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Friday, 06 December 2013 16:57

Idiot's delight: Village Idiot Brewing officially licensed

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Village Idiot Rich Vince Fermenters
he mash-in
was done, and the waiting had begun.

Plenty of time before the next step – sparging the grain for the chocolate oatmeal stout – plenty of time to devote some attention to a few other tasks.

Rich Palmay stepped away from the brewhouse space situated in a former tavern kitchen and pulled up his email account on a laptop computer left on the nearby bar. He clicked on an email, a much-anticipated missive from the state of New Jersey.

"It's here," Rich announced to his brewing partner, Vince Masciandaro, who stood a few feet away.

"Attached," Rich read aloud from the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control email, "is a pdf of your license certificate that will be mailed to you shortly."

Village Idiot Jester With SignAnd with that, Village Idiot Brewing on Thursday was formally installed in New Jersey's surging craft brewing industry. The new brewery comes to High Street in Mount Holly on the momentum of last year's tweak to state regulations for craft brewing.

"There's so much interest in beer, so much interest in craft beer," Rich, 54, of Medford, a former corporate communications chief for Lockheed Martin who now does consulting in that field, tells Beer-Stained Letter. "There's a lot of people that brew in their homes, and we know there's a lot of people interested in quality beer, and those are our customers."

Thursday's licensing was actually somewhat anti-climactic. For a couple of weeks now, Vince and Rich had a temporary permit that allowed them to brew but not sell the beer. Nonetheless, the ABC email was worth toasting. It meant game on, and made Village Idiot the second brewery to be licensed by state regulators in as many weeks.

Glasstown Brewing in Millville got the green light on Nov. 25. Together, the two new beer-makers push the Garden State's craft brewery count to just over two dozen. At least five licenses have been issued this year, and more brewery projects are pending or underway, such as Spellbound Brewing, Village Idiot's crosstown neighbor in Mount Holly.

Despite the latest development, don't look for Village Idiot Brewing to open for tours right away. There are some other details that must be addressed, such as brand registration for the beers.

There's also the matter of building up inventory. Vince and Rich plan to open (keep an eye on Facebook for the date) with a golden ale (5% ABV), a hoppy Irish red (5.2%, 45 IBU), the chocolate oatmeal stout (5.6%) and a Belgian tripel (10%) cheekily named Thong Remover. The tripel's roots trace back to a homebrew contest victory at the Tun Tavern brewpub in Atlantic City. All of those beers – the stout is the latest addition – are now parked in fermenters ensconced in a cellar of Village Idiot's leased building.

Beer enthusiast should also think seasonals, or just about any beer style. Village Idiot plans to take requests – play the hits and try new tricks.

Village Idiot ColdboxSmall brewery, big hopes
Vince and Rich entered commercial craft brewing via the customary path. They're both seasoned homebrewers, and both members of Barley Legal Homebrewers, a juggernaut of a hobby-brewing club with 300 or so members in South Jersey.

The club is probably New Jersey's largest. But more importantly it's a huge tailwind for a new brewery in the craft beer-giddy Philadelphia metro market. The club means lots of social media support that's crucial these days for creating a buzz. And if social media aren't enough, the club's reach is still strong support via the old-fashion way – word of mouth.

For better than a year, Vince and Rich quietly stalked their brewery project, only letting word out beyond friends after the town of Mount Holly last summer gave its blessing to their idea. By that point the two had settled on converting Bridgetown Pub, a shuttered bar on High Street, into Village Idiot Brewing.

Vince and Rich were drawn to Mount Holly for its historical relevance as a stop-over mill town on the New York-Trenton-Philadelphia route of Colonial days and beyond. (The town is home to plenty of 18th and 19th century buildings.) The second half of the 20th century was unkind to Mount Holly, and the town was left in need of an economic boost, a circumstance that has lingered into the present.

Vince and Rich hope their tiny production brewery – just under 2 barrels – can be a catalyst for a revival of the county seat of Burlington County.

"We've seen some improvement to the downtown area of Mount Holly over the last five or six years," says Vince, a Marlton resident who works a day job as an engineer for the state transportation department. "It just needs a little last kick to get going. We think we can be that kick."

High Street is dotted with some specialty shops, and Village Idiot counts as its bretheren High Street Grill, a restaurant known for putting on craft beer dinners. Across the street is Red, White and Brew, a shop that stocked craft beers – Jersey brands, too – well before craft beer's popularity exploded and the big discount liquor stores sharply ramped up their craft shelf space.

Businesses like those, and others, are excited about Village Idiot, Vince says. If the brewery draws people for tours and tasting, he says, the other merchants will benefit, and the town may fill some of the vacant downtown shops.

Rich adds: "I keep saying, in fact we told the Mount Holly folks, high tide floats all boats. If we're lucky enough to be successful here ... then eventually everybody can be successful."

Village Idiot Rich Mash StirA name and a purpose
Village Idiot Brewing – a name that practically gives Rich and Vince license to make any beer style, traditional or hybrid – arrived in Mount Holly on the promises of last year's change to New Jersey craft brewery regulations.

By allowing craft brewers to sell beer (pints, growlers, kegs etc.) directly to the public during brewery tours, the state virtually assured more entrepreneurs/homebrewers like Vince and Rich would try their hand at brewing commercially. That fact also created the possibility that breweries could spur economic growth.

"We looked at the new regulations and tailored what we wanted to do to the regulations," Rich says. "We feel fortunate that the regulations are such now that they allow us to do what we've always wanted to do and open a small place where we can be nimble ... take feedback from our customers and maybe put a beer on faster that other guys may not be able to change out so quickly.

"We're very excited. We're not aware of really anybody else with this concept, without distributing outside their four walls. I think it's going to be a curious experiment, and we'll see where it goes."

Village Idiot Tasting Room

Read 8660 times Last modified on Friday, 06 December 2013 20:15

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