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Vic Sbailo

Breweries Road Trip

South Jersey Beer Scene Goes to Ireland With Vic!

Leprechaun: They are usually depicted as little bearded men, wearing a coat and hat, who partake in mischief. ) (Thank you Wikapedia for the info) 

Some may say this describes me, but I am not here to debate my possible resemblance to a mythological fairy, but to talk about the beer, the brewers and the breweries I encountered on my recent trip to Ireland.  

So sit back, have a pint o’ Gat, a bag o’ chips and have a grand time reading this as South Jersey Beer Scene goes to Ireland! 


They call New York the city that never sleeps, but I would nominate Dublin for the prize.  They love their soccer in Dublin town and celebrate joyously, heartily and loudly! Chanting, singing,  (in tune I might add!) and trumpeting at all hours.  Did they win? “We tied 1-1, but it was a good match!”  

Pubs galore, including O’Neill’s a classic establishment on Suffolk St., near Trinity College, with over 40 beers on tap!  Tip: Don’t get there at 9 AM for breakfast, as they don’t serve alcohol until 10:30! So it happens that the first beer I had in Ireland was not, in fact, a Guinness but a Dublin Blonde from the Irishtown Brewery which I enjoyed at Madigan’s Pub on O’Connell Street. A very nice, crisp lager. Here is my conversation with the barkeep

 “I’ll have a Dublin Blonde.” 

“My wife is off today, but I’ll give her a call!” 

A very welcome interaction on a rainy day, going on 24 hours with no sleep! 

Did I mention Guinness? The Guinness Storehouse (#1 tourist attraction in Ireland. Stop #13 on the hop on hop off bus) is an experience!  A little known fact, the largest Guinness brewery in the world is not in Ireland, it is in Nigeria, which is also the second largest market for consumption of the brew. So much for not drinking stouts in warm climates!  (FYI Great Britain is first, US is 5th)

In 1759, home brewer Arthur Guinness from County Kildare decides to leave his small ale brewery and make his fortune in Dublin.  He comes upon a dilapidated brewery at St. James Gate signs a 9,000 year lease for 45 Irish Pounds per year (that’s $66) and the rest is history.  


We made reservations for the Guinness Connoisseur Experience, which is a 90 minute presentation in a beautiful private bar on the 3rd floor of the Storehouse. Surrounded by portraits of the Guinness family, the beer tender introduces you to the rich history of the brewery and the brand, as you taste the original Guinness drafts as well as several other variants. These include the Extra Stout, West Indies Porter and the Guinness Citra IPA, made with American hops. I enjoyed the West Indies Porter, which is based on the original Guinness Porter recipe and is a tasty higher alcohol alternative. 

The Citra IPA is produced by Open Gate Brewery, an experimental offshoot of the main Dublin site. Open Gate has been in existence for over 100 years, but is now open to the public.  But man does not live by beer alone, so I didn’t have time to visit, however, the Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House in Baltimore just recently opened, so fresh Guinness experimental brews are now only a road trip away!   

On the top floor of the Storehouse is the glass walled Gravity Bar, where you can have your free pint and a spectacular 360 degree view of the city.   

P.S. If whiskey is your drink, you have Jameson, as well as Pearse Lyons and Teeling distilleries on the various bus routes.  


Traveling across country we encountered The Burren, which is a beautiful stark landscape of limestone fields and cliffs, dotted with stone walls, sheep and castles.  In the northern end of this area, not far from the Cliffs of Moher, lies the little town of Lisdoonvarna (population 739). One of its most famous residents, Pete Curtin, is the proprietor of the gastropub, The Roadside Tavern.  Pete’s family has owned the tavern since 1893 and it is it is also home to the Burren Brewery, where Pete brews his classic Irish Red, Gold and Black beer, only available on premises.   

 “What are ye standing around for, take a seat?” was my invitation from the owner as we sat and talked about brewing, super humans and IPAs. It was an educational and very entertaining conversation. 

“You Americans are hop crazy with your double and triple hopped IPAs, 13% alcohol beers.  You drink one and you pass out!”  

But to be honest, there are very few commercial hop farms in Ireland so most have to be imported. Our American hops don’t grow well in the climate and soil of Ireland, so those that do grow are of the English or German varieties. 25% of the crop was lost in 2015, so there are various clubs and organizations springing up to encourage hop growing as a community project.   

The brewery recently added another beer to the menu. “I call this Euphoria, the happy beer, because when people drink it they are overjoyed!” and Pete poured us an ancient ale called a gruit which is flavored by herbs and botanicals, rather than hops. Euphoria is brewed with 6 herbs including lemon verbena and rosemary and 3 wild yeasts. I think it was good, but I only had a small sampling, as my wife, who doesn’t like beer, liked the gruit and drank the whole glass!

