Here’s the Lowdown on Highballs

Illustration via Shutterstock

What do gin and tonic, Scotch and soda, and rum and Coke have in common? They’re highballs, basically the baseline cocktail: a shot, a mixer and ice in a tall glass. The highball, not overly strong thanks to the mixer, fits with the current interest in traditional cocktails and a national trend toward drinking less.

 “In spring and summer, you want something refreshing,” says Cesar Reyes, of Crystal Springs Resort in Hamburg. “Customers don’t want drinks neat, and this way they can have multiple drinks.”

Invented during Prohibition to obscure the flaws of homemade hooch, the highball became a staple in Japan in the 1950s, when the Japanese distillery Suntory popularized the whisky-and-soda-highball. Recently, the company launched its Toki whisky blend Stateside and sent its proprietary Toki Highball dispensing machine along with it. Of 80 machines in the United States, two are in New Jersey, at Dullboy in Jersey City and Stirling Tavern in Morristown.

“The Highball Machine does something ordinary bar guns can’t: it cools the whisky and water to near freezing for less dilution from melting ice and greater retention of carbonation,” says brand ambassador Gardner Dunn.

For home mixologists, “ice is important,” says Debbie Anday, a consultant who designed the highball program at Ariane Kitchen & Bar in Verona. “If you serve a highball with a chilled soda, I prefer nice, large cubes, so not to overdilute your drink.”  

The Chef’s Garden restaurant at Crystal Springs is running five different gin and tonics garnished with combinations like peppercorn and strawberries or sage and blueberries. In Montclair, Pharmacie Bar + Kitchen bar manager Donny Nelson makes a highball-inspired Rabbit Rum Punch, which consists of rum, Cynar artichoke liqueur, almond milk, fresh-pressed carrot juice, a dash of agave and grated cardamom. A long way from a highball, but “it’s pretty fun.” 

Click here to leave a comment

There are no photos with those IDs or post 218603 does not have any attached images!

This Japanese Ingredient Keeps Popping Up in Cocktails

The Red Crowned Crane cocktail at Ani Ramen House

The popularity of low-alcohol drinks has found a new ally in sake. The ancient Japanese fermented-rice beverage usually contains 15 to 20 percent ABV, comparable to big red wines. Traditionally drunk straight (hot or cold), sake is increasingly showing up in mixed drinks.

“Spring is a prominent season for sake,” says Jessica Joly, Miss Sake USA 2016. “Many breweries release their unpasteurized namazake-style sakes for spring. These tend to be more juicy and bold in flavor and are great for cocktails.” Joly, who hosts a monthly sake event at Ani Ramen House in Jersey City, has in her repertoire a namazake-style sake with cherry-blossom syrup and an edible-flower garnish.

Ani Ramen owner Luck Sarabhayavanija serves frozen yuzu sake for spring and summer. Infusing the juice of the Japanese fruit into sake, then freezing and blending, he creates a crisp, light and refreshing drink. “Both flavors really shine through,” he says. Ani also serves the Red Crowned Crane (above), which combines sake with banana liqueur and peach nectar and tops it with a red wine float.

Kelly Brophy, who has studied at the Sake School of America in Secaucus, says to avoid the priciest and cheapest sakes—mixers will mask the finesse of the finest, and the flaws of the cheapest can ruin a cocktail. “If I’m making a stirred cocktail, like a Negroni variation,” Brophy says, “I’ll use a Genshu sake [in place of gin]. Gen-shus are undiluted with water, so they’re a little more bold and boozy.”

Sake pairs beautifully with food, not just with lighter dishes. Brophy loves sake with chocolate and even Mexican food. As she relates, “There’s a Japanese saying that translates as, ‘Sake does not get into fights with food.’”

The Red Crowned Crane

from Ani Ramen House

  • 1 oz Ketel One Vodka
  • 5 oz Dassai 50 Junmai Diaginjo Sake
  • 25 oz Giffard Banana Liqueur
  • .25 oz yuzu juice
  • .25 oz peach nectar
  • .25 oz simple syrup
  • Squeeze of 1 lemon wedge
  • Floater of red wine (We use a dry Côte du Rhone)

Click here to leave a comment

There are no photos with those IDs or post 216028 does not have any attached images!

