Burnt Mills Cider - It’s all about timing

The large parking area suggests a large tap room. But the tap room is way too small.

Bhavna, Shaan, and I recently had two disparate experiences at Burnt Mills Cider in Bedminster, Somerset County. Our first trip on a weekend in the summer of 2022 was enjoyable, encouraging us to plan another visit. As residents of Somerset County, we wanted to support our local businesses. We left home in Montgomery Township around 5:15 PM on a workday this time, driving north for an hour to reach the cidery around 6:15 PM. Our goal? To sip cider and munch on goodies from the Veganish food truck. But, as life often reminds us, things don't always go according to plan.

Upon arrival, we faced our first challenge: a packed, dimly lit, unpaved, and uneven parking area. It took a lot of work to navigate the potholes and bumps in the parking lot to find parking. We found a parking spot near the entrance, far from the tap room. Armed with our iPhones as torches, we reached the taproom.

We got to the taproom and realised there was no food truck. I understand this isn't Burnt Mills Cidery's fault, but they must work with reliable food truck vendors. We thought about ordering delivery from one of the nearby restaurants, but we expected it would be at least a 30-minute wait, and we were hungry.

Inside, the small tap room was packed. We could hardly hear ourselves discussing what to do next. We had just driven almost an hour, and based on how filled the small tap room looked, we expected a shitty experience. We did not relish the experience of standing around drinking while shouting over the din. The outdoor space was available. It was cold outside, even with winter coats. Sitting outside drinking cider while inhaling smoke from a firepit was not the experience we wanted.

Inside, the tiny taproom was buzzing with people, making it hard to think, let alone chat. Faced with the prospect of a less-than-appealing experience, we made a call. Instead of braving the crowded space or the cold outdoors next to a smoky firepit, we decided to head to Flounder Brewing, grabbing pizza en route. It was a great decision – Flounder's spacious taproom and heated outdoor area offered a comfortable and relaxing evening.

Burnt Mills Cider, Bedminster
Burnt Mills Cider, Bedminster · 16 December 2023 · Apple iPhone 11 Pro · iPhone 11 Pro back camera 6mm f/2

But we weren't ready to give up on Burnt Mills Cider yet! Determined to give the cidery a chance, we planned a daytime visit. We pre-ordered pizza from Bedminster Pizza this time and arrived early on a Saturday. What a difference!

The welcoming staff clustered behind the small taproom. As we ate pizza, we explored a variety of cider flavours. Bhavna and Shaan each enjoyed a flight: Shaan's included Fall Spice, Blackcurrant, Cider Donut, and The Hunt, while Bhavna's featured Fall Spice, Jersey Peach, Cider Donut, and The Hunt. My picks? I enjoyed half pours of the "Semi-Dry" and "Hops. I was disappointed that the "Sparkling Dry" was, so I had a half-pour of Blackcurrant. Shaan was delighted by the "Cider Donut" cider, which she said tasted like cider doughnuts. The jam-like qualities of the Black Currant were a shared favourite. We ended our visit just as the crowd began to get larger, bringing home cans of "Semi-Dry," "Hops," and "Black Currant,"

My problem with Burnt Mills Cider cider is that the tap room needs to be bigger to accommodate the number of people arriving in the cars that fill the large parking area. To a first-time visitor, the parking area suggests a large tap room. Once the tap room gets packed, ordering cider becomes problematic. The recipe for a good experience is to visit on the weekend, arrive as close to opening as possible, and pre-order your food for delivery or pickup.

The Seed: A Living Beer Project

Bhavna and I bid farewell to the fun weekend at Cape May and set Apple Maps to route us home with one additional stop at The Seed in Atlantic City. The drive from Cape May was uninteresting and uneventful. We arrived in Atlantic City, and the Apple Maps app navigated us through mostly empty city streets.

