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Vic Sbailo


Heavy Reel Brewing Company Will Soon Be Landing Beer Fans in Seaside Heights

Winter on the Boulevard in Seaside Heights can be kind of quiet, dark, almost desolate. A few lights from the local pizza places and bars, break up the evening, but it is a long way from the noise and crowds of the summertime. The distinctive logo of Heavy Reel Brewing Company will soon break through that gloom, as another new brewery gets ready to open in Ocean County. I had the opportunity to meet head brewer/founder, Jeff Greco as well as his wife Jesse (head artistic director, if I can give her that title) as well as Jessie’s mom and dad, Susan and Paul Sosnowski to talk beer, breweries, and family over some supreme pizza.

The name Heavy Reel not only reminds you that the Atlantic Ocean is only 2 blocks away but also reflects family, as some beautifully framed photos of Jeff and Jessie’s grandfathers fishing dominate the wall to the left of the bar. A huge striped bass keeps watch over the taps (Paul says it was caught on eBay), while the wall to the right has an original mural of Jersey marine life, painted by Gregg Hinlicky a local artist.

Heavy Reel is the realization of a dream for Jeff, who after receiving a homebrew kit from Jessie as a gift about 5 years ago, was hooked (pun not intended, but it works.)  “The first beer I brewed was a Lagunitas IPA clone. I would probably spit it out now, but I thought it was great! I decided then, I want to open a brewery.” Jeff realized that he needed a lot more knowledge, experience and skills to bring his ideas to fruition, so he put out an offer for free brewing help to any brewery that would have him. He needed to learn not only about brewing on a large system, he needed to also learn to sanitize and how to operate and market a business. His prayers were answered as he heard from Gretchen Schmidhausler, of Little Dog Brewing Company in Neptune, a pioneer of the NJ brewing community and someone who is always open to sharing her knowledge with new brewers. Jeff and Gretchen connected and he wound up serving as her apprentice for 6 months. “Gretchen was amazing, her wisdom, advice, and experience really helped us get off the ground. I learned so much, she was a tremendous help in making Heavy Reel become a reality!”

Jeff was ready to go, but as with all breweries finding a location was key. He scouted a number of possible sites before he settled on the Boulevard location in March of 2017. Once all permits were obtained they were able to begin construction of the 2 ½ barrel brewery. Paul’s carpentry skills came in handy and can be seen in the beautiful reclaimed wood look on the walls. Jessie’s artistry can be seen in the Heavy Reel logo on the front of the taproom bar, done with a wood burning technique, as well as in the brew process diagram on the back wall of the brewhouse. The wood burning style will also be evident in the stools and taproom tables Jessie will be working on.

Yes, enough about the decorations, how about the beer?! Well, Jeff anticipates his opening date to be near the end of March, however, Heavy Reel has already had a foray into the large beer production business. Jeff collaborated with Jason Goldstein of Icarus Brewing on Bay Dreamer, which was released at Icarus, 12/30 along with some limited edition shirts promoting the brew.

Recently, Heavy Reel received the approval to begin brewing beer, so the first beer in the fermenter, Drowning Clown, a Pale Ale was brewed last weekend. The family theme continues even amongst our breweries as Jeff got support from Icarus, Last Wave in Point and Backward Flag in Lacey to help get production off the ground.  “I plan on having about 8 beers on tap, 6 rotating standard beers, but 2 will be experimental. That’s part of the fun of brewing so I want to do some crazy stuff, surprise my customers.” While Tired Hands Brewing in PA as well as Twin Elephant in Chatham have some of his favorite beers, Jeff had a different answer then I’ve heard when I asked: “What’s your favorite beer?”
“I like IPAs, but favorite beer…depends…who am I drinking it with?”
Good answer….hope you catch a big one Heavy Reel!

Breweries News

Oyster Creek Brewing Company of Waretown Edges Closer to Opening!

The impressive stable of Ocean County breweries will soon be joined by Oyster Creek Brewing Company, Waretown’s first! I had the opportunity to sit and meet with founder and head brewer, Kris Lewis, tour the facility and talk about the progress.

The brewery is minutes from Oyster Creek Generating Station, the oldest operating nuclear plant in the US (which recently announced it will be closing later this year) and the tributary of Barnegat Bay which it is named for. Kris wanted to keep a local feel, so rather than ignore the proximity to the plant, he incorporated it into the name, logo, and design of his brewhouse. The table tops are embedded with a map of the Tri-State area, with markers of all the generating stations and locations. He also has several booths from the now closed local restaurant the Forked River House, again, keeping that local connection.

