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Thursday, 01 August 2013 16:35

Iron Hill Voorhees – Friday, Aug. 9th

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Iron Hill Foursome

Four years after it opened a long-awaited restaurant-brewery in New Jersey, the nation's No. 7 brewpub chain is poised to open its second location in the Garden State – the home state of its founders – and its 10th location overall.

When the doors to Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant in the Voorhees Town Center open Friday (Aug. 9th), the Wilmington, Delaware-based chain will become the second brewpub enterprise in New Jersey to ever have more than one location in the Garden State, and the only brewpub to have two sites currently in operation this side of the Delaware River.

Wait, there's more: The Garden State is a market that's commanding a lot of Iron Hill's attention for expansion, putting the likelihood of a third Iron Hill in New Jersey into play.Iron Hill People

"New Jersey has always been underrated in terms of its beer culture. I don't think it's a recent thing. I think New Jersey has always wanted great beers," says co-founder Mark Edelson, who grew up in Monmouth County (Ocean Township). "I think you would find the entire state is great for opening new places. We're now looking more actively in New Jersey to add new locations than (we're) looking anywhere else."

When the new Iron Hill begins pouring, you'll find the familiar house beers, backstopped by seasonals and other specialty beers.

It's those latter beers that help give Iron Hill locations their distinct identities.

"Every location has the five house beers that are always the same. They're consistent, and they're always on tap," says Chris LaPierre, the brewer at Iron Hill-Maple Shade, the company's inaugural site in New Jersey. "Then we also have the seasonal beers, where you get to see the personalities of the different brewers shine through. It gives you a reason to visit a different Iron Hill than the one you're normally at."

With Voorhees, we're talking about Kevin Walter's brewing personality. (Kevin comes to Voorhees by way of Iron Hill's Media, West Chester and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, locations.) And with that, we're talking smoke. Kevin won a GABF silver for Iron Hill-Lancaster with a smoked märzen, Rauchtoberfest. Look for a smoked beer to be worked into the tap lineup about once a quarter, he says.

But patrons, too, have a voice in what he'll round out the taps with.

"We had a couple of mug club members who loved hefeweizen. So during the winter, I would put hefeweizen on because it was something they always looked forward to. It's generally not something you would find in the winter, not something I would think to brew generally, but it was something they were always vocal about."

Iron Hill was founded in the mid-1990s in Delaware, a craft beer and food vision shared by three Jersey guys. Over time it grew, with locations added in Delaware and Pennsylvania. Iron Hill opened in New Jersey in July 2009, and the Maple Shade brewpub is now its busiest location for beer sales. (The company is looking to add another site in Pennsylvania, in Admore.) Last year, Iron Hill made it to No. 10 in the Brewers Association national ranking of brewpubs, a list based on beer production and led by the Rock Bottom chain. This year, thanks to the January 2012 addition of a Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, location, Iron Hill moved to No. 7 on the list.

Iron Hill Voorhees EquipmentThe Voorhees (Camden County) location will no doubt goose that ranking, more so for 2015 than 2014, after a full year of business has concluded. The new location is in what is now the revamped Echelon Mall site.

Mark says Voorhees is a natural extension to the Maple Shade location 10 miles north. Both places fall within the craft-beer supportive Philadelphia-metro area, and are solidly within a region of South Jersey that's teeming with beer enthusiasts, including what is probably New Jersey's largest homebrew club, the Barley Legal Homebrewers.

"We're always looking at name recognition, when we go into a new markets, what kind of name recognition we have. This is an easy one," Mark says.

Easy in one regard, but not others.

Opening any brewery is a challenge. But New Jersey is a state where brewpubs pose an even higher start-up hurdle. The biggest reason is licensing.

The state and federal governments hold sway over the brewing licensing, but it's at the local level where you find control over licenses to sell beer by the drink in a bar/restaurant setting. In short, you must acquire that license from your host town (if it has one to put up for sale) or an individual/private owner. In either case, the license can be a six- to seven-figure expense, something pretty much unheard of in neighboring states.

The effect has been to keep the number of brewpubs in New Jersey in check, never mind that New Jersey state regulations, until last year, limited brewpub owners to two locations (it's now 10; Mark helped with last year's effort to persuade lawmakers to modernize the state's brewing regulations). It's the local-level licensing that's the chiller when it comes to brewpub start-ups, and Iron Hill's Maple Shade brewery was not only the first brewery to open in New Jersey in 10 years, but it's also the only brewpub to open amid a big growth phase in the state's craft brewing industry that took off in 2011.

The situation led one New Jersey brewpub company to look westward for expansion.

Iron Hill Serving TanksTriumph brewpub opened in Princeton 1995 as the state's second craft brewer in what has been New Jersey's sustained era of a small-batch brewing industry. (Craft brewing actually took place in Vernon Valley in the mid-1980s.) For growth, Triumph found homes for its second and third sites in Pennsylvania (New Hope and Philadelphia), although it has eyed Red Bank (Monmouth County) for about as long as the company has been making beer in New Jersey. (It still has its eye on Red Bank.)

Basil T's, Monmouth County's lone brewpub, branched out from Red Bank to Toms River in the late 1990s, but eventually spun off that location. The Toms River brewpub and it new owners operated for a few years longer with the Basil T's handle, until taking on the new identity of Artisans Brewery & Italian Grill.

So it comes back to Iron Hill, as one of the state's dozen-plus brewpubs to have the extended footprint in the Garden State. Mark says the Princeton area and points north of there are getting looked at now. But the company's approach for expansion uses a 100-mile radius of Wilmington.

"That puts us into the better part of North Jersey, down as far as the suburbs of D.C., and as far west as Harrisburg," Mark says, explaining the company's strategy.

And of the company's growth, nothing's taken for granted.

"I think we always hoped that we would be where we are, but (we had) not really imagined that we could be," Mark says.

Read 9180 times Last modified on Thursday, 15 August 2013 22:10

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