A Toast to NJ’s Newest Brewery: Conclave

Hunterdon County's first brewery since 2013 opens; Nik's Wunderbar begins serving Thursday, July 9

Carl Alfaro, co-owner of Conclave Brewing in Raritan Township. Photo: Pat Tanner

New Jersey’s newest brewery, Conclave Brewing Company, opens for business this Thursday, July 9. Based in Raritan Township, it gives Hunterdon County a local brewery for the first time since River Horse moved from Lambertville to Ewing, in Mercer County, in 2013.

On Thursday, Conclave will make its debut at Nik’s Wunderbar on Route 22 in Whitehouse Station. Nik’s will be selling drafts of Conclave’s first two products: Farmhouse Saison and Espresso Milk Stout. On hand will be Carl Alfaro and Tim Bouton, co-owners of the 1,000-square-foot brewery located on Minneakoning Road.

Conclave’s own small tap room, located in the Raritan Trade Center, 15 Minneakoning Road in Flemington, will open to the public Saturday, July 11.

The brewery’s goal, says Alfaro, is to produce fresh, good beer using local products. The espresso in the milk stout, which Alfaro calls his personal favorite, comes from local roaster Benfatto Coffee of Hillsborough. Alfaro and Jonathan Yalenti, owner of Benfatto, met last August when Benfatto was moving out of the facility where Conclave is now housed.

“We got to talking,” Alfaro says, “and we kept in touch. He makes awesome blends, and he roasts and grinds one for us.” Conclave Milk Stout, which clocks in at a moderate 5 percent alcohol by volume, is “a traditional milk stout with a hint of coffee added, for balancing the sweetness,” Alfaro says.

(Personal tasting notes: The stout exhibits a fine and pronounced espresso aroma and flavor, yet the beer remains nicely balanced. The bright, refreshing Farmhouse Saison—its 5.6 percent abv typical for a saison—is accurately billed as “blending citrus and tropical flavors with slight pepper overtones.”)

Alfaro and Bouton are donating all the spent grain from their brewing process to Flemington’s Readington River Buffalo Farm as feed for the animals. Alfaro and Bouton hope to eventually buy their hops from certain coveted South Jersey sources, such as Oast House Hop Farm in Wrightstown. Some very fine hops are grown in relatively small quantities in South Jersey, but the crop is almost always bought up by breweries, including Jersey’s Carton, that are larger than upstart Conclave.

The pair chose the name Conclave for its mystique. “The idea was to conjure a secret society of Old World brewers who use traditional techniques, but who have come to the New World and joined the craft beer revolution,” Alfaro explains.

Conclave is licensed to produce up to 30,000 barrels per year. Currently the beers are brewed in two three-and-a-half-barrel, steam-driven brew kettles and three seven-barrel fermenters. For now, the entire Conclave output will be distributed in kegs, for draft beer, and not in bottles.

The opening of the Raritan Trade Center tap room will take place Saturday from 1 to 5 pm.

“People can come by for a free sample or buy 12-ounce pours,” Alfaro says. Customers can bring their own growlers or buy one of Conclave’s 32- or 64-ounce jugs. Alfaro and Bouton hope to add a pale ale to their roster in the next few weeks.

The two men, both 43, have been friends since they were teens growing up in Bayonne. (Alfaro attended St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City; Bouton attended Bayonne High.) These days they live in Whitehouse Station, each with a wife and two children.

Alfaro began brewing beer in college. “I read books on it—back in the mid-1990s there was no Internet,” he says. “I went out to Colorado a couple times on ski trips and saw what was happening on the West Coast. Those kinds of beers weren’t available here back then. The closest thing was probably Samuel Adams.”

He kept brewing at home sporadically after college. “Then Tim got into it, picked my brain, and got me back into it. It just took off from there.”

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