The term “beer geek” is an affectionate nickname used to describe someone who is knowledgeable and passionate about all things beer. It’s a badge that Tomfoolery Brewing Co. owners and founders Shawn Grigus and Gayle D’Abate wear proudly.
“We’re both geeks. We’re not shy about it,” Grigus said as he smiled and looked at his wife.
“She’s an engineering nerd. I’m a chemistry nerd. I think it informs what we do here. We do like to nerd out about beer. ”
Grigus and D’Abate are not the only husband and wife team we’ve profiled in Brew Jersey (Angry Erik, Devil’s Creek, Glasstown), but they are the first that can say that when they met, it was love at first pint.
“We met at a Yards tap takeover at a bar nearby here about four years ago,” Grigus said proudly. “I was there with a homebrew club and she was there with friends and here we are today.”
For Grigus and D’Abate, Tomfoolery Brewing combines their love for beer, science and engineering.
D’Abate, who worked for two decades at the Federal Aviation Administration, runs the operation full time, while Grigus pitches in while contracting at the Department of Homeland Security in explosion detection at airport security.
Grigus grew up north of Philadelphia and attended Penn State, not too far from America’s oldest and No. 1 craft brewery, Yuengling.
“You can’t really avoid it,” he said. “I also loved Sam Adams before there was such a thing as craft beer.”
D’Abate discovered quality beer when her brothers would drink Newcastle, the British beer staple.
Homebrewing Leads to Something More
Grigus took up homebrewing in college to pursue his love of beer. The hobby went away when he started working, but he took it up again when he moved to South Jersey and wanted to expand his social circle.
He liked homebrewing so much that he opened up a homebrewing supply store (Tap It Homebrew) in Egg Harbor Township. That led to creating a homebrewing club.
“I always told people that making your beer is the best way to get fresh beer. You make it. You drink it. It’s as simple as that,” he explained.
“Then, you can brew whatever you want. You try different styles or do the same thing over and over.”
When the two met, Grigus was already trying to start up a craft brewery with another partner which wasn’t going anywhere.
They felt that the homebrewing shop was not enough to satisfy their craft beer needs, so they took up the challenge together.
“I looked at Hammonton and felt that it needed brewery,” said D’Abate.
“We saw this space, which a few generations ago was a full-production brewery, and felt that we couldn’t pass this up.”
The warehouse space was a contract brewery, Eastern Brewing Corp., that made all sorts of long-forgotten titles from 1943-1990 (Old Bohemian, Canadian Ace and Nude Beer, for example).
Take a look around the taproom and you’ll see vintage cans from the original brewery. Once in a while, former workers from the old plant will come in to see what they’ve done with the place.
What they’ve done is make craft beer for both beer geeks and beer newbies to enjoy. Their philosophy is reflected in the name they chose – fun, whimsical beers styles.
The Tomfoolery Brewing Lineup
“We started with four core beers that we knew were good and solid, but our customers dictated what they liked,” said D’Abate.
“We modify them, and now we have a good core selection that we always have on tap.”
To get that customer feedback, they have “Tap It Thursday” where a new beer is introduced to see the response.
“The people want IPAs,” Grigus said as he laughed. “Variety is what we go for. We always want to have old world styles like pilsners and kolsch because those are great for everyone.”
The Sun Grown IPA is what the people want, and it’s the beer you can find in bottles and cans in fine beer stores. Using Citra and Mosaic hops, it creates an instant floral nose that gives way to a refreshing grapefruit and lemon taste.
Their other crowd favorite is their Crack Concrete Belgian Tripel, a strong Belgian-style ale (9.4% ABV) with bubblegum and banana sweetness that pours a rich amber red hue.
Tapping into their fun-loving nature, their Blood Orange Kolsch gives a unique, sweet and tasty spin on the German classic.
For something adventurous, their Mole Mexicana Stout is a rich taste sensation that combines chocolate, cinnamon and dried guajillo, ancho and habanero peppers.
With Hammonton being the blueberry capital of the world, look for their once-a-year offering of a blueberry pale ale to drop in July.
“We mean it, we only make it once a year because we only use fresh berries. We buy them the day they are picked and brew them as fast as possible” said D’Abate. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Hammonton’s Beer Scene Grows
Tomfoolery Brewing was the first to open in Hammonton, with Three 3’s opening a month later across the street. With last year’s opening of Vinyl, Hammonton is now a genuine beer destination.
Since opening in 2016, Tomfoolery has rebuilt their tap room to accommodate more tables and chairs, while keeping the warehouse feel.
A peek into their production space shows plenty of room to add more tanks to brew fun and delicious beers.
“On some days, it does feel like we’ve been open for ten years,” Grigus said with a big laugh.
“Partnerships are hard in any business, but since we know each other so well as husband and wife, it helps with checks and balances. It helps with our home life, as well.”
“Yeah, you get to go to bed anytime you want,” she said.
“I do kind of like that flexibility,” he said with a smile.
“In reality, I look forward to the camaraderie whether it be the beer geeks, the local community or beer travelers. Let’s face it, making beer is fun and we want to spread the fun of craft beer.”
Name: Tomfoolery Brewing Co.
Location: Hammonton, Atlantic County (334 Washington St.)
Standout Beer: Sun Grown IPA
Know Before You Go: Taproom is open for pints, flights, cans and bottles to go, growler fills and merchandise. Street parking available or along building. Outside food allowed. No pets allowed. Check Facebook and Untappd 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