In the back room, brewer Walker Berry is stirring a Marzën in a 200-gallon kettle. The citrusy aroma of hops fills the entire tasting room. The end of summer is a busy time for Four City Brewing Company. Oktoberfest is around the corner and their annual Four City Fest on Sept. 23 might be their biggest event in its four-year history.
This year, co-owner Anthony Minervino has a lot to celebrate after the state attorney general temporarily lifted a number of onerous rules that have “handcuffed” his brewery.
“We just started happy hour,” Minervino said. “That’s new with the regulations being relaxed.”
It’s almost absurd to think that Minervino’s brewery has never been allowed to have a happy hour. In 2019, the same year Four City opened, the state passed a law that crippled microbreweries with rules banning things like having food trucks on site, regulating how large a television can be inside a tasting room, and requiring customers to take a tour of a brewery every single time they visit.
The reasoning behind the law was that owners of liquor licenses, which can cost the same as a split-level home, felt their investments were meaningless if breweries, which don’t need the same license to operate, could have tasting rooms.
The Brewers Guild of New Jersey spent the last few years organizing and won hard-fought reforms this summer. Bill S3038 passed the state Senate unanimously and now awaits the signature of Governor Phil Murphy. The bill basically throws out the fussy rules that went into effect.
But Murphy has stalled, signaling he wants broader liquor license reform to happen first. Scott Wells, board member at the Brewers Guild, fears nothing will happen until after the November elections. “We spent years working on this and we’re left in a state of limbo,” said Wells, co-owner of Bolero Snort Brewery in Carlstadt. “Until it gets signed into law, it’s hard to feel we accomplished anything at all.”
What has gotten Four City through the rough patch was its delivery service. Now their beers are canned on site and shipped off to 75 shops, bars, and restaurants, including local haunts like Star Tavern, Coda, and the Boxcar Bar.
All the while, Minervino continued being a mad scientist behind the scenes, designing and perfecting new recipes. The tap room now offers 70 flavors, including ales, lagers, stouts, and pilsners with names that boast hometown pride like Citrus City and Brewellyn Park. “We want to represent these four cities,” Minervino said. “The diversity, the culture, the art.”
His latest creations include a pineapple-and-coconut IPA and a lavender-infused saison. Their beer cans got a design overhaul through collaborations with artist and investor Kenneth Murray and Adam Gustavsen, the West Orange-based artist behind the hat-themed mural at Highland Avenue Station.
The idea for Four City grew out of Minervino’s hobby making bathtub brews with co-owner Jeff Gattens. Their recipes became so popular with friends and family that they began a tasting group called the Brew Council. “We kept tweaking the beers, making them better and better,” Minervino said.
In 2019, Minervino, Gattens, along with musician Roger Apollon, decided it was fitting to open a microbrewery in Orange, a city that watched its one and only brewery demolished in the 1980s. For nearly eight decades, the Orange Brewery operated in a seven-story fortress-like building on Hill Street. It housed five different brands, the most famous being Rheingold Beers.
The next item on Minervino’s vision board is a beer crawl along the Morris & Essex train line, tying together popular watering holes in Orange, South Orange, Maplewood, and Millburn.
“Things are happening — that’s why we’re open seven days a week now,” Minervino said. “We want everyone living along the train line to jump off and get a beer.”