…of Flounder Brewing, that is! Ok all of you craft beer lovers, get ready! After over a year of triumphs and hard work, New Jersey’s got another nanobrewery opening definitely this fall - and TheLadyinRed, writer/blogger/radio personality Laura Madsen, and beer blogger and aficionado, photographer Daryl Meek of Digital Artscape Photography & Graphics, got the scoop with the very first official beer tasting before the public. Here’s the low down on Flounder Brewing’s Hill Street Honey Ale, and why you should definitely stop by, go try, and buy some bottles as soon as Flounder Brewing opens its doors!
“There has been so much interest over the past few years that we need to manage how to actually open and have enough for everyone to try,” says “Flounder” himself, owner Jeremy Lees. “People will be able to visit twice a month to take a tour of the brewery. It will be rotating Saturdays, and we will be posting at the start of each month which two Saturdays that will be. As we find our brewing groove… we will open more frequently for tours. We really are not sure how we are going to do it; so right now, with this batch [of beer] and the next one that is about ready – I am just going to be doing invites with various industry people – people that have helped get me going, friends, family, etc. and just get input right now from people.”
There’s another reason why Flounder Brewing is waiting until the fall before its official opening day – and it’s a tasty one!
“We are going to also be brewing up our pumpkin [ale] soon, and a saison style beer… I do want to have another 1 or 2 flavors on tap for the public opening, so people have a few things to try. So I am looking at a September start now, most likely for the public…and when that happens, hopefully by then, I 'll have figured out how to handle controlling the amount of people that come.”
It kind of sounds like standing in line for concert tickets hoping you get in. Who knew that the crowds would be building well in advance of Flounder Brewing’s beer-for-all, this fall. Well, luckily there’s more than one show of their Hill Street Honey Ale, so you can definitely catch your turn. Flounder Brewing can’t have crowds because their space is small, and they have occupancy limits. This means that they may issue tickets in advance and/or allow people to sign up for a tasting time slot and get the tour of their facility. The focus of the three brewing brothers, Mike, Dan, and Jeremy Lees, has been making the beer up until now, so they have to work out the logistics of managing the public.
Lees says that the saison style beer, which will be featured this fall, in addition to the Hill Street Honey Ale, is going to be collaboration between Flounder Brewing and East Coast Yeast, the local NJ yeast producer that uses a strain of Ballantine Brewery’s original yeast. The malt flavorings will be kept light, and the yeast will be stronger. Lees wants to gear it towards an “East Coast Yeast” beer.
I’m an oenophile, appreciate my wines and cocktails, and am pretty picky about my beers. I definitely need a beer that has layers of flavors to intrigue me and entice my senses. It has to be more than bubblified hops to capture my attention and truly inspire me to share my impressions. I will say, until this first tasting, I have never had two beers in one evening in my life. Never. Hill Street Honey Ale is the only beer I’ve enjoyed enough to truly desire a second one. That says a lot, considering every serving has approximately 180 calories, and there is no question in my mind that I consumed them well. Before I share my tasting thoughts, here’s what beer sommelier, Jeremy Lees, had to say about their first batch ever brewed at Flounder Brewing in Hillsborough, NJ.
“Our first one came out great, almost right where it needed to be, some minor tweaks which I just did on the first commercial batch we brewed up, but we were very pleased. We knew the beer would come out great with Hillsborough's water supply and all. We first had taken several gallons of water from the brewery to my condo last year to brew a batch at home when we were still building the system and getting permits, and that batch had come out great. The reason for the pilot batching after that was to get familiar with the system I built and work out any bugs,” said Lees.
Because water makes up most of beer, it’s important to brew several test batches to tweak the formulation as well as make sure that the equipment is functioning as you have hoped. So no, you won’t be served a test batch of beer. What’s taken Flounder so long to offer their Hills Street Honey Ale up for sale is that they have been perfecting the brew so it’s just right for you. To them, anything sub-par isn’t worth serving. Plus, they had to build up an inventory.
