This blog documents my attempt to drink a beer from every country in the world and every state in the United States.

Monday, March 19, 2012

State #6: New Jersey

Beer: Belgian Style Dubbel

Brewery: Flying Fish Brewing Company, Cherry Hill, New Jersey

ABV: 7.2%

New Jersey beer in a New Jersey backyard on a balmy, sunny New Year's Eve.
The state of New Jersey has a terrible reputation on so many fronts. It’s dirty and polluted. It’s a haven for mobsters. It’s a cultural wasteland, a mixture of vapid suburbanization and depressing urban strife. Day-glo orange spray tans and track suits are considered stylish. The New Jersey Turnpike is the country’s worst road. There aren’t nearly enough breweries. (Okay, so most people don’t really talk about this last one).

"You make fun of Jersey or my tan and I'll bust your nuts with a hammer!"
I’m here to tell you that all those stereotypes are true. But, like every stereotype, the kernel of truth belies the reality, in which the situation on the ground reflects an unfair portrayal of a place. There are wonderful people (my dad and brother-in-law are from Jersey), clean air, sensible fashions, and vibrant culture all over the state. The New Jersey Turnpike is the worst road in the country, however, and there definitely aren’t enough breweries in New Jersey, especially given the state’s industrial reputation. 

Get busy counting, Simon and Garfunkel. They've all gone to look for a beer. You would too after three hours of this.
Flying Fish Brewing Company, in Cherry Hill, is one of only about ten breweries in the state, and one of the few that makes enough to ship across state lines. In general, it’s hard to get Jersey-brewed beers very far from Jersey. Luckily I found myself in New Jersey visiting my sister to celebrate New Years (only a few miles from Flying Fish’s premises, no less), and I was able to pick some up. 

It's a fish. But it has propellers on it. I call it a flying fish!
The Belgian Style Dubbel that I had was mighty tasty. Even though I had it way back on New Year’s Eve, I took notes before the evening’s activities made me forget everything I liked about the beer. A dubbel is a Belgian abbey-style beer, a bit darker and stronger than a regular ale (hence the name; it is supposedly double the strength, although at 7.2% ABV the math doesn’t quite add up here).  This one was sweet, but not overly so, and, as an unfiltered, bottle-conditioned beer, it had lots of gritty yeasty beasties floating around in the glass, giving it some serious texture. Gritty, yet complex: that’s New Jersey.

You can't see the delicious unfiltered floaty bits, but they're in there.
In addition to making good beers, Flying Fish has an interesting history. It was founded on the internet in 1995, when people were still using CompuServe, where its founders solicited for ideas of all kinds (on beer styles, ingredients, names, packaging design, etc.) before a single drop was brewed. It’s a nice story, and evocative not only of the DIY ethos driving craft brewing but also the beauty of crowd sourcing, long before people were talking about crowd sourcing.

Their latest project is an ode to the country’s worst road: a series of beers named after the exits on the New Jersey Turnpike, with each beer incorporating some ingredient with a special significance to that exit. Their Exit 8 beer, for instance, uses chestnuts, which used to grow in abundance in the area. I’m eagerly awaiting their beer for Exit 8A, the location of International Flavor and Fragrance, manufacturers of just about every artificial flavor ever. I suggest they honor this industrial heritage by whipping up a batch of Pyridinemethanthiol Pilsner, which would taste something like pork. Ah, New Jersey.

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