There were no brewpubs in New Jersey when Adam Rechnitz decided he wanted to open one in 1993.
Rechnitz, from Red Bank, met Ray and Erica Disch, from Hopewell, at a craft beer conference in San Francisco. Rechnitz, a trained brewer, was looking to start up a beer operation, and the Disches wanted to open a restaurant, so they partnered up to open a restaurant that brewed and served its own draught beer. There was one tiny problem with that plan: brewpubs were not legal in New Jersey at the time.
So Triumph’s founders lobbied the state to change its brewing laws, and after Gov. James Florio signed legislation that made it possible for brewpubs to operate in New Jersey, Triumph was the first to be licensed in the state since prohibition. Though the Ship Inn in Milford was the first to open, in 1995, Triumph was the second, opening in the spring of that year.
Rechnitz is now the sole owner, but together he and the Disches (who have since moved into the field of real estate) renovated the former Marita’s Cantina in Princeton into the airy, modern, two-level, restaurant-bar-brewing company that still looks much like it did when it first opened.
Brewpubs are different from traditional bars in that beer is brewed on premises. While some brewpubs also serve other brands, many, like Triumph, serve only the varieties they make using proprietary recipes. Triumph, a full-service restaurant with a new American menu that changes seasonally, also has a full bar stocked with liquor and wine (others, like Earth Bread and Brewery in the Mount Airy section of Philadelphia, serve only beer and wine).
Most brewpubs today have a mix of everpresent beers on tap – at Triumph the house beer varieties are honey wheat, Bengal Gold India Pale Ale and amber ale – and rotate in a selection of seasonal or specialty beers. Seasonal beers, like hefeweizen or Oktoberfest style beers, are typically brewed and served at specific times of the year, while specialty beers can be anything from a beer brewed with a special kind of hops (hops gives beer its bitterness) to “experimental” brews made with different herbs and spices.
While macrobreweries like Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors dominate the beer market in America, microbreweries like Triumph attract loyal followings with their more refined offerings. Eric Nutt joined Triumph in 2000 as sales manager. His role has grown along with the business: the success of the Princeton location led Rechnitz to open locations in New Hope, Pa. in 2003 and Philadelphia in 2007. Today Nutt, a Hamilton resident and 1990 graduate of Steinert High School, is sales and marketing manager for all three locations. He said the staff knows how to help those who aren’t familiar with craft beer to find something to enjoy.
“They’ll come in, they’ll realize their typical beverage is not on the menu, and we’ll direct them toward what they like to drink,” he said. “If they say it’s Bud, we’ll most likely put them into a honey wheat or something like an American Lager. If they say they like to drink Sam Adams or something maltier, we’ll have them try the amber ale. There is something here for everyone and more than not, it’s very well received.”
The Princeton location brews the most beer – about 1,250 barrels a year – and is where brewmaster Tom Stevenson spends the majority of his time. Stevenson, who has been with the company since the beginning, estimates that Triumph has brewed 85 different varieties over the years – and adds new ones all the time.
One change that has been made to the Princeton location over the years has been the addition of the Sky Suite, suitable for private parties as well as business events. Triumph has become a popular venue for wedding rehearsal dinners, hosting about one per week, and has also become a nontraditional venue for weddings.
On the first Wednesday of every month, Triumph hosts a barrel tapping, when a limited-edition beer is served from a German-style wooden barrel. Triumph also holds quarterly Gambrinus Beer Dinners, featuring five special courses and a guest brewer.
Alas, New Jersey’s brewing laws still aren’t perfect. Unlike other states, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey distinguishes between breweries and “brewing concerns.” Breweries, like Flying Fish in Cherry Hill, can brew and sell beer in stores or through distributors, but cannot sell their beer on premises; brewing concerns (i.e. brewpubs) can sell their beer on premises, but cannot distribute it to other restaurants or stores.
Triumph Brewing Company is located at 138 Nassau St. in Princeton. It is open Monday through Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m., Thursday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. and Sunday from noon to midnight. For information call (609) 924-7855. On the Web: triumphbrewing.com.