New Jersey residents identify where they live by indicating the Garden State Parkway exit nearest their home. As kids, we never gave it a second thought. It was just a part of everyday life. Paul’s was 139B. Maryanne was 50 and, later, 137.
Look up as you approach the brewery and you’ll see a clock with a beer mug in the middle with the slogan, “Time for a Beer.” How can you resist?
Folks who live in Jersey also give driving distances in minutes, not miles; use a bridge or tunnel to get to another state; ride a train or bus to work.; spend summer weekends at the Shore; and get annoyed as all hell when they hear Turnpike jokes from college roommates who have never been east of Chicago.
Most people have a special place in their heart for the place they grew up. So do we. Recently, we made a grand tour of our old stomping grounds looking for good brew. Since we can only include a handful of places, we’re sticking to North Jersey in this issue.
England in Sparta
We begin our trek at Krogh’s in Sparta, a short drive from the Delaware Water Gap.
Sparta is a town few passers-by encounter, and it hardly fits the stereotype of New Jersey. Fresh eggs are sold at farm stands, and gas stations sell live bait. The building that houses Krogh’s Restaurant and Brewpub (23 White Deer Plaza) traces its ancestry to the Jazz Age, when a developer built a replica Tudor village around Lake Mohawk.
The brewpub, with an exterior reminiscent of a rural English pub, is across from the lake. It’s easy to spot because the establishment’s logo, a beer-drinking crow, appears prominently on the exterior. Enter through the right-front entrance, and you’ll find the brewhouse straight ahead, behind glass doors that also sport the Krogh logo.
The interior is country English, with dark wood everywhere and a low ceiling with wooden beams. The walls are decorated with old photos of Lake Mohawk, including one of the first day lots went on sale in 1927. The lighting is subdued and the quarters are a bit close at the O-shaped wooden bar, but that adds to the friendly ambience. There are also enough TV screens to keep sports junkies from suffering withdrawal. Speaking of sports, a carved cow in the interior of the bar sports a New York Giants helmet.
We visited on St. Patrick’s Day weekend and the seasonal was — you guessed it — an Irish stout. We sampled the Nut Brown Ale and the Oatmeal Stout, both of which were rich and creamy renditions of the style. The menu offers a couple of entry-level beers, and continues with a solid line-up.
In Berkeley Heights, close to where Paul grew up, is Trap Rock Restaurant & Brewery (279 Springfield Avenue). This microbrewery and upscale restaurant received immediate recognition after earning a “excellent” rating from The New York Times soon after it opened in October 1997. It looks and feels like a cozy mountain retreat with a rustic interior, stone fireplaces and exposed wood.
Trap Rock is one of six locations owned and run by Harvest Restaurants. It’s Harvest’s only brewpub, and its beers are something special. When we visited, an IPA was available on hand pump. Of particular note were a Colonial Porter brewed with molasses — as our forefathers did when malt was in short supply — and a dark German lager brewed with chocolate malt and spices.
Most towns in Jersey are either on, or close to, a rail line that ultimately stops in Manhattan. Having fought rush hour traffic for years, we now envy those commuters who commute by train. Especially those who live in Woodbridge. The J.J. Bitting Brewery (33 Main Street), which began life as a coal and feed store, is literally next to the station, past an overpass that reads “NJ Transit Welcomes You to Woodbridge.” Look up as you approach the brewery and you’ll see a clock with a beer mug in the middle with the slogan, “Time for a Beer.” How can you resist?
Right on the outside entrance is a metal sculpture of a locomotive. Once you’re inside, you’ll see the copper serving tanks on display behind glass in the center of the dining room.
To the left is the bar room, dominated by a rectangular bar with seating for about two dozen people. If you sit on the far side and look up, you might catch a glimpse of the 10-barrel DME system. The woodwork, including the staircase leading up to the brewing area and dining room, is a thing of beauty. The beer taps are made of carved wood, each with its own distinctive design. And before you leave, stop, look and listen for a miniature train making its way around above the bar.
We shared a six-beer sampler, and particularly enjoyed the Maxwell’s Dry Stout, Garden State IPA and the Barely Legal Barleywine, which was made to commemorate their 10th anniversary. We weren’t surprised to discover that the stout won three GABF medals, including a gold in 2006.
Long Valley is another forgotten rural New Jersey town and that a casual visitor probably won’t chance upon. The Long Valley Pub and Brewery (One Fairmont Road, the intersection of Rtes. 513 and 517) has stone walls fashioned by German immigrants. Experts believe they date back to about 1771.
The current structure is a combination of what was once called a “bank barn” (now the entrance), and a hay barn (now the bar area), plus a dining room and brewery that were added during an extensive 1995 renovation prior to opening. There is also a small outdoor patio. A U-shaped bar, with room for about 15, faces the seven-barrel Pub Brewing system. On display nearby car the six GABF medals won by the current brewer, Joseph Saia.
Our favorite offering from a seven beer sampler, the Lazy Jake Porter, has won three GABF medals, including golds. The food menu ranges from salads to pub grub, with entrées that include game, ribs, wiener schnitzel and even roasted Long Island duck.
Our next stop is New Jersey’s first brewpub since Prohibition. The Ship Inn in Milford (61 Bridge Street) is nestled in a quiet corner of New Jersey’s western banks and just a stone’s throw from the Delaware River. You can cross into Pennsylvania — yes, on a bridge — that’s only a few yards away.
In its colorful history, this 1860s Victorian building was originally a bakery and later an ice cream parlor (and reportedly a Prohibition-era speakeasy). The owners who converted it into a restaurant took pains to preserve the tin ceiling and handmade brickwork. Local craftsmen added the oak bar, which is capped by maple and pine from two local bowling lanes used during the 1950s and 1960s.
In January 1995, the Ship Inn expanded to include brewing. Today it’s a quintessential English pub with a Peter Austin Brewing system that uses Ringwood yeast, along with Munton & Fison malt from Suffolk, England. The regular line-up includes four solid beers, and there’s also a great collection of guest ales from England and Scotland. The food, of course, is traditionally British: bangers & mash, shepherd’s pie and even a Cornish pasty.
Before we leave you, a quick word about local watering holes. We’ve talked about how commuters appreciate a good pint at the end of the day. If you find yourself in a commuter town, do what the locals do.
We’re not big patrons of chains, but there is one in New Jersey that is the exception to the rule. It’s conveniently named The Office, so presumably you can explain your tardiness getting home from work as — well, being — at the office.” Their list of tap ales is extensive and features Northeast micros. The decor includes pieces of office equipment from the days before PCs, Blackberrys, or for that matter, craft brews.