By John Tracy
New Jersey has never been known as a hot spot for beer and wine production, but that is slowly changing. In recent years, state fees and laws governing small-scale breweries have eased, and more and more craft breweries have started to pop up in the Garden State. Most people know of Flying Fish Brewery from Cherry Hill, but this year Cape May County got its first taste of local brews when three teachers from Mainland High School and an architect opened Tuckahoe Brewing Co. in Ocean View.
After visiting the brewery and talking with the guys, I learned the classic story of how they got started. The four founders, teachers Tim Hanna, Matt McDevitt and Chris Konicki, and architect Jim McAfee, developed their love of craft beer as young men growing up at the Jersey Shore. Each has his own story of how he was introduced to craft beer. The group assembled out of work relationships and longtime friendships. In 2006, they decided to experiment with home brewing and started meeting twice a month on the weekends to enjoy a couple of cold ones and test out beer recipes. Eventually they got pretty good at it.
“Once you are doing all-grain home brews, you are replicating what the bigger breweries do, just on a much smaller scale,” Hanna says. “It became a foreseeable dream of ours to retire from teaching and open a brewery. We started researching what it would take to make that dream a reality, and after some careful consideration we decided to go for it now while we are still young. Brewing is actually a physically demanding activity, and right now we can still handle the hard work.”
Opening a brewery is not as easy as it seems. “A lot of people don’t realize how much work it takes to produce that first batch of beer, and how many regulations, permits and insurance issues you face when you are starting up,” he says. “We thought we would be able to just run the brewery out of our garage, and get by making enough beer for one or two restaurants with our home-brewing equipment. But in order to cover all the startup costs and make it worthwhile, you need to brew on a slightly bigger scale.” The partners quickly realized they would need a better place than their garages to brew.
They found a space in a warehouse building off Woodbine-Oceanview Road, just inland from Sea Isle. There they invested in a 3.5-barrel brew system, and four, eight-barrel fermentation tanks. Brewing a seven-barrel batch per week (two boils) puts them on pace for about 400 barrels per year. The brewery produces four beers: Steelmantown Porter, DC (Dennis Creek) Pale Ale, Marshallville Wit and New Brighton Coffee Stout. The beers can be found on tap at several local establishments, such as The Deauville Inn, Yesterdays, Kixx McNutley’s and The Whitebrier, as well as a number of other taverns in Atlantic and Cape May counties.
“We are sticking to draught only right now until we grow a little bit larger,” Hanna says. “It doesn’t make business sense for a brewery of our size to add a bottling line. Right now we are only producing about 400 barrels per year, and our limit is 50,000 barrels per year. That’s not even 1 percent, and we have a hard enough time keeping up with the demand as it is.”
The name Tuckahoe Brewing comes from the original name for the area where the brewery is located. The name itself is actually Native American, and the area was inhabited by the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Indians. The names of the beers also have historical significance. Dennis Creek is the name of the tributary of the Delaware Bay near the brewery that was the location of an old shipyard. Marshallville is named for Randolph Marshall, the founder of one of Tuckahoe’s first glassworks companies. Steelmantown is a part of Tuckahoe near the mouth of the Tuckahoe River that still is used for farming. “Local people connect with the name Tuckahoe, and at beer festivals a lot of people think it sounds traditional and rustic,” Hanna says. “We think it fits us and the area we represent.”
The brewers have made it a mission to be environmentally and socially responsible. Tuckahoe Brewing donates beer to support many local charities and events. “We live here, and feel it is important to give back what we can,” Hanna says. “The local community really supported us in the beginning, and we are thankful for that. Drinking beer brings people together, and we hope our beers can help bring people together for good causes.” In fact, Tuckahoe contributes all proceeds from its New Brighton Stout to the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine in honor of their friend George Gerlach, the founder of Surfers Supplies in Ocean City who passed away last year.
The partners have taken many steps to establish “green” brewing methods. “We are trying to do things the right way now while we are small, so one day when we are a little bigger, we will already have those practices in place,” Hanna says.
I was impressed to see a water-filtration system that allows them to recycle sanitization and cleaning water, one of the most wasted byproducts of the brewing process. While it takes many breweries in the industry nine gallons of water to produce one gallon of beer, the Tuckahoe Brewing team only uses about three or four. That’s quite an accomplishment for such a young brewery.
The future is looking bright for Tuckahoe Brewing. It makes great beers, gives back to the community, and is the most local brewery to the Seven Mile Island and Sea Isle. If you have a chance to try one of their beers on tap, go for it! Having a brewery in the area enriches the craft-beer community and will hopefully inspire others to follow suit.
John Tracy is the manager at the Whitebrier in Avalon. He spent two years working as a sales rep for Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in California. He is a beer enthusiast and homebrewer, and will be writing beer articles for each issue of the Seven Mile Times.