That sense of community that we see with many of our breweries is important to Kris, as he was born, raised in still lives in Southern Ocean County. His love of brewing started over 20 years ago when he bought a homebrew kit for his dad. It was an extract kit, “Your basic ale”, and soon, like many home brewers, he was hooked! The passion grew quickly, followed by the need to upgrade his system, develop more complicated recipes and brew larger batches.

Kris refined his skills and recipes and for many years his brews have been enjoyed by friends and families who all encouraged him to open his own brewery. Buoyed by the favorable change in NJ laws and the recent surge and success of local breweries, Kris decided to take the plunge and after much planning secured his present location about a year ago.

Maybe more than any other industry, the brewing community is very supportive, nurturing group and the experience Kris had was no different. “We were at the Manahopkin Brew Festival, and even though we weren’t able to produce beer yet, everyone was very supportive. Jason from Icarus Brewing stopped by and we had a great conversation about his experiences, the pitfalls, and frustrations in waiting for inspections and concern over the finances. But we also spoke about the excitement of building the brewhouse and the sense of accomplishment once everything comes together. It was a very encouraging conversation and the success they are having at Icarus now shows it can be done. Torie at Backward Flag has been great also. We are so close to their location, I didn’t want it to seem like I was encroaching on their territory, so I introduced myself to her, but she was nothing but supportive and full of advice. We even heard from Megan Myers from Human Village Brewing Company all the way down in Pitman, offering congratulations and best wishes!”

It takes a village to convert a computer repair shop to a brewery so Kris, his wife Colleen, contractors, family, friends have been working diligently. The work has paid off and with a beautiful concrete bar as a focal point, the dream that is Oyster Creek Brewery is taking shape. “We have a few more inspections to go through and then hopefully we can start brewing.”

Kris anticipates 6-8 taps running for the 1.5 barrel brewhouse including 4-5 staples and some seasonal beers and possibly some experimental batches. “Our Irish Ale and Habanero Double IPA are 2 of our standards, so we hope to have them year round. Opening…possibly by St Patrick’s Day or maybe a little longer. Again, it all depends on how the inspections go.”

In honor of Kris’ hope to be open by St Patrick’s Day, we leave you with this Irish toast:

“May you always have love in your hearts, and beer in your belly!”

Breweries Events

Backward Flag Brewing Reopened This Weekend and is Bigger and Better Than Ever!


With those 2 words everyone’s favorite veteran owned and operated brewery reopened this past weekend to standing room only crowds! Backward Flag recently completed a huge upgrade to its brewhouse, more than doubling in size to a 10 barrel facility with state of the art equipment. That means more beer, but also more opportunity to support the veteran and law enforcement community, the mission of owner Torie Fisher since the brewery opened in 2015.

The brewery was closed the month of January to install the machinery, plumbing, train the staff and of course, brew more beer to fill all of those new tanks!

Mil-Spec Black IPA, Oak Armored Ale and the annual January favorite, Raisin Bread (made with 10 pounds of raisins and Saigon Cinnamon) were among the brews on tap with more on the way.

Congratulations and good luck to Torie and her team at Backward Flag!
Welcome back!

10 Questions With... Beer Biz Profiles Breweries

10 Questions With…Donn Hoosack of ManaFirkin Brewing Company!

“I love the smell of malt in the morning…or in the afternoon or evening!” (apologies to Robert Duvall and Francis Ford Coppola). That was the delicious aroma that hit me as soon as I entered the doors of Manafirkin Brewing Company, as the newest brew, a Belgian Tripel was circulating through the chiller and being transferred to the fermenter.  Located in Manahawkin, the brewery opened its doors on May 19 and has quickly become a local favorite. The name is a combination of the town and a firkin. What is a firkin?  A firkin is a unit of measure and also the size of a particular kind of keg used for cask conditioning; one-quarter of a barrel, 72 pints, 9 imperial gallons. Firkins can be wooden or metal.

