While the rebirth of Asbury Park highlights new restaurants, hotels, shops, art studios, and the Convention Hall, at it’s heart it’s always been a music town. The Boss, Southside Johnny, and Count Basie spent their early years playing concert halls and dive bars, but it was the punk and indie scene that survived during the 80s and 90s when Asbury was a rough neighborhood.
It was during that time Asbury Park Brewery founder and owner Jeff Plate would ride his skateboard around the boardwalk and play in various garage bands. He stuck with Asbury Park through the tough times and traded keyboards, guitar amps and drums kits for pale ales and stouts.
“It was bombed out, a lot of dilapidated buildings and crime was pretty seedy,” Plate said while drinking his Roasted Stout in the tap room. “The boardwalk was particularly rough, but I kinda thought it was cool and edgy. Brooklyn and Jersey City were gnarly at one point, but people went to see DIY punk shows.”
A Dying Breed
Venues like T-Bird Cafe, Fast Lane Motor Club and Casino Skatepark eventually closed, but Plate continued to play in the 2000s with Sikamor Rooney, Nicole Atkins and The Parlor Mob. During this time, he went to Rutgers Law to become an entertainment lawyer.
His introduction to craft beer came from an unlikely source.
“Funny enough, I would hang with New Jersey ska bands and they would always drink beer I had never heard of like Saranac and black and tans,” he explained. “The punk bands would just buy the cheapest piss beer they could find.”
The first steps in creating Asbury Park Brewery was registering the domain name and trademark in 2006, not knowing that it would eventually become his full-time gig a decade later.
Plate saw that the Asbury Park music scene was starting to mirror Brooklyn, musicians looking for cheap rent and rehearsal spaces with other musicians. What Asbury Park lacked was a brewery like Brooklyn Brewery to call its own. At that time, Plate figured it would be a project he would eventually get to between being a lawyer and musician.
Starting Off Small
If he was going to be a future brewery owner, he needed to learn how to make the product. He got a homebrewing kit that helped him understand the brewing process.
Through the years, he started formulating recipes that would eventually become his year-round beers.
“I was feeling unfulfilled practicing law and not many bands needed representation,” he recalled. “I was doing work for other firms and seeing my billing hours go to their pockets, so I was passionate about running my own business.”
But, in addition to beer knowledge, it takes a lot of money to start a brewery.
Plate turned to Bob McLynn of Crush Management, the co-founder of the powerhouse artist management firm who represents Lorde, Sia, Fall Out Boy, Green Day and Weezer. The two knew each other from back in the Asbury punk rock scene in the 90s. McLynn was all in, seeing how Asbury Park was slowly on the uptick.
With that in mind, Plate sought out to design a brewery that spoke to what Asbury Park is now and not as a nostalgia trip.
“It’s kind of like decorating your dorm room, you want something that appeals to your likes,” he said. “I don’t discount the past and everything that led us to this point, but what’s happening here now should be represented.”
He eschewed Asbury Park iconography like the boardwalk and Tilly from The Wonder Bar for a simple seahorse with wings that he saw in Convention Hall for the company’s logo.
For the location, a long, exhaustive search led him to a warehouse he scoped out off Main Street, two blocks from the train station.
Like a dorm room, he decked out the warehouse with large photos of rock stars with beers — Joey Ramone, David Bowie, Paul Simonon from The Clash, Debbie Harry and Iggy Pop. No, Springsteen photos.
“I think it would be weird if he came in and saw a giant photo of himself,” Plate joked.
With everything lined up, it was time to make some beer. The thinking was to keep the beer line-up straight forward while casting a wide net of styles.
What’s on Tap at Asbury Park Brewery
“My whole thing is to keep the beers low-alcohol, around 5% ABV, so that you can drink enough of one or try something else. We get a lot of out-of-town visitors and want them to instantly recognize what they are drinking.”
What they are drinking is Asbury Park Brewing’s core four beers — XPA, Roasted Stout, 4/4 IPA and Blonde Lager. In the brew house, you see the tanks that make the beer, which are named John, Paul, George and Ringo.
The Roasted Stout recipe has been with Plate since he started home brewing. This 4.9% ABV dry Irish stout hits you with a mild, chocolaty sweetness and pleasant roasted aftertaste that you can glug without feeling tipsy or full.
Their best seller is the Blonde, an easy-drinking European-style lager that has a bit of spice and a subtle, dry hop taste.
For those who want something a tad-more adventurous, their XPA (extra pale ale) provides a bright taste and inviting aroma while still being sessionable.
For the Shadow of the City festival happening September 10, the brewery will debut a hoppy session lager made just for the festival. The all-day concert at the Stony Pony Summer Stage comes from producer, musician, local guy and friend of the brewery Jack Antonoff of Bleachers and .fun.
A Full Head of Steam
Since the tap room opened late last summer, the brewery moved into canning, bought their building and expanded to distribution, including being on tap at Prudential Center and Irving Plaza in New York. Continuing on the rock vibe, you can frequently find bands playing the tap room.
With Dark City Brewing three blocks away and more businesses adding to the scene, Asbury Park is back to being the destination for the cool kids.
For Plate, he just enjoys making a quality product with his staff.
“Without sounding too corny, I love working with my staff and it is a family to me,” he said. “At the end of the day, you’re selling beer. Thankfully, my staff has great taste in music.”
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Name: Asbury Park Brewing
Location: Asbury Park, Monmouth County
Standout Beer: Blonde Lager
Know Before You Go: Taproom open for pints, flights, growler fills, cans to-go and merchandise. Check Facebook for tap lists, updated hours, bottle and can releases and upcoming events. Limited parking available at brewery, but free parking on surrounding streets. Food and pets are welcome.
All Photos: © Chris Castellani / Best of NJ