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Monday, May 12, 2008

What's In Your Neighborhood? The High Point Brewery

Have you checked out what's in your neighborhood? Perhaps there's something you've overlooked...

It just so happens we have a gem in our neighborhood: the High Point Brewery in Butler, NJ, makers of Ramstein beers [lagers and wheat beers] and "the first exclusive wheat beer brewery in America."

They also offer tours on the second Saturday of the month from 2 to 4pm. That's when you get to meet the owner, Greg Zaccardi [below holding one of his creations], and learn from the tour guide, Brian Boak, a brewer in his own right.

Per Beer Travelers Visiting High Point Wheat Beer Co., and a story that originally appeared in Brew Your Own magazine in November 1997:

"Zaccardi is founder, president and just about any other title you want to give him at High Point Wheat Beer Co. in Butler, N.J., the first post-Prohibition brewery in the United States to produce only wheat beers.

Zaccardi was introduced to weiss beers while touring Bavaria with his wife, Simone, whose family directs brewing at the Liebinger Brewery in Ravensburg, Germany. "I tasted the hefe and I said, 'Wow, there's nothing like this in the United States.' "

After graduating from college in 1989 and returning home to New Jersey to work for the Environmental Protection Agency, Zaccardi became a gonzo homebrewer. He was a certified beer judge, ran the New York City Homebrewers Guild and started to make plans to start his own microbrewery."

Zacardi founded High Point Brewery in 1994, adopting the name 'Ramstein' after the German town located close to U.S. Ramstein Air Force Base. "High Point wanted the name of its beers to reflect a marriage of German tradition and American innovation.

We had a really good time!

In my husband's words:
"During our visit, we mingled with a crowd of about 40 people, ½ or more for the tour, and the other half just to get their kegs or growlers filled. FYI, a growler is a half gallon rubber stopped glass stein fillable with the draft and draft only beers and ales they have. [Here's information on the -possible- origin of the name 'growler'.]

The first half hour before the tour the crowd hangs in the anteroom/bar where you can drink any of the beers they have available that day in exchange for one of the 5 free tickets you are given as you come in the door.

NOTE: This anteroom/bar looks like a pub. It's welcoming, friendly, homey and exudes Gem├╝tlichkeit, complete with German music... Thought went into creating this space and making it a part of the brewery.

You only get ½ pint cups per ticket, but 5 half pints will do ya in the middle of the afternoon. [They offer plenty of chips, pretzels, cheese, and nuts.]

The beers and ales are very good. They actually import their wheat, barley, hops, and yeast from Germany [from Bavaria]. The tour, such as it is, is an explanatory walk around the very nice, but fairly small (100’ X 50’ 20’ high room in the warehouse) area where the very beautiful and modern equipment is arranged. It takes about 25 minutes. After that you can hang out and drink beer, or, as we did, buy a growler, fill it with “double platinum blonde” draft wheat beer, and take off.

PS You can go any day during business hours, 9 to 5, to fill up a keg or a growler."

Zaccardi intended originally to locate the brewery in the town of High Point, named for the highest point in New Jersey, which stands 1,803 feet [note the monument on the brewery's logo].... "However, High Point didn't have the suitable infrastructure (water, sanitation and building) for a brewery, so they ended up in Butler. Butler was built up around the American Hard Rubber Mill, a sprawling historic building where the brewery shares space with a dozen different businesses. " [from the 1997 article].

Water represents an important ingredient in the brewing process as we learned from tour guide Brian Boak [pictured here below], a brewmaster in his right and creator of Boak's Beer [some of his beers were fermenting as we toured].

Brian is also founder of the Jersey Association of Home Brewers and took us through the six steps of the brewing process.

The water in this part of New Jersey is so good that even Mario Batali has chosen it [and High Point Brewery] as the preferred source of water for Del Posto.

From New York Magazine features, "... The restaurant’s water originates in a New Jersey spring. It’s piped to nearby High Point Brewing Company and put through a cellulose-fiber filter, then a carbon filter, then heated to 170 degrees for ten minutes. Minerals (calcium and magnesium among others) are reintroduced for “flavor.” It took three months of taste tests with Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich to hit on the right “recipe.”"


No surprise, High Point Brewery has garnered many awards, including being rated as #7 of the best 25 breweries in the USA by Beer Advocate Magazine December 2007.

Here's what struck me about this experience. With so much focus lately on connecting with the neighborhood [e.g., Starbucks and Applebee's to name two], isn't it wonderful to encounter people who really are part of the neighborhood? So authentic a part of the neighborhood that crowds form in anticipation of the event. In fact, if it hadn't been for the crowd, we might not have known where to go to find this working beer factory.

And, better yet, isn't it impressive that these neighbors invite your in and make you feel welcome? The monthly event draws the neighborhood in; visitors linger in this third place, chatting with friends as they fill their growlers. If you can't wait for the next monthly tour to refill your growler or keg, you are welcome to drop by during the week. That's friendly. It's also smart marketing.

So, what kinds of events are your creating to connect with your neighborhood on a regular basis? How do you invite neighbors in to continue the relationship?

Related Stories: Northern New Jersey and Me: Perfect Together!

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