October baseball is upon us! It’s time to celebrate the most exciting month for America’s favorite pastime and what better way to do it than with an ice cold beer. If you’re looking for a new place to grab a pint, we recommend South Jersey’s baseball-themed craft brewery, Berlin Brewing Co.
Founders and owners Joe Cruz and Tony Alfano honor their love of brewing and baseball with IPAs, pale ales, stouts and a few brews that fall somewhere in between. A quick look around their taproom, housed in a historic bus depot, turns up plenty of baseball memorabilia and antique equipment.
The two South Jersey natives (Cruz from Berlin, Alfano from Cherry Hill) met while attending their sons’ tee ball games. Alfano was already an active home brewer, while Cruz had bounced around the minor leagues in his younger years.
Berlin Brewing Co. Gets its Start
“One day, Tony was talking about how he placed third in a home brewing competition in Milwaukee for his kölsch. He believed that if he fermented it one more day he could have won,” Cruz shared on a Saturday afternoon in the taproom. “I’m thinking that if he’s that good and dedicated, he can start his own brewery.”
Instantly, Cruz and Alfano had the idea of making a baseball-themed brewery. Alfano would handle the beer while Cruz worked the taproom.
The plan was to move in baby steps as to not monopolize their free time. This is due to the fact that both men continue to work day jobs. Currently, Cruz and Alfano focus on producing beer for the taproom, as well as bars and restaurants around Berlin.
Beer-wise, Alfano sticks to a wide variety. It’s important to the brewer to please every type of beer drinker.
“Our goal is that we want to cover all bases…I guess I can’t get away from baseball references,” Cruz says with a laugh. “Anybody who comes in, we’ll find them a style that they will like.”
There are baseball references aplenty within Berlin Brewing’s starting line-up. There’s the Walk Off Pale Ale, the Full Count Stout, Tripel Play, Summer Ace, Double Hitter IPA, Walk Off Watermelon and Scream Cream Ale.
Their two most popular beers boast odd names, while also defying classification. The Humble Bitch (7.3% ABV) is somewhere between a light traditional pub-style red ale and a boozy strong ale, meaning it’s a little more robust and intense in flavor.
The Treacherous Gnome leans more towards a New England IPA due to its hazy appearance and massive hop profile, but at 5.4% ABV, it won’t leaving you heading for the dugout early.
It was important to both Alfano and Cruz that they find a place close to home to open up shop. Little did they know, the building they ended up investing in dates back to the turn of the century.
“The taproom used to be a stop-in between Philadelphia and Atlantic City. We’re on White Horse Pike because literally it used to be a horse trail. Eventually, it evolved into a bus line,” Cruz explained. “When we were building up the brewery, we found all these original pieces like the sliding barn door, the rafters that used to house the manager’s office and wooden ladders. It kind of gave us a basis on how we wanted to build the taproom with found pieces of wood.”
Now, going into their third year of business, they are still having a ball.
“For us, it’s pretty awesome that we did this ourselves. We financed it on our own, so we didn’t have to answer to anybody,” Cruz explained. “Then, we were able to scrap together all the material to build the bar. Only things we bought were the nails and studs.”
NJ’s Beer Trail
Similar to that horse trail from Philadelphia to Atlantic City, Berlin Brewing Co. is in the middle of an unofficial beer trail along Rt. 30 that starts in Oaklyn with Tonewood Brewing. Then going east, you’ll come across Lunacy in Haddon Heights, Flying Fish in Somerdale, Berlin Brewing, Atco Brewing, a trio of breweries in Hammonton (Three 3’s, Tomfoolery and Vinyl) and just outside of Atlantic City with Garden State Beer Co.
“I send people all the time to the other breweries, we have a close fraternity among us that leads to all of us succeeding,” said Cruz.
Cruz recognizes the sheer amount of enthusiasm that New Jersey has towards craft beer.
“We have people everyday, I mean there isn’t a day that goes by, where somebody comes in from I don’t know, Bergen or Sussex, just to come try our beer,” said Cruz. “I assume people would be in the area for something else but no, they drive down just for us and others. That’s incredible to hear.”
Name: Berlin Brewery Co.
Location: Berlin, Camden County (220 S White Horse Pike.)
Standout Beer: Treacherous Gnome IPA
Know Before You Go: Taproom is open for pints, flights, growler fills and merchandise. Parking lot located next to brewery. Outside food allowed. No pets. Check Facebook for updated tap lists and events.
All Photos: © Chris Castellani / Best of NJ