The brewery is next to Westecunk Axe Throwing in a windowless brick building on Baltic Ave in a residential neighbourhood. The homes appeared to be a mixture of new modern townhouses and old row homes. The brewery’s location initially seemed peculiar, given its reputation. However, I've learned that great things often come from unexpected places. Curious and excited, I parked the car.

Arriving a tad too early, I patiently waited in my car, eagerly glancing at the entrance of The Seed. The anticipation grew with each minute, like the bubbling excitement before taking the first sip of a perfectly chilled brew. Finally, the time came, and we hopped out of the car and stepped through the entrance, a small door on the side of the building.

The Seed Taproom
The Seed Taproom · Sunday 16 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF27mmF2.8 R WR

Upon entering, I was struck by the taproom's industrial aesthetic. It exuded a unique charm that perfectly complemented the atmosphere of the brewery. Bhavna and I were the first and only people there at that moment. It felt like a private tasting experience, a rare opportunity to chat up the cicerone.

Engaging in conversation with the friendly cicerone, I discovered their passion for beer was as vibrant as their crafted flavours. We delved into the intricacies of the brewer’s creations, discussing the unique qualities that set them apart. What caught my attention was their collaboration with our local brewery, Troon Brewing. This collaboration showcased their dedication to pushing boundaries and creating unique beers.

We learned that the brewer at The Seed had a penchant for experimentation. Each sip carried the essence of their creativity and dedication, leaving me craving more.

The Seed Taproom
The Seed Taproom · Sunday 16 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF27mmF2.8 R WR

After presenting the beer flight, the cicerone opened the garage door on the side of the building exposing the far side of the tap room and letting in more light.

Since we still had to drive home, Bhavna and I shared a flight. We had the Tangerines And String Quartets a pale ale dry hopped with Citra and Sabro. It was super juicy and delicious. We also had the Home Going, a double IPA brewed in collaboration with Fidens Brewing in Colonie, New York and dry hopped with Nelson CGX, Strata, and Amarillo. Next was Cozy Up, an English-inspired dark mild brewed in collaboration with Forest and Main in Ambler, PA. Bhavna and I toured Forest and Main several years ago. We followed that with The Ever Thinking Mind, an IPA brewed with oats from Rabbit Hill Farms in Shiloh, New Jersey, and dry hopped with bright, punchy New Zealand hops.

The Seed Taproom
The Seed Taproom · Sunday 16 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR
The Seed Taproom
The Seed Taproom · Sunday 16 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

A few more people entered, and we lost the attention of the cicerone, who was now busy serving patrons. I met a friendly couple and got into a lively conversation about beer styles, our favourite breweries in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. We discussed our early beer experiences and how we started drinking craft beer. The commodore and willingness to share are one of the things I love about beer enthusiasts.

What is The Seed: A Living Beer Project? It’s a brewery project exploring the fantastic combination of indigenous ingredients, local agriculture, and fermentation. They’re always playing around with new ideas and trying to find the perfect balance between art and science, but what drives them is nature’s infinite variability. From the tiniest differences in wheat harvests to the incredible range of flavours and aromas that different microbes can create, there’s always something new and exciting to discover. They’re so passionate about this project, and it shows in the fantastic stories they tell through their beers.

The Seed Taproom
The Seed Taproom · Sunday 16 April 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF27mmF2.8 R WR

I can't help but reiterate the significance of this living beer project. The title speaks volumes about their commitment to cultivating unique and dynamic brews. The Seed is more than just a brewery; it embodies artistry, passion, and innovation.

Before we left, I purchased a four-pack of After Winter, a Kellerpils brewed Rabbit Hill Farm malt with fresh Cascade hops and marigold blossoms.

I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have visited The Seed and witnessed their craft firsthand. I eagerly look forward to returning to this brewery in the future. If you're a fellow beer lover, I highly recommend venturing into The Seed and discovering its magic. If you’re into craft beer, you need to check them out!

