Friday, 24 August 2018

Garden State Beer Co. - Absecon, NJ

Located close to Atlantic City Airport, adjacent to Garden State Parkway, and among a dozen or so
hotels and motels that serve the airport traffic, Garden State looks well placed to thrive.

The Brewery and Taproom occupy a large building that looks like it was formerly a restaurant/bar of some kind. The modest production facility looks almost lost at one end of the cavernous space, and there is an immense island-bar that spans most of the room, which has been overlooked, in favour of a more intimate bar setup in the opposite corner from the brewery itself.

The room could easily accommodate 150 people, so the current setup has excellent scope for expansion.

There were 10 draft beers available including several innovating options, most memorable of which was a blonde ale with an extraordinary aroma of freshly cut chilli peppers!

As I was in no particular hurry, I worked my way through the entire menu, and I was made to feel extremely welcome by both customers and staff alike.

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Ludlum Island Brewing - Ocean View, NJ

This Taproom reminded me strongly of Glasstown Brewing, just a few miles to the NW in New Jersey, which I visited earlier this year. Both are located on small industrial parks in sparsely populated areas, and both had a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

Ludlum Island Taproom is a modest facility, with seating for perhaps 20 people downstairs, along with an upstairs room of similar size.

I was pleasantly surprised with the quality and range of beers available, including two cask beers!

There is no food available to purchase, but a family who were there when I arrived had a picnic in full swing on the central table!

As I was driving, I restricted myself to a single flight, but the beers were excellent, and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to this sleepy corner of rural New Jersey.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Dark City Brewing - Asbury Park, NJ

Dark City Brewing lies only about four blocks north of Asbury Park Brewing, but those blocks bring it much closer to the wealthy residential end of Main St, which no doubts greatly helps to bring in the demographic with the disposable income that craft brewers are targeting.

Dark City occupies a large street corner location, with air-conditioned seating inside for around 50, with some further trestle tables outside on the patio.

I arrived to find just a couple of customers at around 1pm, but within an hour the place was packed, and the staff were working hard to keep up with demand.

They had fourteen draft beers available, across a very broad landscape, including stouts, IPAs, Pales and several innovative sours. Not all of the beers worked, but most of them did, and this is a great place to visit if you really want to challenge your tastebuds to something a bit out of the ordinary.

It was great to see this business really thriving, and I will definitely be back next time I am in the area.

Asbury Park Brewing - Asbury Park, NJ

Asbury Park, NJ, famous for being the birthplace of Bruce Springsteen, used to give Atlantic City a run for it's money as the premier vacation spot on the New Jersey shore. Similar to AC, it's fortunes have ebbed and flowed over the past Century, but Asbury Park never received the benefit of the major casino investment, and so it had fallen into a very decrepit state twenty years ago, which it is only now starting to recover from.

On Main St in Asbury Park there are two Taprooms only a few blocks apart. Just like I discovered the previous day in Bradley Beach, these two business represent the two extreme ends of this nascent industry.

Asbury Park Brewing occupies a large industrial unit, just behind a Family Dollar supermarket, in the ugly part of Main St.

In order to get to the Taproom, one has to walk through the Brewery itself, and this is a large scale production facility by most craft beer standards. It was a relief to find that the Taproom is in a sealed air-conditioned corner, and there was seating for maybe 40 people.

I was significantly disappointed to find just four draft beers on offer! I tasted them all and there was a couple of decent beers among them, but I find it difficult to understand why a Brewery of this size would offer such a limited choice in its taproom?

Bradley Brew Project - Bradley Beach, NJ

If it hadn't been for a casual conversation in Beach Haus Brewing earlier in the day, I wouldn't have even know that Bradley Brew Project existed, and my life would have been immeasurably the poorer!

(I had done extensive Google-mapping of the Taprooms of NJ prior to my visit in March of this year, so I didn't bother to repeat the "work" for this trip. It turns out that Bradley Brew Project only opened in June!)

BBP are in a modern air-conditioned store-front unit on Main St in Bradley Beach, just a few blocks from the shore-front.

The place was absolutely packed at about 6pm on Friday evening when I arrived, but I managed to nab a stool at the bar. The attention to detail in the Taproom is delightful, from the very funky taster-racks, to the decor featuring a variety of barrels.

The beer styles featured a modern selection of juice-bombs, stouts and pales. They were all brilliantly executed, and I couldn't leave before I had tried all ten taps.

This is a superb business that has really hit the ground running. It is a must-visit, if you are drinking on the Jersey Shore, and I will be returning as soon as I get the chance!

Little Dog Brewing - Bradley Beach, NJ

One stop on the Jersey Shore train from where I was staying in Asbury Park is the small resort town of Bradley Beach, home to two very different Taprooms.

My first destination of the evening was Little Dog Brewing, which is located in a small shopfront, a couple of blocks west of Main Street.

The Taproom has no aircon, and was oppressively hot when I arrived. There is seating for perhaps 20 people, and this is more of a nano-brewery than a micro-brewery, run by two friendly middle-aged ladies, both of whom were working behind the bar.

The beer choice was limited to just six taps, and the styles were rather conservative by modern standards.

I overheard one of the owners tell another customer that their main focus was to sell beer to local restaurants, and so the relatively "safe" beer styles make sense in this context.

This is not a taproom that I would return to, but it is nice to observe the variety of people that are getting into this business!

Beach Haus Brewing - Belmar, NJ

Upon reflection, it was my first visit to Beach Haus Brewing back in March of this year, which really opened my eyes to great US Taprooms in somewhat out of the way locations. It was that visit that triggered me to start documenting these wonders of modern hospitality in this blog!

