Kane Brewing Company: Deeply Rooted in the Garden State

From the Source by | Aug 2015 | Issue #103

Photo by Matt Coats

Michael Kane was ready to return to New Jersey. A native of the Garden State with fond memories of carefree childhood summers spent at the Shore, he believed its suburban-and-seaside setup would better suit starting a family than New York City. And he had another reason: launching Kane Brewing Company.

A common narrative among now-professional brewers, Kane started making beer in college with Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Homebrewing as his bible. The summer after his sophomore year, he traveled throughout Europe and became enamored with cask-conditioned ESBs in England, Lambics in Belgium, Hefeweizens in Germany. Upon returning to Fairfield University in Connecticut, weekend pilgrimages to newly opened breweries like Magic Hat and Long Trail cemented his career aspirations. “I chatted with them and they had all been homebrewers with a dream,” he says. “Halfway through my first batch I knew I wanted to open a brewery. But at 22 years old I quickly realized I didn’t have a clue about how to get there. And I had no money.”

After graduating with a finance degree, Kane worked as a litigation consultant in Manhattan and continued homebrewing, cooking 10-gallon batches in his ant-size East Village apartment crammed with carboys. “My wife, my girlfriend at the time, she wasn’t exactly thrilled with me using our living room as my primary fermentation chamber,” he laughs.

He left New York City to pursue an MBA (where he also wrote his first business plan for a brewpub) but eventually returned to work as an investment banker. The four-year stint on Wall Street proved invaluable. “It equipped me with the funding, obviously, but also the right tools to start my own business,” says Kane. “It would have taken me 20 years to learn that on my own.” After winning gold and silver medals at the National Homebrew Competition in 2009, Kane finally felt ready. “I reached a ‘now or never’ moment about opening a brewery. So I chose now. It was time to forge my own path.”

Kane Is Able
A yearlong search for a location in New Jersey ended in Ocean Township, a few miles from Asbury Park. Kane launched his namesake 20-barrel brewery in August of 2011 in a warehouse previously used by a casket manufacturer and enlisted a childhood friend, Glenn Lewis, to help with sales. (Lewis is now vice president.) They developed three year-round offerings: Single Fin, a Belgian-style Blonde Ale; Overhead, an Imperial IPA; and Head High, Kane’s flagship IPA and best-selling beer.

“The moment I sampled Head High I knew they were on to something great,” says Ryan Dorchak, the third-generation operator of Cloverleaf Tavern in Caldwell. His family’s bar hosts an annual all-Kane event—most of the 24 kegs are finished within a day. “We quickly added it to our beer-education program and it’s currently one of the best-selling drafts we pour.”

Dorchak is one of the many accounts glad to extol the quality and consistency of Kane’s beers and his steadfast dedication to customer service. A self-proclaimed “control freak” in regard to the latter, Kane has kept distribution for over 300 accounts solely in-house. This also explains why he continues to sell only in New Jersey.

“Our biggest accounts aren’t necessarily the big-name beer bars that rotate us in for a keg every few months, although we’ve been fortunate enough to maintain permanent handles at most,” he says. “We’re proud to be successful by catering to the local neighborhood bars and restaurants that have a smaller number of taps.”

The state hasn’t always embraced craft brewing. New Jersey’s brewery growth has been discernibly slow—in part due to longtime sales restrictions that were finally eased with new legislation in 2012. Despite the total more than tripling in just three years, New Jersey still ranks near the bottom of breweries per capita at 48th. “There has always been great beer being made in New Jersey, but it was never a lot,” Kane says. “That’s why I wanted to open here, to continue building the scene that breweries like Flying Fish and High Point started. I wanted to help make my home one of the best in the country.”

Local Love
Kane’s allegiance to New Jersey extends past its accounts and its drinkers, as many of its recipes incorporate state-sourced ingredients. There is Deep Rooted, a wet-hopped Pale Ale made with Oast House Hop Farm’s entire annual harvest; Morning Bell, a java-juiced Porter brewed with Rook Coffee Roasters’ Sumatra; and Apiary Brett, a Brettanomyces-laced Saison sweetened with honey from a local beekeeper.

He also has a strong relationship with East Coast Yeast, whose strains are used to ferment Kane’s Belgian-inspired and wild beers. “Mike approached me on yeast supply early on,” says East Coast Yeast owner Al Buck. “Whenever I have a pitch for him, I always try to deliver it. I really like visiting his taproom.”

Kane actually has two taprooms within its 12,000-square-foot facility. And while Head High and Overhead account for three-fourths of production, the company manages a heap of experimental brews—most notably the yields of an impressive barrel-aging program helmed by A Night To End All Dawns, an Imperial Stout matured in bourbon barrels for 12 to 15 months. A brewery-only release, last year’s batch of 3,300 bottles disappeared in five hours. It also won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF).

A combination of critical acclaim and consumer frenzy has intensified the temptation to start distributing out of state, Kane admits, but he’s still cautious about expanding too fast. At the start of summer, Kane secured an adjacent 5,000-square-foot space that will house a trio of 80-barrel fermentors, a new four-head bottler to package 750-milliliter releases more regularly, and room for Iron Heart Canning, a mobile canning company that launched in 2013, to start packaging Head High in 16-ounce cans this fall. “We’re growing a lot but it’s important to take our time and stay focused,” he explains. “Our top priority is still making quality beer and serving it to New Jersey.”

20-bbl brewhouse
– 6 40-bbl fermentors
– 2 80-bbl fermentors
– 3 40-bbl bright tanks
– 1 80-bbl bright tank

On Tap
Head High: This is an IPA that pleasures, not punishes, palates: light and flavorful, it has low bitterness, with radiant grapefruit and orange aromas. 6.5% ABV
A Night To End All Dawns: The most coveted of Kane’s portfolio is a complex Imperial Stout matured in bourbon barrels for over 12 months and released annually. 12.4% ABV
Overhead: Beginning with a similar recipe to Head High, this Imperial IPA uses different hop varieties and a double dose of dry-hopping with Simcoe and Amarillo. 8.2% ABV
Morning Bell: A caffeine-charged creation, this smooth Porter showcases dark-roasted Sumatran coffee, whose boldness is softened by the addition of lactose. 9.2% ABV
One Thousand Four Hundred Sixty: The brewery’s new fourth-anniversary ale channels its forbearers, literally: a bourbon barrel-aged Quad was blended with last year’s birthday beer. 11.8% ABV
Sea Change: A blend of three Brettanomyces yeast strains and lengthy dry hopping with Citra and Mosaic produce funk and pineapple notes in this invigorating Pale Ale. 4.4% ABV