High school best friends Joe Delcalzo and Peter Reuther didn’t have dreams of that one-in-a-million, get-rich-quick idea. They just didn’t want to answer to anyone. Little did these Hasbrouck Heights High School graduates know that the path to being their own bosses relied on water, hops, grain, yeast — and a whole lot of reading.
Today, Brix City Brewing is one of a handful of northeast New Jersey craft breweries reshaping the beer landscape. The two rode the state’s craft beer wave to become one of the most recognizable names in New Jersey.
Before Delcalzo and Reuther could put pen to paper and mash to boil, they needed to get life experience under their belts. After graduation, Delcalzo studied at Ramapo College for accounting while Reuther took advantage of a $10,000 signing bonus and joined the Army. As a 19-year-old stationed in Germany, Reuther discovered the beer culture (treating beer as a beverage, not as a means to get drunk) while taking advantage of the legal drinking age of 18. “Each area had their own specific style and flavor. If you go to the Rhineland, they drink Bitburger,” he said. “I realized that you can drink a beer at lunch and it’s perfectly acceptable as an adult. They treat it as a refreshing drink. Everybody does it.”
That culture of drinking beer as a respectable adult drove the two as they started homebrewing back in New Jersey. The idea of starting a brewery was floated along with other businesses the two could start. “After working for others, we knew that we had to be our own boss,” said Delcalzo. “We both have strong work ethics, so we treated homebrewing as a full-time job we did after our day jobs.”
It wasn’t until a cross-country road trip to visit breweries in 2012 that the duo solidified their desire to start their own. Respected craft breweries like Three Floyds in Indiana, Big Sky in Montana and Hair of the Dog in Oregon informed their business plan. “We saw at Hair of the Dog that you didn’t need a huge brewing warehouse with massive tanks to get going,” recalled Reuther. “They were making amazing beer that everybody in the beer world loves on a five-barrel system.”
To get started, the two amassed a small library of beer books — not only on brewing, but also beer history. What they learned was that Newark was once the beer-making capital of the East Coast from post-Civil War to Prohibition. Thus, the two wanted to honor that heritage by calling their brewery Brix City, a play on Newark’s nickname, “Brick City.” Brix is also a unit of measurement for sugar and water.
Although it wasn’t economically feasible to set up shop in Newark, they signed leases in Lodi and Hackensack, only to be denied licenses from local authorities. But they were welcomed with open arms by the mayor of Little Ferry, who helped them secure the proper licenses for a production facility in a small industrial park off Moonachie Road, which also is a 15-minute drive from MetLife Stadium.
When it came time to upscale their homebrewing, they wanted to brew what they liked — which was everything. “Bar none, we love every style of beer. We forced ourselves to make and appreciate everything” said Delcalzo. “We knew everybody loves IPAs and that’s what’s going to sell, but the reason we bought a five-barrel system was so that we can brew a large variety of beer: lagers, Belgians, stouts, porters, rauchbier, IPAs, sours.” Eventually, Reuther interned at Chelsea Brewing in New York to learn brewing on a larger scale.
The Gloria Belgian Blonde was one of their debut beers that quickly became one of their flagships. It’s a crowd-pleasing beer that will satisfy casual beer drinkers with hints of citrus, the aroma of bananas and sweetness from the Belgian Abbaye yeast. For the cold winter months, Joe & Oats is a collaboration with Koffee Wagon Roasters in Hasbrouck Heights that combines their coffee with oatmeal to create a rich, creamy stout.
Out of all their brewing babies, Porter Authority is the two guys’ favorite. “It’s perfect,” laughed Delcalzo. The easy-drinking, 6.3% ABV beer is not too bitter — so the chocolatey malts can win you over.
What the two learned by having a small operation that produced 800 barrels in 2016 is that they could respond quickly to the constantly fickle tastes of craft beer fans. Thus, they put together a wee heavy Scotch ale and their Jaromír Lager Czech pilsner that will be pouring this month in the tap room.
Since opening the tap room in May 2015 to huge crowds, they found clientele from an unexpected source: business travelers staying in hotels near Teterboro Airport looking for craft beer. Because of that, Brix City is one of the only tap rooms in the state open seven days a week, so locals and travelers can get fresh, local beer from the source on a Monday night.
The ultimate goal is to get more Brix City beers on regular rotation in bars and restaurants. The two knew that they were on their way when they got their beer on tap at Andy’s Corner Bar in Bogota, a legendary local bar that was into craft beer before it was a thing.
For now, Delcalzo and Reuther are proud to be their own bosses, which means they can show-up late to work after a late-night concert. It also means making connections in the beer community. “We love meeting bar owners and having them tell us how their customers love our beer and they need another keg,” said Delcalzo. “It never gets old.”
Missed the last installment of Brew Jersey? Read all about Spellbound Brewery. Don’t forget to check out the entire Brew Jersey series here.
Name: Brix City Brewing
Location: Little Ferry
Standout Beer: Gloria Blonde
Know Before You Go: Tasting room provides pints, flights, growler fills, cans and bottles to go and merchandise. Check Facebook for up-to-date hours, upcoming releases, events and tap list. Food is allowed in the tap room. Pet friendly.
About the author: Chris Castellani writes about the NJ beer scene for BestofNJ.com. He also writes the travel blog Why Am I Not There?