Manafirkin is a 3 headed beast with Donn Hoosack serving as Head Brewer and Co-Founder, joined by fellow “Firkin Founders” Todd Hunt and Mick Committee.  Donn had been a passionate home brewer for  11 or 12 years and, over time, expanded his system to the point where he was preparing to turn his garage into a production facility. The 3 friends got together and thought if we are going to do it, let’s go all the way and began doing the legwork on a warehouse location open to the public. Donn knew the brewing end, Todd is the owner of Shore Good Donuts on LBI, so he knew the business end and Mick was in charge of the legal and permit legwork.

Image By ManaFirkin Brewing Co

“We were always set on Manahawkin as our home base. We all live here, our kids are growing up here, so we really wanted to be part of this community. If we didn’t do it here, we wouldn’t do it anywhere, so it would be back to the garage for us.”, said Donn in a conversation we had over a couple of pints of “Wake the Firk Up” Oatmeal Stout, one of their flagship brews.  “This was truly a family project, as wives, moms, dads, kids, everyone was involved in the design, construction and set up”, Donn continued. The family atmosphere is still present as all hands are on deck for tap room days, including wives Lisa, Michelle and Heather, other family members and the friendly bar and brew staff. The large firehouse bell hanging over the taps is a formidable presence, so order the right beer, guess the right number, or give a good tip and maybe you’ll get a ring!  I was there on the Belgian Tripel day so while newest ‘Firkin family member, Assistant Brewer, John Starner, was supervising the transfer, I had the opportunity to ask our “10 Questions With…” to Donn.

What was the first beer you brewed?

First was a Magic Hat #9 clone, the second was the Chamomile wheat, (which you can see is on the tap list in a similar incarnation as Good KARMAmile, a pale wheat ale). Dogfish IPA clone was an early recipe, which really brings us full circle, as one of their brewers at the time, Chris, who is now at Crooked Hammock was a great resource when we were setting up.

What is your favorite style to brew and why?

IPAs…I just love the variety of hops and how you can use them when you are brewing an IPA.

Do you look at ratings on Untapped, Beer Advocate, Rate Beer and if you do how does it influence your recipes?

I do, but I really pay most attention to Facebook ratings. I like to listen to my customers and brew the beers they like. We have 17 beers on tap, which some may say is a lot, but I want to give our patrons variety…I know that everyone will walk away with at least one that they love. I also like to be creative, offer something new, so at least 1x per week, we are brewing something we’ve never served before. 

How do you stay connected to the local area?

Our spent grain goes to a local farm (on cue the local farmer came in to pick up a couple of cans). We also just got a couple of barrels from Laird’s Apple Farm, so we will be starting some barrel projects in the brewhouse.

What is the one tip you would give to home brewers to make better beer?

The secret ingredient…water! Water treatment is the last thing a home brewer grasps. It took me a while, but the water profile makes such a difference!

What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone who wants to open a brewery?

Have a good partner! It’s hard to do it alone, so being able to share responsibilities really helps to lighten the load! Also, make sure you really settle on an established site and all of your administrative ducks in a row.  Once you have a site, you have to start paying the lease, so the sooner you can start producing, the better.

If there were a beer that you could brew, with no regard to cost, production or sales, what would it be?

Dogfish Head Worldwide Stout! Dark, rich, complex…so much flavor!

Looking back on opening day forward, what was the one thing that surprised you the most?

From a business standpoint, we have exceeded all projection, so we are thrilled if not surprised at that. Our biggest surprise is that the Kalsch Kölsch is still one of our top sellers, number 3, in fact. In this world of IPA popularity, that is a great surprise.

Other than your beer, what is your “go to” drink after a long day at the brewery?

I like local brews, and my go-to is  “We Want the Gold” from Icarus in Lakewood. All of their beers are excellent and this one is a NEIPA.  I also like Weyerbacher’s Imperial Stout “Tiny”.

Where do you see the brewery in 1 year? 5 years?

We have a 5-year lease, so our plans are to continue to upgrade our production, recipes and grow here in our hometown. We have discussed alternative methods of getting our product out there like crowlers, etc. but nothing definite yet.

Bonus question…Donn..Why no Big Beard?

Can’t grow one…I’m like Mr. Bigglesworth!

Follow ManaFirkin Brewing Co on Social Media!

Facebook   @ManaFirkinBrewing

Instagram  @manafirkin_brewing_company

10 Questions With... Breweries

10 Questions With…Torie Fisher, Owner, Backward Flag Brewing Company of Forked River

Staff Sergeant Torie Fisher was nearing the end of her military career and was looking to do something different. After 2 tours of duty in Iraq, deployed in 2004 and 2008, she proudly served her country but knew it was time for a change.  So Torie, being a home brewer, decided to combine her love of the craft with the love of her veteran community and the idea of Backward Flag was born. “I knew from the beginning that our brand would be geared towards veterans and law enforcement,” Torie said as we spoke at the brew house over a glass of Mission Continues, a limited edition Black Ale made with saffron.