The Humble Rise of White Horse Wines

Part of the food section of White Horse Wines in Absecon. Photo by Jessica Orlowicz

A black stripe of vinyl floor tile divides White Horse Wines in Absecon right down the middle. Adam Sternberger, who owns White Horse with his wife, Elizabeth McCabe, and his father, Steve Sternberger, calls it “the remembrance line.” It signifies how far White Horse has come from its origins as a humble liquor store.

Today, White Horse is a 32,000-square-foot emporium of wine, beer, spirits, gourmet items and a changing menu of take-out foods made fresh daily, from a curried mango-chicken-salad wrap to charcuterie plates.

Steve was a junior in high school in 1971 when his father, Harry, recently retired from poultry farming, bought a small liquor store near Absecon Lighthouse in pre-casino Atlantic City. After Steve graduated, he helped his dad run the store and eventually took it over. In 1985, he tore it down, bought the lot next door, and built a new, larger shop, All-Star Liquors. 

At the time, says Steve, most liquor stores in the city kept their wares behind a counter or plexiglass barrier—a practice he considered racist. All-Star, he says, was the first self-service liquor store in the Inlet. “People said I was crazy,” he recalls. “I felt that if I built a nice store, the residents would respect it.” And they did. 

In 2006, Steve bought White Horse Liquors in a mall on the White Horse Pike in Absecon. His son, Adam, was living with McCabe in New York City. (They would marry in 2014.) “We always had a food passion and threw small gatherings,” says Adam. “Or we thought they’d be small, and then everybody would show up.” 

In 2009, Steve persuaded the mall owner to divide the recently vacated Acme supermarket into three equal units, with White Horse moving into one of them, tripling its space to 16,000 square feet. That’s when Adam joined the business. In 2013, they took over the adjoining former Acme space and reached 32,000 square feet. At that point, McCabe came onboard. 

Steve Sternberger astride the “remembrance line,” with son Adam and Adam’s wife, Elizabeth McCabe. Photo by Jessica Orlowicz

In the new space, they added food for the first time. Unable to make the floor tile in the new space exactly match the tile in the existing space, they placed the black stripe between them to obscure the contrast and called it the remembrance line.

McCabe, who had grown up in the restaurant business, created a selection of local food items and launched a lunch menu of sandwiches, salads, soups and smoothies. “There was no Wegman’s or Trader Joe’s down here,” Adam says, “so we focused on local products and things you couldn’t get in basic stores.” They eventually hired two full-time chefs and, in 2017, introduced take-out dinners Wednesday through Friday. The menu changes regularly, but there is always a meat option and a vegetarian option. Think turkey Bolognese over spaghetti squash or veggie pot pie.    

Meanwhile, Adam began expanding craft spirits and especially the wine selection. (Craft beer has grown so fast, he delegated it to a manager to handle.) Adam organizes wines differently than most shops. “Usually it’s by region,” he says. “We organize by characteristic: rich, medium, light in both reds and whites; sweet wines; then by region and varietal. Before, I couldn’t get a pinot drinker to look at a Barbera or Grenache. Now they’re in the same section. It totally changed people’s buying patterns.”

Steve is still involved. He does what Adam calls the “bulk buying”—big sellers like Smirnoff, Jack Daniels, Jameson and beers like Bud Lite. 

“Bud Lite pays our bills,” says Adam. “Without them, we don’t exist. But often you’ll see the Budweiser 30-pack guy, and all of a sudden he’s over there, buying a sandwich or getting dinner. And we’re like, ‘Oh! It’s working!’”

