Flying Fish Brewery Tour in Cherry Hill, New Jersey
Flying Fish Brewing Company, or Flying Fish brewery is a craft brewery located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. They currently brew four regular selections including Belgian Abbey Dubbel, ESB Ale, Extra Pale Ale and Hopfish IPA along with four Seasonal brews and a few rarities that had limited runs and are no longer available including their Big Fish Barley Wine and a recent New Jersey Turnpike concept beers collection consisting of Exit 4 (the brewery’s exit) and Exit 11 (the junction between the NJ Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway). Founded in 1995 by Gene Muller, Flying Fish Brewery produces an average of 12,000 barrels annually, making it New Jersey’s largest craft brewery in the State.
This morning was the first day in a recurring monthly event where my wife now has to work Saturdays. Since I’m the family’s chauffeur, we had to leave our comfortable home in Pennsylvania to transport her to her Livingston, New Jersey location. I tried to remain positive and make a day out of it for myself, but the dampness of this rainy day along with leaving my family at home put me in a sour mood. Still, I planned on visiting Flying Fish brewery and after two hours of driving, I could use a beer.
If coming from Philly, PA, you could take the Ben Franklin Bridge Eastbound to Route 70 for a quick seven mile ride. Coming from Livingston in northern New Jersey, I took I-280E to Garden State Parkway South, finally merging onto the New Jersey Turnpike to Exit 4 then onto Route 73 North. In addition to the two hour ride to Livingston, I now journeyed an additional two hours resulting from a combination of distance, weather and traffic.
A quick drive through a nice suburban neighborhood brings you to a block filled with one to two story office complexes, one of which is the Flying Fish brewery. I double checked my notes to make sure I didn’t inadvertently drive to their offices, but I did notice people start looking around with the same questions, and we all decided to go in and check it out.
Past some odds and ends, beer cases and a kitchen table with a boom box, we find a room filled with creative Flying Fish art, metal kegs welded together for an art piece, various beer memorabilia, numerous medals, certificates and awards as well as a picture of beer connoisseur Michael Jackson’s visit to the brewery, and lots and lots of Flying Fish brewery merchandise for sale.
The brewery’s own Gene Muller was at the counter offering fresh beers to his guests, which had accumulated to about ten awaiting the next tour.
On tap was the Belgian Abbey Dubbel and the Hopfish IPA. I wasn’t in the mood for an Abbey today and was interested in trying out the ESB; the IPA could wait for later. Mr. Muller opened a fresh bottle and poured me a four ounce sample of some good stuff, though too small to really capture its essence. He added that the tour would begin in about ten minutes after the current tour is finished. We had a brief conversation about some of the specialty beers brewed but have since been discontinued, and he showed me their most recent extension of their 2009 NJ Turnpike series, the Exit 11. He indicated that all of their specialty brews sell out quickly, and Exit 11 was no exception, as illustrated by the handful of remaining cases behind the counter.
Several moments later, a group of about thirty people came out of a single door having just finished the tour. A large line gathered in front of the counter to continue their sampling, with some folks repeatedly coming back for more as they kept Mr. Muller and his associate busy. One tall young man asked him about the origin of the Flying Fish name, in which Mr. Muller sighed and somewhat vaguely began describing the collection of contributions that resulted on the Flying Fish name. Mr. Muller, while pleasant and cordial, appeared tired and uninspired. I felt for him; he seemed to either be carrying some weight on his shoulders, was beaten up by the business, or may have just hungover from a crazy Friday night.
But when the time came, he took his group of twenty people, myself included, into the large brewing chamber for the commencement of the tour. Mr. Muller began by getting an understanding of which breweries his guests had visited. There were several answers which included some big and small establishments, which gave him a good idea on which direction to conduct his tour.
The tour begins with a description of how some people may drink a beer and maybe get a headache, which isn’t so much the beer but rather chemical preservatives and additives that big beer makers add to their beer. In addition, he mentions that rice and corn, called adjuncts, are added to these big name beers to provide extra alcohol without incurring much additional cost to production. He proudly states the Flying Fish brewery only uses pure and basic ingredients such as the malted barley, wheat (sometimes), yeast, hops and water, adding that the yeast and not the water is what he considers beer’s most important ingredient since it is responsible for producing the alcohol. At Flying Fish brewery, their main types of ingredients include English and Belgian Yeast – Crystal, Caramel, Belgian, Pale and Munich Malts – Pacific Northwest and English Fuggles Hops – and New Jersey tap water!
Mr. Muller continues by introducing his various large and impressive equipment including his brew kettles, fermenters and filtration tanks. He adds that Flying Fish brewery is anticipating breaking through the adjacent wall and expanding when their next door neighbors vacate the rental property. More interesting however, is the fact the Muller and Flying Fish brewery make a concerted effort to go green and recycle as much as possible, including donating the spent mash to farmers for feeding their livestock, which provides farmers with free food while keeping the brewery’s disposal costs down.
Next on the tour is the bottling operation which is made possible by a half million dollar investment to an Italian company. You can tell Mr. Muller is proud of his investment since he spends a good amount of time explaining the benefits of this monstrous automated mechanism. The new bottling system outputs 160 bottles per minute and now allows beers to have much longer shelf lives.. To keep a fresh supply of beer to loyal fans and beer connoisseurs, Flying Fish brewery only partners with distribution establishments within 100 miles.
We finally conclude with the available kegs and casing methods followed by a little boast on how the Flying Fish Extra Pale Ale is currently being served at the Phillie’s baseball stadium just a few miles over the Pennsylvania border.
Mr. Muller apologizes for forgetting to describe the role of the hops earlier in the tour, but what I felt was really missing is the true story behind Flying Fish brewery. Once you go on a couple of tours, the relationship between ingredients is basically the same from one brewer to the next. What I like to learn is an interesting story that makes the brewery special, what makes it different. Given the tour, crafted beer and quality ingredients evidence its quality, but that’s all you would get out of it. This is a shame because, if you do a little research, Flying Fish has some amazing stories regarding its history and foundation.
A visit to the Flying Fish Brewery website reveals an interesting story about how they got started on the web in 1995 as the world’s first online brewery – a fresh concept during a time without Amazon.com or Netflix. The website allowed readers to become participants and help name beers, become taste testers and even sign up for the possibility to brew.
Before heading back to Livingston, I stock up on the State’s beer limit with a six pack of Hopfish IPA and three Exit 11 750 ml bottles. In the coming weeks, I would pick up multiple bottles whenever I see the Exit 11 anywhere they were available, for casual use and my private stock!
Overall, the tour could use a little structure with some interesting facts about the name and the logo origination, the history behind the web concept as well as its roots, hardships and growth. It could benefit from a loose 15 minute script with room for improvisation while including the basic facts of beer making. After a two hour traffic jammed road trip, it was something I would have appreciated to learn.
In the meantime, the website continues to be a great source of information on Flying Fish brewery’s history and even offers four pages of solid business lessons for those thinking about opening a brewery. From the sound of it, Mr. Muller has had a rocky road and some challenging experiences on his way to accomplishing his current success. I hope Flying Fish brewery continues to do well and continues to spark Mr. Muller’s inspiration. Given the amazing experience I had with Exit 11, Flying Fish brewery has some amazing beers ahead of its future.
Flying Fish brewery conducts walk-in tours and tastings every Saturday afternoon between 1:00 and 4:00 p.m. with that last tour starting around 3:30. They are located at 1940 Olney Avenue in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Double check the events calendar on their website before heading out to double check their tour schedule.