There was a time when starting a new business in Asbury Park was unthinkable. But Dark City Brewing Company is proof that such a time is over. Decades of neglect and decay plagued the city. There was a reason why Bruce Springsteen wrote “My City of Ruins” in 2000 about the once glorious seaside city.
It was a town brought down by the Great Depression, race riots, shopping malls, and shore traffic going to other points south along the Jersey Shore after the construction of the Garden State Parkway.
Freehold native Kevin Sharpe remembers that time not long ago. “Coming here for shows, we used to climb underneath the boardwalk under Convention Hall. There were people living there,” he recalled. “There were fenced off areas and nothing going on.”
Beer by the Beach
Steadily, Asbury Park has become revitalized due to the burgeoning music scene from gigs at the Wonder Bar, The Saint, Asbury Lanes, Stone Pony, a refurbished Convention Hall, and regular stops on the Warped Tour. When the creative community began to thrive and small businesses were opening, Sharpe decided to show his creativity through beer by starting Dark City Brewing Company, Asbury Park’s first craft brewery.
A common theme with starting a craft brewery is a home-brewing hobby becoming a passion that leads to a full-blown career. It’s no different for Sharpe, who was inspired by European travels and a friend who was in a craft beer bottle sharing club. Before he knew it, he became an obsessive home brewer. “My goal was to make beer that I couldn’t buy in a store,” he said. “I was experimenting with different yeasts and hops and adding fruit to the boil. Eventually I created a recipe book that I still use today.”
After a dissatisfying job in digital marketing, Sharpe decided to be a brewer full-time and Dark City was born. Named after Asbury Park’s unofficial nickname when blackouts in the 1960s would cause the town to go dark, his aim was to merge Belgian-inspired beer with an American twist.
When crowdfunding birthed some interested investors and professional brewers for an Asbury Park-based brewery, Sharpe set out to find a space. He eventually settled on a storefront on Main Street that had been everything from a second-hand clothing store to an auto dealership.
Dark City, Light Beer
With everything lined up in late 2015, it was time to make some beer. “We like making eccentric, different kinds of beer. Carton Brewing has paved the way in New Jersey to allow us to be different and to create a market for weird styles,” he explained.
Their most popular? Bond Street Brownie, which is available year-round. Its name honors the Asbury Park street, as well as Brownie, a local celebrity, bartender and musician. The brew is a malty brown ale with notes of chocolate, toffee and coffee, and often, you can find variations of it in the tap room with added coconut, salted caramel or cocoa.
More in line with their Belgium via America goal is Charrette, a Belgian IPA that highlights the inherent tropical fruit taste and finishes with a slight sweetness to offset the hop bite. Also in line with their philosophy and Sharpe’s love of sour beer is Summerfield, a dry-hopped session ale that serves as a good introduction to the tart, wild beer style.
For those who want to go completely local, their Boom! Roasted uses coffee beans from their next-door neighbor, Asbury Park Roastery. While you think coffee beer should be dark, this IPA pours a bright golden color and will surprise with its citrusy, zesty finish.
Up and Coming, Just Like their Town
Finally, Dark City honors The Boss with their copyright-friendly Born to Ruin double IPA that satisfies the hop heads with a bold, juicy flavor. Being from Asbury, Springsteen comes up often. “We were at the Great American Beer Fest in Denver and every time we brought up that we’re from Asbury Park, New Jersey, Springsteen would immediately come up,” Sharpe said. “It wasn’t once or twice, it was almost every time.”
It didn’t take long for Dark City to spawn a following. In fact, it happened within hours on opening day in January 2016. “It … was … NUTS!” Sharpe proclaimed. “The tap room was wall-to-wall human beings. There was a line of people waiting to get in. The windows fogged up. It was insane, kind of a blur, but totally worth it.”
They’re part of a renaissance in Asbury Park, which includes the ultra-stylish hipster hangout Asbury Hotel and blocks of upscale restaurants, beer halls and independent shops on Cookman Avenue. “Visitors and locals really welcomed us with open arms,” said Sharpe. “There’s creativity going on all around this town, whether it be mom-and-pop businesses, artists, indie rock bands, chefs or bartenders. This has become a mecca for creators.”
All you have to do is look at the funky mural inside the tap room to see some local art. The plan is to change up the art every six months.
For now, Sharpe’s creativity is flowing, literally from the ever-charging taps. “I get to drink free beer every day, meet cool people and it’s my full-time job. How great it that?”
Missed the last installment of Brew Jersey? Read all about Screamin’ Hill Brewery.
Name: Dark City Brewing Company
Location: Asbury Park
Standout Beer: Bond Street Brownie
Know Before You Go: Tasting room provides pints, flights, growler fills, to-go cans and merchandise. Best street parking is on 2nd Avenue Check Facebook for up-to-date hours, special events and tap list.
All Photos: © Chris Castellani / Best of NJ