Click here to leave a comment

Canned Cocktails Seem Here to Stay

The appeal of a cocktail in a can is partly what it eliminates (mixology equipment, a bartender, and buying liquor and mixers in full-size bottles) and partly what it enables (portability without fear of, say, shattering a glass poolside). After a shaky start with overly sweet drinks, the category the industry calls RTD (ready-to-drink) cocktails came of age in 2015 as a side project of Ballast Point Brewing in San Diego. Now it’s catching on and, with supermarkets selling a lot of RTDs, is expected to keep growing.

“We make things we like to drink,” says Nicole Woods, marketing manager for Cutwater Spirits, which was spun off from Ballast Point. Cutwater sells about a dozen types, from a mild Bloody Mary to a gin & tonic with notes of cucumber and grapefruit to a cold-brewed coffee fueled with vodka and cream liqueur. Southern Tier Distilling, near Buffalo, ramps up the flavor of its Vodka Madras with cardamom and chamomile.

In New Jersey, canned cocktails are available at some stores and at chains such as Total Wine, Buy-Rite and Joe Canal’s at about $16 for a pack of four 12-ounce cans. The 12-ounce can is technically considered two servings. They aren’t comparable to drinking straight shots. Most are in the range of 10 percent alcohol by volume—roughly midway between beer and wine. They can be drunk straight from a cooled can or poured over ice and dressed up with a garnish. Nathan Arnone, brand manager for Southern Tier, says, “There’s great aroma, so drinking out of a glass adds to the experience.”

Creating a truly palatable canned cocktail “takes a lot of trial and error,” says Jim Romdall, Western regional manager for Novo Fogo Cachaça, which puts out a sparkling caipirinha in a can. “I lost count on how many formulations we tested before coming up with our favorite. It comes down to trying as many combinations as possible, which,” he adds with a laugh, “no one was really sad about.”

Click here to leave a comment

There are no photos with those IDs or post 211398 does not have any attached images!

The Surprising Nuance Behind Brewing Lagers

Alementary’s Hackensack Lager has a robust foamstand—the term for the length of time the head endures. Photo by Scott Jones

Lager has an image problem. This seems odd, since it is the most consumed style of beer in the world. Yet unlike hoppy IPAs, burly stouts and fruity wheats, lagers aren’t considered sexy or bursting with character. That may have to do with the best-selling beers in America (Bud Light, Coors Light, Budweiser, Miller Lite, Corona, Michelob) being lagers.

But craft brewers know that a lager puts their skills to the ultimate test. It uses a different yeast than ales (one that promotes crisp rather than fruity flavors and aromas), is fermented at colder temperatures, and takes up to twice as long to make because it has to be lagered (from the German word for stored) at cool temperatures to fully develop its character. Lagers traditionally have been more subtly hopped than ales.

“Flaws in ales can be concealed by hops,” says Greg Zaccardi, president of High Point Brewing in Butler, maker of Ramstein beers, including several lagers. “In a lager, there’s nowhere to hide. It’s like you’re singing a capella.”

Lagers are friendly in that they’re relatively low in alcohol. The classic helles (German for bright) is crisp on the palate. Barleys malted to varying levels of darkness add bready notes. A lager like Double Nickel’s Vienna, named best lager by our panel, combines light, medium and dark malts for a creamy, toasty quaff.

Hackensack Lager Photo by Scott Jones

Alementary Brewing in Hackensack, created by a molecular biologist (Michael Roosevelt) and a chemical engineer (Blake Crawford) takes, as you might expect, a scientific approach to every nuance of brewing. Yet ultimately, they are flavor geeks. Their widely praised Hackensack Lager, their best seller, makes a virtue of Hackensack’s hard water, delivering a crisp, spicy foretaste, full, round mouthfeel, and a clean finish with no residual sweetness or bitterness. Its aroma is floral with a faint herbaceousness.

Crawford considers it high praise that “one of our regulars refers to it as ‘beer-flavored beer.’ It’s super food friendly,” he adds. “You don’t have to meditate on it. Many craft breweries want the experience to be all about the beer. There’s a time and place for that.” Indeed, Alementary makes several stunning beers. “But with Hackensack,” he says, “our mission was a beer that supports whatever your experience is today, without it having to be your experience.”

