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Friday, 05 September 2014 16:41

With a fresh N.J. license, ex-Basil T brewer Gretchen Schmidhausler returns as a brewery owner

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Jersey brewer Gretchen Schmidhausler has been going to the Great American Beer Festival for the past 16 years, serving as a beer judge at the event for half as long.

But this year, when the festival kicks off its annual three-day run in Denver Oct. 2, Gretchen will be home in the Garden State, in fact, a few blocks from the beach in southern Monmouth County.

"I sent my regrets ... I let them know I wouldn't be able to make it this year," she says. 

There's a good reason, and it has everything to do beer: Gretchen's just-licensed Little Dog Brewing Company will probably be opening around GABF time. 

"It's not just a weekend,” she says of the annual Colorado trip. “I would have been out there for five days. I don't now how I would manage that.”

Because duty calls, with an exciting new chapter. There’s lots to do between now and October. 


Little-Dog-LogoThe ink on Little Dog's state brewing license is still fresh: Just a week ago (Aug. 28), New Jersey regulators inspected Little Dog and gave Gretchen the green light to join the state's growing roll call of craft breweries. The Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control’s visit capped a half-year buildout that transformed a defunct coin laundry along Steiner Avenue in Neptune City into an ale brewery with a tasting room.

Now the focus shifts to stocking up on grain and hops to begin turning out a pair of flagship brews – interpretations of German wheat and brown/alt beers – on the 4-barrel brewing set-up that launched Climax Brewing (Roselle Park) as New Jersey's first production craft brewery.

The wheat and alt will be complemented by a pair of seasonals, including a pumpkin brew this fall. Jersey craft beer enthusiasts can also expect a stout from Little Dog, plus 22-ounce bomber bottles of the wheat and brown/alt, as well as quart growlers of seasonals, all retailed from the tasting room during tours. (Gretchen’s still working on how tours and tastings will run. Stay tuned.)

"There was so much time and energy spent on the buildout. Now it's time to concentrate on the brewery ... I'm hoping to be brewing mid-month,” Gretchen tells Beer-Stained Letter. 

Tim-Gretchen1Gretchen is a familiar face in craft beer in New Jersey: a former president of the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild (the state's industry trade group she now rejoins), and an award-winning brewer at Basil T’s brewpub in Red Bank for a dozen years. Think Ms. Lucy’s Weimaraner Wheat, Maxwell’s Dry Stout, Big Vic Porter, an anise-licorice brew at Christmas, and a Scottish ale that saluted iceboat racing on the Navesink River.

A homebrewer in the early 1990s – Glinda's Gold was the name of one her hobby beers then – Gretchen came to commercial brewing by way of the now-defunct Red Bank Brewery. (Tom Clark, Red Bank Brewery's founder and now owner of Berwick Brewing in Pennsylvania, recently modified the brewing kettle Little Dog bought from Climax owner Dave Hoffmann, fitting it with a stack condenser; Tom also did some modifications on Little Dog’s fermenters.)

Three years ago, Gretchen left Basil’s, and its 7-barrel brewhouse, with plans for her own place on her mind. (Basil's itself shut down a month ago to retool and re-emerge as an updated wine-and-beer-centric restaurant called Birravino.) She spent the hiatus from brewing doing some consulting work, refining her business plan, scouting a location, and making sure the one found for Little Dog was a match for Neptune City's zoning rules. 

She also wrote Making Craft Beer at Home, an intro to craft beer and homebrewer handbook that’s illustrated with about 100 photos, many of them taken at New Jersey breweries.

Her husband, Kevin McIver, closed on the Steiner Avenue property purchase last February, leasing it to GretchenBrew/Little Dog Brewing. What followed was the buildout that now brings a fourth production brewery to Monmouth County’s shore, an area that has become a hub for Garden State craft brewery startups over the past three years. 

Just three miles south of Little Dog, Beach Haus Brewery is under construction in Belmar. Triumph Brewing will make Red Bank the home of its second New Jersey location. Belford Brewing, an operation smaller than Little Dog, recently opened in Middletown, while Dark City Brewing in Asbury Park just leased a space and plans a 7-barrel brewery and tasting room. And all of that follows Kane and Carton breweries’ opening in 2011.

But the spotlight now is on Little Dog’s launch.

“Pretty soon, after I have opened to the public, additionally, I’m going to do two seasonal beers which will rotate,” Gretchen says, “and I’m going to start with a pumpkin – why not, right? – and probably a stout. I think that will give me a nice range. 

"I certainly have enough experience working on a small system that I should be able to have four beers within a couple of weeks, once I start brewing.”

And that will be soon.


Read 3970 times Last modified on Friday, 05 September 2014 17:34

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