Any mythology buff knows the story of Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the sun. He was warned against it, as the heat would melt the wax that held his wings together, but Icarus couldn’t resist and, as a result, he fell from the sky. Luckily for us, Jason Goldstein, founder and head brewer of Icarus Brewing in Lakewood, is still flying high.
The Queens, NY native has churned out dozens upon dozens of expertly crafted beers based upon his extensive knowledge and training in the brewing arts.
The flight of Icarus Brewing started at Ohio State University in Columbus, where Goldstein studied food science. While he dreamed of developing the next great snack chip or flavor additive, he soon discovered the small craft beer scene developing in the football-crazy Ohio capital among the German community. He ended up interning at Elevator Brewing to start his craft beer journey.
“I like how beer is crafted and designed. Unlike many things you eat or drink, you can meet the people who developed the beer you’re drinking. You find out why they used this hop or that grain,” Goldstein said on a Wednesday night in his production house.
“You can see how passionate people are about talking beer and making it. Even though I was just sweeping the floors, cleaning the tanks and working the bottling line, I was loving what I was learning.”
After college, while many of his friends were going onto brewing schools in San Diego and Chicago, Goldstein decided to go to England so that he could stand out from the rest of the brewers.
He attended the Brewlab at the University of Sunderland outside of Newcastle so he could learn British brewing tradition.
“It’s all cask ales there in these historic pubs,” he remembered. “The guy pulling the cask is probably pulling the handle his grandfather pulled from.”
While the American craft beer scene was inspired by German, Belgian and British styles, the European craft scene is inspired by America.
“When I was there in the mid-00s, it was like an underground scene where we were studying Stone Brewing and how to make an American-style IPA,” he recalled.
“I was really inspired by Martin Dickie and James Watt from BrewDog in Scotland. People hated their beers because they broke tradition and were making hop forward beers and heavy stouts.”
When he returned to America, he adopted the BrewDog brewing philosophy of breaking tradition and set out to do something completely different.
“I definitely wanted my beers to stand out. Do what I want to do and if people don’t like it, I’ll try something else,” he said.
After bouncing around New York, Goldstein moved to New Jersey to set up Rinn Duin Brewing in Toms River. It was a chance for him to set-up new equipment in a new facility rather than working in an established brewery.
While he was working at various breweries, he was visiting other breweries and taking notes with plans to strike out on his own.
“I have a notebook from when I was 19 on all the food factories, and eventually breweries, I’ve visited – what I enjoyed, what I didn’t like. Even before I could drink, my dad took me to Captain Lawrence and founder Scott Vaccaro and his dad were giving the tour. He made you feel like part of the family. I loved that aspect of it,” he recalled.
When it came time to set up Icarus, he had already honed his recipes.
The Icarus Brewing Menu
ChewBocka the Masticator Doppelbock was created eight years ago and named after his puppy Chewie, who’s now full-grown. In a craft beer scene craving IPAs, Yacht Juice has become one of the most sought after beers. It’s a danky, New England-style IPA using Citra, Mosaic and Columbus hops.
Panic Pale Ale is their other flagship beer. It uses an oat grain base and loads up on Simcoe, Centennial and Amarillo hops, which gives you a strong papaya palette and a nice clean finish.
For those who want something creative, weighty and similar to the crazy beers produced by BrewDog, Icarus’ Kalashnikov Russian Imperial Stout clocks in at 14% ABV. The boozy, chocolaty concoction is for the brave and bold, and highly recommended for your 4-oz. taster flight. Not feeling up to it? Then the Yukon Cornelius Coffee Porter (5% ABV) is a dark, robust coffee beer without the high ABV.
To set up shop, Goldstein decided on Lakewood for its close proximity to the Garden State Parkway and the FirstEnergy Park, where the Lakewood Blueclaws play. He also took into consideration the town’s wish to have a craft brewery to call its own.
The warehouse that Goldstein ended up going with offers plenty of parking, room for him to add more tanks and equipment and bar space.
“This is our little Field of Dreams – if you build it, they will come,” he joked.
And come they have. For their first anniversary last January, about a 1,000 thirsty fans came in throughout the day.
Goldstein keeps people coming back with his constantly rotating roster of beers; including old favorites from the nearly 100-recipe list of brews from his inaugural year.
Old favorites like Valjean French Saison, C.A.T. (Citric Acid Trip) and We Want the Gold! IPA for the Winter Olympics will work their way back into rotation this month.
“I take a lot inspiration from Icarus and like him, I want to learn from my mistakes,” he said. “We’ve been open a year, but it feels like a decade. Our growth is amazing, but I’m always pushing myself to make better beer.”
That mentality to always be better came from his father.
“He told me that if you’re going to be a bum, be the best bum there is. So when I became a brewer, he told me to be the best brewer,” he said. “I think what we do here is great. For me, nobody is judging me or second-guessing what beer I’m going to make. I’m making what I like to drink and luckily other people are liking it.”
Name: Icarus Brewing
Location: Lakewood, Ocean County
Standout Beer: Yacht Juice IPA
Know Before You Go: Taproom is open for pints, flights, growler fills, bottles & cans to-go and merchandise. Check Facebook or Untappd for updated tap lists, food truck schedule and upcoming events. Food is allowed. Pets allowed in tap room.
Don’t forget to check out the entire Brew Jersey series here.
All Photos: © Chris Castellani / Best of NJ