When it comes to the New Jersey craft beer scene, Village Idiot Brewing Co. is a small, but mighty component. The brewery and taproom, which is located in historic Mt. Holly, is often cited as having paved the way for craft beer in the South Jersey community. Veteran homebrewers Vince Masciandaro and Rich Palmay founded the brewery in 2013, and were early members of the New Jersey craft beer scene.
By keeping their output small and producing traditional and unusual ales, they’ve created a devoted following.
Even after Palmay’s passing in 2015, Masciandaro continues to brew fun beers (Peanut butter! Banana! Peanut butter and banana!) and beers that pay tribute to the Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl victory.
Pennsauken-native Masciandaro began his beer adventure at Drexel University (amidst common fraternity life shenanigans) when all that was available was Schlitz and Busch.
“Back in 1988, I was an engineering geek, so I saw an ad in Popular Mechanics for home brewing equipment. I didn’t even know that you could make beer on your own,” he recalled.
“I was still living at home so it was a great activity for me and my dad to do together – making gallon batches at a time.”
Village Idiot Gets its Start
Fast forward to the dawn of the information superhighway in the late 90s, online forums were being created by homebrewers to share techniques and recipes. Eventually, clubs were created in Jersey for homebrewers to meet up and swap bottles.
Masciandaro discovered Palmay was close by and asked if he was interested in brewing together. Over the course of a decade, the two developed beer recipes that evolved into Village Idiot’s current line-up.
While Masciandaro and Palmay weren’t looking to quit their day jobs to be full-time brewery owners, the NJ laws that allowed tap rooms to open in the state gave them some ideas.
“I’m looking at the laws and it seemed that I could just drag my homebrew system into someplace and serve from there,” he explained.
“We weren’t looking to bottle, keg or have accounts, just something small [where we could] serve pints and that wouldn’t be stressful.”
The two had a few homebrewing award beers to build on that spoke to their experimental nature beyond IPAs and pale ales.
“I love doing crazy [stuff] around here, but I listen to customers to see what they like and try to have favorites on tap,” he said.
The Brews that Keep the Lights On
One of the unique beers that’s hung around for a while is the Monkey Breath Banana Bread. This one is their version of the British brewery Wells’ Banana Bread beer. Indeed, it’s a sweet, bready wheat ale that tastes like your morning pastry.
For more sweet tooth goodness, their Peanut Butter Cup Porter combines two great things, chocolate and peanut butter, in liquid form.
To top everything off, their Elvis is in the Building! combines the king’s two favorite foods, bananas and peanut butter.
While these crazy concoctions are what make Village Idiot popular, their traditional standbys bring balance to the wild flavors.
The Hoptimizer IPA, Hipster Lager and Bridgetown Blonde Ale are approachable and light beers for newbies to the craft beer scene.
On the richer side, their Thong Remover Tripel, Paddy’s Day Parade Stout and Mullen’s Irish Red round out their deep variety of beers on tap.
To house their operation, Masciandaro and Palmay found a former bar/restaurant on High Street in Mt. Holly. There, they could brew on a 1.5 barrel system in the kitchen and keep the original bar and all the tables, stools and booths.
The moniker for their new business was something that Masciandaro and Palmay came upon naturally.
When the two went for a bank loan, they had the date wrong by a week. This led Masciandaro to comment that they were village idiots for being late and the name stuck.
Village Idiot Paves the Way
When it opened its doors in 2013, Village Idiot was the first of many small breweries that would open in the region.
South Jersey towns like Burlington, Medford, Collingswood, Pitman and Haddonfield have since added small storefront breweries among other restaurants and businesses.
The sudden passing of the 56-year old Palmay in August 2015 was a shock to the brewing community.
There wasn’t a doubt that Village Idiot would continue. For Masciandaro, he was determined to brew on and to reassure their customers that the beers would continue to flow.
“This was a big deal for Rich, since this was a full-time job for him and a real passion,” he said.
Palmay’s friends and family still come back to reminisce. You’ll see a shrine dedicated to him in the taproom and Rich’s Revolutionary Rye is in honor of the brewer.
“Every year we have an event to celebrate his memory. I think he would be happy about that,” Masciandaro shared.
Building Traditions and Honoring The Eagles
Due to Mt. Holly’s proximity to Philadelphia, Masciandaro is a passionate Eagles fan. He created a Wentzstefaner hefeweizen when the Eagles drafted the quarterback in 2016.
Last November, he changed the name to Folestephaner to support the backup quarterback on the Eagles’ march to the Super Bowl. After the team’s victory in February, he created a Philly Special IPA that uses red malts and Columbus and Citra hops for a clean citrus finish.
“None of the players have stopped in, but when they do, they can drink for free. Nobody on that team is paying for a beer!” Masciandaro laughed.
“I got a big Eagles tattoo on one leg after they won. On the other leg is a Village Idiot tattoo. These are my two big passions!”
Masciandaro was able to celebrate with his 91-year old father and plans to keep brewing Wentzstefaner/Folestephaner.
“It’s still fun being here and having fun events like our lighting of the lamp leg from Christmas Story. My son works with me which is nice to have generations here,” he explained.
“I’m not at the point where I can retire and brew beer all day, but I love meeting new people who are excited about craft beer and up for trying something fun.”
Name: Village Idiot Brewing Co.
Location: Mt. Holly, Burlington County (42 High St.)
Standout Beer: The Hoptimizer IPA
Know Before You Go: Taproom is open for pints, flights, growler fills and merchandise. Parking available behind the building (turn on Commerce St.). Pets and outside food allowed. Check Facebook for updated tap lists and events.
Don’t forget to check out the entire Brew Jersey series here.