Rutgers University was founded in 1766 as Queen’s College, but what Wikipedia won’t tell you is the reason that Rutgers went through the name change.
The college was renamed in 1825 after Colonel Henry Rutgers, due to his generous donation that allowed the school to reopen after years of financial difficulty. But where did this money come from?
According to David J. Fowler’s article, "Benevolent Patriot: The Life and Times of Henry Rutgers," the family operated at least two breweries in New York City — beer of course being the second most popular and economically important consumer good in early America. Over four generations of the Rutgers family have worked as brewers, giving them the title, “the first of the brewing families in America”.
Rutgers University was partially founded on beer money. The founding fathers are revered as heroes in the U.S., and it’s liberating to know that these founders just wanted to crack open a cold one after a long day of revolution and finding democracy.
We realized we knew very little about the business or craft of brewing, so we decided to take a fifteen minute drive to Cypress Brewing Company located in Edison, New Jersey. We visited with the owner, lead brewer and Rutgers alumnus, Charles Backmann, who gave us a tour of his brewery, explained the process of brewing, and even let us sample some of his fantastic beers.
Much like their craft beers, Cypress Brewery was created due to extreme passion and eagerness to make something great. Family and friends had a large influence in the creation, from Backmann's mother elegantly painting the walls and tiling the floor, to partners, friends and extended family building everything from the bar to the cabinets.
"Everybody chipped in and played a part," Backmann said.
Backmann graduated from Rutgers in 2002 with a degree in Criminal Justice. He often spent time home brewing with his friends, and now business partners. Working for a brewing company after graduating gave him the experience necessary to open his own business.
Often requiring 80 hours of work a week to brew, it’s truly a labor of love. Our tour started out with seeing the barley used in the brewing process.
“Barley comes in many different levels, as the Lovibond number gets higher, the brew gets darker," Backmann said.
Three different giant stainless steel basins are used to brew. A brewer uses one ‘"tun" to boil the water, and another that serves as a tea kettle of sorts.
The amount of sugars withdrawn from the grain was referred to as the "brew house efficiency", a number that reflects the percent of sugar that the brewer was able to extract from the grains being used.
“I'm getting out about everything that I can. There will always be something left over, though, when you're dealing with 180 pounds of grain," Backmann said.
The boil kettle is where additions to the brew are made. The brew is sent through a chiller and into a fermenter.
“Once we add a little yeast, it eventually multiplies as it eats the sugars in the grain. The leftovers are the alcohol, which is released by the yeast. It also produces CO2 in the breakdown of the sugar," Backmann said.
Hops, a flower of the cannabis family, serves in the brewing process as well. It was a brewers tradition to eat one of every hop that you are brewing with on that day. If a bitter, ashy and all around unpleasant flavor is what you’re seeking, you may consider working hops into your diet somehow.
The bitterness in beer comes from the alpha acid found in the hops, which is given a number on the International Bitterness Unit (IBU) Scale.
“The scale was created by a whole bunch of taste testers sitting down, tasting beers and determining how bitter they were from there," Backmann said.
After explaining the process of brewing to us, we were invited to try some of the beers that the business had on tap.
We began with the Strawberry Basil, a fine combination of Thai basil and sweet basil, mixed into the boil to get flavor from the real, organic plants used. We then tried the very hoppy IPA.
We were also able to sample other great beers like the Pumpkin Porter, which tasted like chocolate and graham cracker, and the Seison, which uses lemon and tangerine for the aroma and flavor.
Our favorite was the Pumpkin Imperial Ale, which tasted strongly of pumpkin, and came in at a whopping 8.3 percent alcohol.
Tours are given to everybody who comes in for a pint. All of the vegetation used in the brews are also home grown, making Backmann one of the only brewers in the area to use organic, fresh ingredients.