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Feb 14, 2010 06:06 PM

New Jersey Brewpubs...

Hello, native New (North) Jerseyan here, who will be heading home for another visit later this year. I'm interested in finding New Jersey's best brewpub.

I understand many have opened over the years since I left NJ and moved to Portland, Oregon, and I've tried a few back in Jersey already. Most of them seem to be about average, though. I understand the focus in these places will always be the beer first and foremost, but for beer lovers like me such a place which also puts attention and care into their food is a special place, indeed.

The ones I've already been to are Gas Light in South Orange, Long Valley out in Morris County, Harvest Moon in New Brunswick, Basil T's in Red Bank, JJ Bitting's in Woodbridge and Triumph in Princeton.

Out of those, Long Valley had the best food and service (with Basil T's a close second), but I think I'd give Gas Light the nod for best beer. JJ Bitting's Coal Train Porter certainly deserves an honorable mention, though.

Trap Rock in Berkeley Heights is first on my list to try next time I'm out there, and I think I heard last year that there's a new brewpub set to open in Newark (or has it already?)?

Others I'm interested in are the Ship Inn in Milford, Krogh's in Sparta and Tun Tavern in AC if I can manage to get all the way down there.

Anybody have any experiences with those places? Or other suggestions I'm not aware of?

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  1. Oh, and of course...

    The best place to watch a Rutgers football game is certainly Harvest Moon!

    A Jimmy D's Firehouse Red, and Rutgers football. Can't beat that!

    2 Replies
    1. re: JayinPortland

      Excepting that one season, Rutgers and football are reminiscent of ice cream and anchovies.

      1. re: MGZ

        Lol, yeah I know all too well. I remember listening to games on the radio back in the 80's and early 90's (when we couldn't even get 'em on teevee!), when a few of my classmates' older brothers played for the team. Then, some of my friends went on to do so. We lost a lot back then, huh? But these days, it's just that much sweeter to see RU televised regularly. I can see about 6 games a year here in Oregon, just on regular cable.

        One of these days, we're gonna win the Big East. And on to the BCS!

        Yes, I'm a dreamer. But I'm also a Mets fan, so that should explain it.


    2. I am afraid that the NJ brewpub scene is lousy. Harvest Moon at least has its own beer. My experiences at Basil T's in Red Bank were disappointing. I am looking forward to making a trip out to Salt the Gastropub. I also hope that your query will elicit some helpful leads.

      9 Replies
      1. re: MGZ


        Have you tried Bitting's or Gas Light yet? They're not that far if you're in the New Brunswick area. Gas Light has B food, and A- beer. Bitting's food is a C at best, but their beers average around a B to a B+, imo, even if they're pretty weak by national brewpub standards. The seasonals (sorry, can't remember the names, but I know they once had a really good pumpkin beer) are usually pretty good though, and the Coal Train Porter is always worth a try or three.

        1. re: JayinPortland

          I live close to Gaslight so I wind up going there frequently. The beer isn't that good - my main complaint is that it is quite variable, and sometimes off. One good aspect is that they have several well chosen guest beers and a cask-conditioned ale (brewed in house or guest). Plus the people that run the place have rubbed a lot of people the wrong way with some odd and petty rules and regulations.

          My theory is that NJ licences are so hard to get and expensive that it attracts people who need to recoup their costs rather than those with a passion for good beer. BTW, I have heard recent reports that the Ship Inn has gone severly downhill. When I'm looking for good beer I prefer beer bars like the Coppermine in N. Arlington or Andy's in Bogota.

          1. re: jmoryl

            Thanks for the information. Maybe I'm viewing things through rose-colored glasses, and wanting to remember them as better than they were? Coming in from Portland, OR, I do tend to drop my standards a bit for Jersey beers. But maybe I shouldn't!

            Terrible to hear that about the Ship Inn, I've been looking forward to heading there for years. I'll still go, but maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised by not having my hopes up too high.

            Thanks for the recs in North Arlington and Bogota. Maybe I'll be able to find a River Horse or a Cricket Hill worth drinking in those places?

          2. re: JayinPortland

            I've been to all except Berkeley Heights and Long Valley. I only care about the beer. JJ Bittings now has a brewer, James, who worked in Oregon before joining JJ's a few months back. They have by far the best beers, IMHO. Right now they have a barleywine on tap, along with 6 or so others, including a cask. Soon they will have a vg porter, along with Irish Red and a stout for St Patricks Day. Basil T's in Toms River is now Artisans Brew Pub and the beer is made by the owner of Climax Brewery. Haven't tried it yet.

            1. re: scrappyone

              Don't waste your time with Tun Tavern. We stopped there twice recently on two separate trips to AC. Both times my husband's beer was flat and tasteless. We ate there years ago and the food was not good.