Click here to leave a comment

How Did Wine Change the Course of History?

Illustration by Victor Jurasz

Around 9,000 years ago, a band of nomadic humans roaming around Western Asia stumbled across wild grapes that had fallen into a crack in a rock and fermented. They tasted the cloudy, purple liquid that had oozed out. We’ll never know whether they grunted primordial tasting notes, but the encounter would change the course of human history.

That, at least, is the theory of wine’s origins presented by wine expert John Mahoney in his new book, Wine: The Source of Civilization. Mahoney, a resident of Atlantic County and a former professor of English literature, argues that wine not only predated ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, but was the catalyst that led to the birth of Western civilization.

He suggests that after the last Ice Age ended, humans got their first taste of wine in its crudest, natural form and were so taken with it that it contributed to them putting down roots, literally and figuratively. Central to his claims are recent chemical analyses of Neolithic pottery, unearthed from archaeological sites in Georgia in the South Caucasus, which found that the pottery, dating from 6,000 BC, contained residues of acids consistent with wine made from grapes.

If the people of ancient Georgia were able to make wine 8,000 years ago, Mahoney speculates, then they must have first encountered naturally fermented grape juice much earlier. He cites evidence of winemaking in Çatal Hüyük, considered the world’s first city, dating to about 7,500 BC, in what is now Turkey. Çatal Hüyük was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012.

While some scholars contend beer was discovered even earlier, perhaps even as long as 15,000 years ago, Mahoney maintains that wine came first by at least 4,000 years. That debate has yet to be resolved.

Mahoney, who calls himself a wine missionary, is the author of six books, including Wine for Intellectuals and Every Bottle Has a Story. He has taught courses on wine at Stockton University and Montclair State University and serves as chancellor of the North American chapter of the Dionysian Society, an international organization devoted to wine appreciation.

“After I wrote Wine for Intellectuals,” he says, “I got into conversations with people about where wine comes from. I found it fascinating that we just assume it came from the Greeks. But research shows that it was much, much older.”

The Phoenicians, he writes, an early maritime civilization, prospered by trading both wine and grape vines, as did the ancient Greeks and Romans. He asserts that societies that made wine, sold it as a commodity, and drank it in moderation were able to amass wealth, expand their political power, and make historic social, economic and cultural advances.

Mahoney argues that the origins of the Christian ritual of the Eucharist can be traced back more than a thousand years before Jesus, when the Greeks drank wine as a symbol of the blood of their gods in a sacrificial rite called eucharista. He notes that drama was invented in ancient Greece as a ritual performed for Dionysus, the god of wine.

Armies such as those led by Alexander the Great were successful in military campaigns, he proposes, because they carried wine, which they mixed with water. The wine served as a disinfectant, preventing fighters from getting sick as they conquered new territories.

“The more we know about wine,” he writes, “the more we will know about ourselves.”

Click here to leave a comment

There are no photos with those IDs or post 210143 does not have any attached images!

Working a Day on the Beer Canning Line

Illustration by Greg Clarke

Everyone knows how to get beer out of a can. But getting beer into a can? That’s a whole can of worms.

Curious about the process, I arranged a visit to canning day at New Jersey Beer Company in North Bergen, winner of New Jersey Monthly’s 2016 Craft Beer Bracket showdown. On this day, they are canning Pit Boss, a double IPA that packs a real punch at 8.5 percent alcohol by volume.

Like many small breweries, New Jersey Beer Co. doesn’t have its own canning machine. Instead, it contracts with Tripod Mobile Canning, a Mountainside-based company that cans for brewers in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Robbie Kurz, who owns the company with son Jason, and his team of three had just finished setting up their equipment when I arrived.

Having hoped to actually work on the line, I’m told that, alas, all I can do is watch. The canning line starts up slowly, eventually building to a speed of 36 cans per minute. For bigger jobs, they can push it to 44.

The action starts on the shaker table, a raised platform crowded rim to rim with topless aluminum cans. The tilt of the platform feeds the cans one by one into an 8-foot-long “twist rinse” chute on their way to the filler machine. Halfway down, the twisting chute inverts the cans, sprays them with sanitizing water, flips them upright again, and sends them on to the filler.