Beach Haus occupies a large purpose-built street corner unit, in the center of the small resort town of Belmar, NJ. Their location, just a few blocks from the beach, and even closer to the inlet marinas, presumably assures that there will be plenty of passing trade. 

The Taproom has both a downstairs and an upstairs area, which could easily accommodate a couple of hundred guests. Upstairs features a large outdoor terrace, and there is even a separate upstairs room which is used for live music events. 

Having observed this industry more closely than is probably good for me over the past couple of years, I can confidently state that Beach Haus is one of the most innovative craft breweries I have come across. They always have a decent selection of Pales and NEIPAs brewed under their Test Dept banner, but they also have something brilliant and wacky on offer! 

Last time it was a peanut butter black lager, this time it was a hot chocolate lager with cayenne pepper! Both these two beers had unbelievable aroma, but also brilliantly balanced flavour combinations.

In chatting to the server, I learned that they have just hired a sour-specialist brewer, so things are about to get even more interesting! 

Being based in the center of a small tourist town, there is a huge range of food available too order-in from adjacent restaurants. 

This Brewery and Taproom is really the Gold-Standard for all that I am looking for, and it will take a lot of beating. Doesn't mean that I am going to stop searching though....!  ;-)

Big Rock Brewing - Toronto

A mile or so to the south of Great Lakes Brewing sits Big Rock Brewing, in a large industrial unit  close to the main freeway south of Toronto. 

The Taproom is fairly basic but quite sizable,  and could accommodate a decent crowd, which made the fact that I was the only customer for the majority of the time that I was there seem a bit odd! 

There was an interesting selection of beers available, and I worked my way through all of them, discussing each with the friendly barman. 

Unsurprisingly, there was no food available. 

I am somewhat concerned about the viability of such a business in this isolated location, but the quality and selection of beers on offer will ensure that I check them out again the next time I am in the area. 

Great Lakes Brewing - Toronto

Nice purpose built facility, although rather isolated, on an industrial street next to the freeway. 

The Brewery offers limited indoor seating at the bar and at a couple of tables for perhaps 30, but also has lots of outdoor seating. As the Toronto climate is fairly temperate, people probably prefer to sit outdoors for a good part of the year, but it was way too hot for that in August!  

The taproom had a rather limited tap selection, which was a little disappointing considering the range of beers displayed in bottles around the taproom, and considering the age and history of the brewery (2-time Canadian Brewery of the year!) 

As expected, the service was pleasant and attentive, and several other customers were tucking into some food options ordered in from near by outlets. 

I left feeling a bit disappointed that I didn't get the chance to try more beers from this apparently celebrated brewer.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Lot 30 Brewing - Toronto

Just a couple of hundred yards away from Henderson Brewers lies Lot 30 Brewing. They are located in a very smart unit which presumably was originally built as a restaurant. This had the huge benefit of being deliciously air-conditioned on this sweltering August afternoon!

I arrived bang on opening time and got settled at the bar with an excellent tasting flight.

The taproom seats about 50 inside, with patio seating at the front for a further 20 or so. 

The beer choice was good and the staff were pleasant and attentive.

Even though they had only been open for a few minutes they were immediately serving food from a decent menu.

As I discovered in my conversations as I toured the Taprooms of Toronto, Lot 30 Brewing is not yet well-known in the City, but I am pretty confident that this will change soon enough! The combination of some excellent Pales and Sours, along with the very appealing Taproom should see this business thrive in due course.

Bellwoods Brewing - Toronto

Half a mile closer to downtown Toronto in the near southside lies Bellwoods Brewing in a narrow storefront with an open patio area to the front. I arrived at about 5.30pm on a hot August midweek evening, and there was a queue about 10 people deep to get a table. 

The downstairs area seats around 60 people and there is a small mezzanine area upstairs which seats another 15 or so. I got seated at the bar fairly quickly, and got stuck into sampling their excellent Pales and NEIPAs. 

This is clearly the nerve-centre of hipster Toronto, and Bellwoods are leveraging it to the max.

Bellwoods seem to have built a reputation as the "Other Half" equivalent in Toronto, and they don't seem to stray far from their comfort-zone of juice bombs, although there were some fruity sours in the mix as well.

The bar was well-staffed, and they were working extremely hard in the oppressive heat (because the bar is open-plan at the front, there is no aircon) to keep both the beer and a full-service food menu supplied to masses.  

I love to see a taproom thriving to this extent, and I will definitely be back to Bellwoods the next time I am in the area!

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Henderson Brewing - Toronto

The craft beer revolution is in full force in Toronto! A little Googling turned up a great selection of brewery taprooms, as well as endless craft beer bars with interesting beers in their own right.

With only a couple of evenings to spare in the City, I was on the lookout for close collections of taprooms, which could be combined with one another. One such area that caught my attention was the near West side of the City, centered around Brockton Village.

I had chatted with Baula, the very friendly rep for Henderson Brewing in the Bier Markt the previous evening, so I was armed with a couple of free-pint vouchers.

Henderson Brewing is located next door to the Museum of Modern Art, which no doubts brings in some handy passing trade.

This taproom occupies a corner of the industrial unit that houses the brewery, with no real division between the two, so you are seated in the heart of the action.

On this August afternoon the temperature was 32 degrees C, so all possible shutters and doors we open, to try to provide a little breeze, but the non-aircon building was rather stifling.

The taproom has seating for around 30 people. The beer choice was reasonable and the service was prompt and friendly.

There is a small snack cabinet at one of the bar that offered chips and salsa and jerky for sale.

This is a well-located taproom with a nice community vibe about it. (There were posters advertising various theme nights and activities.)