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A Pint With: Matt Steinberg, New Jersey Beer Company

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[Photographs: Peter Kennedy]

Matt Steinberg has been pretty busy the past few months getting his fledgling brewery running, but he took a minute to check in with us and tell us how it's going over at New Jersey's newest microbrewery. Thanks for joining us, Matt!

Who: Matt Steinberg
What: Founder & President, New Jersey Beer Company
Where: North Bergen, NJ

Can you tell us about the path that led you to this point? When did you first decide to start a brewery? Let's just say the path looks a lot more like the Appalachian Trail and a lot less like I-80. It began as a homebrewing hobby and a love of food and beverage. That, mixed with a dead-end job that had reached the breaking point, finally pushed me towards it. It was very much two paths coming together...Right around the beginning of 2009, I finally started doing all the necessary research to put it together and [now] here we are!

How did you assemble your team? Mostly from word of mouth, recommendations from people I knew, and a bit of serendipity as well as far as coming across the right people at the right time. I take a lot of pride in my staff and am very confident that each person fills their respective role well, but has the talent to overlap and cover other duties when required. I put a premium on people that don't need their hands held and find ways to get the task at hand accomplished. We just welcomed aboard new brewmaster Pete Velez. Pete comes to us from Gordon Biersch in Myrtle Beach and Capitol City before that.

Where did your equipment come from? China for the brewhouse and fermenters. It's one of the biggest regrets I have. We have a beautiful new system, but it was horribly delayed and probably largely unnecessary. I was just very concerned about what all I was getting with used equipment, like buying a used car without the Carfax. The rest of the auxiliary equipment was made here or in Canada.

How did you choose North Bergen? I've lived here for the last six years. I knew I wanted to do this in Hudson County, but was somewhat flexible on the exact town. Once I started looking at the available locations in the area, there was no reason NOT to do it locally. Being within a short walk of the brewery is immensely handy, especially for little things like taking a gravity reading on a Saturday morning or filling the hot liquor tank and turning on the boiler at night so there's hot water for mashing in the next morning.

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So, what's on tap? Can you tell us about each of your beers and the inspiration behind it? We launched with three beers. Why three? Why not. Seemed like a manageable number to start with, but enough to allow us a range of styles. Our first is the Hudson Pale Ale. I really just wanted a very straight-up, bright, hoppy classic pale here. Something where the malt bill would balance, but play second fiddle to, the hops. We were careful to keep it an American Pale and not stray too close to the IPA line, leaving room to bring out some hoppier offerings down the road.

The second is the 1787. This beer is an Abbey Single, a style not too commonly seen. It has the distinctive aromas and flavors that you'd expect to find in a traditional Belgian Abbey, but scaled back to a sessionable level. What we wanted was something golden, light, very drinkable, and refreshing; something that just about all beer drinkers would find approachable. I don't like the term "conversion beer," but I do think it's appropriate. This is the beer that you can give your macro-drinking buddies as a way of introducing them to the craft beer world.

The last is the Garden State Stout. This one I blame on cookies, specifically of the oatmeal-raisin-chocolate chip variety, which is what you'll find [in terms of flavor] in the stout.

What will you brew next? How do you come up with recipes? We are looking at putting out our first seasonal brew for the fall [or winter]. We've decided to go on the heavier side with the seasonals. We'll also be adding a 4th brew to the regular rotation around the same time or shortly thereafter.

The recipes start as homebrew batches. We'll generally outline a basic recipe for a generic version of whatever style we're working on and then start to modify it to suit our desires by adjusting malt quantities or bringing in adjuncts. I'd say we generally start with the grain bill and then build up the hop additions to complement it appropriately.

Where can people taste your beers? We have a list of all the locations that are serving NJ Beer Co. I try to keep that list updated as often as possible. We're on tap in about 30 locations throughout NJ now and expecting the bottling to help kick things up a bit. We're into the contract phase with distributors for NY and PA.

What are your hopes for the coming year? Where would you like to see NJ Beer Co. in the next five years? Right now I'm just trying to get a good flow going, supplies coming in, money steadily coming in from the distributor, beer steadily going out to retailers and into consumers. But, over the next five years, I really expect to get this brewery up to the level I think it should be. That means increasing our exposure and name within the industry until we're synonymous with the other great craft breweries in America.

What have you learned thus far? Money. Everything costs more than you think it will and expect it to. Thankfully, we have some skilled people in the company and are getting quite good at fixing things ourselves.

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