In the last two years, the number of breweries in New Jersey has more than tripled. Good luck finding their beer down the Shore.
That's because quantity, not quality, is still the key to beach-town beer consumption. The raucous, rocking bars of Wildwood, Sea Isle City, and elsewhere along Ocean Drive are all about Stoli Razberi drinks and buckets of fizzy yellow liquid.
Yes, you'll spot an occasional local beer mixed in among the taps. But a true craft-beer bar down the Shore is as rare as a seagull without an attitude.
Maybe that's OK, because I'm not sure anyone heads to Amherst Avenue in Margate for a contemplative snifter of Russian imperial stout. Instead, they line up at Maynard's Cafe for loud music, a few games of pool, and $2.50 pints of Yuengling.
That's why the massive new Asbury Festhalle Biergarten (527 Lake Ave., Asbury Park, 702-997-8767, asburybiergarten.com) may be the perfect beer-soaked Jersey Shore attraction. Think big, loud, unpretentious - plus more than two dozen taps and lots of sausage.
Where else to find craft beer down the Shore?
Well, you can try the faux British, celebritastic Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill at Caesars Atlantic City if you don't mind spending a nightmarish $11 for a draft pint of Rogue Dead Guy Ale (2100 Pacific Ave., Atlantic City, 609-343-2600, caesars.com).
Or you can head to one of my top-five Jersey Shore beer destinations:
Cape May Brewing: There's just a very pleasant vibe at this out-of-the-way brewery plunked down in the middle of Cape May Airport. Bring a growler, take a tour, then suck down the Bog, a low-alcohol cranberry wheat shandy, or hunker down with a high-alcohol Coastal Evacuation Double IPA. (1228 Hornet Rd., Rio Grande, 609-849-9933, capemaybrewery.com.)
The Iron Room: Paired with the adjoining Atlantic City Bottle Co., this place is a diamond in the rough. The tap list is short but eclectic, the bottle list is endless, and don't miss the array of 200-plus whiskies. For a unique experience, book the Chef's Table inside the bottle shop for a four- or five-course tasting menu, starting at $65 per person. (648 N. Albany Ave., Atlantic City, 609-348-6400, acbottlecompany.com.)
Vagabond Kitchen & Tap House: I'm a fan of this bar and its salty reg'lars, who are just as apt to order a bottle of Corona as they are a Weyerbacher Merry Monks. Quizzo on Tuesday nights. (672 N. Trenton Ave., Atlantic City, 609-350-6721, vagabondac.com.)
Goodnight Irene's: Its large tap list always includes one or two from Garden State faves Carton and Cape May. (2708 Pacific Ave., Wildwood, 609-729-3861, goodnightirenes.com.)
Wingcraft Kitchen & Beer Bar: Your significant other is searching for bargains at Tanger Outlets? Anchor here with a crab guacamole and a killer, 20-spigot draft lineup. (2010 Baltic Ave., Atlantic City, 609-541–2799, wingcraftac.com.)
Yes, alcohol is prohibited at most Jersey Shore beaches, but that's mainly a tool for local cops to boot troublemakers. For me, there's no better way to chill than with one can in a koozie and the other can in a beach chair, enjoying the sun, the waves, and the idle scenery.
Heading to a more southern Shore this summer? If it's Delaware, it has to be:
Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats: Though this spot has been a familiar mainstay in the Delaware beach town for 20 years, it's still capable of sudsy surprises thanks to a small, pilot brewhouse that specializes in unusual recipes. Look for Gorgeous Torches, a light-bodied German-style Kolsch made with lemons, salt, and celery seed. (320 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, Del., 302-226-2739, www.dogfish.com.)
If you've made it to Delaware, though, why not follow the coastline to Ocean City, Md.? You'll discover a new crop of brewpubs, including Fin City, De Lazy Lizard, Backshore Brewing, Assawoman Bay, and Ocean City Brewing.
What to drink?
Here's a six-pack of Jersey favorites to fill your cooler:
Beach Haus Kick Back Ale: Produced at a brand-new facility in Belmar, this one is a solid amber ale with nice, malty body.
Cape May Devil's Reach: You can expect to see a lot more brews from Cape May as it expands into a second location at the airport. Meanwhile, this strong Belgian ale is a surprising easy-sipper.
Flying Fish Farmhouse Summer Ale: The light, spicy seasonal is coming out in cans this summer.
Forgotten Boardwalk Funnel Cake: A light, sweet cream ale with a Nilla Wafers aroma, also now available in cans.
Rinn Duin Lawnmower: The Toms River brewpub offers a limited selection of bottles, including this crisp, blond summer seasonal.
Tuckahoe Steelmantown Porter: Trust me, it's OK to drink dark beer in the summer, especially when it's this smoky porter paired with a rack of ribs.