New Jersey is home to excellent breweries, and residents in and around the local area are lucky enough to have some of the state's most unique options nearby. TAPinto's Jessica Yurkow reports on how breweries have adjusted to the COVID-19 pandemic, changing the business of beer-making here in Monmouth County.

Jessica:  Going to a brewery is different from your typical bar experience. They are more family-friendly, not rowdy, and, well, quaint. Ordering a flight is fun, and gives patrons a chance to sample all there is to offer. Beer culture has evolved into a gourmet, artisanal experience, akin to wine, and I love it. I wondered how the local beer business was affected by COVID-19, so I reached out to some of my favorite local breweries to find out.

Twin Lights Brewing, Highlands - The first brewer I reached out to was Will Grundmann, one half of Twin Lights Brewing. I had heard some buzz about this brewery on Instagram and was happy to finally try one of their beers, Mother Funkie, at the Seafarer bar in Highlands. One sip of this unique wheat beer made with cucumber and sea salt, and I became a fan!   

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 I got in touch with Grundmann to talk about his beer and was floored to learn they have only been officially up and running as a brewery since early spring.

 "We received our license to brew two days before Gov. Murphy shut down the state," Grundmann tells me. "We brewed our first batch as official brewers on April 25."

 Why does this information surprise me? Because their beers are so good (they also make an IPA and a Lager), I figured this company had been brewing for years. It turns out I wasn't entirely wrong.

 "We started brewing a few years ago in my mom's garage," Grundmann explains, "then, it naturally grew from there."

Grundmann, who says he never in a million years thought he would get into brewing, co-owns Twin Lights Brewing with Mike Betros, a long time friend of his (they met as children at Bayshore Middle school in Leonardo). 

 The two friends began brewing as a hobby and found they enjoyed how scientific the process was, and were having a lot of fun with it. They now operate as a Gypsy Brewery.

"Gypsy Breweries are brewing companies who rent space and equipment from a larger brewery," Grundmann explains. Twin Lights Brewing has a home at Alementary Brewing company in Hackensack, where they brew once a week. Grundmann said a brick and mortar establishment is a big picture goal for him and Betros. It would be in the Highlands area, near the company's namesake, the Twin Lights Lighthouse.

 Right now, Twin Lights Brewing cannot be found on tap, one of the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on their business, as the demand for kegs is low (cans and bottles are more cautionary in light of the pandemic). However, that has not discouraged Grundmann, who is ready to roll with the punches. 

 "Things might never be the same after this pandemic; he says, "so we are ready to adapt our business as necessary."

Beers by Twin Lights Brewing are at Bottle King and Circus Liquors in Middletown, Bottles by Sickles in Red Bank, Vingo in Atlantic Highlands, and the Cellar in Fair Haven, to name a few. Keep an eye out for their newest brews: a Pineapple version of Mother Funkie, a new double IPA, and hoppy blonde ale, called Day Trippin'. Find out more about TLB at www.twinlightsbrewing.com

Carton Brewing, Atlantic Highlands - There cannot be mention of local, Monmouth County beer, without thinking of Carton Brewing - one of the first breweries in this area. Cousins Chris and Augie Carton opened their brewery on E. Washington Ave. in Atlantic Highlands in 2011, and it has since become an icon of the NJ beer scene. When I spoke with Augie, he spoke with enthusiasm about the community in Atlantic Highlands. He expressed loyalty to the small business owners of the town, stating that Carton opted out of creating an outdoor seating space in light of the pandemic so as not to take business away from them. 

 "The permits for outdoor seating aren't difficult to obtain," Carton explains, "but we don't want to draw business away from the restaurants in town that depend on outdoor dining right now."  

 He continued to explain that there was a lack of natural outdoor space on the brewery property and that creating an outdoor serving area would require renting tents and other necessities. 

 "All the restaurants in town sell our beer, so if someone wants a Carton beer, I'd rather them order is at one of those locations. That still supports our business while helping other businesses as well." 

 I was touched by how highly Carton spoke of Atlantic Highlands, as I grew up there and it will always have a special place in my heart. We shared memories of Franklin's Five and Dime and agreed that some of the best Monmouth County restaurants are on First Ave. 

 "Monmouth County has a diverse population. I love that. I know that if our beers can make Monmouth County happy, they can make the world happy," Carton said. 

 I inquired what beers seemed to be making people happy during the pandemic. He shared an interesting insight: the more complex, artisanal beers have not been nearly as popular as the more traditional brews.  "While people are at home, they seem less concerned about being adventurous and go for the comfort of what I call 'drinking beers'," he tells me. "Most popular right now has been This Town L,'er and 077xx"

 Despite wanting to make the world happy, Carton Brewing's beer-world-domination is not on the agenda. 

