Despite its Jersey Shore roots, the East Coast Beer Co. has spent the last four years brewing its products more than 300 miles from any boardwalk, beach or ocean.
But that's set to change later this year. By late this summer, the maker of Beach Haus beer hopes to open its first permanent home in downtown Belmar, taking the former site of the iconic Freedman's Bakery to build its new microbrewery and headquarters.
The transformation of the landmark building leapt forward last month when MB1 Capital Partners, a Wall-based development firm, closed on the Main Street property. The company now plans to redevelop the site into a 36,000-square-foot retail center anchored by the East Coast Beer facility, which it hopes will be a new tourist attraction.
The project will revitalize the site of a family business that closed earlier this year after more than 60 years in the borough. But it's also doubly sweet for MB1, whose principals have an ownership interest in the beer company.
"We've all experienced a lot of good times in growing up along the Belmar corridor, and Belmar seems to be that center core of the Jersey Shore area," said Joel Brudner, an MB1 principal and Monmouth County resident. "Having a downtown location in an iconic building was just natural for us."
East Coast Beer Co., which was founded in 2009 by Brick natives John Merklin and Brian Ciriaco, produces four Jersey Shore-themed beers including its main Beach Haus pilsner and a black lager called Winter Rental. Since then, the company has done "contract brewing" at a facility in Rochester, N.Y., Brudner said, effectively renting the space whenever it needed to replenish its stock.
But the company's owners decided last year that they had built the brand and gained enough market share to invest in its own facility, he said. East Coast distributes in six states besides New Jersey, selling draft and bottled beer.
That has led to the multimillion-dollar project in Belmar. Brudner said that rather than pick an industrial location, East Coast sough to "pick a point in the Shore area that would give us exposure, but would also be kind of a benefit to one of the Shore towns."
"It's hard to replace a location like that, and we also think it's great for a town that, just like many others, has been hit hard both by the economy and (Hurricane Sandy)," Brudner said. "So it will really be a boost for everyone."
The craft brewery will produce and package Beach Haus beers for distribution to wholesalers and retailers, the company said. It also will be open for educational tours and tastings, while allowing East Coast Beer to expand its line of specialty beers.
The facility will occupy about half of the commercial space at the new site, which requires minor demolition, Brudner said. He added that the company will push to open by late summer.
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