At the filler, things get technical. The cans move on a narrow conveyor belt to the first station, where tubes fill the cans with CO2 to clear them of oxygen. Next, the cans pass under the filler heads, teflon tubes that descend into the cans five at a time, dispensing the fresh brew. A thin pillow of foam appears at the top of each loaded can.

As the cans trundle by, lead operator Sam Scharff checks a monitor and twists tiny dials to make sure the cans fill to the right level—a tad more than the required 16 ounces. “Who doesn’t want more beer?” he asks. Scharff grabs a can off the line and offers me a taste.

Can tops clatter down a tall pipe and are dispensed onto the top of each passing can. The next station grabs each can and spins it onto the seamer, which folds the top under the lip of the can. The sealed cans then move through a washer, where a spray of water removes any stickiness. Occasionally, a can is crushed in the seamer. Beer splashes to the floor. Pretty soon, my shoes are soaked with Pit Boss. “If you’re around here,” says Kurz, “you’re going to get wet.”

But wait—a can has toppled on the conveyor belt. I reach in to set it right, but another falls. And another. I try holding back the line, but this just jams the chute. More cans are tumbling.

Scharff hits the emergency button and everything stops. “This is why I have a job,” he says as he sets things right. A second operator, Sasha Damjanovic, straightens the cans in the chute. “When one thing goes wrong,” he observes, “it’s like a domino effect.” In a matter of moments, the cans are moving along again. I step aside, hands to myself.

Scharff used to work on a printing press at the Wall Street Journal. “Now,” he says, “I’m delivering good news: The market is down, have some beer.”

The rest of the process is pretty prosaic. Once the cans go through the washer, they roll down a makeshift ramp. Kurz places them on another conveyor belt on their way to the labeling machine. At the end of that line, the cans are manually loaded into boxes, 24 to a case.

In the end, 91 cases of Pit Boss are ready to go to market. I’m ready to change my socks and shoes.

Click here to leave a comment

Bonesaw Brewing is NJ’s Best New Brewery

Courtesy of Bonesaw Brewing

New Jersey Monthly’s panel of 14 beer experts chose Bonesaw Brewing of Glassboro, which opened in 2018, as the Best New Brewery. One thing that impressed them was the scale of the operation, which sits on 7 1/2 woodsy acres and includes a 23,000-square-foot brewery and a 33-tap tasting room with high ceilings, a rustic lodge ambience and indoor-outdoor seating for 200. There are foamy iced coffee and tea on nitro taps and craft sodas for kids. As Bonesaw co-founder Rich DiVerniero puts it, “We’ve got a go-big-or-go-home mentality.”

The name Bonesaw refers to DiVerniero’s profession, orthopedic surgeon. But he began brewing at home in the late ’80s, well before he entered medical school. He married his high school sweetheart and, as time went on, partnered with two of her brothers—David Doe, a corporate executive whom he describes as “a financial wizard,” and Alan Doe, a Floridian who has opened numerous restaurants for Disney—to bring the brewhouse dream to life. Last puzzle piece: brewmaster A.J. Stoll, winner of 10 Great American Beer Festival medals.

Bonesaw runs a HEBS (High Efficiency Brewing System) DiVerniero says is “one of only maybe 20 in the world…. Not only does this let us brew more efficiently, utilizing fewer natural resources, it also lets us brew with ingredients traditional systems don’t allow. We are not limited in any way on ingredients we can put through the mash press.” Bonesaw now has 19 beers on tap. “To date,” he says, “we have only scratched the surface. We plan on brewing a multitude of beers only possible [with this system]. We are in the final stages of procuring our own canning line, all to get Bonesaw beers in the hands of more people throughout New Jersey.”

Click here to leave a comment

Best in Class: NJ’s Finest Craft Beers

Photo by Scott Jones

Craft beer comes in many styles, from ubiquitous IPAs to seasonal varieties that pop up throughout the year. We asked our panel of experts to pick their favorite Jersey beers in eight popular styles. Here are our tasting notes on the winners.


