By Anne Levin
If you attended a charity auction to benefit McCarter Theatre, Trinity Counseling Service, Princeton Charter School, or any number of other organizations in town last spring, you probably encountered Sebastian Clarke. He’s the lanky, personable guy who runs the show, rattling off the numbers and “filler words” to coax bidders higher and higher—but always with a light touch. more
Photo Credit: Justin McLeod
By Sarah Emily Gilbert
December was a boozy month for the town of Hopewell, New Jersey. It marked the grand opening of two new breweries: Troon Brewing on the property of Double Brook Farm (130 Hopewell Rocky Hill Road) and The Referend Bier Blendery located on 1595 Reed Road. You might think this could lead to a “Battle of the Brews,” but in reality, it’s a welcomed coincidence according to James Priest, owner and founder of The Referend.
“Whenever you’re at either place, everyone is talking about the other one too,” he explains. “It’s great; we’re doing two considerably different beer styles, and people are really excited about both. On Untappd [an app where users can check-in to breweries and share their experiences], we’re the two highest rated breweries in New Jersey right now, so we’re trying to keep that going.”
The Referend isn’t just different from Troon, but the vast majority of breweries in the United States. This is due impart to the fact that the startup isn’t actually a brewery but a “bier blendery.” Priest explains that he doesn’t have a brewhouse of his own, which is where the “brewing” technically occurs. Instead, he travels to other breweries where he creates a specifically engineered wort, which is basically unfermented beer; pumps the boiling wort into a mobile coolship, or an open-top vessel in which wort cools; and brings the still non-alcoholic wort back to the blendery to spontaneously ferment in oak barrels.
The intricate art of spontaneous fermentation is the traditional brewing process for the most idiosyncratic type of beer you’ll taste: lambic. A Belgian specialty that dates back to the Roman Empire, lambic-style beers are relatively rare stateside. A handful of independent American breweries produce spontaneously fermented beer, but The Referend is the only brewery in the country that never adds cultured yeast to their beer. In short, Priest is likely “blending” up the most authentic lambic beer in the nation.
Unlike most beers that are fermented in sterile tanks with carefully selected strains of yeast engineered in a laboratory, Priest’s are left in his coolships overnight where wild yeasts and microbes in the air can enter the brew. The average brewer tries to prevent natural microbes from taking residence in their beer to avoid unpredictable flavors. Priest, on the other hand, embraces the “wildness” that is integral to lambics.
“It is not at all hard to ferment beer spontaneously,” says Priest. “What is difficult is completely ceding control to nature, which these beers require of you immediately. In turn, nature rewards you for trusting in its own process, on its own timeline. It seems to be a more philosophical brewing method than most.”
Mother Nature is indeed on her own timeline when it comes to the fermentation process. Once Priest transfers the wort to aged oak barrels to spontaneously ferment, they take anywhere between four months and four years to mature.
“I let the beer tell us when its ready to be enjoyed,” says the ever-patient Priest. “It’s consistently slower than one would hope, but I’m committed to its autonomy.”
There are some lambic-style beers that ease the waiting process. Priest explains that Jung, which is German for young, is served intentionally prematurely at months old to highlight the early developing complexities in the beer’s adolescence.
The aging process of lambic beer is similar to that of wine – and in some ways, so is the taste. Although all the beer produced at The Referend falls under the category of sour beer, Priest likens the taste to a dry wine, champagne, or cider. Others describe the flavor as earthy, hay-like, or leathery. There’s no debating that lambics have an impactful taste, even Priest had to ease-into the old-world beer.
“One of the earliest ones I remember having is Cantillon Gueuze, which is sort of held up as a benchmark for the lambic-style,” says Priest. “I found it slightly off-putting and couldn’t quite pick some of the associations, but I wanted to kind of delve into what else was going on there. Even when I found it, I had the desire to acquire the taste. In a matter of beers, I was legitimately enjoying them not just as an exploration.”
“Some lambics are very approachable for everyone and aren’t that much of an acquired taste,” he continues. “Other lambics certainly can be if you start getting any of the strong, funkier aromas and flavors. In that case, it can take a few times and it did for me.”
With the increasing popularity of sour beers, there’s perhaps no better time for Priest to introduce his brews to the public. The Referend’s grand opening brought tons of thirsty Hopewellians to the previous site of Pennington Athletic Club (now Pennington Ewing Athletic Center) to taste the unconventional beer. The local support is reciprocating by Priest. A Chicago-native, he’s gone full-Jersey at The Referend. His “blends” have featured “Jersey Fresh” peaches, nectarines, grapes, hops, spelt, and grain. “There’s so much in the area,” says Priest, “that it’s thankfully very easy to seek out farmers for whatever we’re looking for and drag it down to The Referend.”
