While starting a brewery can take two to three years of planning and executing, for Michael Kane of Kane Brewing, it was a decade in the making. One of the most respected craft brewers in the state, Kane has gained a reputation for its varied styles, a constant rotation of beer and its signature beer, Head High IPA.
The five-year-old Ocean Township brewery is poised to become one of the largest in the state with their upcoming production expansion, which will spread the “Cheers!” and good beers throughout the state.
The kernel of an idea to start a brewery came from a summer backpacking in Europe during college. While schlepping through Germany, England and Belgium, the Jersey-born Kane discovered that drinking beer is a different cultural experience than in the United States. “The real ales in England, the Trappist beers in Belgium and the wheat beers and kölsches in Germany are something you don’t find in American beers,” Kane said on one Saturday afternoon in his office. “What I liked was that families go to beer gardens in the afternoon and people head to the pubs after work. Beer drinking is ingrained into the culture there. I fell in love with the environment and the beer itself.”
Back in the mid-nineties, the term “craft beer” wasn’t in a beer drinker’s lexicon. It wasn’t until Kane went on a skiing trip to Vermont that he discovered then-microbreweries like Long Trail and Magic Hat, which were offering something different on a smaller scale than what the big beer corporations were making.
Kane focused on getting his degree in finance at Fairfield University in Connecticut, but becoming a brewer was always in the back of his mind. He bought a home brewer’s kit and a copy of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian, which is the bible for anyone wanting to get into the homebrewing hobby, and started making beer out of his college apartment.
When he graduated, he moved to New York City with his then-girlfriend (and now wife) and got a job as a business litigation consultant, but Kane knew that he was destined to start his own brewing operation. “I could work during the day, [but] brew at night. And on business trips, I can visit other breweries, do more research on the business behind brewing and get a better understanding of how to brew different beer styles,” he said.
While the “Ah-Ha!” moment to ditch his day job for beer was still a ways away in the mid-2000s, Kane got his MBA and was enjoying a lucrative career in finance. There was a tug of war between the two worlds. “I really love finance, so I got a job in banking and private equities. I just got married and two years in, we decided that if we were going to start a brewery, we needed to come up with a serious business plan before we got too far along in our careers.”
It took years of working nights and weekends to come up with a plan for a brewery — all while home brewing to hone his craft. Then in March 2010, he quit his day job to be a full-time brewer and business owner. “I think I got all I could get from sitting in a cube all day,” Kane recalled. In August of that year, he settled on the current home of Kane Brewing in a business park behind a Costco and Target in Ocean Twp.
Setting up a production brewery is a monumental task with installing tanks and brewing equipment and securing permits and licensing — but the fun part is deciding what to make. “We knew we want to make beers that we like to drink,” Kane said. “I was good at making hoppy American-style beer and Belgian-inspired beer, even though my favorite beer styles are stouts and barrel-aged beers.” They started out with Afterglow, a rye pale ale, SingleFin, a Belgian table beer with low alcohol, and their flagship beer Head High IPA.
Eventually, they bought bourbon barrels to age some of their beers. You can see these barrels tower above you when you enter the tasting room. With their year-long beers, Kane produces around 70 beers a year with reissues and one-off pilot beers. Some of their recent creations include Sunday Brunch, a boozy milk porter made with coffee, cinnamon and maple syrup. Then there’s Cortijo, a farmhouse saison aged in Tequila barrels and brewed with added agave nectar. If you can handle the 12.4% ABV, there’s A Night to End All Dawns, a double imperial stout aged for 15 months in bourbon barrels.
For the Fall, you can find Driftline, an oatmeal brown ale with a touch of sweetness. They are also reintroducing Malice, a Belgian strong dark beer made with local apple cider. On the local angle, they’ll make a wet-hopped beer with hops grown in Monmouth County and a honey saison with locally sourced honey. (And don’t hold your breathe for a trendy pumpkin beer.)
Head High and Overhead (their Double IPA that clocks in at a 8.2% ABV and 100+ IBU) accounts for 70% of their business. You can find these at bars thought out the state with 90% of the business coming from draft sales.
In the next year, Kane will expand their output by adding more space in their production facility with new tanks, a canning line and, eventually, a larger tasting room. With their production expansion of 40%, you can expect to see Head High and Overhead cans in your local liquor store. All of this is to keep up with demand in the state and hopefully be able to distribute into other states.
With the decade in planning and years of execution, Kane knew the gamble in leaving the financial world for beer would pay off. “We were lucky that we had support from the local community and from other brewers. It’s a tight-knit group that are always willing to give advice and guidance,” he said. “From day one, I knew that this is what I should be doing. Financial isn’t it there yet, but I love what I do and I get to work with amazing people.”
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Name: Kane Brewing
Location: Ocean Twp.
Standout Beer: Head High IPA, a 6.5% ABV that uses Cascade, Centennial, Citra, Chinook and Columbus hops
Know Before You Go: Tasting room provides flights, pints, growler fills and cans and special release bottles to go. Check Facebook for up-to-date times and tap list.
Photos courtesy Chris Castellani