Finding a good beer at the Jersey Shore

Goodnight Irene's Brew Pub is a Jersey sure thing 

Goodnight Irene’s has been slaking the thirsts of many sun-weary vacationers in Wildwood, NJ since 1973. Four years ago, they added non-macro beers to the list and Will Pumphrey to the bar staff and became one of the first beach bars to break out of the usual Bud-Miller-Coors-Corona-Rolling Rock pattern.

A visit during Irish Weekend last month proved that there’s more to the Jersey Shore than merely the same old bland, mass-produced beers. And, especially to note during Irish Weekend, there was not a green beer to be found amongst over 30 taps lining the wall.

Goodnight Irene’s uses the words ‘Brew Pub’ in its name. They are not actually making any beer on site, merely serving up some of the best beers available to them. When Will took GM duties in 2009, his ordering preferences reduced the number of macro beers to less than a handful at any given time and increased the quality to include beers that he, fellow beer lover and employee Jim Dickinson, and owner Dave Stefankiewicz were watching make successful waves in Philadelphia-area bars.

Goodnight Irene's Brew Pub

Goodnight Irene’s Brew Pub

Take, for example, a Jolly Pumpkin beer (Weizen Bam) on tap. That’s something that many bars in the Philadelphia area have a difficult time getting for themselves on a regular basis. How about a Founders beer (Nemesis) from Grand Rapids, Michigan? South Philadelphia Tap Room may get more of it than anyone else in the region, but some makes it to the Jersey Shore as well.

Ithaca (White Gold), Oskar Blues (Gubna), Chimay (Tripel), and Sierra Nevada (the new Jack & Ken’s Ale) are just four more examples of breweries represented on Irene’s tap list as of September 27th that satisfy some of the geekiest of the beer geeks at the Shore.

But, they don’t need to be beers of big flavor, of big alcohol, or from distant lands to make it on to the draft list. Roughly 25% of the draft beers contained less than 5% alcohol by volume. This percentage is typically even higher in warmer months when more beer drinkers are looking for the refreshing quaffability from a lighter style beer.

Seasonal beers play an obvious role in appealing to customers at Goodnight Irene’s, with lighter bodied and alcohol beers more popular in the hottest months, pumpkin beers in fall, and “Christmas beers” already being asked for and ordered. Yet, after seeing IPAs crest a year or two ago, Pumphrey says that he sees porters and stouts becoming more popular year-round at the bar.

Local is important to many beer drinkers and not only for the sake of supporting local economies. Rather, many beer drinkers understand that beer is a beverage best enjoyed as close to the source as possible. Almost 20% of the draft beers available in late September were from breweries within 150 miles of Goodnight Irene’s. Local breweries like Brooklyn, Dogfish Head, Flying Fish, Victory, Weyerbacher are regularly featured on Irene’s draft menu of beers.

If you have a friend that will absolutely not give up their old and boring beer fixation, there’s something for their taste as well. A Labatt Blue, a Stella Artois, a Yuengling Lager, or something along those lines can typically be found to keep everyone happy.

Pumprhey says that his bar has become somewhat of a beer geek destination for those vacationing at The Shore. Most customers have searched them out on the Web and know what to expect when they come in the door. However, for those uninitiated, there are a few that walk out the door upset that they can’t find their “normal beer”. But, for those that stay, the well-trained bar staff (particularly Justin who worked the bar with ease and plenty of beer knowledge the night of one of our visits) is quick to ask questions and help with suggestions for a beer out of their “comfort zone”. The bar will happily serve up a small sample if any gentle coercion is necessary. It’s all in the name of promoting great beer.

The taps at Goodnight Irene's Brew Pub

The taps at Goodnight Irene’s Brew Pub

On the food side of the menu, Goodnight Irene’s features standard pub grub in addition to pizzas out of their featured wood-fired oven. Salads, soups, wings, burgers, mussels, and quesadillas provide a little of something for everyone.

To bring the whole beer concept full circle, they do some cooking with beer at Irene’s. Rogue’s Dead Guy in the BBQ sauce on the BBQ pizza, Belgian Wit to soak the mussels in, a Stone Arrogant Bastard-based buffalo sauce to coat the wings, and Stone IPA-marinated chicken to fill the quesadillas are just a few examples of how they work with beer and food in the kitchen.

If this is all beginning to sound a little familiar to some of my neighbors in Chester County, Pennsylvania, it may be because Will cut his teeth on craft beer bars at TJs in Paoli. Will credits the owner, Jeff Miller, with “focusing on the beer selection and using it in the food”. Pumphrey adds, “He listens to his customers and gives them what they want as far as styles. I like to think I followed his model and used this to drive Irene’s and get us the “street cred” we were lacking with the beer geeks.”

Finally, if being indoors while at the Shore does not seem right, there’s always the outdoor patio area, called Sidekicks, to escape for dining, beer, and live music al fresco in the healthy salt air of the seashore.

Pumphrey adds in closing a reminder that “not every bar at the “Jersey Shore” is packed with fist pumping, Red Bull & Vodka drinkers. While we serve our share of Red Bull & Vodkas, and we certainly get our share of “Situations” and “Snookies”, we are more than happy to serve up a Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA to our clientele while they enjoy the show!”

The Jersey Shore has always offered more than lame stereotypes and bad reality television shows. At Goodnight Irene’s, good craft beer in Wildwood can be added to the list of great things to find at The Shore.

Please visit The Brew Lounge for additional pictures.

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Bryan Kolesar

Bryan Kolesar has been tracking down great beer for over twenty years. From the most hard-to-find delicately balanced low alcohol beer to the big monsters weighing in at over 10% ABV, he has yet to find a style that does not have a story to tell and a taste to share. Though, when pushed, Kolesar has historically staked a claim to the Saison style as one of the most versatile and his favorite.

In 2005, Bryan co-founded The Brew Lounge blog/website as a canvas to illustrate the best of the craft brewing industry and to document his own travels within it. Though he has lived in Philadelphia and is currently headquartered in the city's western suburbs, Kolesar shares a wealth of information and images that he collects from his travels around the world and some of the best beers that he has tasted along the way.

In 2010, Kolesar came aboard the Communities section of The Washington Times to contribute stories from across the craft brewing industry as it continues more than ever its explosive growth amongst increasingly more of the mainstream alcohol-consuming public. 

While the beer - its tastes, aromas, and incredible pairing opportunities with food - is often the beginning of a story, he often finds it more interesting to dive into the stories behind the people, places, and events associated with the final product. 

Locally around Philadelphia, he has been named a Beer Writer of the Year finalist multiple times, hosted beer/running events during each annual Philly Beer Week, served as a Philly Beer Geek judge, paneled local beers for submission into the Great American Beer Festival competition, judged beer and food competitions, been featured in local publications chronicling the beer scene, and been named the "Best Beer Guy" of 2008. 

In addition to his beer-y pursuits, Kolesar works a professional career in the business world by day and dabbles in distance running, cooking, homebrewing, gardening, photography, and is a staunch advocate for animal rescue/adoption. He lives with his wife, Patty, of fifteen years and has been a long time, mostly suffering, supporter of local Philadelphia sports.

Contact Bryan Kolesar


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