Have you ever driven on I-95 down to Florida? It is a brutal drive, at least 12 hours or more depending on where you are going. The road is absolutely monotonous and it seems like it is never going to end. Everytime you think you are getting close, your GPS tells you that you still have hundreds of miles to go.
But then something happens: all of a sudden you see palm trees. And then you roll the window down, and it is warm out. Somewhere along the line you transitioned from the long road to the beautiful sunshine state. Looking back, you can barely even remember leaving the house. But now you are on vacation, and you have a purpose. You know that the rest of the road will lead you right where you need to be.
If you are familiar at all with that scenario, then you will understand how it has been opening Twin Lights. It has been an extremely long journey with many twists and turns, and oftentimes it is hard to remember that just 4 years ago was when we first started brewing beer. Mike and I started homebrewing in 2016 and we knew that this was our calling while as we were brewing the first batch. I have worked in the restaurant industry my entire life, and I am one of the crazies that absolutely loves it. I have tried to get out of the industry countless times and I keep coming back; so the idea of opening my own bar/brewery was a dream come true. Mike is an absolute jack of all trades. That guy could fix the dent in the side of your car, build trails using stones the same way the Romans did, and electrically wire an entire brewery single handedly. He also brews a mean batch of beer and has a real passion doing it. We knew back in 2016 that we were early in our brewing career and were in no sense ready to open a brewery, but we also knew that we had the time and the patience to hone our craft, and it was always on the back of our minds that one day we would own our own brewery.
In between then and now while we worked full time we homebrewed. ALOT. Mike actually jumped into the brewing industry professionally. He started out working at Kane, which is a pioneer in New Jersey and makes some of the best beer around. Eventually he worked his way to Torch and Crown, which is a brewery located in the Bronx, NY. He became head brewer and then the production manager there, making some absolutely delicious beer. I went a little different path and ended up working as a financial advisor for several years before leaving in 2018 to focus on trying to get Twin Lights off the ground full time.
We both knew that it was time to open the brewery, and we both felt that we had the industry expertise to operate a brewpub, complete with food, music, and great beer. We completed our 130+ page business plan in January of 2019 and went out there looking for money to start a brewpub in Highlands, NJ. The feedback we got from the town was tremendous. They are an extremely resilient, close knit community with deep ties to nature, history, food, drink, as well as the arts. With the Navesink Twin Lights looking over the town like a giant stone fortress, we knew there was no better place to call home. We presented to banks and investors for several months. We came close a few times, but no matter how we looked at it there was no way we could obtain enough capital to open the brewery.
It was a huge blow, but we knew there had to be a way that we could make it work. If we waited to save up enough money to open the brewery, I would probably be writing this article in 2040. We looked at how some other breweries opened, a few off them using the alternate route of gypsy brewing, which is more cost effective. We knew that if we took that road we would have to forgo our own tasting room for now, but the thought that people were getting thirsty waiting for us propelled us in that direction
Then came another problem; we couldn’t find a suitable space. Finding affordable warehouse space in Monmouth county is not an easy task, trust me. We looked for about 7 months before we finally found an appropriate warehouse to store our beer. We signed the lease October of 2019, and honestly thought we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. We figured we would have beer out by New Years.
We submitted the initial paperwork early November for our state license and waited. And then we waited some more. We planned our eventual release. We planned on brewing collabs with our other brewery friends. We planned on throwing awesome tap takeovers with live music. Absolute shenanigans was the game plan. But we mostly talked about how summer of 2020 was going to kick ass.
And then we waited even more. Finally, after what seemed the same as an eternity of driving on I-95, we were giving a phone call in March that our state license was approved. We couldn’t believe it was actually happening. It was the beginning of the COVID-19 panic, but we were still optimistic. 2 days later Governor Murphy closed all essential business.
I remember going home that night in absolute disbelief. How could this happen? After working 4 years and sinking practically our entire life savings into our dream, how could it end so soon? I knew I could not go back to working a 9-5 corporate job, nor could I go back to slinging drinks behind the bar like a mad lad. It just wasn’t in the cards for me. It was a rough night.
Then the next day it happened, just like that drive to Florida. Just when I thought we were never going to find the end of the road, we got the news that we were considered essential and were allowed to stay open. My first sigh was absolute relief and joy, but guilt soon followed. Why were we the lucky business that was allowed to operate? I felt horrible for many of my friends, who are also small business owners, who had to put a closed sign on their door with absolutely no idea on when they could open it again. I understand the helplessness that comes with knowing you have bills to pay and not being able to pay them, because literally the day before we were in that boat with them.
As we talked to friends, family, and other business owners, most of them encouraged us not to falter. That in some odd way, the universe was telling us that this was our time. We made the quick decision to switch all production from draft beer to cans, and then set out pre-selling our beer, which brings us to today, Friday the 25th of April, the day we drop off our first batch of beer and the start of a new journey begins.
I can’t thank enough the initial stores and bars that have decided to give us a shot, even through everything that is going on. I also can’t even begin to thank our supporters. I seriously think Twin Lights fans are the raddest people that New Jersey has to offer. The overwhelming kind words and the repping of our merch are little things that have made all the difference to us.
We are a community inspired brewery, and we know that all our past and future success relies on us not just brewing some kick ass tasty beer, but also being a good neighbor. We are here not just for beer, but for the people that drink our beer. We both hope you enjoy the fruits of our labor (responsibly, of course) and that if anyone in our community ever needs anything, we are a phone call or message away.
Will Grundmann and Mike Betros, Founders of Twin Lights