by Jane Primerano
Like most small towns, Hackettstown, NJ once had two large bank buildings at main downtown intersections, imposing brick edifices with big windows overlooking the gentle slope of Main Street. Mergers and the ubiquity of drive-up banking resulted in their closing. One is now a medical office and the other just took on a new life as Man Skirt Brewery. “Why not?” Joe Fisher, owner and operator of the brewery, answered when asked about the name. “We’ve had kilts forever. And it’s freedom, we can wear what we want.”
“I’m not Scottish,” he noted as he appeared wearing a skirt. “It’s not a kilt,” he said. “No pleats.” The name might be considered odd, but the location is prime. Hackettstown is a walkable town with Centenary College on the west and M&M/Mars headquarters on the east.
Although the grand opening was scheduled for Oct. 9, Fisher held a “soft” opening on Tuesday, Sept. 15 as part of the Foodshed Alliances “Green Drinks” series. This evening of tasting beers and sampling organic snacks was actually termed “Glean Drinks” because it was focused on Local Share, a project of the Foodshed Alliance that sends volunteers to local farms to glean what is left in the fields and gardens for the benefit of area food banks and soup kitchens.
Fisher is a very active volunteer with Local Share, according to Foodshed Alliance Executive Director Kendrya Close. He not only helps with the gleaning and delivering, he also lends his refrigerator for apples and peaches. “We are reaching out to a new audience for Local Share,” coordinator Kate Munning said.
Man Skirt is Fisher’s first foray into commercial brewing, although he has been brewing beers for himself and friends for years. He is keeping his day job at Picatinny Arsenal in Rockaway Township while running Man Skirt evenings. He has the assistance of his wife, Liz, “The Swag Maven,” who ordered t-shirts and arranged other prizes and gifts for the Kickstarter campaign that resulted in Man Skirt.
Tables and areas of the brewery are festooned with the names of donors. Some also received safe deposit boxes left over from the building’s history as a bank. “They were empty,” Fisher said of the safe deposit boxes. “We opened them all.”
The bank was the first building he looked at when searching for a location for Man Skirt. He perused other places, but kept coming back to the old building with glass brick and big windows. His father was looking for an investment property, so he bought the building and Fisher leased it back.
The “soft” opening drew many fans of the Foodshed Alliance and Local Share, but also passersby and many of the people who helped Fisher open the brewery. One of the latter is Jay Cumming who built the brewery’s bar. Under glass, the top in full of pennies, $30 worth brand new, others old, including some zinc coins from the 1940s. The pennies were all placed in the vault before they became part of the bar, so Fisher could say honestly they spend time at the bank.
The black and white logo of Man Skirt was developed by Justine Sherry, a graphic artist who is a friend of Joe and Liz Fisher. The sign has been hanging over the corner of Main Street and Grand Avenue for weeks, attracting the attention of walkers and the people stopped at the light.
Cumming and his wife, Jennifer, met Joe and Liz Fisher through a brew club. “Joe has always been one of the best brewers,” Jennifer Cumming said.
To comply with state law, Fisher gave several tours of the brewery before selling any beer. Munning also took the opportunity of the tour to share information about Local Share.
The beer is brewed on the old platform where the tellers once stood and the customer portion is festooned with tables. Fisher has a glassed-in office once used by a manager.
Fisher is starting to distribute his beers. “First to Marley’s,” he said, and noted the bar across Main Street was the site of many organization meetings for Man Skirt. He also has customers lined up in Sparta, Morristown and Califon.
Fisher had two beers on tap at the Foodshed event: the Great Porter, a dark, roast-y, creamy, 5.5% ABV with chocolate and coffee notes, and Better than Pants Bitter, a lighter, 4% ABV brew. Both proved very popular.
Man Skirt, an out-of-the-ordinary brewery
by Jane Primerano