Visiting Long Beach Island during the winter feels like being the last person on earth. You will see a stray car, perhaps cross paths with a random person, and you can drive along Bay Avenue for six miles without stopping at a red light. Then you enter Ship Bottom Brewery and see that all the locals are hunkered indoors in the tap room away from the gusting winds.
Since opening last summer, Ship Bottom has cornered the market for local craft beer on LBI, being the only brewery within 20 minutes in any direction. It became such a hit with residents and beach goers that construction is already underway to expand their brewing capacity and move the tap room to a larger space.
The story of Ship Bottom starts in two states and another country. Ship Bottom Head Brewer Jake Stablein grew up in Colorado, a beer mecca for macro beers with Coors and craft beers like Oskar Blues, Avery and New Belgium. After graduating from high school, he set off to Europe for adventure and eventually landed in another beer mecca, Prague.
While teaching English as a second language, he discovered the Czech’s love for beer, especially their iconic style, the pilsner. “I loved it so much that I stayed for three years,” said Stablein while wearing a Colorado Avalanche jersey. “I was just 19 and I was learning about all these different styles. It turned me onto the beer scene so much that I wanted to do it full-time.”
Meanwhile, owner and founder Robert Zarko was home brewing out of his garage in Wallingford, Penn. Even with a tiny system, he was able to get a brewing license and distribute to a few local bars. He named it Ship Bottom, after the area of LBI where his summer home was located. Eventually, Zarko outgrew his garage and decided to set-up a full production facility in New Jersey.
When Stablein returned to the states, he picked up on-the-job training and hands-on brewing knowledge at various breweries in North Carolina. Zarko needed help cleaning his keg system and found Stablein working in Delaware. When it came time to find somebody to run his brewing and day-to-day operation, he called upon Stablein to make the magic happen.
Stablein’s first order of business was to make Zarko’s recipe for The Shack IPA into Ship Bottom’s flagship brew. The Shack, named in honor of The Causeway Shack that was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy, is a hop head’s dream with a dank hop bite leading to a strong citrus finish.
Being at the helm, Stablein was given free range to brew what he wanted using his years of brewing training and Czech Republic expertise. “My biggest thing has always been to brew what you like to drink, and other people will hopefully want to drink it as well,” he explained. “I focus on what qualities and flavor profiles make a beer great and eventually people will discover those aspects.”
With that in mind, Ship Bottom’s year-around offerings and seasonals run the spectrum of beer styles from pilsners and saisons to stouts and porters. Their easy-drinking beers includes a Beach Patrol Hefeweizen that envelopes your nose and palate with banana. The summer-like Shaka Saison is still drinkable when the wind chill dips below 32 degrees.
On the opposite end, the Barnacle Bottom Stout is rich with dark coffee and chocolate flavors. For those who need more bacon in their diet, the Baconator Stout can only be described as breakfast heaven in a glass. It’s bacon, maple syrup, coffee, oatmeal and chocolate in a beer that comes to life when you garnish with bacon.
For the spring and summer, when the weekenders and shore home renters return, they’ll offer a Mexican lager brewed with Jersey corn that will pair nicely with lazy days resting by the water.
With their a location a couple of blocks from the beach and a second-floor tap room that overlooks the bay, you can expect craft brew fans and beach goers to pack in the place. “It’s a blessing and a curse when we reach capacity,” Stablein said. “Obviously, we’re all pretty proud that people will line up and you want to meet demand in the tap room, on store shelves and local bars. I joke that the beer is drenched with exhaustion.”
The larger tap room will open next door in time to welcome the warm-weather crowds and allow for greater variety of beers available. For Stablein, it’s all about the end product. “For me, the most fun part is actually brewing beer which is only ten-percent of my job, even ones I have to brew everyday,” he said while lifting a beer. “I look at this glass and I say to myself, ‘Damn, I made this!”
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Name: Ship Bottom Brewery
Location: Beach Haven, Long Beach Island
Standout Beer: The Shack IPA
Know Before You Go: Tasting room provides pints, flights, growler fills, bottle releases, six-packs to go and merchandise. Check Facebook for up-to-date hours, upcoming releases, events and tap list. Food is allowed in the tap room. No pets. Located between 9th Street and Taylor Ave. Entrance on Seagull Lane.
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?