Tonewood Freshies (5.0% ABV)

Brewed with wheat and dry hopped with Simicoe, Amarillo and Cascade hops, Tonewood’s flagship pale ale is light, citrusy, fresh (hence the name) and easy drinking. Available in six-packs at the brewery, or on draught around the state.—SV


Kane Head High (6.6% ABV)

Five Northwest hops, mostly added late in the boil or post-fermentation, give this American-style IPA a grapefruity flavor and the aromas of citrus, tropical fruit and pine. Imported pilsner malt imparts a straw color, while Kane’s house yeast strain ferments the liquid enough to give it a dry finish. Available on draught and in cans.—TN


Double Nickel Vienna Style (5.3% ABV)

The 3-year-old Pennsauken brewery uses pilsner, Vienna and Munich malts for a modern take on a classic European-style lager. The result is an easy-drinking, copper-colored beer with more body and flavor than the lighter lagers most Americans are accustomed to. Available statewide in six packs of 12-ounce cans.—KS


Hidden Sands 800’ (5.5% ABV)

The founders of this 14-month-old brewery attribute the crisp taste of their pilsner to the water they draw from a 30,000-year-old aquifer. At deadline, their beers were found only in South Jersey bars and restaurants, but canning was to begin soon and statewide distribution should follow.—KS

Photo by Scott Jones


Cape May Misty Dawn (6.2% ABV)

This medium-bodied pale ale showcases strong fruit notes with a peppery finish. The addition of coriander and sweet orange peel to the boil, along with “a boatload” of Czech Saaz hops, reduces bitterness and adds spicy aroma. Available on draft starting in midwinter.—TN

Kane Apiary (7.4% ABV)

Brewed with rich, golden honey malts along with local wildflower honey, this Belgian-style saison displays notes of soft sweetness, fruit and pepper. Though low, the hop character presents as grassy. Available at the brewery in time for summer.—TN


The Referend Bier Blendery (various beers)

These wild brews are tart, fragrant and often funky—and that’s a good thing. Expect a wide range of high-acid beers with great potential to age.—SV


Kane, A Night to End All Dawns (12.5% ABV)

This bold stout (nicknamed ANTEAD) spends more than a year aging in bourbon barrels before it is released to eager fans. The barrel aging adds vanilla, oak, chocolate and caramel notes to the roasted flavor inherent in an imperial stout. Sold at the brewery.—TN


Ramstein Blonde Hefe-weizen (5.5% ABV)

A German-style weiss beer should have an orangey hue, a bit of cloudiness and lots of fruity notes. Ramstein Blonde checks off all those boxes. The pleasant bubble gum taste makes it a nice summer refresher. Available statewide in bottles.—KS

Cape May Summer Catch (5.5% ABV)

This beer’s orange-peel notes reflect the character of a Belgian wit white ale, though the tropical fruit essence gives Summer Catch a unique twist. Citra and Amarillo hops add hints of citrus to the aroma. Sold in cans and on draught ahead of the summer season.—TN

Photo by Scott Jones


Cape May Brewing, Cape May


Cape May Brewing, Cape May and Flying Fish, Somerdale

Click here to leave a comment

Kane Brewing Company Voted Best Brewery in New Jersey

Erika and Michael Kane.
Photo by Scott Jones

What makes a great company? In any business, greatness requires a commitment to quality. In the brewing business, you can add creativity and consistency as essential factors. It seems like a simple formula, but not everyone gets it right.

In New Jersey, Kane Brewing Company has been setting the standard for quality, creativity and consistency almost since the day it brewed its first commercial batch. For this beer issue, a New Jersey Monthly panel of 14 independent beer experts voted Kane the best brewery in the state.

Kane Brewing opened in Ocean Township in 2011, the product of a husband-and-wife team who left New York corporate jobs in finance and marketing, respectively, to pursue a dream of owning their own business. It was a pivotal year for New Jersey craft beer. The prior year, the state had fewer than 20 breweries and brewpubs, according to the New Jersey Craft Beer website. 

