Innovation and experimentation have fueled the latest growth of the craft beer and craft spirits industries in recent years. Which means all kinds of fun, interesting and sometimes crazy things are on tap and in the shop.
We peeked in the windows of a number of local breweries and distilleries to see what’s on offer in addition to their already popular IPAs, lagers, vodkas and gins:
Decker’s Best Milkshake IPA. (Old Hights Brewing Company, 123 W. Ward St., Hightstown NJ 08520; oldhightsbrewingcompany.com; (609) 469-5976.) Old Hights opened last June with a fairly typical suite of beers, including a cream ale, an IPA and a strong Belgian-style ale. But with their introductory kettle-soured beer, Raspberry Fizzle, they showed that they might have a few tricks up their sleeve.
In the months since opening, Old Hights has continued in that vein with different fruity variations on that first tart-sweet beer. Cranberries, pomegranates, red currants and pineapples have all made their way into subsequent Fizzle variants.
Now Old Hights is out with the second variant of its Decker’s Best Milkshake IPA. Milkshake IPAs are a trendy newish style typically made with lactose (milk sugar) and a boatload of fruit. The resulting beers are sweet, hazy and creamy, but be sure to let yours settle after you pour it into a glass, in case any fruity sediment made it into the can.
The first Decker’s Best, out last August, was made with peaches and vanilla. The latest iteration, weighing in at 8.8% alcohol by volume, pairs vanilla with New Jersey’s favorite fruit, blueberries. The beer is named after the old Decker’s Ice Cream and Dairy Bar, which was once located where the East Windsor Walmart is today.
Four-packs of cans ($20) can be ordered from Old Hights for brewery pickup. See website for ordering details and pickup windows.
Bandito Agave Spirit. (Sourland Mountain Distillery, 130 Hopewell Rocky Hill Road, Hopewell NJ 08525; sourlandspirits.com; (609) 333-8575). Sourland Mountain Spirits has rolled out a nice selection of locally made spirits, including gin, vodka, whiskey, and rum and since opening in 2017.
The latest addition to the set is Bandito, made from blue agave nectar imported from Mexico. Spiky blue agave plants grow in arid climates and are the plants from which tequila and mezcal are traditionally made. It is technically not a cactus, but a succulent (like aloe vera).
Sourland Mountain says Bandito has a honey sweetness backed by subtle notes of anise and clove. The style has only been allowed by the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Trade Bureau since 2020, and Sourland Mountain is claiming that it is the first of the style to be distilled in New Jersey.
Bandito is $50 for a 750-milliliter bottle in the Sourland Mountain store (see website) and is 45% alcohol by volume.
Song of the Earth – Chanterelle. (The Referend Bier Blendery, 1595 Reed Road Unit 2, Pennington NJ 08534; thereferend.com; (609) 474-0443). The Referend is unique among local breweries in that it makes and markets only spontaneously fermented ales. The Referend uses natural airborne yeast to ferment its ales, the racks them in oak to mature in a process that usually takes somewhere between one and three years.
Many of The Referend’s ales go through a conditioning phase during which locally grown fruit macerates in the brew. But Song of the Earth, which the brewery just released last month, is conditioned using local chanterelle mushrooms.
According to the brewery, the mushrooms infuse the ale with only a faint, earthy apricot flavor and aroma. But it turns out that their presence is more about what they take away than what they add.
Ale ferments when yeasts consume the sugar that is present in the mash, but there are times when wild yeasts used in spontaneously fermentation fail to finish the job.
The Referend says that was the case with Song of the Earth, until they added the chanterelles, whose yeast took care of the problem. Unfermented sugars left in bottled ales can cause the bottles to explode — but not Song of the Earth!
Bottles (375ml) are available for $16 directly from the brewery. Go to the website to order and for pickup windows.