Brewery Manger Jeff , Torie, and Head Brewer Melinda of Backward Flag Brewing Company

The ale is really a microcosm of the mission statement and vision for Backward Flag. The brew is named for Mission Continues, an organization that assists returning veterans in adjusting to life at home. The saffron is from Afghanistan and is supplied by a company called Rumi Spice, which was founded and is run by veterans of Afghanistan who fell in love with the country and wanted to give back. Other ingredients are Counterstrike Coffee and Micacao chocolate tea made from the shells of the cacao bean, again both veteran owned companies. And 50% of the profits from Mission Continues goes to non-profit veteran organizations.

Torie’s original plan was to open a brew pub, however, with no restaurant experience, she thought that wasn’t realistic, so she decided a brewery was a better option. She still worked at the Lakehurst Joint Base and wanted to remain nearby so she looked at various locations throughout Ocean County.
While bringing her daughter to a day care location in Lacey, she happened upon the perfect property right across the street and that Challenger Way location became Backward Flag Brewing Company.
Torie has held true to her initial commitment and Backward Flag is the site of many benefits and fundraisers to support our military and law enforcement community. Her nonprofit agency, Arms2artisans, will be up and running in January 2018.

Here are our 10 questions for Torie:

What was the first beer you brewed and how was it?

Stone Brewery Smoked Porter. It was awful… All smoke, no porter!

What is your favorite style to brew and why?

Stouts…my favorite beer to drink and as a brewer there is a lot of flexibility.

Do you look at ratings on Untapped, Beer Advocate or Rate Beer and, if you do, does it influence your recipes?

No….and Yes…We brew what we like to drink and if it sells that means the customer likes it. We do look at Untapped, etc for trends and quality control, is our beer under carbonated, too sweet, etc.

How do you stay connected to the local area in relation to sourcing ingredients?

We try to work with a lot of businesses owned and operated by our veteran and law enforcement partners, which goes along with our mission statement. The Mission Continues black ale is an example of that. We also do work with The Fir Farm in Colts Neck for some of our hops and Rabbit Hill Farms in Shiloh is a maltster we could possibly be working with in the future.

What is one tip you would give home brewers to make better beer?

Source your information from books and other resource sites. You’ll learn so much more than trying to do it on your own.

What is one piece of advice you would give someone who wants to open a brewery?

Decide whether you want to work in a brewery or own a brewery. If you are an owner your brewing days are numbered. An owner has 20 different people that need your attention and help. I still write most of the recipes, but without my head brewer, Melinda Gulsever (National Guard and Black Hawk engine mechanic), we wouldn’t be able to produce what we do.

If there was a beer you could brew without regards to cost, production or sales, what would it be and why?

You’re drinking it now. Mission Continues is what I look for in a brew. It’s complex, delicious, most of the ingredients are from veteran owned companies and 50% of the profits go to veteran owned organizations.

Looking back from opening day forward, what was the one thing that surprised you most?

How quickly things can change! I started with 2 partners who were involved in the operation, now I have 2 new partners who mostly provide financial resources for the company. I am also surprised at how quickly we’ve grown.

Other than your beer, what is your “go to” after a long day at the brewery?

Left Hand Milk Stout on nitro. Creamy and delicious!

Where do you see the brewery in a year? In 5 years?

We are excited that our new brew system will be here in October which will more than double our production to 10 barrels. In one year we hope to be able to meet the demand that comes with that expansion. We don’t really want to grow much more than that, so our future focus will be on social issues affecting our veterans and helping them as they transition to civilian life.

Visit Backward Flag Brewing Company on the web at

Facebook @backwardflagbrewing

Instagram backwardflagbrewing

Twitter @BackwardFlag


Editor’s Note-Backward Flag Brewing Company will be celebrating their 2nd Anniversary on Saturday, September 16th at the brewery.  There will be special casks on tap as well as music, and a food vendor outside the licensed premises.  Also, Backward Flag will be presenting certificates and checks to the charity organizations they raised money for.  Congrats to everyone at Backward Flag on this milestone!