When owner Jamie Queli decided she wanted to add hard seltzer to the lineup at Cherry Hill’s Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing Company in late 2017, she didn’t realize how popular it would become. Fast forward two years and Forgotten Boardwalk’s J’aime Sparked Seltzer just took second place from over 30 rivals at the first-ever nationwide Fizz Fight hard seltzer competition in Denver.
Back home, Queli is selling the seltzer to bars, restaurants, and retail spots all over the state. (It even has its own Instagram account.) “I don’t know,” Queli told us. “Maybe I was ahead of the curve?” (Yes, she was.) In fact, as hard seltzer consumption bubbles into a potentially billion-dollar industry, Queli finds her craft beer brewery suddenly riding a hard seltzer wave that doesn’t appear to want to crest anytime soon. We caught up with the Jersey Shore native to ask how a brewery founder discovers hard seltzer (reluctantly), how the brewery developed a unique flavor profile like hibiscus white tea (slowly), and when we can expect a Forgotten Boardwalk seltzer variety pack on the shelves next to Truly and White Claw (eventually).
Table Hopping: You opened Forgotten Boardwalk in the end of 2014. How long was it before the hard seltzer phenomenon came onto your radar? Had you resisted?
Jamie Queli: Toward the end of 2017 I had finally tasted White Claw and Truly and some of these bigger [hard seltzer] brands. I hadn’t resisted because it’s annoying or anything. I’m actually a huge non-alcoholic seltzer fan. And I realized some of the other hard seltzer brands were a little too sweet for me. That’s when we decided to make some of our own.
TH: Can you explain a bit about the process? Is there actual brewing skill involved?
JQ: It’s actually not the easiest process to learn. It’s not much different from the process of beer brewing, except beer comes from cereal grains, [which] you mash down to extract the sugar, whereas with seltzer we’re coming from a sugar base, so you skip the extraction. There are hops involved, too, and yeast. The funny part is it’s a little more of a synthetic environment when you’re brewing seltzer. There aren’t any proteins there that the yeast really like, so you actually have to give it extra TLC to get it fermenting—correct temperatures, correct nutrients, knowing your yeast, etc. It’s sort of like putting plants on the moon. It takes extra care.
TH: You earned silver at Fizz Fight with the Tangerine Rosé, with tangerine, hibiscus, and white tea, which seems very specific, especially for a brewery’s first hard seltzer. How did you guys end up there?
JQ: Our head brewer Evan Wasylyk developed the flavor the most, though we went back and forth on flavor profiles for a while. We definitely went through a bunch of iterations; it took us a while to get what we wanted out of a neutral hard seltzer, that refreshing quality we wanted out of it, and layer it with our flavor profile, which comes off fairly dry and finishes with a little bit of crisp apple, kind of has this little tangerine zip at the end.
TH: I understand you consulted with Tavalon Tea out of Hackensack to create this flavor, and other upcoming flavors as well, but why incorporate tea into a hard seltzer in the first place?
JQ: The tea aspect was the one thing we wanted to do across the board. Tea’s always going to be a part of our sparked seltzer line. It adds a really nice backbone base before you layer a flavor on top of it. We’re so used to brewing with malt, getting that body and mouth feel, I don’t think any of us were capable of getting over just a pure sugar base. And we wanted to make sure we stood out in the marketplace, and that it wasn’t just fruit-based. So our Peach Lemonade has black tea. We’re working on another seltzer with green tea right now. And the Dragonfruit Mango will probably be a Rooibos base.
TH: So you went from no seltzer to maybe having the workings of a variety pack by next year. Do you feel like you’re part of a trend?
JQ: When we started to do this back in 2017, I don’t know if I thought that seltzer was going to become what it was today. I was in more of a mindset that I wanted to create a product that didn’t include gluten. But I think Americans are just drinking less in general. And millenials and the younger generation are drinking less than anyone else. They’re calling it the Instagram culture of non-drinking people; people want to get up and feel fine and go on hikes. It’s more of an active youth. I think the seltzer trend is speaking to that.
TH: As for your own growth, as a Jersey brand with a national win, do you have any plans now for expanding your sales territory?
JQ: We’re not shipping across state lines just yet. We decided to focus on New Jersey to a certain point. There’s a lot of work to do here still in terms of the seltzer and getting our beer on shelves. It’s a popular brand, but it’s a very cluttered, competitive industry right now, so we’ll keep focused here. That said, we would probably head into the Philly area or New York in the next couple of years, because we’re neighbors to both of them.
TH: J’aime is available in more than a few New Jersey restaurants and bars. Do you guys push it as a food pairing option or something to build cocktails with?
JQ: We’ve talked to a couple higher-end partners to see if they can make a cocktail with it. We’ll tell our higher-end places that if they have mixologists on site they could definitely be playing around with our seltzer.
TH: But you’re still pitting it against easy-drinking big brand seltzers, so you don’t want it to be perceived as too complex, I assume?
JQ: Our goal is for you to drink it and for it not to be cloying. For it to be refreshing and interesting. I find that most other major brand seltzer are alcoholic sugar water, and that was not our goal whatsoever. I mean, we could do that! But we’re not trying to be a clone of White Claw.
While not a clone of White Claw by far, the J’aime Tangerine Rosé flavor has the same calorie count and ABV as White Claw hard seltzer. The Tangerine Rosé hard seltzer is available for purchase in bars, restaurants, and retail spots in several New Jersey counties. Their J’aime Peach Lemonade with Black Tea is available at the Forgotten Boardwalk tap room (where you can also buy variety pack cans of the two flavors). A Dragonfruit Mango flavor and a mystery green tea-based flavor are both in the works. Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing Company, 1940 Olney Avenue, Suite 100, Cherry Hill; 856-437-0709Click here to leave a comment