Combine a chemical engineer, a doctor of molecular biology, a love of beer and a desire to create something new and you’ll create The Alementary. The nearly one-year-old craft brewery, hidden in a small industrial park in Hackensack, has gained a reputation for its sought-after ales, lagers, and sours that brings out the locals every weekend.
Blake Crawford and Mike Roosevelt are the men behind the magic — or in this case, the science.
Brewing Really is a Science
Both Crawford, an Arkansas native, and Roosevelt, a Floridian, grew up loving all things science. That led them to study it in college and pursue it as a career.
After bouncing around the Northeast, they settled in Hackensack while working on those science careers. It wasn’t until a trip to Vermont where the two had the idea to start a brewery. They visited the respected Hill Farmstead, which is considered the best brewery in the world by beer review website RateBeer.
“We realized that we didn’t have our own local brewery in Hackensack. You go to Vermont, Colorado, or Oregon and every town has their own,” said Crawford on a Sunday afternoon in the tank room. “The market was right in Bergen County and with our background, we felt it was a time to start.”
Even though both had lucrative careers in science, they felt working hard to make somebody else successful was not the way to live. “Sure, I got rewarded for my efforts and parts of my job were satisfying, but it’s not mine,” said Roosevelt.
Hill Farmstead and its owner Shawn Hill served as a template for what they envisioned for The Alementary, which was also the name of Crawford’s home-brewing blog. Hill’s philosophy is that the best beer has a sense of place and a point of view. Crawford explains that “We didn’t want to set up a brewery to just make beer. We wanted to make beer from Hackensack. We wanted a particular aesthetic and wanted to appeal to a broad demographic — something that’s gender-neutral.
School is in Session
“Alementary spoke to our theme, which is sort of academic, but not cold. We tend to dots all the I’s and cross all the T’s in the brewing process — making sure everything is tested and validated. We like data, we like control.”
Crawford’s plan was to start out with eight beers of various styles, which included pale ales, pilsners, IPAs, sessions ales, goses and porters. “It reflected the diversity of Bergen County,” added Roosevelt. “It really spoke to our community and eventually we would let them guide us in the direction we would take the beer.”
As they discovered, Hackensack wants lagers. Thus, the Hackensack Lager became their flagship. In the simplest term, a lager (which means “to store” in German) takes longer to ferment than an ale, uses a different kind of yeast and is traditionally more crisp and refreshing in taste. “It became an unstoppable juggernaut,” said Crawford. “We’re getting more fermentors installed just to make more Hackensack Lager.”
Even though the locals down the lagers, the beer travellers still quench their thirst with IPAs. For that, the guys bring their A-Game, which is the name of their East Coast-style IPA that uses Citra, Centennial and Simcoe hops. Their key lime gose is a constant favorite in the tap room. Called Let’s Begin, it’s a sour that utilizes lime, sea salt and coriander to gives it a bright nose and a tasty, fruity feel.
Raise your Hand, and your Glass
Another tried-and-true beer is their Mr. Stevens English Mild Ale, a low-alcohol beer that provides a deep, roasted malt taste perfect for Saturday footie watching in the pub. In celebration of their one year anniversary in late April, they’ll bring back their popular holiday beer, Figgy Pudding. It’s a strong 10% ABV old ale with notes of dried fruits, caramel and winter spices that will remind you of Christmas fruitcake.
With beer and plans in hand, the two guys got lucky and found a space to experiment with beer in Hackensack. Albeit, the warehouse they bought had been abandoned for two years and included a family of racoons. While they were setting up the production facility, an architecture firm was designing the tap room with repurposed wood and Edison light bulbs to give it a more refined air than your everyday warehouse tap room.
From the two scientists’ perspectives, there’s not much of a difference between traditional chemistry and the brewing arts. “Recipe formulation is an art. Brewing is an art. Brewing well repeatedly and with consistency is a science,” Roosevelt explained. “This is our lab. The glass of our A/B beer should taste the same today as it does in three weeks.”
“Our mission is for the consumer to have a delightful experience drinking our beer no matter where you got it, whether it’s here in the tap room, off the shelf, or at your local bar,” said Crawford. “We do everything we can to make the beer consistent.”
It’s Alementary, My Dear Reader
After one year of pouring expertly crafted pints, Crawford and Roosevelt have no regrets in leaving big business. “We’re happy and exhausted,” both said about their one-year anniversary, a celebration for which kicks off April 22 in the taproom.
“It’s hard work, but it’s the best hard we’ve ever done,” Roosevelt summed up.
For Crawford, the best part of a brewery owner’s life is seeing everyday beer fans. “It’s overwhelming to be working hard in the brewhouse, look out through the windows into the taproom, and see people laughing and smiling over the beer we’re making. They chose to come here after work or they’re out on a date. It’s very humbling.”
Name: The Alementary Brewing Co.
Location: Hackensack, Bergen County
Standout Beer: Hackensack Lager
Know Before You Go: Tasting room provides pints, flights, growler fills, bottle and can releases and merchandise. Check Facebook for up-to-date hours, upcoming releases, events and tap list. Tap list can also be found on the Untappd mobile app. Food and pets are allowed in the tap room. Best place to park is on Johnson Street.
All Photos: © Chris Castellani / Best of NJ