 2014 Atlantic City Beer and Music Festival, gives off a wonderful piney floral smell, but drinks with a bit of sweetness. “It’s different kind of IPA, sort of like an IPA for people who don’t drink IPAs,” said General Manager Ari Bildner.
Since then, Steinberg has left the brewery, while O’Neil is now the head brewer at Carton Brewing. Over the past few years, NJ Beer Co. has expanded their offerings to include even more Jersey-centric beers. Their double IPA, the Atlantic City casino-themed Pit Boss, uses a four-hop blend to give a strong, danky finish, while their Wee Heavy Scottish ale claims another city on the water as the inspiration behind its name, nearby Weehawken. As you’d expect for a 9% ABV beer with strong caramel notes and a malty finish, this one will put a few extra hairs on your chest.
With the popularity of craft beer in New Jersey, it was only a matter of time before the chain restaurants came calling. As a result, NJ Beer Co. put out their Beach Watch Golden Ale, which is being served in limited edition cans at Buffalo Wild Wings. “We feel like we can hang with the best of them, whether it be the big name beers you see at bars and restaurants or the other craft beers in the area,” noted Bildner. “We’re all riding a wave in New Jersey with craft beer so it helps that we now make different styles for every beer drinker. The market is demanding it.”
The market and the beer traveller also demands a tap room where you can sample everything they have to offer. Their warehouse location in North Bergen, just a minute’s drive from where Route 3 becomes I-495, is a blessing and curse. Steinberg chose the North Bergen space because it was a block from his house, and it’s common for local workers from nearby Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors and Hudson Bread to stop in after work to wait out the crippling rush hour traffic. For outsiders coming in, that one mile from the exit to the brewery doors could stretch across 15 to 20 minutes.
What’s waiting for visitors once they finally do make it to this spot? NJ Beer Co.’s expanded line-up of taps, six-packs to-go and a cross-section where beer fans mingle with local, blue-collar workers. The situation is similar to the “hops highway” outside of San Diego where big name craft breweries like Lost Abbey and Green Flash are located next door to manufacturing industries. “I’ve always loved the vibe in this room. You really get a diverse crowd in here, so it’s a reflection of the community,” said tap room manager Casey Herron. “We’re the only brewery in the area where you can get fresh beer.”
As for the future, it’s all about getting beer into bottles and cans and getting them out the door to the people of New Jersey. For Silverman, he gets a big kick out of seeing the NJ Beer Co. tap at Prudential Center for concerts and Devils hockey games. With the hot summer days coming soon, Bildner is looking forward to cold beer at the end of the day. “We put a lot of work into creating our beer. Then, you get share it with the people who make it with you,” he said.
Name: New Jersey Beer Company
Location: North Bergen, Hudson County
Standout Beer: LBIPA
Know Before You Go: Taproom open for pints, flights, growler fills, bottles & cans to-go and merchandise. Check Facebook or Untappd for tap lists and upcoming events. Food is allowed. Pets allowed in tap room. Turn into 43rd Street from Tonnelle Ave. to find street parking and the entrance.
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