As we were talking about the bar, my son mentioned that vodka is his drink of choice, not beer. At which point Pete said, “He likes that high alcohol. The man is super human.”  

We talked a little more about the history of the tavern and the town and spent some quality time drinking beers with him. With my Guinness shirt and Irish flat cap on, I asked him if this Italian guy from Jersey could pass for Irish.   

“Nahh!” he exclaimed loudly and added a few other phrases that can’t be printed here!   Unable to top that, we bid Pete a fond farewell and continued on our way. 


One of my wife’s favorite movies is “Leap Year”, which takes place in the village of Dingle (at least in the movie it does) on the southwestern end of the island. The village is as pretty as the movie, a beautiful little seaside town with great shopping, views and a lot of great pubs. They have an extensive list of local beer selections, including Stag Ban Pale Ale from 9 White Deer Brewery in County Cork, Dick Mack’s Session IPA (an IPA sighting!) and Cul Dorcha an interesting, smoky dark ale from West Kerry Brewing.  This is the second excellent beer I had encountered from West Kerry, as we had picked up a couple of bottles of their Beal Ban Golden Ale at the local convenience store.  So we went on a quest to find the brewery, which was in the village of Ballyferriter, just a short distance from Dingle.  

We took the scenic route (there’s not really any other route to take when you are in Ireland) around skinny mountain roads, with sheep and cows (bunches of cows…you had to be there) guiding us, we came to Tig Bhric Brew Pub, home of West Kerry Brewery.  As with Burren, the tap list was not as extensive as our South Jersey breweries and included a dark mild cask conditioned beer. Contrary to what some say, they do NOT serve warm beer in Ireland. The cask is conditioned in a cellar, so is served at cellar temperatures which is 50 – 55 degrees, so warmth may be in the taste of the beholder.  

I had a great conversation with Adrienne Heslin, the first woman to own a brew pub in Ireland and the only woman pub owner and brewer.  Adrienne is a major voice and proponent for the Irish craft beer industry and currently serves as Treasurer of the Independent Craft Brewers of Ireland. This association of 26 independent breweries advocates and lobbies for changes in the archaic laws governing the industry in Ireland.   (Sound familiar?) 


The group was instrumental in a recent law change which will allow craft breweries to sell their beer on premises. Previously they were able to conduct tours, but not able to sell their brew! 

Adrienne is also an accomplished artist and sculptor and uses many of the herbs in her garden (rose hips, elderberries, blueberries) in her beers.   She is also the only brewery in Ireland to sport a South Jersey Beer Scene AND an Ocean County Home Brewers Association sticker! 


After some growing pains early in the 2000s, the Irish craft beer scene is on fire, with 500% growth over the last 5 years. There are 72 in operation now with more planned, each more adventurous and daring than the rest, so for you IPA lovers, the Irish Pliny the Elder may be just around the corner. Most of these smaller brews are not available right now in the US, but hopefully as the businesses continue to flourish we will see some of them hitting our shores. 

Hope you enjoyed the read and perhaps South Jersey Beer Scene will send me back to get an Irish web page started.  Thanks to my family for indulging my beer fetishes while in Ireland and for a great time and thanks to my buddy Kevin Riley, Philly Beer Trail, for the ideas and tips.  

Slainte, all! 

Breweries Events

Manahopkin Beer and Music Festival is Southern Ocean County Hospitality at Its Finest!

One of the fastest growing brew festivals on the South Jersey Beer Scene (Yes Ocean County is South Jersey!), Manahopkin Beer and Music Fest, is coming up on Saturday, 8/11/18 at Manahawkin Lake Park in Manahawkin.

Proceeds benefit PBA Local 297 and help many of the charities they support, including Southern Regional High School Scholarships, toy drive, clothing drive and local families in need among others.  Detectives Levi McVey and Drew Smith, as well as Officers Chris Fritz and Phil Mauro, are the driving forces behind the festival which has generated over $50,000 for the PBA since its inception in 2015. 

“Local 297 raised over $100,000 for charity last year and Manahopkin was a big part of that,” said Jen McBrien, Stafford Recreation Supervisor and one of the many Stafford employees who lay the groundwork to make the event a success.  “The idea of Manahopkin started several years ago when Betti Anne McVey, Stafford Director of Recreation, her son, Detective McVey and Detective Smith were enjoying some beers at Pinelands Brewing Company.”

They brainstormed some fundraising ideas with the always creative and community-focused Pinelands Brewery team and working together with the PBA,  Manahopkin was born. 

