Craft Beer & Spirits: Beers from the Pines

By | June 01, 2016
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Pine Barrens
Russel Juelg of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation (left) leads brewers Barry Hoslten (middle) and Gene Muller (right) through the Pine Barrens in search of Pinelands-inspired ingredients.; Photograph: Rebecca Free

Last summer, the brewers at Flying Fish Brewery in Somerdale went for a hike in the New Jersey Pine Barrens in search of special flavors for their latest creation—a brew dedicated to the forest.

“I love the idea of foraging, and being able to make a product that’s uniquely Jersey and uniquely Pinelands,” says Flying Fish’s head brewer, Barry Holsten. “But we had to think, what would translate into a beer?”

Lending botanical expertise during the expedition was Russel Juelg, senior land steward for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation at its 10,000-acre Franklin Parker Preserve in Chatsworth. Juelg is also an avid homebrewer, and he was the first to suggest using the needles of the short-leaf pine, Pinus echinata, which have a more complex flavor than the needles of the ubiquitous pitch pine.

“The short leaf has a pleasant citrus flavor, almost like tangerines,” Juelg says—not withstanding its bitter, turpentine- like finish. (Juelg speculates there may be a way to extract the citrus notes while leaving behind the part that tastes like paint thinner.)

He also led the brewers to Solidago odora, sweet goldenrod, which has an anise-like scent and is sometimes made into an aromatic tea, and to Gaultheria procumbens, the eastern teaberry plant, whose leaves have a strong wintergreen flavor. These will find their way into the boil kettle for the Pine Barrens brew as well.

“People who love small-batch beer just seem to get it,” says Rebecca Free of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. She was also on hand during the hike, and has worked with Flying Fish owner Gene Muller in the past to raise awareness of the importance and vulnerability of the shallow Pinelands water table. “Craft-beer drinkers are looking for something that has a great taste but also has an identity,” she says.

The catalyst for this experiment in nontraditional beer making was Beers Made By Walking, a Colorado-based brewing program that invites brewers from across the country to create beers with a sense of place—“a drinkable portrait of the landscape,” as they put it—and then uses the beers to raise funds for local environmental nonprofits. The program’s regional director, David Wright, first approached Flying Fish in early 2015 about creating a beer for the program and sending kegs of the finished product to a series of events in Colorado and the Pacific Northwest. “You get all these different influences coming in for the beers, and it’s a ton of fun to see what people come up with. But a lot of it’s pretty crazy,” he admits. “Some of it you’d never want to try again; some of it becomes year-round beer.”

Flying Fish is one of 40 breweries set to participate this year, and the first ever from New Jersey. Their limited-release Pine Barrens beer, dubbed Exit 5, is due to be released in June. A portion of proceeds from the beer will benefit the Pinelands Preservation Alliance.

Flying Fish Brewing Company
900 Kennedy Blvd, Somerdale


BREWERY: Berlin Brewing Company
MUST-TRY: Bitch with a Bat

Baseball photos and memorabilia line the walls of the Berlin Brewery tasting room, which opened in November 2015. Try Bitch with a Bat, which takes Berlin’s popular strong ale and ages it over white ash chips, integrating the malt and hops for an even smoother finish. Fortunately, it wasn’t until after my sample that I learned they’re all Phillies fans.

220 S White Horse Pike, Berlin

BREWERY: Tomfoolery Brewing Company
MUST-TRY: The 6.2

If you’re looking to get a lager-drinking friend into IPAs or just shy away from hop bombs yourself, then stop by Tomfoolery and have them pour you a 6.2. Whole-leaf Amarillo hops and a special strain of yeast give this IPA tart, fruity notes, without the high bitterness of a traditional IPA. Thursdays are a great day to visit Tomfoolery, since that’s when they tap their weekly small-batch kegs.

334 Washington St. North #24B, Hammonton

BREWERY: Village Idiot Brewing Company

A lively spot in the center of Mount Holly, Village Idiot is a small brewery that boils upstairs and ferments downstairs, with a groundwater-cooled heat exchanger in the cellar and a homemade 1.5-barrel boil kettle behind the bar. When I visited, the last keg of Winter Warmer had almost kicked, but I got a taste, and it warmed me up instantly. Rich’s Revolutionary Rye and Da Nick Rye IPA are both excellent. The rye is present but not overwhelming and lends the IPA some earthy, grainy notes, though it still maintains a light mouthfeel.

PS: A true nanobrewery, Village Idiot doesn’t distribute—and you won’t find their beer anywhere but the brewery. Check out the website for a really cool display with live updates of what’s on tap and how much is left.

42 High St., Mt. Holly

BREWERY: Spellbound Brewing

At the other end of Mt. Holly from Village Idiot is the 20-barrel Spellbound production brewery, complete with an in-house canning line and a taproom that’s all about wood: white oak and Palo Santo, to be precise. With well integrated notes of chocolate, the dark malt of the standard porter is balanced out by light, fragrant notes of coconut and anise from the chips of South American Palo Santo “holy wood” on which the beer is aged—they keep a sample behind the bar for customers to smell. Spellbound’s regular IPA is exceptional; for hop heads, the White Oak IPA is a different take on it, achieved by dipping a spiral oak dowel in the finished beer to impart smooth vanilla flavors, then removing it before it can leach astringent tannins. In both IPAs, the same six-hop blend emits a resinous aroma that conjures up pine.

10 Lippincott Ln. #12, Mt. Holly

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