Cape May Brewing Co.
I tried to keep my head tucked down as I walked into Kane Brewing Company. It was difficult, though. Located in a quiet office park some ten minutes from the Asbury Park shore, Kane's small gift shop gives way to a massive brewery space that will immediately whiplash your head skyward. Massive fermenters to the left. Barrels stacked high to the right. Several stories of empty cans just waiting to be filled. And a TSA-esque roped-off line routing its way toward a beer counter.
I was in awe, but I still kept my head down as best I could. I didn’t want owner Michael Kane to see me. I wasn’t sure if I was a beer writer non grata. I hadn’t been in his brewery since "The Incident.”
Four years earlier, I’d penned an article in Esquire in which I'd hypothesized why New Jersey beer wasn't quite up to snuff. (Okay, I believe the piece was actually originally titled, “Why Does New Jersey Beer Suck?”). The way I saw it, such a wealthy, passionate state -- one located between the behemoths of Philadelphia and New York City -- should have a world-class beer scene. Instead, it had virtually nothing at the time, short of Kane and Carton Brewing Company.
Well, as any idiot knows, one does not diss New Jersey in any way, shape, or form. I would quickly encounter my first taste of internet commenter vitriol of the highest order. Quite a few guys with names ending in “y” or “ie” warned me to never again cross the Hudson into their fair Garden State..."or else."
credits:"[William Warby / Flickr](https://www.flickr.com/photos/wwarby/35728416163)" align:center
A lot has changed in just four years. Kane and Carton are still kicking ass, but a new vanguard has arrived, finally turning New Jersey into not just a respectable beer state, but a pretty great one. It’s time to reexamine things.
Today, I come to praise New Jersey beer -- not bury it -- by revisiting Kane and Carton, and examining six other great New Jersey breweries that have arrived of late.
(Though I’m sure NJ-based internet commenters will still tell me my praise is not effusive enough.)
When I last visited Kane, it offered a small, not-even-open-on-Sunday tasting room; four years later, it had expanded (in the same space) to a massive 12,000 square-foot facility, with eager customers packed into communal picnic tables. The beer is as good as ever, too, with flagships like Head High and Overhead now in cans, and more limited beers like A Night to End All Dawns (a continuing series of adjunct-heavy imperial stouts) and Sunday Brunch (a cinnamon/maple syrup porter) attracting long geeky lines on release days.
credits:"[Kane Brewing Company / Facebook](https://www.facebook.com/KaneBrewing/photos/a.151494298234374.38933.150621064988364/1506674422716348/?type=3&theater)" align:center
Opened the same month as Kane, Carton is a bit more divisive of a brewery. That’s because, in my opinion, it may very well be the most inventive brewery in the country. Despite not running into Michael Kane once since I reported that 2013 story, brewer Augie Carton has become a friend in the intervening years, and I’ve appeared frequently on his Steal This Beer podcast. A restless gastronaut, Carton’s beers typically have a culinary bent, evoking certain favorite foodstuffs like Regular Coffee (shitty milk-and-two-sugar bodega joe), Decoy (Chef Daniel Humm’s five spice roast duck), Cosmonaut (astronaut ice cream), and Gilded Lily (white truffles). Still, Carton’s crowd favorite is a more normal offering -- Boat Beer, a low-ABV, hoppy crusher that has surely become New Jersey’s single most iconic brew.
Opening the same summer as Kane and Carton, Cape May hasn’t quite attracted a similar amount of beer geek acclaim; perhaps they should. Located in a south Jersey resort town more known for Italian ice and frozen drinks than cold beer, Cape May noticed the craft void and has ably filled it. Their beers aren’t necessary avant garde like Carton’s, nor unadulterated beer geek bait like Kane’s, but are rather varied, refined, and incredibly drinkable. Cape May offers everything from an English-style honey porter (named Honey Porter), to Belgian strong ales (Devil’s Reach), to fruit beer shandies and -- yes -- of-the-moment IPAs and sours (you gotta give the people what they want). Their 15,000 square-foot facility is located at the small Cape May Airport where the brewery claims to have the largest tasting room in the entire state; the attached beer garden helps.