Cocky Little Asian Guy and Small City Taphouse

We visited CLAG, a brewery that I think is one of the best in Ohio.

On our first night in Sandusky, when the owners of Sandusky Wine Merchant found out that Bhavna and I were craft ale fans, they recommended we visit [CLAG Brewing]. There is another brewer within easy walking distance of the hotel, but Alana and Kevin were adamant that CLAG was the one to visit.

CLAG, Sandusky, Ohio
Friday 2 September 2022 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF27mmF2.8 R WR

I met a short Asian man outside the brewery just as we entered the building. I told him that he looked like the owner's photograph on the website. I asked if that was him. He gave a vague answer, and our conversation continued until we got to the taproom, where Emilia, our taproom attendant, confirmed that the man I met at the entrance was indeed the owner.

CLAG, Sandusky, Ohio
CLAG’s owner, Kha Bui · Friday 2 September 2022 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF27mmF2.8 R WR

CLAG, an acronym for Cocky Little Asian Guy, is owned by the same family that owns Small City Taphouse, one of Ohio's premier craft beer bars. The owner, Kha Bui, and his business partners, including his brother An Bui, invested about $1.2 million to start Clag Brewing Co. on Columbus Avenue. Kha’s brother, An, owns The Answer Brewpub in Richmond, Virginia. The Answer Brewpub is a 2018 James Beard Foundation Awards Semifinalist. The Bui family has a history of creating popular eateries and pubs. The Buis are natives of Vietnam who have lived in the USA since the 1980s.

CLAG, Sandusky, Ohio
Friday 2 September 2022 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF27mmF2.8 R WR

We are used to the small spaces of many micro-craft breweries in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, usually located in former industrial sections of old towns or restored barns on historic farm properties. The size of the space is enormous. The brewery and taproom are in one building, and the restaurant, the Small City Taphouse, is in the adjacent building.

The beer is excellent and is the best beer I’ve had in Ohio, although, to be truthful, I have not had a lot of beer from Ohio’s breweries. I was told that Dong is pronounced just as we would that vulgar word in English. Few brewery owners put their faces or likeness on their beer labels, but Kha is a brewery owner like no other. Kha continues with his tongue-in-cheek nature in the names of his IPAs, among them One Million Dong, Two Million Dong, Three Million Dong, and One Floppy Dong, with a caricature of his face on each label. We also tried his Hoppy No Ending, Juicy Bui and Yellow Moon ales.

CLAG, Sandusky, Ohio
Friday 2 September 2022 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF27mmF2.8 R WR

Kha isn’t the only Bui to grace a CLAG beer label. Kha’s parents have their beers named after them: Mama Bui triple IPA and Papa Bui double IPA. We didn’t try these beers. While both have been available on tap dating back to CLAG’s grand opening, Mama Bui and Papa Bui are now released in cans once a year on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, respectively.

We spent the rest of the night at the bar, hanging out with Kha and some of his friends, staying hours after the taproom had officially closed. Kha told about how he opened the Small City Taphouse and then, inspired by his brother’s success in Richmond, bought the adjacent building, and knocked out a space in the wall between them to connect his brewery and tap room to the restaurant. Kha has plans to renovate the top floors of the building to create a boutique hotel.

Thursday 1 September 2022 · Apple iPhone 11 Pro · iPhone 11 Pro back triple camera 4.25mm f/1.8

It was a very late night, and perhaps because the conversations were so enjoyable, I didn’t take any photographs of the restaurant space in the Small City Taphouse. But we returned the next day for an early dinner. The photos I took of the tap room don’t quite show the enormity of the space, nor does it include the hundreds of bottles of spirits that line the wall from top to bottom.

I found the menu at Small City Taphouse overwhelming, full of succulent and authentic Asian cuisine, which features something for just about anyone. I wanted something with intense flavour. Our server suggests the Spicy Lemongrass Sauce with Onion and Pork. It was delicious.