Four City Brewing Celebrates Community, Diversity & Experimentation

Last year, the brewery became the first to open in Orange during the modern craft beer era.

Four City Brewery owners Anthony Minervino, Roger Apollon Jr. and Jeff Gattens. Photo courtesy of Pamela Buckley

Even if it was never the original plans by the founders, it seems Four City Brewing in Orange was destined to open. More than a decade ago, Roger Apollon, Jr. and his friends were getting into craft beer. They had come to it as fans, but were soon being sought out by friends and others to share their expertise.

“People kept asking us where our brewery was located,” says Apollon, the co-founder and creative director of Four City, which opened last year in Essex County. “After a while it just seemed to make sense to give people a positive answer.”

Brewing was once a proud tradition in Essex County, with a handful of breweries operating throughout the Oranges and in Newark. Many were around before Prohibition and only a handful survived afterwards. The Anheuser-Busch Brewery in Newark opened in 1951, and over the decades there has been a handful of smaller operations that have opened.

Four City is the first brewery to open in Orange during the modern craft beer era, and Apollon says finding the space—just across from the city’s New Jersey Transit station—was kismet. When Apollon and his two co-owners, Jeff Gattens and Anthony Minervino, finally decided to open their own brewery, they looked to Newark and saw a few spots that were ultimately either too big or not right for their needs.

When a developer came calling with an idea and location in Orange, the trio was intrigued and immediately smitten. “It’s an ideal location, close to the city, easy to get to, and allows us to be part of the community,” Apollon says.

The brewery had only been open for eight months before Covid-19 disrupted the hospitality industry. In that short period of time, the trio had worked to create a welcoming taproom experience that focuses not only on quality pints but artistic expression.

Photo courtesy of Four City Brewing

They have worked with local artists on rotating exhibitions every quarter and have a well curated music list that reflects their personalities, but also sets a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere for proper session drinking. Pre-pandemic, there was also live music. The brewery regularly puts out calls for both artwork suggestions and musical acts.

Apollon says that while state mandated restrictions have allowed the taproom to be open, it has been difficult to welcome patrons in the way they had originally envisioned. When life returns to normalcy, he says he’s looking forward to showing off the hard work that has gone into the aesthetics of the brewery, named for the four Oranges (East Orange, Orange, South Orange and West Orange).

The audio and visual touches are all part of the sensory experience, Apollon believes.

“We are all musicians and know that being immersed in something creative can be special,” he says. Being surrounded with art and music and a welcoming vibe makes the beer in your glass more special. And Apollon wants drinkers paying attention to what is in the glass.

While craft beer in New Jersey has grown over the last decade, the small brewers operating in the Garden State face an uphill battle for the hearts, minds and taste buds of drinkers. Knowing that, Apollon says that producing quality beer—that is to say flavorful, well-made, shelf stable, and defect-free recipes is paramount to success.

Since the pandemic began, Gattens has kept busy brewing on Four City’s system. While Four City is still making traditional lagers and ales, they’re also using this time to experiment. Downtime is spent researching different styles of beer, sourcing special hops and malt, and building recipes that will delight the senses and maybe spark a conversation.

One of the beers that has struck a chord with drinkers is called the Miseducation of Loral Hops, an India pale ale (IPA) with floral, herbal and citrus aromas. Another beer is Fourghettastoutit, an imperial stout made with coffee, dark chocolate, and maple syrup.

“I don’t think there is a beer that we can’t make,” Apollon says, “and we want the community, everyone who lives around us, to come and see what we have been doing and can do. We really care about craft beer and being a part of this community, and our flavors reflect that.”

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