When I meet John Merklin on a late Wednesday afternoon, he’s busy stacking 12-bottle boxes of Beach Haus beer. Even after ten years, the president and co-founder of one New Jersey’s largest breweries still finds time to do the nitty-gritty work.
The Livingston native has taken Beach Haus from an operation that brewed in New York to a local New Jersey brewery that distributes to five states and features one of the largest tap rooms in the Garden State. Merklin talked about his long love affair with beer and the story behind their ample lineup of beers.
“I’ve always been into beer. I have pictures of me as a one-year old holding a bottle of beer,” said Merklin, who also goes by the nickname Merk. “I joke that my first job in the industry was going to the refrigerator to get my dad a beer during football Sunday. When I got older he would let me drink the neck of a bottle of Michelob.”
With a Hungarian-born mother and father of German-Irish descent, it seemed like Merklin was destined to own a brewery. His uncles all owned bars around North Jersey, but going into the family business took a while as he started his post-college career traveling the world for business in the tech industry.
“I’ve always been into imported beer, whether it be from Germany, Moscow or Mars. Beyond how great the beer tastes, I was interested in the story behind the beer — the history of the brewery and the area it was coming from,” he explained. “That sort of gave me the basis of what I wanted to do when I started planning Beach Haus.”
When he would come back home from long business trips, he found that all the beers available in New Jersey were from elsewhere and didn’t have anything to do with the state. While reading Beer School: Bottling Success at the Brooklyn Brewery on a long-haul flight, he decided to get serious about beer as a full-time job. In the book, Brooklyn Brewery founder Steve Hindry (who started out as a Middle East Correspondent for the Associated Press) talks about wanting Brooklyn to have a beer that they could call their own.
“Hindy explains that you should do something you are passionate about. I love beer, I love making it at home and I felt Jersey and the shore needed to be put on the beer map,” he recalled. In the mid-00s, the original five NJ-based breweries (Climax, High Point, Flying Fish, Cricket Hill and River Horse) weren’t based at the Jersey Shore.
Merklin (who quit his job in tech) started developing a pilsner and a light lager that would be a recognizable, easy-drinking beer that the shore crowd would be accustomed to drinking. With German-style beer would come a German-inspired name. The Beach Haus moniker reflected his German heritage and German beer hall culture while tipping its hat to a staple of shore life.
“In essence, the story of Beach Haus was created by a lot of like-minded and talented individuals making something happen,” he explained. “My high school buddy, Brian Ciriaco, brewed with me and we envisioned the business together. Our other buddy, Tom Przyborwsk, brewed with us, became the head brewer and he’s still doing it today. This really is the vision of many people.”
When the brewery was started in 2007, it was too difficult to operate in New Jersey. The decision was made to contract brew (or gypsy brew, as it’s called today), which is to have other people brew the beer at their facility. In this case, for the first six years of Beach Haus, the beer was made at the Genesee Brewery in Rochester, NY. It was then shipped back to Belmar to be distributed.
These beers included the Classic American Pilsner, which uses American variants of German Noble hops for a classic, all-year long drinking beer. Over time, their Winter Rental black lager became their most popular title. It’s not much different from a classic lager in that it just uses dark malts instead of light while still drinking cleanly.
The Cruiser IPA is a throwback to the IPAs that Merk and company grew up drinking while paying tribute to cruiser bikes you’d find on the boardwalk. It’s distinctively floral, but balanced enough to satisfy hop heads and everyday drinkers. Their Kick Back Ale is a slightly darker version of an American Pale Ale that uses caramel malts for a reddish brown color.
As told often in our Brew Jersey profiles, when the laws changed in New Jersey to allow for more breweries and tap rooms, it changed Beach Haus. They looked to the shore to build a production facility and tap room to finalize their vision and to finally say that their beer is Jersey made.
Dating back to 1950, the Belmar favorite Freedman’s Bakery building was up for sale. Merklin and his team envisioned converting the bakery into a brewery, tap room and merchandise area while maintaining some of the original brickwork inside.
As a tribute to Herb Freedman, they created Herb’s Rye, a wheat beer with bready sweetness. Freedman passed away in September at the age of 86.
“He always wanted a beer named after him and loved drinking rye beer,” Merklin said.
With the new space, it allowed them to create more styles for a more evolved craft beer drinking public like the Parade Day Irish Coffee Stout, which is released for Belmar’s St. Patrick’s Day. As a music lover, Merklin wanted to reference his favorite bands. Thus, the Hopbahn Double IPA is a riff on Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” and the Station 2 Station Porter is a tribute to the David Bowie album.
Even though the summer crowds have thinned, the tap room’s second floor terrace is a great way to unwind on the weekend and enjoy some fall beers. As Merklin looked out onto Belmar and the water surrounding the area, the brewer reflected on fulfilling his and his partners’ vision.
“It’s about doing what you love. Sure, there are grinding moments, but there’s never a day where I wake up and don’t want to go to work. As sick as it sounds, I wish there was more of me to do more.”
Missed the last installment of Brew Jersey? Read all about Jughandle Brewing Co.
Name: Beach Haus Brewery
Location: Belmar, Monmouth County
Standout Beer: Winter Rental black lager
Know Before You Go: Taproom open for pints, flights, growler fills, merchandise and bottles to go. Upstairs taproom and deck open during weekend hours. Private room available to rent. Check Facebook and Untappd for tap lists, updated hours, bottle releases and upcoming events. Outside food and pets allowed. Parking lot located behind brewery in Belmar Plaza shopping center off 8th Ave.