The Jersey Shore—that is, the 130-mile stretch of coastline that is where people actually go when they say they are going “Down the Shore” in New Jersey—isn’t navigable in a single beer weekend. You might not even be able to do it in a week. That’s because of a thing called traffic that hooks up with a white-sand-in-summer hot trend called breweries and brewpubs. As of late March, there were 70 production breweries in New Jersey and 14 brewpubs, with major clusters at the Shore. Eighteen more licenses have been granted, and half of those are at the Shore. If you think only the cresting waves from the Atlantic brim with foam, you’ve been watching too many “Jersey Shore” reruns and not pounding the byways of one very crowded coast. Herewith, we do our best to pare it down.
Start at the insider’s Shore, which is the Bayshore. It’s where the bays—Lower New York, Raritan and Sandy Hook—feed into one another and, ultimately, the Atlantic Ocean. My buddy Shawn Roarke, who is editorial director for nhl.com (yup, the National Hockey League) lives in Matawan and recommends starting the weekend at Carton Brewing Co. (6 E. Washington Ave., Atlantic Highlands). Carton’s brewery is downstairs and its roomy tasting room upstairs. Founder Augie Carton and his brewmasters make almost too many brews to count. But count on their flagships, Boat Beer and 077XX, to kick off your Shore exploration in style.
Head due east and, before turning south along a two-lane road that straddles the ocean, take a walk (or a nap) on Sandy Hook, which is part of Gateway National Recreation Area and home to primo beaches. Oh, by the by, catch the New York skyline while you’re there. You’re a scant half-hour north from the cluster of breweries in and around Asbury Park.
What Bruce Springsteen did for Asbury a generation-plus ago is what beer is doing today. Established in January 2016, Dark City Brewing Co. (801 Second Ave.) is Asbury’s first brewery. Brewer Jaret Gelb makes year-round beers and seasonal or limited beers. Roarke recommends trying Side Piece, a gose-style ale. The DCBC features coriander and seasonal fruits. Next, check out Asbury Park Brewery (810 Sewall Ave.) for the 4/4 session IPA. Follow the crowds to Asbury Festhalle and Biergarten (527 Lake Ave.), where there is a bounty of German fare, 41 beers on draft and 71 in bottles.
A stone’s throw in three directions are three must-stops on any tour of the Asbury beer environs. The mother of Jersey Shore brewing is Gretchen Schmidhausler, whose Little Dog Brewing Co. (141 Steiner Ave., Neptune City) is located in a residential neighborhood in a former laundromat. The brewmaster won fans and friends working at one of the original Shore beer landmarks, Basil T’s in Red Bank (now Birravino). Her tasting room is cozy, her conversation informed, and her Gesundheit! is a German-style amber/altbier that’s malty and moderately hopped.
Jughandle Brewing Co. (4057 Asbury Ave., Tinton Falls) was founded by three best buds as a seven-barrel facility in June 2016. Find 14 beers on tap in Jughandle’s tasting room and understand why every limited-release and small-batch beer Jughandle has produced has sold out.
Take a quick skip south by southeast to Belmar and visit Beach Haus Brewery (801 Main St.), which Roarke touts as one of “the biggest and most recognizable of the Jersey Shore breweries.” The brewery is modern, the variety is mind-boggling, and the crowds, well, feisty. Nab the popular Cruiser IPA and the Classic American Pilsner.
Party hearty in Asbury Park on Friday night by seeing/hearing whoever is at The Stone Pony (913 Ocean Ave.), one of New Jersey’s best-known music venues. Someone there—make that everyone there—will have a Springsteen story, and you can have sweet Boss dreams as you sleep by the sea.
Sleep in. You were out late and you have a long day—and a long drive—ahead of you. At high noon, head over to Ocean Township, just outside Asbury, to visit Kane Brewing Co. (1750 Bloomsbury Ave.), a 6-year-old brewery founded by Michael Kane. Kane is all about American and Belgian-style beers. You’d be wise to follow Roarke’s excellent advice here: “The Tidal Series is immensely popular with beer aficionados, and the Corked and Caged large-bottle series, which is more Belgian in style, is a big hit among adventurous beer drinkers.”
Head south on the Garden State Parkway and pop into Rinn Duin Brewing (1540 Route 37 West, Toms River), with a homey tasting room that sports seven beers on tap at all times. A father-daughter team, Chip and Jacqui Town, serve forth an excellent Irish Pale Ale. The River Thoms is a one-off beer ripe with mango and pineapple, while the Lemon Pale Ale is a lip-smacker. Both are sold only at the brewery.
