Hoboken can lay claim to many historical moments, including the first baseball game (albeit debatable) at Elysian Field, the birth of Frank Sinatra and, in 1663, America’s first brewery was established in the town at Castle Point. Flash forward to today, it’s taken more than 80 years following prohibition for the Mile Square City to have a beer that they can call their own.
The craft beer movement hasn’t exactly flooded the hard drinking town (where there are bars on almost every corner), but you won’t have to go far to see 902 Brewing‘s beer on tap. Many bars in town feature 902’s brews for the masses to enjoy.
Four years after founders and Hoboken locals Colby Janisch, Tucker Littleton, Andrew Brown and Donald Vogt started up their business, 902 is primed to take a big step in expanding its capabilities and reach by means of a merger with North Bergen’s NJ Beer Co., which now serves as their brewing facility and tap room. The collaboration will ensure growth for 902’s line-up of Hoboken-inspired beers.
On a foggy Friday afternoon, Janisch is busy touting his third release with NJ Beer Co., the 003 New England IPA. Surrounded by 15-foot tanks in a large warehouse, it’s a long way from brewing out of his apartment with a $30 beer making kit.
Born in New Brunswick and raised in Hillsborough, Janisch attended the University of Delaware for mechanical engineering. Even though the state is best known for Dogfish Head beer, he stuck with any cheap beer he and his friends could buy in mass quantities.
“It’s Delaware, so there’s no sales tax, so we could get kegs of Milwaukee’s Best for $37,” he remembered. “Then, it was more about quantity than quality.”
After graduating from the university, Janisch received a Mr. Beer kit for Christmas. It’s a small starter homebrewing kit that can often be found on sale at Target or Kohl’s around Father’s Day. Being a mechanical engineer, the hobby grew out of control, and Janisch went on to buy larger equipment to further his exploration.
Steadily, as the craft beer scene was developing in the mid-00s, he steered away from cheap beer and started buying anything different, Brooklyn Brewery, Sierra Nevada and Lagunitas were a few go-to options. After a while, ideas started developing in his head.
“There’s usually a scene in How I Met Your Mother where they say, ‘We should start a bar’,” he said. “When I was brewing with my friends, it was similar, ‘We should start a brewery!’”
The first step was entering into homebrewing competitions. After a few trophies, their big win was at Brooklyn Wort 2012, where their Black Dynamite Black IPA won People’s Choice and Judge’s Choice over 700 other applicants.
The Brooklyn Wort win gave them the momentum to crowdsource and fund professional brewing equipment to house at their homebase, 902 Washington Street in Hoboken. While they were leaning towards a Hoboken-centric name at first, they ended up sticking with the simple ‘902’ just in case they couldn’t open a tap room in town.
At their 902 space, they could brew Black Dynamite, a black IPA that uses dark malts for a roasty balance to the herby, citrusy hop bite. Also at the space, they developed their two other flagship beers.
P.A.T.H. is their refreshing, not too hoppy year-long beer that goes with anything, making it a perfect go-to beer for any occasion. Heaven, Hell or Hoboken IPA is named for a World War I rallying cry. It’s a hop forward beer made from Simcoe hops, which bring out the grapefruit flavors.
While their beers were making the rounds in Hudson County, the most common question they would get was, “When are you going to get a tap room?” In October 2016, plans were set for a space in Hoboken on Monroe Street.
Announcements were made, federal paperwork was being processed and designs were finalized. Then local zoning fell through and plans were scrapped.
“It was heartbreaking for us,” Janisch explained. “It would have been a great space, but fighting it would have bankrupted us. Sooner or later, somebody is going to figure out how to open a brewery and tap room in Hoboken.”
For Janisch, the ambition was to make a lot of beer and create different styles. When setting up in Hoboken became out of reach and their original space too confining, they started to contract brew out of Climax Brewing and Kuka Brewing in Blauvelt, NY, so that they could amp up production and start canning.
Talks with NJ Beer Co. gained steam and, in October of last year, a merger was announced that allowed Janisch and crew to keep the 902 name while using NJ Beer Co.’s North Bergen facility to expand production and offer visitors a tap room. Now, beer lovers can sip on 902’s eNJoy series and flagship beers alongside NJ Beer Co’s line-up.
The merger also allows 902 to develop new, fun beers with the NJ Beer Co. brewmasters. Look for a milk stout, an imperial IPA, a Berliner Weisse and the 007 Golden Ale, due out this spring. If that doesn’t peak your interest, maybe a porter brewed with Cookie Crisp cereal will get you excited.
“We’re trying to encourage creativity with our beers,” Janisch said. “We want to get a lot of variety for the eNJoy series so that once they’re done, they’re done and we can try something else.”
With a newborn baby and a large space to fulfill his beer-making dreams, Janisch has come a long way from college keggers, Hoboken bar hopping and that Mr. Beer kit.
“We used to go to local bars for $5 Jameson shots and $2 Miller Lites, now I see our beer on tap along with ten other Jersey-made beers. It’s definitely changed and I’m glad we’re part of the reason it’s changing,” he said.
Name: 902 Brewing Co.
Location: North Bergen, Hudson County
Standout Beer: P.A.T.H. (Pale Ale True Hoboken)
Know Before You Go: The NJ Beer Co. taproom is where you can sample 902’s beers. It’s 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 Avenue to find street parking and the entrance.
Don’t forget to check out the entire Brew Jersey series here.