Man Skirt Brewing - Hackettstown, NJ
I'd never been to Hackettstown before. I certainly had never heard of it before 2015. Nothing against the town of Hackettstown, NJ... but until Man Skirt Brewing popped up on the scene, it wasn't on my radar. Not only did I get to discover the wonder that is this little brewery, but I got to discover a whole town and even some of the best wings I've had in New Jersey. If you've never been here and you consider yourself a beer completist, you need to. To say that one man perfectly embodies the heart of a whole town is not a stretch at all. After having met Joe Fisher, owner and brewmaster of Man Skirt Brewing, I can easily say that he is the brewing heart and soul of this town.
Sure, there are two other breweries now, which Joe has no issue with showing up to or drinking their beers, but I walked away from Man Skirt Brewing with the sense that I had visited something uniquely special. Yes, there is a reason it is called Man Skirt Brewing, and you'll immediately understand why if you walk in and see Joe in his Utilikilt.
One of the reasons I was dying to come visit this brewery was because of his strong and repeated presence on both Facebook and Instagram. Very rarely is there such a personal touch in these medium, that it becomes both gratifying and refreshing to see this approach and self-marketing. Need examples? Joe's at the brewery cooking up something new. Joe's having a River Horse beer. Joe's now at Czig Meister Brewing enjoying some of their brews. Oh look, there's Joe with Jodi from Jersey Girl Beer and the delightful men of Bolero Snort.
How could I not visit?
I walked in early. The normal hours for a Saturday are 4-9, but since I actively follow him on social media, I had seen he opened Man Skirt at 3. If you're worried that it looks empty, it was because I was only one of 6 people there at the time, but upon returning later to fill up a growler, the place was pretty packed. I will consider myself lucky for being there early because I got to meet and talk with Joe for bit. You immediately get the sense that he is his beer and the beer is him. I was greeted with the warmest welcome I've ever received at a brewery and immediately felt at home.
I never shy away from a flight, and upon seeing that five were on tap - CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. I was so distracted by Joe's personality and by the beers on the board, that I didn't even check to see if there were any Pokemon in the premises. Lo and behold, a flight of five of his beers were ordered.
As I and the other patrons engaged in conversations with Joe and each other about all things whiskey and Disney and anything else that came to mind, the flight was served. Now, I know, the five are up there, but let me list them out anyway with some brief descriptions and thoughts.
- Gold Bar Blonde - I thought it was a pretty decent blonde. It was nothing special, but average and a good summer drinker. It's a light bodied blonde ale that might be favored by the casual craft beer drinker.
- Better than Pants - Described as an English Pub Ale, I actually enjoyed this beer. It's hard to describe but it did get me thinking of something I'd probably have with some wings at an Irish Pub or some fish and chips. At 4% ABV, it is very light, but sometimes a lighter beer with a good flavor is something to be desired.
- The Great Porter - A robust porter, this seems to be Joe's favorite beer that he makes. I have to say, this porter really was good. For a 5.5% ABV porter, the roastiness was greatly present without being overwhelming. It was not bitter to the point of being undrinkable, in fact, it was very enjoyable. I've had way too many porters in the past that were under 6% that were the equivalent of a decaf coffee... this is not the case here. I would absolutely have this beer again.
- Imperial Progress - A double IPA brewed with Progress hops. I really want to talk about this beer. A lot. Although it is not as juicy as a New England IPA or quite the level of a west coast style IPA, I have to say, this IPA is unique. The beer definitely has the characteristics of a grassy and earthy IPA, but in a way I've never had before. It took me a bit to really grasp the flavor but only because I had to deconstruct my notion of what a West Coast and an East Coast IPA is. I favor an East Coast IPA, which tends to be more yellow and hazy and citrusy. Nowadays, most are made while showcasing the Citra and Mosaic hop, so to see one with a Progress hop... it's different. It's more herbal than it is fruity and once you disconnect what you know about IPA's in 2016, I feel like you could enjoy this a lot more.
And then I come to the real MVP (Before and After pictures above):
- Barclay Perkins: Sorry Joe, I know you love the porter, but I have to say, I love your brown ale a lot more. Think about it this way, if I gave your porter an 8 out of a 10, I'm giving the brown ale a 9. If you ever decided to make an imperial version of this, I'd love to be your guinea pig. Every brewery tries to be sexy and make the latest juicy IPA, but sometimes it's the styles that are often overlooked that bring me to the yard. A brown ale is quite the challenge, because of the low ABV. It needs to be rich, without having muddled and confusing flavors. Since it is obviously darker, it's maltier but I've noticed a lot of breweries seem to struggle with this style... not Man Skirt Brewing. If you see this on tap, try it. I know it's a style that is a little hard to grasp at first, specially during the summer but if darker ales are up your alley, give this a shot.
It's a hard sell these days - to tell someone to visit a brewery for beers that AREN'T the IPA, but this is one trip that is well worth it. Whether it is for Joe's outgoing personality, or the stories he needs to tell, or the crowd that seems very open to talk to anyone... and especially the beer, I feel like Man Skirt Brewing needs to be on everyone's New Jersey beer bucket list.
I kid you not with saying that I had way more interaction with the crowd within Man Skirt Brewing than any other brewery in New Jersey, simply because one man and his beers stood at the forefront. If you like IPA's, come and try the Imperial Progress, but stay for the Great Porter and Barclay Perkins, if they are available. I understand that the Gold Bar Blonde and the Better than Pants might not be everyone's cup of tea, but why not check this place out before you head over to Marley's Gotham Grill for some wings, or for a walk around town, or before whatever your next stop may be.
If not's a beach day, make it a beer day and head on over to Hackettstown. If you're new to craft beer, perfect, come here. If you're a mid-level craft beer geek like me, visit because you understand the styles and want the challenge of the nuances and complexities of the beer here. If you're an expert, let's talk shop and see what you think.
Visit the town for a few minutes, then walk in and say hi to Joe. You'll understand why I believe he is the perfect embodiment of the spirit of this town. Man Skirt Brewing, you're worth the visits and revisits, just make sure at least the porter or the brown ale are on tap.