by Andy Clurfeld

New Jersey’s craft brewery count reaches 36.

There are only two edibles I don’t much like, and those are coffee and beer. Coffee because I’m somewhat allergic to it and beer because, well, I don’t like the taste of it.

There, I said it. That’s how I can relate to people who shun olives or cilantro or broccoli or any of the other foods I personally find essential to happiness. I get I don’t like because I don’t like beer.

Bolero Snort

Then I met Jaret Gelb, the brewer. I love Jaret, and I love Jaret’s passion for brewing; his understanding of the techniques, a merger of art and science; his devotion to his baby, Dark City, the Asbury Park brewery that may well be open by the time you read this. I’ve loved listening to Jaret talk about beer and learning about the network of brewers—most of them in their 20s and 30s—that is behind the 36 functional breweries in the state of New Jersey.

Thirty-six? I ask myself as I talk to Scott Wells, who, along with Bob Olson and Andrew Maiorana, are the principals behind Bolero Snort, the Ridgefield Park-based brewery that has followers who can be described as intelligently fanatical, because Bolero Snort makes top-of-the-world-class beer that beer geeks line up to buy upon release. When did 36 craft breweries happen to New Jersey, birthplace of Ballantine?

Collaboration happened to Wells, Olson and Maiorana at a chance meeting in a Staples that Wells was managing. Olson came in wearing a Bolero Snort shirt.

“I was a craft brew nut and I was planning to go to Bolero Snort’s release party,” Wells said. The next thing Wells knew, he was helping out at Bolero events. Before long, he was saying bye-bye to Staples and on board full-time at Bolero. Brews become blood quickly in this burgeoning world.

Kevin Sharpe, Dark City’s founder and, along with Jaret Gelb, a brewer, talks the family talk when he explains how his baby was born.

Dark City Brewing

“I am very lucky to have a small team of business partners and support staff who I now consider my family,” Sharpe says. Everybody wears many hats, he adds. Everybody likely will continue to be so adorned as the brewery grows.

Spellbound, in Mount Holly, is another brewery the merry bands of brother and sister brewers in New Jersey respect. Who are these guys? Mike Oliver, John Companick and Scott Reading. They like to say they have been “collectively brewing for 50 years.” The Spellbound team focuses on “everyday beers” as well as “extreme styles, like imperial stouts, barley wines and gruits.”

Go to the pilot batch tasting room in Mount Holly to try beers you won’t find anywhere else: Peach Double IPA, Vanilla Maple Porter, Jalepeno Ghost Pepper IPA, White Sage Black Pepper Saison.

Scott Wells and Jaret Gelb touted Spellbound to me, as well as a Fairfield-based brewery called Magnify, which is run by two Eric(h)s: Eric Ruta, founder and president, and Erich Carrle, head brewer.

Dark City Brewing

Please understand, all these guys talk brewing on many levels, not the least of which are: taste, taste, taste, and principles, principles, principles. Magnify, for instance, has four core, year-round beers—Vine Shine IPA, Search Saison, Pale Ale and Black Wheat Ale—but releases “small-batch experimental and innovative beers every four to six weeks.” They keep things interesting.

However, their business model is all about ethics. Magnify self-distributes, so the folks who brew can deal directly with the folks who drink the brews. Magnify is committed to environmental sustainability, employing energy-saving equipment, using recyclable materials, donating spent grain to farmers. Magnify is also about community partnerships and synergy.

Dark City’s Sharpe hammers home the community partnership theme, as well. In fact, Dark City is “actually the nickname for Asbury Park,” he says. “We chose the name to pay tribute to the city’s rich history of periods of downtime followed by rapid revival. The city is currently booming like never before and we love where it is going, but we don’t want to forget where it’s been.

“Asbury has been a hotbed of musical, artistic and culinary inventiveness for most of its history,” Sharpe adds. “Never in history has it housed a brewery, and I wanted to bring that to the community.”

Magnify Brewing

Every beer geek I spoke with talked community on every level. Local isn’t just a buzzword for these folks; it’s religion. Wells, whose technical title at Bolero Snort is sales and events manager, has at his finger tips all the information I need about Bolero’s seasonal program (“We pump out a different beer every month”), as well as the background a neophyte needs to fill gaps (“New Jersey is one of the toughest markets in the U.S.; it was the last market Best Buy went into” and “A contract brewery is one without its own physical plant—it brews by contract elsewhere”), but he also has perspective.

“In New Jersey, we all work to help each other,” Wells says. When Spellbound, for example, celebrates a release, the brother/sisterhood gathers to help. “New Jersey breweries are learning to compete against the national brands—Founders, Dogfish.”

Magnify Brewing

Sharpe agrees: “New Jersey’s brew scene, compared to other states, is relatively young. [However], we have the population to support this growing scene.” Dark City and the other “newcomers to the Jersey scene are lucky…that there are a large number of folks who’ve acquired a taste for craft beer. We owe that to the pioneers [such as] Climax, Flying Fish and River Horse [as well as] the relatively young innovators like Carton and Kane.”

These newcomers take local’s yesterdays, fuse them with local’s today and make dreams come true about local’s tomorrow. I think I’m acquiring a taste for the stuff.

Thanks, Jaret.



Bolero Snort Brewery •

65 Railroad Ave. • Ridgefield Park

Dark City Brewing • 802 2nd Ave. • Asbury Park

Magnify Brewing Co. • 1275 Railroad Ave. • Fairfield

Spellbound Brewing • 10 Lippincott Lane • Mount Holly

Editor’s Note: Andy Clurfeld has been shouldering the load on restaurant reviews since the second issue of EDGE. During that time, she was a 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist in Public Service for her work exposing the flaws, injustices and abuses in New Jersey’s property tax system. Andy also has published in-depth reporting on a range of topics, including criminal street gangs, agriculture, politics and the environment. A longtime member of the James Beard Restaurant & Chef Awards Committee, she is a specialist in artisan wines and recently was appointed Wine Director at Buy-Rite Corporation, implementing educational programs, coordinating special events and developing artisan wine sections for select stores.