SPLASHING down a cold one in the tasting room at the new Forgotten Boardwalk Brewery, in Cherry Hill, you can’t help but wonder:Why wasn’t this place built on an actual boardwalk down the Shore?
The curved funhouse mirrors, the wheel of fortune, the Skee-Ball machines . . . the only thing missing is the smell of salt air.
So, I asked Jamie Queli, the brewery’s 30-year-old owner, why she didn’t open it in Asbury Park, whose aging, largely vacant boardwalk gave this brewery its name. A sparkling brewery with refreshing ales would have been an excellent oceanfront attraction.
She looked back at me like I’d lost my marbles.
“Sandy,” she replied.
Oh, right. Large, 1,800-gallon steel fermenting tanks have a habit of floating away when hurricanes make landfall.
Still, was that a twinge of regret I spotted in Queli’s eyes as she talked about her fondness for the shore town? She grew up in Wall Township, a quick ride from Asbury Park’s Stone Pony and Madame Marie, the fortune teller of Springsteen fame.
Instead of joining them on the boards, however, her new brewery is in a cookie-cutter industrial office park off Marlton Pike. Never mind that almost everything in Cherry Hill is in a cookie-cutter office park off Marlton Pike – what makes this location doubly familiar is that it’s the former home of Flying Fish Brewery, which moved to bigger digs in Somerdale, in 2012.
Though Queli was able to take advantage of the existing zoning and site layout, almost everything else is new, including drains, bathrooms and HVAC, not to mention a beautiful, 30-barrel, stainless-steel brewhouse. That’s a relatively large system for a start-up; indeed, by my count, it’s the third largest brewhouse in New Jersey, behind Flying Fish and Anheuser-Busch’s monster facility in Newark.
Everything about Forgotten Boardwalk spells growth: the glycol system that keeps fermenters from over-heating can handle four times the brewery’s current capacity; new tanks can be added without shutting down the plumbing system; even its walk-in cooler can be expanded with snap-in parts.
That’s not just ambitious – it’s smart planning, because the most common regret I hear from brewers is failure to anticipate the hassle of adding new equipment as they grew.
“I don’t want to have to do all this work a second time,” said Queli, whose business background is in investment banking.
For beer-drinking visitors, though, the most noticeable addition is the brewery’s 1,800-square-foot tasting room. When Flying Fish occupied the space, the room was mostly an afterthought, and for good reason. New Jersey previously outlawed the sale of beer by the glass in breweries, so a tasting room could serve only free, small samples.
A 2012 state law eased those restrictions and promptly sparked more than a dozen brewery start-ups throughout the Garden State.
“I wouldn’t have opened in the state of New Jersey if I couldn’t sell my beer directly,” Queli said. “A small company like this needs the cash flow. This allows us to smooth out the short-term challenges. “
Weirdly, the new law requires that, if they’re going to drink, brewery visitors must take a tour – an experience that will surely grow old by the fourth or fifth visit. That’s partly why the tasting room is loaded with other diversions, including board games and those Skee-Ball machines.
And then there’s the beer itself. Or, as Queli said, “I can throw as many Skee-Ball machines into the room as I like, but I really need to be making great beer if we’re going to succeed. “
When I dropped by earlier this week, only one finished beer was on tap: What the Butler Saw, a cloudy, aromatic witbier spiced with chamomile, ginger, coriander and orange and lemon peel.
“And love,” piped in head brewer David Bronstein.
It’s crisp and refreshing. A version spiked with Szechuan pepper had a palate-cleansing finish that had me reaching for more.
An IPA is on the way, naturally, and probably a smoked porter. And there’s talk of what might be best described as a funnel-cake ale. Think of a cream ale flavored with vanilla beans and lactose sugar.
And while you’re thinking of that, grab a wooden Skee-Ball and give Forgotten Boardwalk a try. Its grand opening is Oct. 11. You’ll find it at 1940 Olney Ave., Suite 100, in Cherry Hill.
Look for its draft beer throughout South Jersey and Philadelphia shortly. Cans should be on the market by the end of the year.