On Saturday, March 3rd at noon Pinelands Brewing will celebrate their 4 year anniversary. I had the pleasure to be there on opening day 4 years ago and, while a lot has changed at the brewery from that day, the one thing that hasn’t is the incredible beer they make. I recently sat down with Jason Chapman and Luke McCooley to discuss the years prior to opening day, the subsequent 4 years, and the future. I first asked Jason to think back to what inspired him to make his first beer, and what was it? He thought back and clearly remembered brewing a mason-jar-hopped extract ale with his brother that he had purchased at a bookstore. The year was 1999, and that one quart of brown boozy ale contained flavors so exciting he had to learn more. He immediately began reading everything about home brewing that his 96K modem would allow. Jason also learned from a friend that Richland General Store had home brewing supplies, and he came home with the ingredients for a 5-gallon partial mash LME (liquid malt extract) Pale Ale with aromatic hop plugs from Kent Goldings. This was Jason’s first real batch and the hook was set. Jason’s second batch was an all grain Pumpkin Ale which his father still talks about to this day. He loved sharing the flip-tops with family and friends and the conversations they evoked. Jason explained, “the way you can take these beautiful natural materials, and brew them into beer and brings people together, and satisfies them to the core is magical”. From that point on, the love affair with taking malts and hops and transforming them through fermentation to yield a gift from nature blossomed. Most of the subsequent recipes are what you’ll find in the taproom today, like Pitch Pine Ale, Mason’s Wheat, and Evan John Porter.
In the beginning, Pinelands had 5 partners, but since then 3 have moved on and only Jason and Luke remain. In addition, Pinelands has added 7 employees and will also add a few part-timers when the festival season starts. They started out brewing on a 60 gallon Marchisio false bottom tank along with a Stout Tanks and Kettles 1BBL pot, a 1BBL brite tank, and 2 Blichmann 1BBL fermenters. They quickly realized they needed to start brewing double batches, and purchased a 3BBl brite tank, and 3BBL fermenters. The next progression was a Stouts T&K 3BBL system which is still in use today. The next phase would be to move up to a 7BBL system with a 15BBL brite tank and some 15BBL slim fermenters.
With the explosion of breweries in South Jersey, Pinelands Brewing seems to still be on their own little island, which suits Jason and Luke just fine. The one tough thing when they started out 4 years ago was that there wasn’t a lot of breweries that you could talk to and get some advice and tips from. In Luke’s case, Pinelands Brewing was always meant to be his full-time job. I seem to think it is better not to have a plan B to fall back on because it really makes you put your heart and soul into it. And, 4 years later, it is apparent that it was the right path.
Now, on to the main reason for this article. What surprises are in store for everybody at the anniversary celebration? First and foremost 3 special beers will be available. The first will be their Belgium Quad called “Birthday Suit” that will clock in at about 10.5% ABV. Next up is their “Gnarly Pine Barley Wine” that has been aging almost a year, and will sport a hefty 9% ABV. Last, but certainly not least, is their “Cockeyed Imperial Coffee Milk Stout” which has been barrel-aged in barrels from Little Water Distillery in Atlantic City, and will be topping out at 9% ABV. In addition to being on tap in the tasting room, they also plan on having about 100-120 22 ounce bottles of each one for sale too. Along with the 3 beers, there will be food available from Brothers Bear BBQ so come hungry.
In closing, Jason said it best, “Our role is to keep the tradition of brewing alive in our lovely little corner of the world”. These guys truly live up to their motto, “AS PURE AS THE PINES”.
Congratulations to Jason, Luke, and everyone at Pinelands Brewing Company on this milestone. If you have not visited this brewery you need to take the drive to Little Egg Harbor and have a few of their great beers!