The festival started modestly with 11 breweries participating in the inaugural event but that number has multiplied like yeast in a fermenter. “We currently have 25 breweries with more inquiring and signing on every day”, said Jen.  A new twist this year, is craft beer enthusiasts will be able to vote for their favorite brewery and a Manahopking will be crowned!

And as we see time and again, our local breweries are sharing in the charitable spirit of the event, with 17 of them so far, donating at least 1 keg. 

“We are also on Untapped”, said Raeann Lapenta, Recreation Department Social Media Guru (position bestowed by me, not the township!) so for those of you looking to post some unique beers, this is the fest for you!

The Manahopkin team has also come up with some interesting marketing ideas to help promote the festival and sell tickets, including pop up ticket sales at some of the local breweries. Backward Flag hosts one on 7/13, Oyster Creek on 7/14 and Manafirkin on 8/3, where rumor has it the mechanical bull, a new fair attraction will be unveiled. More pop up sales are planned for Garden State Brewing and Three 3’s.

Cat Country, 107.3, one of the more beer-friendly radio stations (They sponsored the South Jersey Beer Fest in Mays Landing last month), is the big sponsor and are also hosting brewers and guests from several breweries, with Oyster Creek on 7/12, Manafirkin July 19 and Tuckahoe July 26 to help promote the festival.   Other sponsors are the Wright Law Firm, Swing Graphics, Bathfitter, Old Causeway and Walt McCollum Plumbing and Heating and Rico Sabor, Sharkbait and Bacon me Crazy are among the many food vendors participating.

“This is a family friendly event, so there will be entertainment and activities for the kids, young and old,” added Jen.  “It is great that we have a town that supports events such as this and our Harvest Festival so thanks to the mayor, Mrs. McVey and the administration, for making these events possible!”

 Manahopkin Craft Beer and Music Fest is Saturday,  8/11 12 – 7 PM at Manahawkin Lake Park, right off of Rte 72. 

Tickets $30 on and are $35 at the door.  Please check their website and social media pages for more details. 

Order your tickets online at

Great beers, a great time for a great cause!


Manafirkin Brewery will be Hosting Bulls And Beers 8/3/18 and Ticket Presale!

Stafford PBA will be selling Manahopkin craft beer fest tickets outside of the brewery in the Stafford PBA tent. Presale event, with discounted tickets ONLY available outside of Manafirkin, featuring the mechanical bull that will be at Manahopkin.

Stafford PBA will be selling tickets discounted for $25, only available outside in the PBA tent at Manafirkin between 4-9. Stafford PBA will be giving away prizes every half hour to anyone who purchases a ticket outside in the Stafford PBA tent at Manafirkin.


Ship Bottom Brewery Is What’s Up on Long Beach Island!

Long Beach Island is one of the most beautiful spots on the Jersey Shore. From the iconic Old Barney lighthouse and modern beachfront mansions on the north end to old Victorian homes on the south end, not to mention the gorgeous beaches, great restaurants, and shopping, there is truly something for everyone.  And since 2016 you can add craft beer lovers to that list as Ship Bottom Brewery celebrates its second anniversary this August. 

I had the opportunity to talk with owner/founder, Rob Zarko at the Beach Haven brewery to discuss the genesis of Ship Bottom, beers, brewing and business.      

Our journey takes us back in time to 1995 when Rob was a young Pennsylvania beer lover spending time at a summer house in the Ship Bottom section of LBI (hence Ship Bottom Brewery) with a Cooper’s DIY kit of Australian Pale Ale.  

As with all home brewer’s, the moment of truth…was the beer good, was it bad, was it undrinkable?  The wrong answer can make you quit (sort of like golf), but thankfully in Rob’s case, it was good, he was hooked and the brewery seeds were planted. 

Rob decided to start building his own brewhouse back home in his garage. He started small and gradually increased his brewing knowledge and experience as well as his system.  Doing much of the work on his own he eventually built a 1 barrel system and a walk-in cooler in his garage. You can’t drink that much beer on your own (well maybe some of you can), so he partnered with some local bars and restaurants to supply them with some kegs of his brew. 

After several years of this, Rob took the plunge, applied for his license and presented his plan at a public hearing.  Many locals were supportive but he did encounter several objections, including a neighbor who was worried about a brewery opening in the quiet neighborhood.  “We don’t want him getting so big and becoming Budweiser”. They also worried that the nano-brewery would explode, but Rob was able to counter the complaints by assuring his neighbors that he had been brewing on his back porch for 10 years (One gentleman admitted he had enjoyed several of his beers locally). He was approved and in 2012, in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, Ship Bottom Brewery was born!  (In his garage…this isn’t New Jersey, folks!) 