Right now Hill Street Honey Ale, the flagship beer of Flounder Brewing, is the only beer available, but they will start brewing their Pumpkin Ale soon, so it’s ready for Thanksgiving and can cater to the seasonality of customers’ cravings. Slated next is their gingerbread beer for the holidays, which Lees says he made a few years ago and friends and family loved. Eventually, Flounder wants to brew a west coast style IPA with some sort of twist, and a brown ale, as well.
“I do want to do a cranberry-honey and blueberry-honey [beer] eventually,” adds Lees. (Very Jersey-esque!)
As for the pending pumpkin ale, it won’t have allspice in it, so it’s a light pumpkin. They will start brewing it in August. The gingerbread beer uses vanilla.
“My pumpkin [ale] is the one that most non-beer drinkers drink,” said Lees, bringing a smile to my wine loving face.
Jeremy Lees is both the chief beer brewer and your tour guide. As time goes on, Flounder Brewing hopes to have some regular volunteers who love beer help out with the tour giving. When you walk into the royal blue and cream-colored tasting room, you are surrounded by pictures on the walls that showcase the Lees brothers’ past home brewing experiences, like bottling by hand on the floor. They used to live on Hill Street in Morristown, so the name “Hill Street Honey Ale” is a tribute to their early brewing days. Every Friday night they would home brew.
Even the ingredients in their signature beer have significance.
“Our grandfather was into bees and honey, and I like a good amber ale. Brewers can add hops at different stages of brewing, so if you can do that, why can’t you do that with honey? Honey is wild, so I had to put it in at a certain time to keep the flavor of the honey, but had to kill the bacteria in the honey, too,” shares Lees.
They also bring nostalgia into the brewery in other ways.
“We have a pot for measuring the grain from my grandma, and my grandfather’s handmade wooden broom hangs above the door to the brewing room.”
Back to the beer: The basic “recipe” of Hill Street Honey Ale is not a super secret family recipe, but there is definitely balance in its brewing, and the brewing brothers do leave a little to the imagination.
“We use three types of grains in our beer – two types of hops that are added at three different times in the boil – and we use a lot of orange blossom honey, and finish off with yeast made in Hillsborough [New Jersey] by East Coast Yeast. The combination of ingredients, with varying temperature stages throughout the brewing, and the timing that we add honey all throughout the process, is what makes our beer what it is. I go into more detail on the brew process for tours and when I am standing in front of the system and describe each part,” explains Jeremy Lees.
Flounder Brewing also uses pale malt, even though it’s more expensive. (Budweiser and other beers use corn or rice which doesn’t impart the same flavor; they make up for it by highly carbonating their beers to try to start up your taste buds with the bubbles, instead of the flavor.) One of the first things I noticed about Hill Street Honey Ale, is that it wasn’t as filling as mainstream beers like Coors, which is because they don’t pump up the carbonation to excessive levels. Those little gas bubbles can make you feel like you want to burst and fill you up. I’d rather have less carbonation and more flavor, just like Flounder produces.
Hill Street Honey Ale is what Flounder Brewing calls an “American Ale”. It’s unfiltered, so there’s remnant yeast in their beer – their beer is “still alive”, and it changes over time. They knew it was a hit when they had a party back in the day and had a keg of it and everyone drank it instead of the other beers they bought, remarked Flounder Brewing owner Dan Lees.
“It’s a cross between an amber and pale ale,” says Jeremy Lees.
The shelf life is 6 months to 1 year. The honey actually darkens the beer over time, and the flavor becomes more citrusy with time, too. Right now they are stockpiling it in kegs, and when you go to buy some of their brew, you can purchase it by the bottle, growler, or keg. The ideal storage temperature for the beer is around 44 degrees. Lees shared that you aren’t supposed to drink most ales at freezing temperatures because they get more complex as they warm up.
Well, that’s just one more reason to take the tour – get more details on what goes into a bottle of this beer!