Follow the Parkway south and then segue east to Long Beach Island for a pit-stop at Ship Bottom Brewery (830 N. Bay Ave., Beach Haven), which offers a collection of year-round beers and some excellent and intriguing reserve beers. Among the most unusual is a “Chicken or the Egg Collaboration IPA,” which references a locally famous diner down the street. Do you also want to eat at Chicken and the Egg? Yes, yes, you do. You also want to eat, at the north end of Long Beach Island, at Mustache Bill’s (West Eighth Street at Long Beach Boulevard, Barnegat Light), a diner that won a coveted America’s Classic award from the James Beard Foundation. Fried flounder made with caught-that-day local fish, anyone?
Segue off-island back onto the Parkway and south to Little Egg Harbor. There you will find Pinelands Brewing Co. (140 Seventh Ave.), a three-barrel nanobrewery on the edge of the Pinelands. This brewery offers seven beers in its tap room and produces a potpourri of beers. Roarke anoints Zero Shucks Given, an oyster stout featuring harvested-that-day oysters from local Parson’s Seafood, as the brew to try. Honestly, life is good here. But save room for the goods at Garden State Beer Co. (247 East White Horse Pike, Galloway), which offers 10 year-round beers and six seasonal brews. Go for the Headless Hessian Pumpkin Ale and the Habanero American Wheat. In the Garden State, blueberries, cranberries and peaches reign. You’ll find that these rule, too, when it comes to flavoring brews at the brewery that proudly bears Joisey’s nickname.
You’re so close. So surrender to America’s Playground. Forget casino fare, ’cause unless you plan to wager big at the tables in Atlantic City, you’ll pay a fortune for lodging. Go motel, then eat at White House, the sub shop to top all sub shops (another America’s Classic award winner from the James Beard Foundation), then make a beeline for Tun Tavern (2 Convention Blvd., Atlantic City). Brewmaster Mike LaRosa’s pedigree is impeccable, and his newest brews include a Honey Ale, made with New Jersey honey, and a blood orange triple-fruited IPA. Don’t forget to eat at the restaurant here: The Blue Claw Fries and Chicken Pot Pie Sandwich are legendary. Tun is open till 1 a.m. most Saturdays, so settle in.
Take a stroll on the boardwalk at Atlantic City, then head back to the Parkway. Welcome to Jersey, where you’ll do time either on the Parkway or Turnpike ’most every day. Head a smidgen south to Tuckahoe Brewing (3092 English Creek Ave., Egg Harbor Township), where Dennis Creek Pale Ale is the flagship beer. Roarke is a devotee of Tuckahoe’s brewery-only special releases, of which there are 13 so far. The most recent is the Juice Box IPA, an uber-fruity India Pale Ale.
Vive la Victoriana in Cape May, the last stop on the Jersey Shore tour. Gingerbread houses abound. Walk, stroll, linger. In between salty sea air interludes, check out Cold Spring Brewery (733 Sea Shore Road, Cape May). It’s located in a reconstructed, relocated 1804 barn in Historic Cold Spring Village. The brewery, which opened in 2016, sports four beers, plus some special-edition numbers. One to sample: the Hildreth German Wheat, a classic wheat beer with hints of banana and clove. Cape May Brewery (1288 Hornet Road) is located at the Cape May Airport and has one of the biggest tap rooms in New Jersey. Take flight with some of the dozen brews on tap that include both seasonal and small-batch offerings. Don’t miss Corrosion, a sour that’s definitively bitter.
Rio Grande is not just west of the Mississippi, but a also a ’burg in boringly named Middle Township northeast of Cape May Airport. It’s home to 7 Mile Brewery (3156 Route 9 South), where there’s a tasting room that’s open daily, except Mondays. There are four IPAs, including a traditional, a rye, a red and a double IPA dubbed 7 Suns. Slack Tide Brewing Co. (1072 Route 83, Cape May Court House) is a 2-year-old brewery founded by brothers Jason and Tadhg Campbell, who grew up in Cape May. Angry Osprey is all about pine and citrus—and pretty much just what the doctor ordered if you fell asleep in the sun and are nursing a Jersey-style sunburn. –Andy Clurfeld