Flights of fancy

My new favorite thing is the brewpub. I feel as if it’s the best way to sustain quality beer and innovation in the long run. Recently, I spoke with I guy I know about bottling. For small breweries, it is getting tougher and tougher to get shelf space. Retailers are only willing to cede so much Natural Light space to boutique beers. It’ll be like that for a long, long time. The market isn’t saturated yet, but in small towns such as the one in which I live, there aren’t many more inches to expand, and tough choices have to be made.
There are about three retailers with any selection at all within half-an-hour of my house. In the largest, craft (and craft-y beers, like Blue Moon and Shock Top) already take up 75 percent of the allotted beer space. The selection is excellent, and I have no doubt they will continue to accept local beers over those from outside the region, at least for the short term. As new breweries come on line, or, maybe even better, as would-be brewers think about getting into the business, it might be time to take another look at the wildly successful brew pub model.
Welcome Home
The first time I went to J.J. Bitting Brewing Company in Woodbridge, N.J. was not too long after it opened. It was packed and loud on a Friday night and looked a little upscale for me. I had forgotten even having been there until we went by last week. It was busy-ish for a Wednesday afternoon, but there were seats at the bar and we took them.
As far as I could tell from my limited research of looking around the bar, if you want one of J.J. Bitting’s beers, you have to walk through the restaurant’s doors. Once through the doors, you could take it out in a growler or in your belly. Also, and again, this was based only on my vague observations at the time, if you want someone else’s beer (anything from Coors to Sierra Nevada) you’re pretty much out of luck. Here it is important to stress the total lack of research. I didn’t see a bottle menu, and there were only on-premise brews on tap. Plus, I really REALLY, want it to be the case that they only serve their own beer because that’s awesome and also my point.
A (faux) tasting tour
I’ll never be a beer aficionado. I know a bit about the culture and the history, but when it comes to parsing flavors all I can do is repeat what I’ve heard and make sweeping generalizations peppered with flavor words that I like to use. For example, “Beer-flavored beer” is as an accessible description as one could hope for.
If you’re going to have a brewpub and not serve beer that isn’t made there, you better have a number of accessible beers; J.J. Bitting has four. It is in no way derisive to say they have a yellow one, a brown one and black one and a red one. All of them are excellent, wheelhouse beers. If a drinker wants to take the time to appreciate them, there’s a lot in each of them to appreciate. But if a couple out on a date wants to have a quality beer that isn’t going confuse their tastebuds, there’s plenty to choose from. Having beers for everyone, not just the initiates, is what will make quality craft beer sustainable. It also will keep the movement grounded, letting brewers stretch themselves on some beers while sticking pretty much to the basics on others.
Every beer doesn’t have to blow you away. Sometimes it’s nice to be surprised by how perfectly even-keel a beer is.

About Tony Russo

Tony Russo has worked as a print and digital journalist for the better part of the 21st century, writing for and editing regional weeklies, dailies and destination websites. Tony has been producing news, leisure and entertainment podcasts since. 2007. In addition he has written two books on beer for the History Press. Eastern Shore Beer was published in 2014 and Delaware Beer in 2016. He lives in Delmar, Md. with his wife Kelly and the only of his four daughters who hasn't moved out. Together they keep their dog and cat comfortable.

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