Ever since we started this adventure, we’ve wanted to pound the pavement from a local perspective. A little visit to Facebook, and a post from the Cranford Patch, revealed a golden opportunity. A mere two miles from us was a new venture in day two of their soft opening. We wanted to grab a cocktail anyway that afternoon, so off we went to Cranford NJ. Were this a summer day, we could have easily walked, but it’s December and it was cold, so the five-minute drive was our option. As luck would have it, there was a spot directly in front of our destination. Behold, Yale Terrace Brewery.
The downtown brewery and tasting room is a welcome addition to Cranford. Among the countless restaurants, bars, coffee shops, Yale Terrace Brewery is a special treat, and kudos to the town for helping to make this happen. Other towns in the area should take note (Westfield, I’m looking at you). From outside you could see the stark green wall by the bar, and the accent walls (which we learned were created entirely of pallets that one of the owners broke down and finished himself), and a bustling crowd enjoying what we were about to become part of.
We were greeted warmly upon entry by the crew, as well as by the patrons who were there before us. We grabbed two seats at the hand crafted bar and were asked the standard question upon entering a brewery in the state of NJ, “would you like to take a tour?” Obviously the answer is yes, because not only is it interesting to learn the brewing process, but to hear the story truly relays the passion of the brewers themselves. Tom guided us to the back of the brewery, where a single still sat. He explained the process and the still they used that actually submerged the grain in a large metal device, best described as “a really big tea bag.” He also explained how most of the downstairs is taken up by the various beers in different stages of the brewing process. You could see the excitement in Tom’s voice and demeanor, this was his pride and joy.
Back to our seats at the bar (which had plugs, USB ports and hooks under the bar in front of our seats), and the next big question, “what would you like?” Being enthusiasts for all things food and drink, we made the obvious choice: everything! As luck would have it, one can order a flight of four beers, so we ordered two flights and selected virtually everything available from the blackboard at the center of the bar on the green wall. Our bartenders, Nick and Scott, were fantastic, great conversationalist and knowledgeable about the product. They also had a great dynamic between the two of them and worked well with us to coordinate our selections. We were presented with two boards and eight glasses, and the tasting began:
Nick and Scott took a genuine interest in our opinions of the beers we tried, and we were honest with them. My wife enjoyed the 161 Main IPA whereas I favored the Oatmeal Stout. We were both surprised by the Wellington Raspberry Sour, as neither of us are sour fans, but this was quite pleasing. We then had a robust discussion about the Borden Bourbon Espresso Stout. We shared our passion for such an idea (being fans of both bourbon and espresso) but were consistently disappointed by the execution, no matter where we’ve tried similar beers. We talked about ways to cut the inherent bitterness that espresso has, especially in a beer, and figure the guys at Yale Terrace will figure it out.
As we sat enjoying our brews, we observed patrons from all walks of life. Friends of the brewery, businessmen stopping in before heading home, a family of four with their dinner from Vinnie’s Pizza & Pasta which is conveniently located next door to the brewery, friends stopping in for a drink before a movie across the street, and the newlyweds reviewing the whole scene (that’s us). A true cross-section of this suburban New Jersey town.
As we moved on in our selections (my bride had the Yale Quad, while I opted for the Oatmeal Stout) we began a conversation with Pete, who with Tom and Vinnie (the owner of the pizzeria next door) made up the ownership group of Yale Terrace. Pete spent what felt like an hour with us, and the conversation was amazing as we learned about the home brewing and blind taste tests he and Tom would run with friends, the challenging regulatory landscape for breweries, and a tremendous history of brewing in New Jersey. His vision was to create a local brewery, much like those that existed prior to prohibition and the power of large breweries and distributors.
We also learned their history, from growing up in West Orange, to the origins of the names of their beers, each an address of relevance from their pasts. Soon the walls will include the back stories of these addresses turned beers, and we can’t wait to return to learn more. Each of the owners has a full-time job, but it’s clear this is their collective passion. That passion is reflected in the quality of the product and the atmosphere throughout the brewery. This is a fun, comfortable and approachable place, certainly worth the stop before we headed out for dinner. There will be many return trips, and the rotating taps will make it a new adventure each time, but the welcoming atmosphere makes this a place you want to return to soon and often.