 "Right now, people looking to buy craft beer need to spend their dollars at small, independent breweries and family-owned liquor stores. Support your local breweries. That's going to keep these places afloat."

 Carton Brewing is currently open for takeout only from 11 am - 6 pm 7 days a week. After trying some of their beers while dining out in Atlantic Highlands, be sure to stop there and grab some beer to bring home! For more information go to www.cartonbrewing.com

Belford Brewing Company, Belford - The moment you step into the family-owned and run Belford Brewing Company, you feel like part of the family, too! I was greeted warmly at the door by one of the owners, Mike Enny, who directed me to the outdoor seating area - a new addition in light of COVID-19 protocols.

 They are making creative use of the newly added outdoor space, which they have a permit for through November 30. Tables made from old-time beer kegs and the fence crafted of re-purposed pallets are quaint, rustic additions to the laid-back, home-town feel of this lovely little brewery.

   "All of our customers are like family to us," said Mike. "During the pandemic, they supported us and kept us up and running while we were only able to offer pick-up." Speaking with Mike and Kevin, it was evident that they love what they do, and their delicious beer is proof!

 I started with Honey Hudson; an ale made with local honey. It was sweet, smooth, and well balanced, with just enough nuances of honey to live up to its name without being overpowering. For my second beer, I tried the Leonardville Lager, at the behest of a friendly local couple, Jeanette and Steve, with whom I struck up a conversation. It did not disappoint. It is a malty, crisp traditional lager, slightly sweet and with absolutely no bitterness to it, the perfect beer for newbies and veterans of the craft beer scene. 

 My new friends also told me about Belftober Fest, a celebration of German-style beers that has become an annual tradition at Belford Brewing Company in October. Since the outdoor permit is proper through November, this tradition will continue in their outdoor space for 2020. I will definitely be there!

Belford Brewing Company is located in the heart of Campbell's Junction. They are open Thursday and Friday, 5 pm - 8 pm, Saturday from 2 pm - 6 pm and Sunday 1 pm - 5 pm. To see what beers they are currently offering, visit www.belfordbrewing.com

Source Brewing, Colts Neck - Back in early March, I heard of a new brewery in Colts Neck. I couldn't wait to try it! Two weeks later, the pandemic was in full swing, and my dream of visiting this farm-turned-brewery was on hold. Well, it was worth the wait, and it lived up to the hype! Source Brewing is a MUST-GO!

 Seating is currently by reservation only in adherence to social distancing. Two time slots are available, from 4:00 - 6:00 pm, and 6:30-8:30 pm. The reservations go quickly, so plan ahead! There is a minimum of 2 people for the small, barrel-style tables, and they comfortably seat up to 4. If you want a large picnic table, there must be a minimum of 4 people in your party, with an eight-person maximum. 

 The stunning outdoor space gives Source Brewing much room to work with, so everyone is spaced far apart even at full capacity. Two friends joined me, and we were all in agreement that this was a significant contribution to the great experience we had. It would be excellent if Source continued as a reservation-only space post-COVID! It was nice to have plenty of personal space and a guaranteed spot to sit. This luxury is not easy to come by on a Saturday night at a brewery! 

 There is table service to maintain social distance, and all the waitstaff was friendly! Flights are not available, but half pours are. I highly suggest ordering half-pours so you can try more selections! Every beer I tried was more phenomenal than the one before it. Do not miss out on the Barrel Aged Belgian Tripel, my favorite beer of the night! It's a beautiful, caramel-colored Belgian style with a LOT of flavor going on. This beer has aged in Gin barrels, so there is a boozy flavor mixed with herbaceous notes and a sweet, vanilla after-taste. I so badly wanted to take a growler of this to go, but unfortunately, Source is not filling them at this time (see endnote on how to get Source beers at home!)

 My second favorite was quite different from the Belgian Tripel; The Watch Me Whip IPA. Whip is an Oat IPA with a creamy mouthfeel and fruit notes, and it was a juicy, hazy delight! I also suggest the Hefeweizen and the Maple Imperial Stout. There is no wrong choice at this GEM of a brewery! I immediately made reservations to go back at the end of the month, because I cannot wait to bring family and friends here!

Source Brewing is located at 300 Route 34 in Colts Neck, right next to Delicious Orchards! If you would like to order beers from Source to take home, visit their page on Beer Broadcast (www.beerbroadcast.com) and select "Releases." Beer Broadcast is also where you can make reservations at Source. Their outdoor seating area is open Thursday-Sunday.  

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