              We recently went to Long Valley. He really like the beer and the food was very good too.

              Have been to Trap Rock. We often go to their sister restaurant Ciao and they have the Trap Rock beers on tap. He does seem to like them.

              I'm a wine drinker so can't comment. The brewpub scene in NJ pales in comparison to places like Portland and Seattle.


              1. re: KathyH

                Thanks! It would really be aggravating to make a trip all the way down to AC and find out the place was horrible. I was kind of wary of that place all along anyways, with it being in AC and all.

                Besides, I think if I'm gonna head that far south again I might as well just hit Earth Bread & Brewery on Germantown Ave (I think?) in Philly again. I really enjoyed that place last time I was there visiting a friend from the area.

                Seattle? Feh. They only WISH their brews were even half as good as ours here in Portland! ;-P

              2. re: scrappyone

                Interesting, I've never heard of Climax before. I lived close to Roselle for years! They probably weren't around when I was there, though. Hmmm, wonder if I can get to Toms River? I have dozens of friends in the Red Bank area, maybe one of them would be up for the trip...

                1. re: JayinPortland

                  Dave Hoffman's Climax Brewing Co. at this point is the oldest craft brewery in NJ (where, by law, you're either a brewpub or a brewery, can't do both). Unfortunately, his distribution area is still quite limited for his draught beer and he doesn't do conventional 12 oz. or 22 oz. bottling, instead using only 1/2 gallon growlers for off-premise retail sales. As a result, a lot of retailers seem to pass on the beers and those that do carry it, often stock it on a bottom shelf with "macro" quarts and 40's, etc., so it's easy to miss.

                  The biggest recent brewpub news in NJ was the opening of an Iron Hill pub in South Jersey last year- the first new brewpub in the state in a decade (according to reports) http://ironhillbrewery.com/mapleshade/ The "happening" area for craft beer in NJ is now in that part of the state, due mainly to it being suburban Philadelphia (one of the premium beer cities in the country). A number of craft beer bars have opened down there as well, but the state in general has a long way to go in terms of breweries, brewpubs and good beer bars.

                  1. re: JessKidden

                    Iron Hill is actuially pretty good, but always seems packed when we've gone there. All we've really had there have been appetizers, but they have all been good. I think I had something very strange there one time, but can't remember what it was, and of course, I can't access their site from our server here because there is alcohol content. Let me say that I had the blockers here at work! Surprised I can even access this board from here. Maybe it was cheese steak spring rolls or something though, I can't remember for sure. Regardless, the chow was good, and there beers were nice as well. -mJ

          3. An old thread but you may find it helpful. I agree that the Ship Inn has really gone downhill in the last few years.


            1 Reply
            1. re: ambrose

              Ship Inn has made a few changes. They dropped what was a good whisky selection down to maybe five different brands. They discontinued most of their large bottled beer selection, and offer almost exclusively beer on tap. They have a few guest beers, but most beers are brewed there. They usually have about five different kinds available at a time.

              Foodwise they have paired down the menu a bit, but the general food quality hasn't changed (read still mediocre pub grub). Stilton skins still there, along with decent wings. They do a roast with yorkshire pudding on weekends. I have noticed that they are stressing organic nature of their ingredients.

              Overall I am not sure I would say that the pub has gone downhill. Clearly the owners made a business decision around things that cost money to hold in inventory and move slowly (whisky and beer). I find the atmosphere to be the same fun crowd, and its the only place around that consistently serves good english style bitters on hand pump. That in and of itself makes it worth the trip for me.

              Ship Inn Restaurant & Brewery
              61 Bridge St, Milford, NJ

            2. The Uno's on Rt. 1 in Edison/Metuchen brews their own beers. They have a red, porter, etc., so I'm sure you can find the type that you like. I stopped in last night for wings and tried 2 or 3 that I've never tried. Not bad brews, by NJ standards perhaps.

              1. Kroghs is a mixed bag. Some beers are outstanding and some just OK. I really liked their porter when I was there a few months ago.

                Trap Rock's beer is solid but not outstanding. They seem to dumb the beer down a notch to make it more appealing to a wider range of people. Don't expect your typical pub food at Trap Rock however. The food is definitely upscale and expensive. Not your standard nachos, wings and burgers.

                You can also get Trap Rock brews on tap at their other restaurants (though the beer itself is brewed at the High Point Brewery from Trap Rock's recipe...stupid NJ laws), including Ciao and 3 West in Basking Ridge, Huntley Taverne and Roots in Summit, Grato and Tabor Road Tavern in Parsippany.

                Ship Inn was always a favorite of mine. I haven't been there in years though, so I'm sorry to hear that it appears to have gone down hill.