Back in February, I told you, right here on this very blog, that there were 83 craft breweries in the state of New Jersey. Three months later, we have added 5 more, and in that time, I have written zero reviews. I really need to get this ball rolling if I have any hope of covering these places before they begin the inevitable retraction.
It would make sense to start with an original 5 brewery (my term for the 5 breweries open before 2009), and what better place to begin than the largest producer and distributor of alcoholic suds in the state? Flying Fish opened in 1995 as an online only brewery (the first of its kind in the world), before transitioning to a small physical location in Cherry Hill, a major suburb of Philadelphia. Once it outgrew the space, Flying Fish moved to another Camden County suburb, this time nestled behind a massive shopping complex in Somerdale. Once you get past the Wal-Mart, Applebee’s, Cinemark, and other detritus of Americana, Flying Fish has a standalone building (a rarity in the NJ craft world) adorned with a large logo on the side of the exterior wall. Once you find it, you can’t miss it, unless you’re blind, in which case, you shouldn’t be driving, unless this is the future and you are in a self-driving car, or if you have some kind of amazing power which lets you “see” with the power of your mind.
Flying Fish excels at branding. It has a strong, memorable name (only mildly confusing with Dogfish Head and Flying Dog in neighboring Delaware and Maryland, respectively), a fantastic logo, and a dedicated gift shop loaded with impressive merchandise, F.F. may be the best in the state at selling itself. It may seem odd to lead a review with this information, but there’s only so many band t-shirts you can own before you have to start mixing in brewery shirts. This is, of course, not to stay you shouldn’t wear a nice button-down or even a sweater, but that’s besides the point, and I don’t necessarily want to take this film review blog into a fashion discussion when we should be having a beer discussion.
Unfortunately, I find the beers from Flying Fish to be pretty middle of the road. F.F. made a name for itself with its Exit Series, a clever little ploy which combines New Jerseyans’ penchant for describing their home by which exit of the Turnpike (or Garden State Parkway) is closest to them with creating brews inspired by some food staple from that area. So, for example, Exit 7, which is near Trenton, the birthplace of Original Taylor Pork Roll (basically a smoked, processed ham product), is a smoked Pork Roll Porter. Is it gross? Yeah, kinda. It’s just an example, though. Exit 3 is a blueberry mead, Exit 1 is an oyster stout, Exit 6 is a rye, etc. Exit 18 is a Baltic porter presumably made from motor oil.
Year-round beers include Hopfish IPA, Red Fish, and Abbey Dubbel, while popular regular seasonal variations include Oktoberfish, Farmhouse Summer Ale, and Grand Cru Winter Reserve. They aren’t bad, but they’re also not the best the state has to offer. The regular seasonals are usually the best of the bunch, with the stable rotation being average. You can find any of these on the east coast, and I saw some Flying Fish when I was in Arizona earlier this year, so if you’re dedicated, diligent and decadent, you can probably track some F.F. down if you live in the United States.
If you happen to be in NJ, you can check out the place in person, as F.F. is open 5 days a week (closed Monday and Tuesday). It has a small but cute bar, which is actually smaller than the gift shop, and surrounded by ample, nondescript bench seating. I find the interior to be painfully boring if you are not able to grab a seat at the bar, but at least there is space to park your ass and sip a beer. It is one of New Jersey’s larger breweries by square footage, based only on personal observation and absolutely no math, science, or objective evidence.
l visit Flying Fish about once per year due to its convenient hours (compared to most places which are only open on weekends), large size, history/legacy, and mix of varieties on tap. There are currently 14 beers on tap, which is a fair number, and the variety is actually good (only 5 IPAs). Your mileage may vary on how much you actually enjoy the brews available, but I do recommend visiting at least once if you are a NJ resident or live in Philly.