credits:"[Cape May Brewing](https://www.capemaybrewery.com/blog/halloween-candy-brews/)"
credits:"[Bolero Snort Brewery / Facebook](https://www.facebook.com/BoleroSnort/photos/a.140780682612799.19006.124944130863121/1510998118924375/?type=3&theater)" width:350 align:right
Do you count as a “New Jersey brewery” when you don’t even have a location? Gypsy brewer Bob Olson offers beers both ultra-modern and old timey traditional, each with a self-proclaimed “bold twist.” Obsessed with bullish puns, they are now canning offerings like Ragin’ Bull (an amber lager), Piña Bullada (a pineapple, coconut, and vanilla milkshake IPA), and Cyberbullied IPA. Mostly contracting at NJ old-timer High Point Brewing Company, Bolero Snort has also brewed in-state beers at The Alementary, Dark City, and Double Nickel. In fact, with beers produced everywhere from Butler up north, to Asbury Park on the shore, and down south in Pennsauken, maybe Bolero Snort is the most New Jersey brewery of all.
With an overall aesthetic evoking the heyday of carnival life at the beach, visiting Forgotten Boardwalk will make you feel like it’s a summer beach weekend...even if you’re a good hour-and-a-half from the shore. Situated in the former location of Flying Fish Brewing Co. (another NJ brewing legend), the taproom features skeeball machines, spin wheels, and funhouse mirrors (because everyone wants to look into an effed-up mirror after drinking heavily). Jamie Queli has designed her brewery’s beers not just to be delicious, but to tell “forgotten” stories of life on the boardwalk. There’s Funnel Cake (a lactose ale), Tight Rope Walker (baltic porter), and more limited releases known as “sideshow attractions,” like Mashkeh the Magnificent, a Belgian beer brewed with latkes and aged in apple brandy barrels. This Jew’s ears have officially perked up.
Spellbound was opened by three homebrewers (Mike Oliver, John Companick, and Scott Reading), who wanted to translate their ambitious hobby to a larger scale. Thus, they offer such dazzling flagships as a porter aged on Palo Santo wood (a recent GABF medalist) and a Belgian tripel fermented on cherries. Despite an in-house canning system, distribution is still mostly local, so hitting the taproom is the best way to try some of their even more offbeat efforts. Those pilot batches have so far included beers like White Sage Black Pepper Saison and Jalapeno Ghost Pepper IPA, an absolute scorcher of a hop bomb.
credits:"[Spellbound Facebook](https://www.facebook.com/spellboundbrew/photos/a.391277077636021.87684.391277047636024/1293701297393590/?type=3&theater) / [Matthew Soult](http://www.soultstudios.com/)"
One of Jersey’s newest breweries is quickly becoming one of its best. Though with a small, industrial park taproom open only on weekends, procuring their offerings ain’t so easy just yet. Beers are made mostly with local ingredients and so-called “traditional” brewing methods, but that hardly equates to boring. Gravitational Waves, a juicy IPA double dry-hopped with Simcoe, Citra, and Mosaic, is already one of the best northeast-style IPAs in the state. While Mexican Morning Stout -- a locally-roasted espresso milk stout with red chili peppers, vanilla bean, cinnamon, and cocoa nibs -- is likewise tantalizing. Conclave was named to invoke a certain mystique, but the secret is out -- these guys are good.
credits:"[Magnify Brewing Company](https://www.facebook.com/magnifybrewing/photos/a.959461137406342.1073741832.949318031753986/1144398158912638/?type=3&theater)" width:300 align:right
I’m not exactly an old man, but Magnify’s founders make me look like Father Time. Still, the fresh-faced Eric Ruta, 25, and brewer Erich Carrle, 31, have impressive resumes, with brewery gigs in meccas such as Brooklyn, the Bay Area, and Portland, Maine. The brewery name is a nod toward their ethos of “magnifying” northern Jersey’s long-dormant beer scene. They have a good chance of accomplishing that, what with creative flagships like Search Saison, a rustic farmhouse ale fermented in a foedre. In fact, if any New Jersey brewery is destined to enter Kane and Carton’s rarified air, it might just be Magnify. That’s not just my opinion -- as Ron Burgundy would say, it’s science: Magnify has the third most placements on Beer Advocate’s Top Rated Beers: New Jersey with six (Carton has 32; Kane, 29).