What Lees does say regarding his impressions of Hill Street Honey Ale is that it goes “ideally with burgers. It’s a versatile beer. It’s a barbecue beer. It really sweetens up because of the honey. It’s exactly what I was going for. I love a sweet taste, but also the bitterness of the hops. [The flavors] get more complex as the beer warms up. It’s a fairly hearty beer for one of this color.”
As for the perfect pairing – Lees recommends enjoying its hoppy bitterness with fatty foods, especially barbecue (think ribs!)
The batch that Meek and I got to sample was brewed on May 25, 2013. It was officially ready on July 5, 2013. It was about 5% alcohol, but Flounder Brewing is working on bringing that down a bit along with making the next batch a bit darker, like a Sam Adams light.
Before I take my first sip of something, I like to appreciate the aroma and get a feeling for the nose of a wine or beer. Even some higher-end liquors can leave a lasting impression when you barely breathe in their intoxicating vapors. Besides the frothy bubbles on the surface, I detected a sweet, definitely orange blossom honey scent. The nose is not hops, like most beers. There wasn’t a lot of head on the beer, but there was lots of lacing on the glass. Definitely a good sign. Then I took my first sip and initially tasted the honey, which develops into something that’s more bitter, but doesn’t make you shudder. The bitterness actually was reminiscent of the charcoal flavorings from a barbecue; and it doesn’t linger. It provides a nice contrast to the sweetness of the South Jersey honey. It was very smooth, even after drinking half a glass. It’s actually thirst quenching!
Let me just say this – if you drink Budweiser and try Hill Street Honey Ale, you’ll never go back to Bud again because of this kind of caliber and complexity. As you continue to drink it, you will be promised that the next sip will be just as good as the first. This beer has “meat” to it – substance.
Dan Lees, a co-owner of Flounder Brewing, was at the beer tasting the same evening, and although he’s had the opportunity to drink Hill Street Honey Ale many times in the past as a home brewer, he commented that his long drive to Hillsborough, New Jersey because of rush hour “was worth it”.
Dan Lees, is known as “Flounder’s Brother”, from back in their early home brewing days. On Jeremy Lees’ 21st birthday, Jeremy was dubbed “Flounder” at the Great Notch Inn by his friends. That’s where the name “Flounder Brewing” comes from.
[For beer blogger Daryl Meek’s capture of his first taste of Flounder Brewing in our he-said, she-said commentary, be sure to click here]
Flounder Brewing’s style is casual, just like their beer. They always knew that when they were ready to open, they would just open and say “Hey, come try our beer!”
“It was always about getting our feet wet first. It wasn’t easy at all getting to this point….[we are] still working day jobs, raising kids, and this is still our side hobby. We need to get into our groove now that we’ve made it this far and are opening; then we’ll start committing to things and local events and festivals. From the beginning we always wanted to keep it on our terms and what we can manage, so it was important just to get tours going first, and not extend ourselves too far out there at all, while we still figure things out,” says Lees.
In time, Flounder Brewing will offer their beers on tap at other establishments. Also, they will invite home brewers into their facility so they get to “play around" and enjoy the use of their larger than home brewing equipment set-up, to brew a small batch of their favorite beer.
So at summer’s close you can “Experience Your Beer”, officially, at Flounder Brewing, and feel like one of the family.
Stay tuned for announcements of their grand opening by connecting with Flounder Brewing on:
and their website http://www.flounderbrewing.com/
And don’t forget to take a virtual tour by viewing more photos, taken by the talented Daryl Meek of Digital Artscape Photography and graphics, as well as read his take on the first tasting! His beertography captures the journey of Flounder Brewing over the past year. He has the only official first photos documenting Flounder’s progress from home brewing to Hillsborough.
Visit Flounder Brewing this fall at:
1 Ilene Court (off of Stryker Ave.)
Building 8, Suite 16
Hillsborough, NJ 08844