Many people in Verona can say they’ve been to summer camp. Quite a few have been to football camp, and probably an equally large contingent has been to band camp. But, as far as we know, only two Veronans have been to what may be the ultimate camp: beer camp.
The two are Andrew Zebrowski and Brendan Drury, the co-founders of Hoboken Brewing. The pair grew up in Verona, went through the public school system and graduated Verona High School with the classes of 2004 and 2001, respectively. (Drury was best friends with Zebrowski’s older brother.) Drury became a stockbroker after college, but found himself looking for what he calls “a distracting, challenge hobby with a steep learning curve”. He found it in beer brewing.
Drury first turned his parents’ Verona garage into a beer lab, before moving operations to his own garage in the Hoboken area. Over the last six years, he has brewed 40 different style of beer. “It takes a year to perfect a beer,” Drury says. That led to success in several local beer festivals, but Zebrowski and Drury always wanted to do something more. Now, thanks to years of research and hard work, they’re on the cusp of turning a hobby into a full-time business.
In so doing, they will join an industry with strong growth prospects. According to the Brewers Association, a trade group for craft brewers, small brewers accounted for 12.5% of the U.S. beer market in 2015, producing 24 million barrels of beer while the majors cranked out 141.4 million. But while growth in the overall beer market stagnated, craft brewers saw a heady 12.8% uptick in sales.
While some home brewers create beers for their own consumption for close to what mass-market beer would cost, the economics are very different once you start brewing for others. There are local, state and federal licenses to obtain, brewing equipment to buy, and marketing and sales costs to cover. ProBrewer.com has estimated that startup costs for a nano brewery can run as high as $30,000 per barrel.
Drury and Zebrowski won’t say what their start-up costs have been, but they have been significant enough to require investors, and it was through one of those investors that they wound up last year at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s invitation-only Beer Camp. “It was a Willy Wonka golden ticket,” says Zebrowski, who has a day job in the telecom industry. At the camp, they got to work on a beer under the direction of one of America’s largest craft breweries.
Their goal has always been to create what the beer industry calls a “sessionable” beer: A low-alcohol drink that men and women can consume several of during an evening. Appealing to women is important because they now account for 30% of craft beer sales. In early February, Hoboken Brewing had a tasting at the Verona Inn of Oats & Four Hops, the beer developed at their Sierra Nevada beer camp; they’ll be featured at the Cloverleaf in Caldwell tonight. By May, they will be rolling out Bodi Blonde, a barley, wheat and corn ale that is brewed with organic flaked coconut.
Drury and Zebrowski have lived in Hoboken for years–long enough for the friends to realize that real estate near the Hudson River would be too expensive for them to open their own brewery there. “We’d hear about a space and it would be sold to developers before we could even see it,” Zebrowski said. So they will do what many food and beverage startups do–have their product produced under contract by a bigger company. They will focus on using the capital that they have raised to win bar and retail distribution, and open a tap room. In four to five years, when that is all established, Hoboken Brewing’s own manufacturing facility can follow.
“It is expensive and time-consuming,” Zebrowski says of the profession that will eventually replace their day jobs, “and the laws in New Jersey are stacked against us. But we have been studying the market for years and we’re determined to make this a success.”