There are 64 taprooms and 13 brewpubs in New Jersey that you can go to right now. They’re in converted banks, town centers, recreated historic villages, strip malls, farms, hidden in biker bars — but mostly, they’re tucked away in warehouses. And from Asbury Park to Woodbury, I’ve been to them all in a 13-month period.
Throw in around 500 beer tastings at tap takeovers at bars, festivals and on-site at the breweries, and you’ll see that I have, ahem, a decent overview of the craft beer scene in the Garden State. While I’ve managed to keep my waistline at a manageable size, here on some thoughts on the state of New Jersey beer and how you can best raise a glass to some local beer goodness.
The NJ beer scene is good, even if no one realizes it yet
Suffice to stay, there was a legitimate craft beer boom in the state after the laws were relaxed to allow for more breweries to open in the state. It went from a dozen in 2011 to 70-plus as it stands today — with more to be added by year’s end. For a densely populated state, that’s darn impressive.
Despite those numbers, NJ breweries are often overshadowed by well-known neighbors in New York (Ommegang, Southern Tier, Ithaca, Saranac, Brooklyn Brewery) and Pennsylvania (Victory, Yuengling, Troegs). Delaware has roughly a dozen, but they have a major player in Dogfish Head, while Connecticut has the respected Two Roads Brewery. Meanwhile, New York and Pennsylvania’s laws allow for theme-park like beer destinations with restaurants, massive tap rooms, guided tours, gift shops and festivals.
NJ needs breweries in its well-known towns.
Yes, 70-plus is a lot of breweries, but the state’s biggest city, Newark, has none. Considering it used to be the focal point of breweries in the East Coast pre-prohibition, Newark is ripe for somebody to take a chance considering it’s on the uptick. Barcade, the hipstery craft beer/retro arcade bar concept with locations in Jersey City, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Philadelphia, is setting up shop in Newark.
Meanwhile, Hoboken is brewing beer, but has no tap rooms as of yet (there are a handful of operating breweries in the state without tap rooms). Then there’s Morristown, Moorestown, Trenton, Haddonfield, Paterson, Paramus, Camden — all without breweries or brewpubs of their own. It’s going to take local government and community support from these towns to get on the NJ beer map.
Speaking of going local…
Tap rooms are a great way to support local businesses
If you drink beer, there’s no reason for you not to look up the nearest brewery and pay a visit. The people who own and operate them are probably your neighbors and will greatly appreciate your business. Meanwhile, get some food delivered or pick something up along the way and you’re doubly going local.
Check the brewery’s social media before you go
While hours vary wildly from place to place, breweries may close early or late if they are rented out for events or other unforeseen circumstances. Feel free to contact them to ask basic questions such as if they allow pets, kids, outside food or if there’s an outdoor area. Also, you can preview what they are serving up if you’re looking for something in particular. They love hearing from future customers.
Who are these customers? Well …
The male-female ratio is 50/50
That’s right. Young, old, in-between — you name it. And yes, women drink craft beer. I revisited Twin Elephant and Magnify on a Friday night just to get a count. Indeed, it was an even split between guys and gals. There were a lot of couples having a pint before they headed elsewhere, and groups of ladies and guys getting together.
So ladies, pick up your girlfriends and take them beer drinking. And guys, you might meet that special someone over an IPA or porter. But remember …
Tap rooms are not bars
The breweries have tasting rooms where you sample beer and have a good time with friends and families. They are not happy hour destinations with ladies’ nights, drink specials or events centered around watching sports. Unless it’s a brewpub restaurant, in which case, go ahead and have responsible adult fun.
Obviously, they are serving alcoholic beverages in a relaxing setting where you can appreciate the beer and chat with fellow beer drinkers. Don’t treat it as a place to get hammered and act like a jerk with your friends who rented a party bus.
There are breweries within walking distance of each other
These are the best places to make an afternoon of sampling craft beer:
- Czig Meister and Man Skirt in Hackettstown
- Lower Forge and Nale House in Medford
- Kelly Green and Human Village in Pitman
- Three 3’s and Tomfoolery in Hammonton
- Dark City and Asbury Park Brewing in Asbury Park
Take a Lyft and have a flight at one place. Walk to the next with a snack or a Wawa hoagie and have an another flight and still be able to operate your phone to get another Lyft.
The big disadvantage of the New Jersey beer scene is that all the breweries are spread out and not near regular public transportation. Designated drivers, taxis and Uber/Lyfts are the way to go if you want to try three or more breweries in a concentrated area. And of course, if you are the driver, enjoy the ambiance of the tap room, not the offerings.
As for when to go…
Saturdays, mid-afternoon, are the best time
The majority of tap rooms are open around the 3:00 pm hour on a Saturday. Daydrinking on a rainy Saturday afternoon is a great way to achieve peak hygge — a Danish term that means “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.”
Pointing out again that tap rooms have wildly different opening hours, you have to remember that the owners put in 60-hour work weeks running their operation while brewing the beer. Having tap rooms open past 7 or 8 pm with a small staff is adding extra hours to an already busy week.
The worst time is opening weekend when every local beer aficionado wants to be first in line to try the latest thing. The result is an over-crowded tap room and a frenzied staff. In reality, the experience won’t be ideal, because the owners are working out the kinks.
With that in mind…
Always thank the owners and staff
Have a favorite beer? Tell them! It’s a two-year process to open a craft brewery from the ground up. Telling them how you enjoyed a particular brew will make it seem all the more worthwhile for them.
To pay them an even better compliment, you can…
Bring an empty growler to fill just in case you really love a beer
I keep a clean, dry growler in my car, because you never know when you’ll come across something amazing in your travels (they’ll wash it for you before they fill). Sixty-four ounce growler fills are usually around $12-$15, so the economics work out in your favor.
The beer in a glass growler will remain fresh for a couple of days, while steel growlers with a grolsch closing can last longer. After that, just use the flat beer to boil brats, sausages or hot dogs or make beer bread.
Finally, I recommend you…
Read Best of NJ’s Brew Jersey for in-depth brewery profiles.
We’ve already posted many of the state’s most popular names with more to come. We won’t to stop until all of them have been properly spotlighted. Now, get drinking, New Jersey!