You have to go to the source to try one of Priest’s lambics. The Referend’s beer isn’t sold for off-site consumption, and due to the delicate nature of certain lambics, kegging isn’t advisable. Priest has completed one round of bottling, but they most likely won’t be ready for consumption until springtime. In true lambic style, it takes many months for the beer to carbonate or re-ferment in the bottle. Luckily, you don’t have to wait long to taste some of Priest’s other creations. The Referend’s Tasting Room is open from 2 to 8 p.m. on the first and third Saturdays of each month, making the next tasting January 21, followed by February 4. If you plan on stopping by, you mine as well make it a beer tour. The Blendery is merely two miles away from River Horse Brewing Company in Ewing and eight miles from Troon Brewing in Pennington. Now that’s the way to start the weekend. Cheers!
Arts Council of Princeton’s Executive Director Jeff Nathanson with artist Paul Henry Ramirez
Photography by Erica Cardenas
Dining by Design, the Arts Council of Princeton’s signature annual fall gala, was held at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton Township on Saturday, November 12. This year’s theme, Eye Candy, was inspired by the art exhibit Rattle by Paul Henry Ramirez on view in Grounds for Sculpture’s West Gallery. The evening featured cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, live modern dance, Party Boards, a multi-course dinner catered by STARR Events, and an exciting live auction. The choreography and direction of the dancers was the work of Dawn Cargiulo Berman, director of The Pennington Studio for Dance and the Creative Arts. Berman engaged dancers from the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company and Pilobolus Dance Theater to be a part of the evening. The event proved to be a major success, raising funds for the Arts Council of Princeton’s many community programs including their scholarship fund, which benefits local students.
One-night-only Italian truffle dinner taking place at elements Princeton on Sunday, 11/13
On November 13, for one night only, elements will be open on a Sunday evening to tantalize your taste buds with an exclusive six-course Truffle tasting dinner with Italian wine pairings. Course highlights include fresh fluke with olive oil and cider vinegar, duck bolognese over tagliatelle and 48-hour brisket served over rice and mushrooms. more
Photo Credit: @jammincrepes
By Sarah Emily Gilbert
It’s not even midway through October and many of us are over pumpkin spiced lattes. Luckily, our town is full of unique alternatives to this often-overrated fall treat. We asked some of our favorite Princeton eateries to share their seasonal offerings with us, and boy, did they deliver.
Photography by Erica Cardenas
Beyond Words, the annual fall gala hosted by the Friends of the Princeton Public Library took place on Saturday, September 17. This year’s special guests were Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Strout and novelist Jean Hanff Korelitz who spoke at Nassau Presbyterian Church. After the talk, guests gathered at Hinds Plaza for a book signing and cocktails followed by a silent auction and dinner. more
By Sarah Emily Gilbert
Throughout one of the hottest summers in history, a highly pregnant Jennifer Poe was hard at work in her Newtown, Pennsylvania interior design store, Rittenhouse Home Furniture and Décor. Merely weeks after giving birth to a baby boy, Poe is back at it, heading some of the most sought-after interior design projects in the Greater Philadelphia area.
This type of work ethic is nothing new for the recent mother of four. Since the age of 19, she has had a hand in the purchasing, gutting, and renovating of homes, quickly establishing her visionary talent. After graduating from the Art Institute of Philadelphia, Poe founded Rittenhouse Home Furniture and Décor, a full-service boutique firm with cosmopolitan sensibilities. Her storefront may be located in Newtown, but her clientele spans from Philadelphia’s most discerning neighborhoods to Bergen County. more
Friday, September 9
5 to 9 p.m.: Food Truck Friday. Live music and food trucks at 2 Railroad Place, Hopewell (rain or shine).
Saturday, September 10
8 a.m.: 5 Mile Road Race at ETS, 660 Rosedale Road, Princeton. Hosted by Community Education and Outreach of Princeton Healthcare System and Princeton Fitness and Wellness Center. Learn more at www.princetonhcs.org.
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Doylestown Arts Festival, celebrating 25 years of groundbreaking art in Doylestown, Pa. Includes more than 160 artisans, live music, and food courts (also on Sunday, September 11). more
Registered nutritionist and dietician Jane Schwartz eases you into school-lunch-packing season with her nutrition tips for parents and their kids
By Sarah Emily Gilbert
How many times have you looked into your child’s lunch bag to find a piece of fruit left behind? Most kids have no problem finishing their Dunkaroos or fruit snacks, but when it comes to eating health foods, they often transform into picky eaters. more
Friday, September 2
6:30 p.m.: Screening of The Man Who Knew Infinity (2015) at Princeton Public Library. The biographical drama is based on the 1991 book of the same name by Robert Kanigel.
7 p.m.: Open Mic Night at the Hopewell United Methodist Church, 20 Blackwell Avenue, Hopewell. Open to all musicians, beginner to advanced.