By Sally Deering
NJ Beer Co’s Founder and President Matt Steinberg, 33, along with Vice President John McCarthy, CFO Kevin Napoli, Head Brewer Brendan O’Neil and Brewmaster Pete Velez are Jersey guys passionate about making good beer. Since April 2009, NJ Beer Co. has been brewing five frothy beers now being served in bars and restaurants throughout the state. The company is so successful it has a mailing list of new customers waiting to add the delicious beverages to their menus and next month these Jersey guys roll out their barrels to New York City.
There’s no wait for local beer lovers, though. Local restaurants pouring NJ Beer right from their taps include The Chart House in Weehawken, The Lamp Post in Jersey City, Zack’s Oak Bar and Restaurant and the Turtle Bar in Hoboken. On Jan. 27th, the Black Bear in Hoboken introduces NJ Beers to their customers.
Lots of people try our beer because they want local product,” Steinberg says. “Our beer is something you’re not going to get somewhere else.”
Touring the Brewery
On a recent tour of the brewery, Steinberg tests the latest batch of Weehawken Wee Heavy, a seasonal brew similar to Guinness stout but with less foam and more kick. New Jersey Beer Co’s brews range in alcohol content from 3.2 percent to 8.5 percent and their names are clever and Jersey-sounding with some merry old England and Scotland tossed in for authenticity. There’s the 60 Shilling Mild a traditional, British pub ale with a dark nutty flavor; the 1787 Abbey Single, a light Belgium gold ale; Hudson Pale Ale, an English style ale; Garden State Stout with the essence of oatmeal and chocolate; and the Weehawken Wee Heavy, a Scottish-style ale with a hint of caramel and dried fruit. Every beer has a distinctive, delicious taste and when the glass hits empty it’s hard not to ask for a refill.
On Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, visitors can tour the micro-brewery and see up close how Steinberg and his crew make beer. Housed inside the cavernous warehouse are ten stainless steel vats and near the vats are electronic panels that look like something out of “Star Trek” which are used to operate the beer-making machinery. Sacks of barley are stacked in one corner near flats of metal kegs, sanitized, shrink-wrapped and ready to roll when the next batch of beer is ready for tapping.
To the right of the entrance is the tasting area, a long black bar and four taps running through a sheet of plywood under the NJ Beer Co. logo. There are couches to relax in to discuss business and on a wall rack, NJ Beer Co. T-shirts and baseball caps on sale as souvenirs.
New Jersey Beer Co. makes its beer like any national brewery, just on a smaller scale. The process starts with malted barley roasted to varying degrees and used for different flavorings – the darker the roast, the darker the beer. The barley, along with water and hops, goes into a tank called the boil kettle with water and hops and then transferred to large stainless steel fermentation tanks where its fermented for two weeks and then on to the finishing tank to be tapped and poured into kegs.
“We taste the beer all through the process and we do chemical diagnostics that tell us when it’s done,” Steinberg says.
There are very specific brewery skills needed to run a brewery and Steinberg says. “You need self-starting people with an excellent palate and a strong knowledge of beer and industry trends.”
New Jersey Beer Co’s Brewmaster Pete Velez of Jersey City has more than eight years experience running breweries and at NJ Beer Co. Velez takes care of the ins and outs of production, working with beer distributors and creating recipes. He’s in charge of everything that goes into producing beer, from acquiring the raw materials like barley and hops to shipping the beer out the door.
“Once the beer is brewed you have to babysit it,” Velez says. “When we brew a beer for New Jersey Beer Company we try to make it the same every time,” brewmaster is one of those jobs that demands experience, Velez says. After earning a bachelor’s degree in finance from St. Bonaventure University in upstate New York, Velez received a post graduate diploma in brewing and distilling from Harriet Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. He then worked for several breweries before coming to NJ Beer Co.
“I’ve been doing this for eight years,” Velez says. “I have a feel for how different ingredients are going to react to each other. When we talk about new beers, we sit down and discuss what we want style-wise, the shining aspects, and I just kind of put them together. It’s very much like cooking only fewer ingredients.”
Velez has a unique view on beer. It’s one of the oldest refreshment in the world, he says, been around since the beginning of civilization. He’s fascinated by its history and even finds a little Zen in the brewing process.
“When all the machines are humming in the warehouse, it’s a nice way to spend a day,” Velez says. “It’s not easy work, but once you get into the process it can be very therapeutic.
Five Jersey Guys Who Love Beer
Founder and President Matt Steinberg earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and has a strong background in math and science. Like a lot of college students, Steinberg’s beer of choice back in the day depended on how much money was in his wallet and more often than not, he and his friends would pound back Natty Ice or Sarnac, two low-priced beers popular with the college crowd.
You’d go to keggers and pay $5 for all you can drink,” Steinberg laughs.
He then moved on to craft beers and remembers his first, the Rogue Shakespeare Stout. After graduation from Cornell, Steinberg spent 10 years working as an IT administrator for a big corporation in New York City while brewing home beers in his spare time. When he got together with friends, they discussed opening their own brewery and that’s how NJ Beer Co. got its start.
NJ Beer Co. has been running operations since 2009 and although things hit a snag when its bottling machine broke down, the crew plans to buy a state-of-the-art bottler so that NJ Beer can expand operations. They are also interested in venture capital, investors who support their vision to bring NJ Beer to a bigger audience. These five Jersey guys work it, sometimes putting in 16-hour days to support their dream.
“It’s always been about making beer,” Steinberg says.
New Jersey Beer Co.
4201 Tonnelle Ave
North Bergen, NJ
Public Tours held Wed, 5-8 pm; Fri 5-9 pm and Sat 2-6 pm.
For more information, go to www.njbeerco.com