When friends get together over a beer or four, conversation tends to go into wild tangents from fantasy football and politics to kids and big picture ideas. For childhood friends Mike Oliver and John Companick, and their homebrewing buddy Scott Reading, they talked about owning and running a brewery.
When it came time to stop talking about starting a brewery and actually do it, they did what craft beer fans would find hard to do — stop drinking. “We said to ourselves, ‘We can make beers like anybody else [does].’ Then after a few beers, we would forget about it, ” said Campanick on a Sunday in the tap room. “It wasn’t until June 2011 when we finally said, ‘Hey, let’s do this. Let’s plan this out, but let’s not drink.'”
Two years later, Spellbound Brewing planted themselves in Mt. Holly when the craft beer boom was taking shape in New Jersey. Since opening in October 2014, Burlington County has seen an influx of small breweries in other towns like Shamong, Maple Shade, Medford and Burlington.
As with the case with most craft breweries starting out, a homebrewing hobby takes on a life of its own. The three bonded over beer and traded recipes that would eventually become the beers people drink today from Spellbound.
The leap of faith to go all-in on a business takes massive amount of planning, time, money and understanding from family. “They thought I was a little bit crazy. In reality, we have so little time to think about these things because we’re so busy,” explained Campanick. “Once they saw the scale we were doing things, they understood that this was a big undertaking.”
“We’ve made the joke along the way that we don’t own the business, it owns us,” said Oliver in reference to the massive amount of time it takes to run a craft brewery. “Luckily, the four years of planning paid off in the first few months after we opened.”
One of the most important steps that won’t necessarily make or break a new brewery is the name. After coming up with a series of available names, they bounced 50 selected names off of friends and family to see what stood out. “While we’re all from New Jersey and we have great passion for the state, anything Jersey-centric wouldn’t be marketable outside the state,” Campanick said. After asking their friends and family to vote on a handful of names, Spellbound came in fourth. Even though it didn’t win, “Spellbound had the broadest appeal. It had a sort of art deco, Americana vibe to it.”
When planning out their line-up of beers for their 20-barrel facility (which will be expanding next year), they looked at what sells in the beer market. What’s evident is that IPAs are a major portion of sales. The Brewers Association estimated that IPAs amount for 27.5% of the market in 2015. The public wants their hoppy beers.
Thus, their signature IPA is their top seller and can be found on tap at local restaurants like Harvest in Moorestown. It’s a 6.5% ABV at 75 IBUs that uses a blend of six American hops. They use that IPA formula to infuse their Peach IPA, which utilizes peach rounds to balance out that hop bite.
Even though the IPA “pays the bills,” their other popular beer is their porter that Reading developed while homebrewing. The sweetness from the malt pairs with what you expect from a porter — notes of coffee and dark chocolate. Like the IPA, the porter recipe is the base for their Palo Santo Porter which is made by adding pieces of Palo Santo wood to the barrel for aging. The result is a flavorful, rich and drinkable porter with a twist that will satisfy beer drinkers who enjoy traditional English styles or those seeking something different. “It’s a style that’s gone away a little bit, but we love making it,” said Campanick. “It’s a great style of beer that we want to show people [is] not boring.”
With the IPA and Porter selling well and creating positive feedback, it allows them to make smaller batches like a cherry-based tripel or barrel-aged stouts to keep customers coming back to the tap room. The three will often be asked when they’ll start canning their other beers. This led to their limited series of beers, the first release being the Vices Coffee Porter which uses the Crispy Hippie coffee blend from Small World Coffee in Princeton.
While Spellbound has conjured up their own cult of fans, their biggest supporters came from the township, who were applauding new small businesses in the area. “Every step along the way, they helped us out with permits and navigating the system to get us started,” he said. “It allowed to focus more on the quality of the liquid. Budweiser is number one not because of the beer itself, it’s just marketed better. We want to be known for quality above anything else.”
The end result is ownership of a business where you are your own boss in a passionate community of beer fans … or beer geeks if you want to tease the aficionados. Alas, as Campanick pointed out, it comes with sacrifice. “I don’t have to worry about what to do with my free time, because I don’t have any! When I am able to go out to dinner with my family or I go to a bar I went to when I was younger and I see Spellbound on tap, it’s pretty surreal.”
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Name: Spellbound Brewing
Location: Mt. Holly
Standout Beer: IPA
Know Before You Go: Tasting room provides pints, flights, growler fills (with a wide opening), cans to go and merchandise. Check Facebook for up-to-date hours, upcoming can releases and tap list. Food is allowed in the tap room.
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?