Craft Beer Suds of Cranford
By Gabe Bailer – NJ Urbanthinker
For those who know me and for those who don’t know a little thing about me: I like my beer, and by beer I mean craft beer. I moved to Cranford one year to the day on March 28th. I knew I was in the right town when, on the day I moved in, my neighbor Cam invited me over to his backyard fire pit. At the time, I was sore and tired from moving, but excited to meet my new neighbors. As I sluggishly walked two houses down with my wife and son, I entered Cam’s yard and saw a fire blazing and a bucket of beer right next to it. I looked down and there were the likes of Carton, Kane, Magnify, Singlecut and other great beer suds. As I met my new neighbors and the craft beer kept flowing, the beer light went up in my head. After just a few hours here, I knew that I already liked this town and its Craft Beer sud scene.
With my calling Cranford my home anniversary fast approaching, I wondered to myself about what would be the best way to showcase the beer scene in Cranford. The answer, of course, is by drinking beer. Even better; let me walk you through the Cranford bars and do a beer stroll. Soooooo here we go.
Now I must say there is always a first stop before one goes out on a beer stroll. With a great beer town, there also needs to be a great beer store. The Wine Cellar on Avenue E is that place. This is the go-to place in Cranford, and Vince and his crew keep the beer shelves stacked with craft beers. They like to focus on the growing brewery list in NJ.
As I walk in Wine Cellar, I see that they just got a fresh shipment of Carton Unjunked, which is a bountiful stout. I pick up a 4 pack of cans, which has become the preferred packaging for craft beer drinkers.
When I’m at home after I’ve finished up dinner to give myself a good drinking base, I usually opt for a drink at the bar. You might be wondering where, but my secret is that I have a bar on the first floor of my house. I wish I could say I built this house with two tap lines to my name, but alas I cannot. The previous owner of the house was also a rabid craft beer fan, and had built this fine addition to the house: a bar, with two draft lines. Thanks, Leif! I’m at the ends of my new Belgium citradelic, and just picked up a Kane Head High. But because I’m in the can mood, I opt to begin my night with Magnify Vine Shine, which is brewed in a local place in Fairfield.
With my pregame beer on, I head off in my best walking shoes. On this blustery March night, I got my headphones on and I’m listening to the new Dirty Projectors album, one of my favorite albums with The XX of 2017. I head straight down to Walnut Avenue to hit the bars of Cranford, my new home city. As I walk up Walnut, it dawns on me (besides the craft beer hitting me) that I need to hit up every bar within walking distance of the train stop. I have an hour to kill before Cam and another fellow Jaycee, Tim (your local Farmers insurance agent https://agents.farmers.com/nj/cranford/timothy-pristas), aren’t going to meet up until 9. Cam is also the founding father of the Cranford Craft Beer Co-op on Facebook. This group of 25 Cranford beer lovers, is how we organize meet ups to try new beer, and have tasting outings (which we just call “field trips”). At the last meet up, we showcased a great variety of craft beers, and the first field trip was to Wet Ticket brewery in Rahway.
With an hour to kill and at the corner of Walnut and South, it’s about time to drink some again beer. The first stop is Kilkennys- the staple on the south side. What does one get here? A pint of Guinness, of course. So let this Guinness be the first beer of the night on the stroll (the pregame ones don’t count). Kilkennys brings the homely feel of Ireland to Cranford, with Barry and his gang serving great pub food with an Irish brought. There is a good reason why Kilkenny’s is always packed and was recently awarded the best Irish Bar in the whole State by NJ Monthly Magazine.
With a little blood kicking with Guinness in me, I next head down south to River Rail. River Rail is a new addition to the south side where — no matter what you order — the bartenders quickly always make sure you have some chips and salsa. As I debate whether or not to have the next chip, I look at the tap list, Here, I have a Sweetwater IPA and am soon on my way once more.
It dawns on me to look at the clock, and lo and behold it’s 9pm: time to meet up with Cam and Tim. I make the quick walk up to Thirsty Turtle. Cam and Tim are set up on a side table. Over 30 beers are listed on the wall, and the taps glistening for me to drink. I think to myself once more that it’s time to order some craft beer. I look at the beer menu, and love how the list is now referred to as a beer menu” and not a snooty wine list. I go through my choices to order….but of course I have to get a flight. As I peruse the list I decide on Carton SupergoIpa, Jersey Girl, Jug Handle and Kane Overhead (Kane, like Carton in Atlantic Highlands, is the other top brewery in NJ) Luckily now I Kane overhead on draft at home. I hope it lasts longer than a month!
The flight comes with a beautiful array of colors, and it’s time to taste away. I’ve never had the Supergoipa, which is a triple IPA (13%ABV), Jug Handle, or Jersey Girl. As expected the Supergoipa was very boozy, but very enjoyable. The other two were good, but nothing special. As we’re enjoying our beers, we overhear a girl at the bar who needs help changing her tire. We take a look at the damsel in distress, and lo and behold it’s a teacher from Cam and Tim’s kids’ daycare. Doing the obligatory Cranford good deed, we help out. We cross the street to the dollar general parking lot and do our good duty of changing a tire. Pictures of this adventure are below.
I was adding a helping hand, too but of course had to take some photos. As we head back to the Thirsty Turtle, we’re awarded a round of drinks for our deed. See? All good deeds are rewarded. It’s fitting that it’s a round of drinks on this beer stroll.
After our adventure at the Thirsty Turtle, it’s time for a short walk to hit up the Cranford Hotel in the more aptly “cellar” section. As I cozy up to the bar, Mike — the long-time bartender — hands me the beer menu. It’s long past time to order my next flight. I peruse the menu and Mike hands me the scorecard. I write down my selection from the ever-changing list. Tonight it’s Kane Head High, Carton Boat, Stillwater Cellar Door (fitting) and a Crooked Sage. There are a couple of great things about the Hotel’s flights. First, no matter what you get they’re always $8. At some craft beer places, the more potent beer has a higher price for samples. I’ve had flights that cost as much as $14. Hotel is always $8 smackers. Second, I love how the beer is presented. A taster flight that can be carried CLARIFY. Importantly, they also have the scorecard to rate the beer in case you forgot the taste.
As I savor the tastes of the beer I look over at the clientele. I recognize familiar faces. It turns out that we’re not the only ones who go bar hopping and go to Kilkennys, River Rail, Turtle, and the Hotel. What I learned very quickly about the drinking scene in Cranford is that all drinking nights end at the Dive (Riverside Inn).
All good towns need a dive bar, and Cranford has a great one in the Dive. We approach the Dive gingerly, and find seats at the bar. I look at the beer taps and see an unfamiliar one. I ask the bartender what the beer is, and he says it’s a porter from a local New Jersey brewery. I order, and somewhat fittingly I have no reminiscence of what beer it is. I learn that the dive is over 100 years old, and was badly damaged during Hurricane Irene. The community came together and helped out in any way to have the dive reopen. I finish the beer; look at the food menu on paper plates. (Unfortunately the kitchen was closed). I also look at my phone to see what time it is. After a bibulous, yet walkable it’s past time to walk home.
The beer and craft beer scene in Cranford is alive and well. It seems to me that as we market towns’ housing stocks, transportation, parks, restaurants, and bars, another important element these days is the “craft beer scene”. This is yet another draw to Cranford….annnnddd what else should be coming to Cranford but its own brewery, right in the heart of downtown at 26 Eastman Street. Yale Terrace Brewery (https://www.ytbrewery.com/ ) is opening soon, and promises to be another vibrant addition to Cranford’s robust craft beer scene.