River Horse Brewing Company

Published On December 18, 2014 | By beersnob | Anything Beer, Breweries

Finding new locations for the show requires scouting trips. While scouting locations for our fourth episode, we decided to visit River Horse Brewing Company to see if they might be a good fit for the show. Thinking we were walking into your average micro brew, we found something very unique instead. The first to greet us was Daisy, a scrappy looking pooch who was clearly delighted to see our crew. Our eyes soon fell to the walls though, which were covered in art, graffiti, and beautiful murals (mostly of their unique mascot, a large grey hippopotamus).

Inside, we met up with owner Chris Walsh and he gave us a tour around this New Jersey-born brewery. The building looks quaint from the outside. Once you enter, however, you’re traversing the eclectically decorated front area where beer and souvenirs are sold. Here you get a well-formed first impression of a small brewery with a direct connection to the art community. It’s in the rear of the facility where you finally breathe in the full scope of this brewery and realize it’s no small operation.

Owner, Walsh originally hails from a financial background. He wasn’t born into the brewing world. River Horse was originally opened in 1996 by a trio of brothers whom, over time, had let it fall to the wayside. In 2007, Walsh jumped at the opportunity to purchase the downtrodden brewery and slowly rebuild the brand. Walsh said that “the business had to be  completely shut down for the first two months in order to clean, rebuild, and reorganize the operation.” Once these first steps were taken, the new crew was ready to get in gear.

River Horse’s head brewer, who also happens to be named Chris, shares his responsibilities with the main brewers. When deciding what new beer varieties to cook up, each brewer comes to the table with a recipe they are passionate about. It ‘s truly a team atmosphere here. With 15 full-time employees and 8 part-time employees, the River Horse crew are able to produce about 13,000 barrels a year. Walsh stated that “with the demand for River Horse growing, we have set up the warehouse in order to easily advance production to 80,000 barrels.”

River Horse has around eight beers out at any given time, and their summer series is so popular that it takes over the entire brewery in order to fill the demand. Currently their reach is throughout parts of New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and, of course, New Jersey.

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Walsh recently hired a new team member Sara to handle the day-to-day tasks of the brewery and its myriad of events. “Those events can get interesting,” Walsh stated. A rehearsal dinner for a large wedding recently took over the brewery grounds for a bit, and an all-female yoga class is held in their conference room overlooking the brewery floor. Their most popular attraction, however is the Cask Events where guests are allowed to sample beers that have been pulled from the fermenter with natural carbonation, also called “real ale,” it is not force carbonated with Co2. They then add a little twist which consists of oatmeal milk stout with oak chips soaked in Frangelico (a hazelnut liquor), and put in a stainless steel cask called a firkin or a pin.

Another big attraction to River Horse is their barrel aged beers which have been aged in barrels of whiskey, wine, and port. River Horse has managed to get their hands on 11 Jack Daniels barrels and 6 Makers Mark barrels. “This was not an easy task.” said Walsh, as these barrels are expensive and in high demand. These unique barrel aged beer are sold out of the gift shop and are also in distribution.

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River Horse works hand-in-hand with many artists in an exchange program loosely called “art for beer”. This is how they’ve ended up with some of the cool mosaics you see covering their brewery. Additionally, they sponsor a hip-hop group out of Jersey City. Artistry and creativity is definitely a large part of the culture at River Horse, not just with the facade but also in the way they craft their delicious beers.
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