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The Session: 6 Questions With Double Nickel Brewing Company’s JT Melvin

Expanding your craft beer footprint in your own state isn’t easy, but trying to do that 3,000 miles away? That’s roughly 3,000 times more difficult (we’re guessing — math isn’t our strong suit). Yet that’s what the crew over at Double Nickel Beer Company in Pennsauken, New Jersey, has set out to do.

Last month, DNBC officially expanded into the California market. Rather than stick to their tried and true fan favorites, they brewed a beer celebrating this new frontier called Coast to Coast. The Hazy IPA is loaded with an oaty malt bill and Mosaic and Nelson hops, and it will only be available in the Golden State and in their South Jersey tasting room. The Bottle Shoppe in Sylmar was one the first to get their hands on this new brew, even running a tasting event with the Jersey boys while they were in town, and we were lucky enough to try Coast to Coast at the Juicy Brews Festival in San Pedro. During the fest, brewer J.T. Melvin was kind enough to wax poetic about not just the beers he’s loved making in his three years at DNBC but also what it’s like to bring that Jersey attitude to SoCal.

Melvin has the chops to go coast-to-coast. Born in Los Angeles, he grew up outside of Philadelphia but returned to California for college. He enrolled in UC San Diego’s brewing program and nabbed his first beer job at Left Coast Brewing Company in San Clemente, where he got a quick intro to the industry by cleaning kegs. “My first ever task was to dump a pallet of out-of-code beer, which was a huge shock as someone who just wanted to drink it! But that was a good lesson, as I now know that there’s a lot that goes into making sure customers get the best possible product,” he explains. After that, he worked his way up, landing a gig as a cellarman at Modern Times before moving back east, where, in a case of kismet, Double Nickel opened up next to his hometown.

Jersey attitude and Cali sensibilities lead the way in not just Double Nickel’s clean, classic lineup but Melvin’s brewing style. Find out more about the brewer and DNBC’s beers in our latest round of The Session, which we conducted via email after Melvin was back in the Garden State.

Emily Krauser: Double Nickel beers are described as “modern-brewed classics.” What does that mean exactly?

JT Melvin: We have a huge appreciation for classic beer styles: German lagers, Belgian trappists, and British ales. From the start, we’ve always wanted to brew those classics, but we also are modern brewers, and the processes and equipment have changed. We’ve done a good job, I think, of keeping these beers true to style but making them approachable for the people who come to our brewery. Every brewer knows that there is a little compromise that comes with the job. I think we’d all be making pilsners and barrel-aged sours if it were up to us, but we have customers to introduce beer to. So here, we try not to make it a compromise as much as make it our agenda to showcase these beer styles that we’re really passionate about and have them be something that a loyal Yuengling drinker would appreciate and want to come back for.

EK: Do you think being from and working in New Jersey brings something special to the brewing process?

JM: Jersey is a very unique place. I missed it more than I expected when I was living in California. I love New Jersey for a lot of reasons that I think people don’t know about. The nature we have here is actually pretty wonderful — it truly is the Garden State! I think having a lot of fresh produce always around lends itself to very exciting seasonal beers. A lot of us got started in homebrewing here in Jersey, and I think that background is another reason we’re used to experimenting with those fresh ingredients that the Garden State has to offer.

EK: What made DNBC want to be in the California market?
JM: We love spending time there, but on top of that, we know that people out there know and appreciate good beer. There’s a common misconception that I think a lot of people have that there’s some point where we’re going to see oversaturation in the beer market, but if you look at these big cities in California, you see that’s not actually the case. There’s so much amazing beer there, some of the best in the world, but that doesn’t hinder the industry. It just forces everyone to improve, and it makes the customers much more educated and discerning. But I still think we can come in here and make a name for ourselves. The beer culture in Southern California is really hard to beat, so if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em! I’m excited to see how people there respond to our beer.

EK: Why was Coast to Coast the first exclusive beer you brewed for the California market, and what went into creating it?
JM: Last year, we brewed this West Coast-style IPA that was influenced a lot by my time in Cali. I was really proud of it, and it was pretty well received. Since then, we’ve put a lot of hard work into perfecting the style that’s taking over the industry these days: hazy, juicy, New England-style IPAs. With Coast to Coast, we wanted to bridge the gap between the new and old, East and West. This beer has that great, smooth juiciness people are into but still enough crispy hop bitterness that makes you want to drink a whole case of them. We also released a really great, straight-up West Coast-IPA available in the tasting room at the same time, so I was glad to get back to that, too.

EK: Is there one beer style you enjoy making the most?
JM: In terms of actual manual labor, the pilsner might be the easiest for me to make, so maybe that! On the other end of the spectrum, our stout is very hands-on to make, but when it’s going, it makes the whole brewery smell like the Hershey’s chocolate factory, so I love when we get to brew that. We brewed an English Mild as part of a Partigyle brew, which involves brewing a stout and then taking the spent grain leftover to make a much more mild version of that stout. It’s got that same roasty, maltiness of the stout but it’s way more crushable, so I usually hit that up for my shift beer.

EK: What do you want people here in California to know about DNBC?
JM: We brew beer out here in Jersey with every bit of passion and proficiency as the great California breweries that I learned how to brew at. We have an incredibly laid-back production staff here, and I think people could confuse us for the same kind of crew you might find in San Diego. We here at Double Nickel love beer as much as the people in the great state of California, so I hope that comes across in our product. The best part of working here — and there is really not a gun to my head, I promise — is the people that I work with day-in, day-out. My fellow production members have become good friends of mine, and I always enjoy getting done with my shift to have a pint with them. The bar staff, sales crew, all the way up to the owners are people I get along and enjoy working with. A few times a year, the whole crew goes out and spends the night on the town together, and we’ve had some serious fun. We’re all lucky, and I think a lot of us are trying to not take this great situation for granted.

We took a long time to get on a few hype trains with these styles that came out in the last few years, mainly because we try to make a great, stable product. We recently got a small pilot system that is now allowing us to do much more experimentation, and it’s only going to increase our ability to put out some of these awesome, interesting new styles — and maybe we might find some of our own! So. for people just getting familiar with us, get ready for a fun ride, because I think we’re just getting started.

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