Proud to be Pinelands Brewing Company

By / Photography By James J. Connolly | August 31, 2017
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A changing roster of brews inspired by the Pinelands
A changing roster of brews inspired by the Pinelands

A sense of place by the pint

On an August evening, as night fell, I found myself seeking moths in a clearing near a stand of pitch pines. Flittering insects descended, some the size of one’s fingernail, others the size of one’s palm. They tickled my shoulders and neck as they careened past, undaunted in a journey towards light. Moths, it turns out, use the moon for navigation and get confused by artificial sources, which were set up intentionally to lure them. It’s kind of like us, with our phones.

I took a deep breath and got close to a landing-pad tarp set up to meet the creatures, which come in every shade imaginable. Local moth-ers Steve and Ann-Marie Woods, along with Bernie Knaupp, announced the arrival of rare species, some of which only live in these parts. Enchanted, I marveled at the painted wings of the muted gem moth and at psychedelic Jones, whose bright stripes indeed bring the party. It was like being a kid again, fearless. That I had a frosty beer in hand and the cult-film Mothra played in the background elevated the experience to perfection.

Welcome to Pinelands Brewing Company, which celebrates sense of place by the pint. The event, which attracted an estimated 250 people over the course of the evening, was tied to National Moth Week, which celebrates the beauty, life cycles and habitats of moths. Pinelands touted it as “the piney-est thing you’ll ever do in your life.” While that may or may not be the case, the now-annual gathering is certainly alluring.

“Most brewers pop up in a city or a populated area,” reflects head brewer Jay Chapman, who launched his operation with partner Luke McCooley in 2014 after more than a dozen years as a homebrewer. “I wanted to be the opposite of that. When I set out to do this, it was to be the brewery for the Pine Barrens. It’s a celebration, [a way] to put the region on the map, so to speak.”

The nano-brewery started with a single-barrel system, but recently upgraded to three, allowing them to create 90-95 gallon batches three-to-five times per week. Whether you visit on moth night or on a random Tuesday, you can see that the impulse to plant a brewery in the Pines has struck a nerve. From the maker set to self-proclaimed “pineys,” everyone is welcome for a friendly pint. That they indulge together creates a unique vibe that sums up life in the region well. Where the forest meets the sea, nature serves as muse for folks from all walks.

“I connect to the Pines on a personal level.
You look at pictures of my childhood,
and I was either in a boat fishing with
my dad, or camping or canoeing in
the Pine Barrens.”

—Jay Chapman, head brewer

To be sure, it inspires Chapman’s beer. The company motto is “Beer as pure as the Pines,” a sentiment the Atlantic City Beer Fest endorsed with a best NJ beer award for Pitch Pine Ale in 2014. This was followed by second and third place honors for their Blueberry Ale and 08087 American Pale Ale in 2015.

“The Pine Barrens is a pristine wilderness,” Chapman says, admiration for his region apparent. “You look at an aerial map of the state of New Jersey, [and] there’s a spot in the middle with virtually no roads, with sand roads. That’s the Pinelands.” It serves as a creative palette, a source of energy and inspiration from which many of Chapman’s recipes emerge.

Take the oyster stout. Chapman knew he wanted to tap a local for shellfish, and reached out to Dale Parsons Jr. of Parsons Seafood. (See “Building Reefs, Business, and Community,” Edible Jersey Summer 2017) Parsons didn’t have oysters on hand but told Chapman he’d call him back. “Ninety minutes later, he called and said, ‘I’ve got your oysters,’” Chapman laughs. “He got on a boat, drove out into the bay and raked up the oysters. We brewed with them that night.” Zero Shucks Given was born.

Oyster stouts date back to England in the late 1800s, a natural evolution of the bivalve’s frequent pairing with dark beer. First, shells laden with calcium carbonate were employed as a clarifier. Eventually, the oysters themselves became part of the brew, which results in a faint brininess that stands up to the smoky, muscular backbone of a stout.

Other brews are equally local in nature, from the award-winning Blueberry Ale crafted with Hammonton berries to All the Fixin’s, a fall-into-winter porter that invites Jersey sweet potatoes and cranberries to the mix. Chapman likens beer to slow foods such as sauerkraut. Dependent on chemistry—water meets grain and hops and emerges in time as beer—his brews are just as inspired by local geography. “I connect to the Pines on a personal level,” he says. “You look at pictures of my childhood, and I was either in a boat fishing with my dad, or camping or canoeing in the Pine Barrens. I grew up messing around in the woods.”

It’s why he and his team work so hard to distill the ethos of the region into their product.

“It started with Jay’s vision of the Pines, making a beer that represents everything that this area is about,” says Nick Brown, business manager and another of the brewery’s partners—all of whom are Stockton University grads or former employees. (A labor of love, the brewery is a second job for all. Chapman also works as an HVAC technician, and took physics classes at the university as a non-matriculated student. For fun.) The Evergreen IPA, for example, uses Chinook hops, which have a pine taste. “It was important that it was true to the Pinelands.”

In part, that’s about the water. Pinelands Brewing Company, and everything else in the Pine Barrens, sits atop the pristine Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer, which supplies fresh water to much of South Jersey. Chapman views it as a key ingredient, and recently participated in the “Save the Source” campaign from Pinelands Preservation Alliance, which seeks to place a spotlight on the resource in an effort to inspire conservation efforts. (See page 24, “Save the Source”) The way Chapman views it, you get out what you put in.

The local-centric philosophy also extends to the brewery’s event schedule, on site and around the region. It’s not uncommon to find Jay and his team serving up Pitch Pine Ale or Even John Porter at Pine Barrens landmarks like Whitesbog, the historic bog/ farm where the modern blueberry was first cultivated, and the Tuckerton Seaport & Baymen’s Museum. They are also regulars at the September Makers Festival in Manahawkin, which has kickstarted an artistic center of gravity in the region.

“These are the trailblazers,” says Danielle Corso, a founding member of The MakeShift Union, a local artists’ collective that launched the festival. “They situated themselves in a place that other people hadn’t.”

The way Brown and Chapman see it, such local partnerships are a natural evolution. “We’re thinking about events that connect to place,” Brown says. “We like to have a business that has a positive impact on the community.” This is more than figurative. On Tuesday Brew Days, during which imbibers are invited to the tap room while the brewers are at work, Pinelands “pours it forward” with 10% of all sales going towards a charitable initiative. Beneficiaries have included the Popcorn Park Zoo, Pinelands Preservation Alliance and David’s Dream and Believe Cancer Foundation, which supports local families affected by cancer.

“We all have young families,” Brown says. “We all love the idea of giving back to our community, and we have a business where we become part of the community.” That explains the laid-back, come-one, come-all vibe in the tap room, which is woodsy and creative at the same time. “If people are in here smiling and having a good time, then we did our job,” Chapman says. Fall is busy season for the brewery, with an annual Oktoberfest drawing crowds into the hundreds. It’s a great time to join them. Watch for a Pine Barrens honey saison, Jersey pumpkin ale and a riff on that fall classic made with local butternut squash. Also stay tuned for barrel releases, and ask about their soda if you bring the kids.

“We’re in the Garden State,” Chapman says. “You have your local butcher that you enjoy going to, your local bakery that you enjoy going to. I’m the brewer. You can come here and talk to us, and we love making your beer.”

140 South Seventh Ave., Little Egg Harbor

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