If you think back to your high school days, you probably spent some time wondering what your teachers were like outside of school. What did they do for fun? Were they interested in the same things as you? Well, for a group of teachers in Egg Harbor Township, when they aren’t molding the minds of future generations and grading papers, they make beer under the name Tuckahoe Brewing Co.
After a decade of brewing IPAs, porters and pale ales, it’s safe to say that these teachers are receiving straight A’s for their efforts.
Tuckahoe Brewing Begins
Founders, home brewers and high school teachers Tim Hanna, Matt McDevitt and Chris Konicki, along with partner Jim McAfee, originally conceived Tuckahoe to be a microbrewery in a Cape May restaurant. At that time, beer could not be distributed outside of a brewpub and the guys had loftier ambitions.
“We figured it could build over time so that it would make an interesting job when we retired from teaching,” said Konicki on a Saturday afternoon in the production house. “We all still very much enjoy teaching, but it is a tricky balancing act during the school year.”
The group eventually settled on a small space in Ocean View to create their delicious brews. When they were crafting their beer line-up, they developed the Dennis Creek Pale Ale to be their go-to, crowd-pleasing beer with the goal that it would sustain the business and allow them to develop a variety of styles.
“We want to create a beer for every taste,” explained Konicki. “We’ve got 16 beers pouring at a time so you’ll find something that suits you.”
A Long Time Coming
The Tuckahoe name came from multiple sources. Besides being the name of Tuckahoe, NJ, which was once a shipbuilding community, Tuckahoe is a wild fungus that grows at the bottom of trees. In colonial times, Native Americans ground it up into a pulp to make bread. As a history teacher, Konicki points out that that Thomas Jefferson’s boyhood home was called Tuckahoe.
Seven years ago, craft beer was still regulated to a few feet of space on store shelves and one or two tap handles at local bars. And, while their location’s proximity to Atlantic City, Ocean City, Avalon and Stone Harbor made for great business during the summer, it was a challenge off-season when businesses were reluctant to sacrifice space to an unknown local. The combination of these two factors made for a slow start to Tuckahoe, but the Dennis Creek Pale Ale was able to create some growth.
“We were in a bit of a catch-22. We were selling the beer we made, but not enough that banks were willing to loan us money so that we could expand,” he said. It wasn’t until the state’s craft beer boom took off, and every home brewer wanted to get in the on the action, that things started to change.
The ripple effect helped Tuckahoe’s expansion in 2015. Eventually, they left their Ocean View facility (which now houses Ludlam Island Brewery) and set up shop in a larger space a couple minutes drive off the Atlantic City Expressway in Egg Harbor Township.
The new space allowed them to fulfill their vision of making a variety of styles. Their Tuckahoe Quatrain IPA quickly became a bestseller for its orange and peach aroma and easy-drinking ABV of 6.4%. Tapping into their colonial vibe is their Anglesea Irish Red Ale, a malt-forward ale with a mild bitterness that goes well with traditional fish and chips.
Other variations on pale ales include the Soft J Belgian Pale Ale that has a delightfully mild sweetness and spicy finish, their hop forward Reed’s Bay IPA and their earthy, bready Grounded Rye Pale Ale.
On the darker side, Tuckahoe continues their collaboration with local coffee roastery and former neighbors, Harry and Beans, to make all sorts of goodness. Their year-long beer, the New Brighton Coffee Stout, is a burly 9% ABV beer that makes for a great post-dinner beverage. Lighter variations on that include the Diner Coffee and Kid’s Table Milk Stout, which use lactose and chocolate respectively for a sweeter finish.
How to Compete
Tuckahoe isn’t immune to the trends in the craft beer world. Sours continue to be sought after by craft beer enthusiasts, so their Peaches Table Sour is a not-too-sour, but still drinkable offering. For the fall, their Holly Beach Pumpkin Ale will return to satisfy the masses.
Even though they are the sixth oldest craft brewery in the state, Tuckahoe still considers themselves new players in the state’s crowded beer scene. “New Jersey still has some catching-up to do, but the evolution has been tremendous,” said Konicki. “You can go to any chain restaurant and you’ll find our name along with other local breweries. The selection and variety out there now, as well as the quality, is exciting.”
Since they’ve been planning, operating and distributing beer for almost ten years, it’s conceivable now that the teachers’ former students from Mainland High School in Linwood come by to visit at a legal drinking age. “It’s cool to see some old students again and see how they’re doing,” he observed.
For current students, it’s their parents who drop by frequently. “We’ll have fundraisers for the school, but we draw the line — no kids allowed. We’re careful not to mix the two worlds, but some students know what we do in the off hours and the summer.”
With more Tuckahoe beer coming out of the production house, Konicki has been amazed at how the business has grown from guys brewing out of a garage to a known-player in the NJ craft beer game. On top of that, he talks with happy customers every weekend. “People don’t come here to be angry,” he said while laughing. “They know they can come here to enjoy beer and be happy.”
Name: Tuckahoe Brewing Co.
Location: Egg Harbor Township, Atlantic County
Standout Beer: Dennis Creek Pale Ale
Know Before You Go: Taproom open for pints, flights, growler fills, bottles to-go and merchandise. Check Facebook or Untappd for tap lists, updated hours and upcoming events. They do allow food. Must take quick tour of production facility before sampling.
All Photos: © Chris Castellani / Best of NJ