Kane stands out for its consistency and superior quality in its three flagships, Head High IPA, Overhead DIPA and Sneak Box pale ale. Photo by Paul Sirisalee

Three significant breweries opened in 2011: Kane, Carton Brewing in Atlantic Highlands and Cape May Brewing. The founders of those breweries quickly emerged as high-profile industry figures—on the political/lobbying front, in the media, and among craft beer lovers whose numbers began growing right around the same time. 

As those breweries opened, craft beer was moving into the mainstream in New Jersey. Taprooms appealing to craft-beer fans became an exciting part of the state’s nightlife,  and quality artisanal brews began to make their way onto beverage menus and store shelves. Beer festivals blossomed. And after Trenton passed a law in 2012 that significantly lowered the barriers to entry for brewers and made it easier for them to make money from their tasting rooms, the state’s beer boom was off and running.

In March 2013, when New Jersey Monthly published its first cover story on craft beer, we reported that there were 27 craft breweries and brewpubs in the state. When we came back to the subject with a March 2016 cover story, the number had grown to 43 craft breweries, plus 15 brewpubs—with 40 more breweries in the pipeline. Today, New Jersey Craft Beer, a membership-club website, lists 99 production breweries, 18 brewpubs and 27 breweries awaiting approval to launch in New Jersey. According to Chicago-based C+R Research, New Jersey and Kentucky are the fastest-growing beer states in terms of number of breweries added since 2015.

Despite the rapid growth, New Jersey still lags in a number of ways. As of 2017, the Brewers Association, a trade group, lists New Jersey at 45th of 50 states in breweries per capita and 21st for number of breweries overall. In terms of economic impact, New Jersey ranks a respectable 16th. 

Kane Brewing’s Michael Kane checks on some barrel-aged beers. The brewery ranked number 1 in our poll of beer experts. Photo by Scott Jones

Michael Kane’s beer obsession goes back to his home-brewing days as a college student in Connecticut. The hobby continued into the early years of his marriage, cramping the 500-square-foot Manhattan apartment he shared with his patient wife, Erika. 

“I spent a lot of time on it, taking notes, writing recipes, making the beer, serving it in the right glass, making sure the lines were clean in my little kegerator at home,” Kane says. “It became one of those all-consuming things, from reading home-brewing magazines to saying, ‘Now I’m going to work on yeast, now I’m going to work on my mash.’” 

Kane considered a career as a brewer, but decided to get an MBA instead. Still, Michael and Erika kept visiting breweries and picking  brewers’ brains. Kane never stopped reading about the business and the technicalities of brewing. Even today, beer books line a wall in his office. “I love reading those books,” he says. “I love the marketing, the business, brewing. I’ll read anything about beer.”

The Kanes moved back to New Jersey, Michael’s home state, to finally open their brewery in a leased warehouse space. Erika kept her day job—she didn’t join the business until 2016. Michael hired a brewer and brought in high school buddy Glenn Lewis to handle sales. The brewery didn’t dedicate much space to a tasting room because it would be another year before Trenton passed a law to allow on-site pint sales. Then, as now, Kane distributed its own beer across New Jersey.

The reaction to Kane’s beers was almost immediate.

“People go crazy over Kane,” says Dana Russo, a certified cicerone (beer sommelier) and bartender at the craft-beer-centric Cloverleaf Tavern in Caldwell. “Due to its number in sales and requests of our guests, we have made Head High [IPA] one of our permanent beers on the lineup and most times also have Sneak Box [pale ale] on as well. I have been bartending at the Cloverleaf for over 10 years and in my time have never seen a brewery gain as much popularity as Kane has.”

Supporting our thesis, Russo attributes Kane’s popularity to “quality, consistency and creativeness.” She adds that the best brewers “pay close attention to detail and nail the guidelines of each style over and over again.”

