Every October, the beer world descends upon Denver for what is their version of a championship game, award ceremony and beauty pageant all rolled into one. The Great American Beer Fest is a chance for breweries to showcase their wares and be judged by an expert panel. For visitors, it’s an opportunity to sample 1,000 beers in an afternoon, which sounds like a blessing and a curse.
Three New Jersey breweries walked away winners this year; Mount Holly’s Spellbound received a gold medal in the wood and barrel-aged category for Palo Santo Wood, one of NJ’s original craft breweries, River Horse, took home bronze in the Belgian tripel category for their flagship beer, Tripel Horse and finally, in the chili beer category, Woodbury’s Eight & Sand took home a silver for their Bad Hombre chili milk stout, competing against 98 other entries from across the United States.
“When they were announcing the winners, I turned to Chris [Mazzone, his business partner] and asked what category Bad Hombre was entered in because I forgot,” said Eight & Sand co-founder and operator Chris Burke.
“Just as he said ‘chili beer’, they showed the winners of the category. That was just amazing. We were not expecting that at all considering who enters every year.”
If you look behind the bar at the Eight & Sand taproom, you can see the silver medal proudly displayed. You can also have a pint of that delicious chocolatey, milky taste bud invigorating stout that’s not too fiery from the serrano peppers, but just spicy enough to give you a little va-voom.
“We finished it right after the last presidential debate last year and as a joke we named it Bad Hombre,” Burke said.
The journey to get to Bad Hombre begins with Burke and his childhood best friend Chris Mazzone, who both grew up together in Wenonah. Burke went to Rutgers University in New Brunswick for Labor Studies, where he discovered the Harvest Moon brewpub, and the wonderful world of micobrews, via his dorm R.A. He also spent a semester abroad in the Netherlands and got a chance to explore European beer culture.
His travels gave him a foundation for what types of beers he enjoys, which led him to homebrew.
“Me and my Rutgers friends would brew big batches of beer because it was much cheaper to do that than buy a six-pack at a time,” he recalled.
After graduating, Burke started working in construction while Mazzone worked in accounting. Mazzone saw in 2014 that breweries were opening up in New Jersey at a steady pace and figured, with the help of his father, Dom, that the three of them should get in on the action.
Seeing how Burke knew building and homebrewing and Mazzone knew how to run the numbers, they felt it was time to add a brewery in their area instead of going out of state.
In fact, Tammy Murphy, the wife of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy, spoke at a recent New Jersey Craft Brewers Association meeting, about how NJ’s biggest export is college graduates.
“She talked about how students are getting a great education here, but leaving the state because the opportunities aren’t here,” Burke said. “It was important to us to make this local and to add to the New Jersey craft beer scene.”
To make their beer endeavor truly local, they originally wanted to call it the South Jersey Brewing Co. After consulting a lawyer, they felt it might get dicey with other companies and organizations with South Jersey in the title. Instead, they turned to local history.
Train tracks surround the building they bought, which was previously a small pasta factory, and Gloucester county was built up because of the trains that led to Atlantic City. The term “Eight and Sand” was a way to wish train crews good luck on their journey. Notch 8 is the highest setting for train speed and sand was used to prevent trains from slipping on the tracks.
Thus, they went with a train theme for the beers and the taproom. Designed by Burke’s wife, the room features plenty of metal and steel fixtures, train paraphernalia and vintage photos. In the beer garden out back, you might even hear a train or two whizz by.
As for the beer they wanted to make, Burke stuck with the low to mid-alcohol European style beers that he drank during his semester abroad. Styles like German hefeweizen, English mild bitters and Belgium blondes are made to enjoy at the end of the day while still allowing the drinker to get home safely.
“It’s really about community over there and being able to enjoy yourself without getting bombed every night,” he explained. “In America, I think the market is maturing and realizing people just like drinking local beer that’s not something outrageous and over 10% alcohol.”
With that in mind, they developed the Brass Pounder (4.5% ABV), an English pub-style mild bitter ale that’s low on carbonation and high on toasted malt goodness. Their Belgian blonde (5.4% ABV) is lightly-colored, but slightly fruity and spicy made for all-day drinking. The hefeweizen (4.3%) has that banana, apple and clove aroma you come to expect with German beer.
For the beer travelers who regale their friends of adventures abroad, their Dry Irish stout tastes like a proper Irish ale in a comfortable countryside pub with notes of rich, velvety malts. The Quiet Car Belgian dubbel is a sweet and flavorful ale fitting for an evening in a old tavern in Brussels or Bruges. For something to fill that one liter beer stein you got in Munich, their Over the Knoll berliner weisse will suffice.
As we know, IPAs are king in America, which is why Eight & Sand’s No. 2 is their most sought after selection and the one they chose to can. Their New England-style version features a good amount of oats that lay a base for their Citra, Cascade, and Mosaic hop blend.
With Burke’s desire to experiment like he did with homebrewing, you might see some funky concoctions like a sweet potato beer, a peppery saison, a smoked beer or a coffee stout made with local beans. You never know, you might be drinking their next award winning beer.
“I really enjoy the creative freedom. I have all these resources, local ingredients from farms and restaurants and equipment to experiment on a larger scale,” Burke said. “And then I get to pour for the community and make people happy.”
Name: Eight & Sand Beer Co.
Location: Woodbury, Gloucester County
Standout Beer: No. 2 IPA
Know Before You Go: Taproom open for pints, flights, growler fills, merchandise and bottles & cans to go. Upstairs taproom and deck open during weekend hours. Check Facebook for tap lists, updated hours, bottle releases and upcoming events. Outside food allowed. Only service animals allowed. Parking lot located next to brewery. If full, more parking available on Deptford Ave.