New Jersey Breweries Working to Open During the Pandemic

Covid-19 may have slowed down grand opening plans, but these breweries are adjusting to restrictions and limitations in an uncharted landscape.

Kevin Pacansky of South 40 Brewing Co., which he looks forward to opening in Edison. Photo by John Holl

These days, Kevin Pacansky spends his nights and weekends walking around his 2,000-square foot brewery and taproom, performing various last-minute tasks and projects while waiting on a state inspection that, if passed, will allow him to begin producing beer.

There is still a lot of work to be done. The 36-foot bar needs to be finished and the 22 taps installed to the wall. When his South 40 Brewing Co. opens up in Edison’s Raritan Center, it is unclear if the general public will even have a chance to see these features first-hand due to the indoor dining and drinking restrictions in place due to the pandemic.

Business has been anything but normal during Covid-19 for the state’s breweries. They have adapted as draft beer sales have dropped off, pivoted to curbside pickups and deliveries for six-packs and cases, and set up outdoor seating while their once popular, indoor taprooms are largely shuttered.

“Every brewery had to change their business practices in one way or another,” says Mike Kivowitz, the founder of New Jersey Craft Beer, a website that tracks the industry and offers drinks discounts to members. “Some switched to only packaged to go, some switched to setting up tents outside, some only did online orders for pickup and deliveries.”

For the in-the-works breweries, there is a different set of worries. Once beer gets into the tanks and is ready to serve, they will likely have to forego the usual grand opening ceremonies that draw crowds. They will have to find new ways to introduce beers without the benefit of bar top interaction or in-store tastings.

Inside Alternate Ending Beer Company in Aberdeen Township. Kevin Pacansky of South 40 Brewing Co.

At Alternate Ending Beer Company in Aberdeen Township, founder and CEO Scott Novick said the business plan for the 9,000-square foot brewpub that once housed a community movie theater, has changed multiple times over the last several weeks.

The company was planning on a traditional restaurant business. Since the shutdown, they’ve reworked the plan to include temporary outdoor seating in a fire lane along the side of the building (with approval from the town) and is looking into canning its beer faster than planned in order to take advantage of to-go sales.

“So much of what lies ahead is unknown,” says Novick, noting that the brewery space will pay homage to the theater that once occupied the building.

When these breweries open their doors, they will be joining a handful of others who have done the same during uncertain and unprecedented times.

“A few breweries have opened during the Covid-19 pandemic here in NJ such as Ashton Brewing Co. [in Middlesex], Old Hights Brewing Co. [in Hightstown], and Seven Tribesmen Brewery [in Wayne],” says New Jersey Craft Beer’s Kivowitz. “Depending on the government’s orders, they opened differently than they expected. Ashton started with crowlers to go, deliveries, and recently switched over to on-premises outdoor consumption and packaged [beer] to go.”

While waiting to open South 40 Brewing Co., Pacansky—who has homebrewed for five years—says he will continue to work on his recipes. He plans a diverse menu catering to “beginners, intermediate craft drinkers, and beer nerds,” hoping there will be something for anyone who comes to his front door.

Kevin Pacansky of South 40 Brewing Co. patiently awaits his grand opening. Photo by John Holl

For head brewer, Alternate Ending has hired the award-winning Brendan Arnold, a New Jersey native who spent the last several years brewing in Kansas. The first beer he plans to release is a German pilsner, and even though the world is chaotic and the company is eager to get beer into consumer’s hands, both he and Novick are aware they only have one chance to make a good first impression.

“Time is the most important ingredients in a beer,” says Arnold. “It’s important that we don’t rush a beer before it is ready because the customer benefits from a clean, balanced product.” He is hoping to begin brewing by the end of August.

New Jersey’s craft breweries have boomed over the last few years, and the pandemic has certainly tested the industry. Yet avid fans have helped keep them afloat.

“It’s insane to watch everything unfold and change dynamically but at the same time, it’s amazing to see the beer community helping each other survive and thrive during this insane time worldwide,” says Kivowitz.

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