Commitment to quality is a frequent theme in Kane Brewing’s success story. Example: Both Kane and Lewis, who is now vice president of operations, emphasize that they’ll dump a batch of beer that tastes less than exemplary down the drain. But those occasions are rare.

Lewis says Kane continues to keep a hand in almost every aspect of the operation. Although Kane spends most of his time on high-level functions like strategic growth, infrastructure improvements and supplier contracts, he still walks the production floor, writes or approves every recipe, tastes each batch, and helps man the bar if the tasting room gets crowded on a Saturday. Kane will splurge on a highly efficient and precise piece of equipment (like a centrifuge to filter the beer) and never substitutes one ingredient for another—a practice that is commonplace among brewers in a volatile agricultural market. 

“It’s human nature to cut corners or take a shortcut, but quality is a cultural thing here,” Lewis says.

Photo by Scott Jones

It helps that many members of Kane’s production team have graduated from brewing school. Others either worked their way up the ladder at Kane or came from well-regarded out-of-state breweries. And as is true at most craft breweries, they all love beer.

“I’m always amazed at the level of detail that these guys know,” Lewis says. “Tweaks that these guys know make a big difference.”

Naturally, good brewing talent can be hard to retain. A number of brewers have departed Kane to open their own breweries or join another as head brewer. Among them are Matt Czigler, owner of Czig Meister Brewing in Hackettstown, and Joe Correia, owner of Torch & Crown Brewing Company in New York. 

That’s just one headache for Michael Kane. Growth is also a big issue. To date, he has kept distribution within New Jersey, although there is likely demand for his beer in the neighboring states. 

At the moment, Kane is just trying to keep up with demand from existing accounts. The company has leased a second building to house office space and a new aging and souring facility, and has moved packaging materials and keg storage off-site. But Kane desperately needs more tanks and really wants to upgrade his tasting room. Currently, the public area consists of a tiny retail shop, a bar, and a bunch of tables in the same area as his brewing equipment. They get shoved out of the way during the work day, making it challenging to open more than four days a week and earlier than 4 pm on weekdays.

For now, Kane continues to grow his product line. His latest project involves barrel aging and souring beers with wild yeast strains that his full-time barrel and mixed-fermentation manager (a sort of yeast whisperer) cultivates from the ambient air. This past fall, he developed his first batch of beer spontaneously fermented in a long, shallow, Belgian-style vat called a coolship, whose open top allows the liquid inside to capture airborne yeast and bacteria. Kane may be one of only two New Jersey breweries to own such equipment (the other being the Referend Bier Blendery in Pennington). Kane hopes to release the first of 10 mixed-culture batches this spring; spontaneously fermented beers will follow.

Why did he wait until barrel aging and wild fermentation had become more widespread to launch his own program? Kane’s answer is characteristic.“We got to the point where we had manpower, money and time,” he says. “I’m not concerned about being the first to do something. I want to wait until we can do it right.”

Photo by Scott Jones

Kane caused some controversy in 2017 when he and a number of his colleagues left the New Jersey Brewers Association, where he had previously served as a board member. Following their departure, he and seven other brewers founded  the competing Brewers Guild of New Jersey. Some observers cite personality conflicts and political differences as causes of the split. Kane says the new organization better suits his brewery’s needs. Whatever the case, the move has cleaved the state’s craft-brewing community and left it trying to lobby Trenton on key issues without a unified voice. 

“It’s not about who’s right or who’s wrong, it’s about who would represent us,” says Kane. “There are big challenges facing the industry.” Among those issues: off-site sales opportunities, franchise reform and potential competition from legalized marijuana.

One of Kane’s current projects is to convince the state liquor control board to let him host an off-site festival to showcase various breweries, including some that don’t distribute in state. To help with that, he got a distributor’s license last summer and suspects he’ll one day distribute other brewers’ beers.

Of course, Kane can be expected to wait until the moment is right. Any new initiative shouldn’t distract from bigger priorities, like getting every single beer right every single time. 

“I don’t know what the secret is to saying you care about quality and getting the execution perfect,” says Lewis. “But that’s really what it is here.” 

Click here to leave a comment