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The brewers behind Pinelands Brewing Co. had scoured several towns in the Pine Barrens area before settling on Little Egg Harbor Township, ending a two-year journey when its doors opened to the public on Saturday, March 1.
Little Egg Harbor Mayor Arthur Midgley joined a sizable crowd at the brewery, nestled off Route 539 on South Seventh Avenue, as it offered up samples of Mason’s Wheat, a witbier; Evan John Porter, a real vanilla bean porter; and Evergreen IPA, a heavily dry-hopped India Pale.
Despite the two former names sounding like historical figures a la craft-beer-brand-that-started-it-all Sam Adams, each takes its name from the 3-year-old sons of Pinelands Brewing Co.’s general manager, Luke McCooley, and brewmaster, Jason Chapman. Their two-year mission began in Brewmaster Chapman’s basement in Hammonton while McCooley was still a speech pathologist and Chapman was working in heating, ventilation and air conditioning, as he continues to do now.
The nano-brewery’s opening represents the first true example by which the trend and art of craft beer-making have made landfall and headquartered in Southern Ocean County.
McCooley and Chapman took their time perfecting a handful of beers before joining with three additional partners, which allowed them to seek a location to create their product. They considered Egg Harbor City and Belleplain before finding exactly what they were looking for in Little Egg Harbor. “They came out with arms open,” McCooley said. “Little Egg Harbor was really helpful, and the landlord (at the new location) was really helpful.”
Rather than what has become an ostentatious approach in the ultra-competitive craft beer industry – with brands seeming to compete for highest percentage of alcohol content in their stout or the most over-the-top marketing campaign and facetious storytelling across their bottles – Pinelands Brewing Co. has opted for an approach that keeps things simple, keeps them green, and doesn’t overcomplicate anything.
“Our whole idea was to be as pure as the pines – that’s our slogan,” said McCooley. “That follows with our beers. They’re not crazy beers with cocoa nibs and rose petals; they’re normal beers with hops, grain, water and yeast.”
One of those ingredients – water – was of particular interest to Pinelands Brewing Co. for its significance in the concocting of any microbrew. It’s part of what gives Rogue ales their distinct flavor due to the “free range coastal water” harvested off the western shores of Oregon. Here on the East Coast, the new brewery couldn’t have asked for a better location for agua, according to McCooley.
“That’s part of the reason we chose Little Egg Harbor: the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer,” McCooley said, referencing the 3,000-square-mile, naturally existing pool of water beneath the Pine Barrens containing an estimated 17.7 trillion gallons of what is considered to be some of the best all-natural drinking water in the world.
Another reason came when McCooley’s wife, who grew up in Little Egg Harbor, suggested the fact that a high school and other buildings in the township bearing the “Pinelands” name could only help. Part of why the company name was chosen originally was that the word “pinelands” is often associated with a freshness and cleanliness environmentally.
Besides the aforementioned trio of custom libations, Pinelands Brewing Co. is also offering its Pitch Pine Ale, a traditional American pale ale, in tribute to the most prominent tree in the pines; Cannonball Stout, a five-malt roasted dark grain American stout in tribute to the iron ore industry of the pines where cannonballs were made for the American Revolution; and the new and popular Great Bay IRA, an “India Red Ale” combining the malt flavor of a red ale with the hops bite of an India pale ale.
Beers are brewed using a custom three-barrel automated brewing system they’re calling the “Brewhemoth,” designed by Chapman using expertise and spare parts from his work as an HVAC technician. Custom contraptions are common during a brewery’s inception to save some overhead, such as the now successful Dogfish Head Brewery of Delaware, which started small using a multiple-keg system for brewing.
Some hops used are locally grown in what is the traditional “wine country” of New Jersey in such places as Hammonton and Galloway. “Most of our products come from out west, but we try to use as much as we can from here,” McCooley said. “Nobody in New Jersey’s selling 1,000 pounds of grain.”
The “green” aspect of their beer – besides the pine needles logo adorning each bottle – is the standard of using no preservatives, chemicals or filters in any of their brews. It’s also vegan; some other brands do use animal products in their beer.
Though Pinelands Brewing Co. is a brewery, not a brew pub, there has existed a void for the latter, between Artisan’s in Toms River and Tun Tavern in Atlantic City, since the licensing began for such in 1994. McCooley admitted that several in attendance on March 1 felt that Little Egg Harbor and its surrounding area were not socio-economically able to keep up with the price of craft beers, opting first for a cheap, light, mass-produced version of the sudsy stuff. However, “I spoke to a dozen people that live within walking distance of the brewery who say this is all they’re going to drink from now on.”
The owner of Lower Bank Tavern – one of the first bars Pinelands Brewing looks to get into as an authentic Pinelands bar – told McCooley only about 30 percent of his customers drink cheap light beers, with the other 70 percent opting for the heavier craft variety.
“People out in the Pinelands spend their money on two things: trucks and beer. Believe it or not, it’s actually profitable,” said McCooley, adding that prices will be kept low. “We’re not trying to come out with a $13 porter or anything.”
Pinelands Brewing Co. will soon decide among 20 to 30 different bars that McCooley said have already expressed interest in terms of where they should park their kegs. Plans are in the works to secure an adjacent location specifically for a 1,000-square-foot tap room to offer up its many varieties to the public daily by midsummer.
First the company plans to bring batches to Atlantic City Beerfest April 4 and 5 and participate. Pinelands Brewing is currently open to the public every Saturday other than that weekend, offering free tours between noon and 5 p.m. Guests can pay $5 for four samples or a single pint of their choosing, then have a chance to purchase growlers, packaged goods and merchandise. For more information log onto pinelandsbrewing.com.