They say that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, but one family took the phrase in a decidedly hoppier direction. After life took a surprising turn for father-daughter duo Chip and Jacqui Town, they didn’t wallow. They made beer instead. The end result is a place folks now know as Rinn Duin Brewing.
In 2010, when both Chip and Jacqui lost their jobs within weeks of each other, they both agreed that starting a brewery would be their single focus going forward. Running Rinn Duin Brewing keeps the Town family together, while doubling as a tribute to their Irish heritage.
“I get asked about working with my daughter and I say, ‘It’s the best thing in the world and the worst thing,” Chip shared with a big smile.
“It depends on the day and sometimes the hour. It’s mostly fabulous, but I think my wife and daughter want to smack me sometimes.”
With the recent arrival of a Jacqui’s new son, Chip can now look forward to extending the brewing lineage even further.
We start this craft beer journey in Ireland, in the County Roscommon, where Rinn Duin Castle sits. Ireland is famous for many things, with pubs usually coming in at the top of the list.
Back here in Jersey, there’s no shortage of Irish pubs serving Guinness.
As Cranford native Chip will tell you, back in the day, Guinness was only served in Irish pubs in Jersey and was particularly dark, thick and not drinkable.
When a neighbor brought over two unmarked bottles of homemade nut brown beer in the 80s, Chip’s interest peaked.
“I thought Löwenbräu and St. Pauli’s Girl were exotic, but when I had this I was like, ‘Whoa! This is the best beer I’ve ever had and you made this?'”
The Start of Something New
It was Chip’s wife Anne’s decision to go out and buy some used homebrewing equipment that started his journey to owning a brewery.
“I tell people that Rinn Duin is just a hobby that got out of hand,” Chip said as he points towards the towering tanks in the brew house.
Both Chip and his head brewer Bob Warzercha love every aspect of homebrewing, especially the bonding experience within the family.
“I think anybody who homebrews imagines that they could one day own a brewery,” he said.
“Jacqui would brew with me and every week she talked about running a brewery. She had big ideas.”
The plan was for Chip to brew the beer, while Jacqui would handle the business side.
Beer-wise, Chip wanted to make malt-forward British style pub beers rather than American-style hoppy beers. They decided to go with an all-things-Irish aesthetic for the brewery.
St. John’s Irish Red is their favorite to brew, and has become their most popular. It’s a richly-colored amber/red ale full of sweet, malty goodness and a low-alcohol (4.9% ABV) drinkability consistent with British pub beers.
Both Ireland and New Jersey have shores on the ocean. Thus, the Sandpiper Brown Ale connects the two with a roasted nut flavor and a clean finish.
You can’t have an Irish-themed brewery without a stout. Rinn Duin has several varieties of the magically delicious beer style.
On the sessionable drinking scale, their Hibernian is nicknamed “the summer stout” because the Irish don’t let the warm weather dictate when to drink dark beer.
Their mid-tier, slightly strong stout is a coffee version called Pota Caifé (Gaelic for pot of coffee).
Then their big time, heavy stout is a double/imperial version called Black Irish that clocks in at 8.5% ABV.
Along the way, Chip and his crew have delved into Belgian styles, Blonde ales, sours and a few variations on St. John’s to keep fans returning to the tap room in Toms River.
Opening Rinn Duin
After originally deciding to name the brewery Blackhorn, the Town’s discovered that the name was already taken by a cidery in Ireland. They went with Rinn Duin for its association with St. John.
It wasn’t until recently that Chip learned that his grandmother was actually born in the late 19th Century in Rinn Duin Castle.
“There’s a tremendous amount of family history in that area, and I still have family in Ireland now,” Chip said.
It took almost four years and a few heachaches along the way (including frozen water pipes on opening day) to open to the public in January 2014.
Since then, the brewery has become a defacto meeting place for the Town family and their friends.
“My favorite thing about running this place is meeting people for the first time and then they meet other people and they become friends,” Chip said.
“When people tell you that your beer is amazing, you can’t puff up your chest big enough.”
When you visit, you might get adopted into their extended family. It’s what happened to Warzercha, who went from frequent customer to head brewer.
He came out of retirement to keep the ales flowing and became an adjunct grandfather to the Town family.
“At this point in my life, I thought I would be slowing down,” shared Chip, with Warzercha agreeing.
“We’re putting in 50-hour weeks into our 60s! I come in and turn the lights on and think how lucky I am to be doing something really cool at this point in my life.”
Name: Rinn Duin Brewing
Location: Toms River, Ocean County (1540 Rte 37 W)
Standout Beer: St. John’s Irish Red
Know Before You Go: Taproom is open for pints, flights, growler fills and merchandise. Brewery located next to Bacchus Winemaking School. Ample parking available. Outside food allowed. No pets in tap room. Check Facebook for updated tap lists and events.
Don’t forget to check out the entire Brew Jersey series here.
All Photos: © Chris Castellani / Best of NJ