Rob’s business plan included expansion, so in the fall of 2015, he began talking to investors about building a brew house on LBI and things moved quickly after that (unusual for a NJ brewery).  He found a location in the popular Bay Village shopping/dining area of Beach Haven (several miles south of his first brewing experience in Ship Bottom). In order to execute the plan he knew he needed some help with the brewing side.  Enter Jake Stablein, who crossed paths with Rob at Twin Lakes in Delaware, but was originally from Colorado, where beer is a way of life (#4 state in breweries per capita…NJ is 45th).  Rob enlisted Jake to help bring life to his recipes.

Doing much of the work themselves and dealing with the challenges of a second-floor brewery, Ship Bottom Brewery opened in August of 2016, with Jake on board as the Head Brewer. 

The unique Beach vibe is reflected in the beer lineup, as Stupid Paddle Boat IPA, Beach Patrol Hefeweizen and The Shack IPA are year-round offerings. Special offerings include Mexican Cerveza, brewed with salt harvested from the Barnegat Bay that is visible from the tasting room bar, and Chicken or the Egg IPA, named for a state if not world-renowned LBI restaurant and brewed with their hot wing sauce. 

I asked Rob if he had any advice for those who may want to open a brewery.  “Have a solid business plan. Know your strengths and weaknesses.  Find people that can do the things you aren’t good at. I hired a professional brewer so I could concentrate on the business. It’s a highly competitive market so make sure your beer, branding, marketing, sales strategy are thought out and designed well.  Hire good people, they are the face and voice of your company “

Rob’s plan included an aggressive distribution plan and Ship Bottom in cans can be found in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  He does some canning in the Ship Bottom facility but a lot of it is done at a partner brewery, Sly Fox, in Pennsylvania. 

I asked Rob what are his go-to beers, aside from his own. “I like 2SP Russian Stout (Aston, PA), as well as the Yeti Stouts (Great Divide, Denver CO)” 

Rob’s favorite Ship Bottom beer is the Mexican Stout which is brewed with Ancho Peppers, Mexican Coffee Mexican Chocolates, Cinnamon and vanilla beans, but he is passionate about all of them.  

“Our motto is “Brew every beer very well”, said Rob.  “I could have a lot more on our tap list, but I want every beer we offer is of the highest quality.”    

That is probably the most important aspect of any business plan, as in the end, it is all about the beer.  Unlike many of the businesses on LBI, Ship Bottom Brewery is open year round, so definitely an island brewery for all seasons! 


Last Wave Brewing Company Celebrating It’s First Anniversary This Weekend

Another Ocean County brewery hits a milestone, as Last Wave Brewing in Point Pleasant Beach kicks off the summer with their First Anniversary celebration!

“This year has been incredible, far above expectations!” said co-owner Bert Roling.”We were welcomed into the town like old friends from the moment we opened the doors.  Dani (Bert’s wife, co-owner, designer) has done an amazing job of keeping the tasting room on track and operating like a well-oiled machine. Nick (co-owner Nick Jiorle) and I are both working the brewery full time now so we are pumped to keep pushing the envelope and delivering tasty concoctions that make Last Wave stand out from the crowd!”

Last Wave has built up a great following as well as a large distribution system and their beer can be found in over 30 bars and restaurants, from Hoboken to Long Beach Island.   “We’ve had a great reception and are blessed to have such a supportive community.  Our hope is that we are creating a buzz for downtown Point Pleasant that echoes through the other businesses here, not only in the bars that get first dibs on our newest brews but also in the plethora of shops and eateries in our community.”

To help kick off the weekend, Last Wave will have some variations on some old favorites:

* Soul Arch Saison (Brewed with Hibiscus)

*  A -Frame IPA  (aged on tequila soaked oak and mango)* Red Sky Red Ale (Aged on rum-soaked vanilla beans)

And Of Couple Of New Releases!

*Dawn Patrol Gose ( slightly tart with a  touch of salt and loads of Guava!)

* Flatspell Belgian Witbier (classic easy drinking summer beer)

Congratulations to Bert, Dani, Nick and their team!

Breweries News

Oyster Creek Brewing Company Opens Saturday 5/12 at 2 PM!

The long-awaited opening of Ocean County’s latest brewery, Oyster Creek Brewing Company in Waretown, is set for Saturday, 5/12 at 2 PM.  Founder/Head Brewer Kris Lewis is glowing with anticipation and looking forward to a great day!

 What’s an opening without a menu? Here is the nuclear tap list for Saturday:

* May the Fourth IPA
* DARKmatter Vanilla Porter
* COLDfusion Coffee Stout
* MELTdown Habanero DIPA
Congrats to Kris and his team on this momentous occasion!