“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, Ocean County, the brewery opened its doors on May 19, 2017 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.
“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 Donn our 10 Questions.
What was the first beer you brewed?
Donn Hoosack: 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?
DH: 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?
DH: 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?
DH: 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?
DH: 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?
DH: 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?
DH: 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?
DH: 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?
DH: 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?
DH: 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?
DH: Can’t grow one. I’m like Mr. Bigglesworth!
For more information on Manafirkin Brewing Company visit https://www.manafirkin.com/