As the story goes with Carlstadt’s Bolero Snort Brewery, founder Bob Olson had been homebrewing for a while, and in 2012, decided to launch a brewery. “He had a dollar and a dream, but just a dollar… it wasn’t enough.”
So Olson and co-owner Scott Wells, a beer enthusiast who jumped onboard immediately, went on a circuitous brewing journey. Seven years as nomad beer makers—contract brewers, as they’re typically called—making batches at more than a dozen breweries around the area.
They built a following—canning and distributing their beer—and in late 2019, opened a 16,000-square-foot production facility and taproom in the Meadowlands, five minutes from MetLife Stadium. Check that opening date again, and you can see what’s coming.
“We built our place and opened two months before we shut it back down,” Wells says, but, “it’s worked out fine, because we had gone the other route of being a contract brand. We had a sizable market presence. We had already distributed. When the pandemic hit, we were prepared to go through that.”
For many reasons, Wells has a unique perspective on the state of craft brewing in New Jersey. Launching shortly after laws changed to enable more craft brewers in the state, and brewing at so many local breweries, Bolero Snort is a refined, seasoned operation with an understanding of its market and its own brand. It knows what it is: a craft brewery that pushes flavor boundaries in approachable ways and that delivers what its colorful aesthetic promises.
What a change from just 10 years ago to have a place like this NJ, when, with only 12 breweries in the state, much of what was on the shelves were the standard offerings from Big Beer. Upping the quality of the beer available in NJ has been a calling for Wells from the beginning of Bolero Snort, and before.
“I was the guy at the bar drinking the random things no one had ever heard of. Through that journey, drinking different beer, I thought I was supporting small breweries when it turned out the vast majority of what was out there was small brands owned by the big boys. … I got really into supporting the better breweries; we took a lot of beer vacations.”
On those beer trips, to Colorado and California, among other places, Wells got a sense of the scale of other craft brewers. Bolero Snort is a 30-barrel operation—not small, not big—but the operation simply feels bigger than its borders when sitting inside the taproom, and tasting big flavors from its dozen-plus on-tap offerings and taking home cans of even more beer.
That might be the result of what Wells (and we) call NJ’s “fucking stupid” brewing laws, which come with both advantages and disadvantages. Take tasting rooms—shortly after 2012, breweries could only offer flights and a limited number of six-packs. That law changed, but we still can’t go and eat food prepared on-site at a brewery’s tasting room (because of the dangers of, you know, having something in your stomach other than beer.)
“We still have to find ways to innovate because we’re still at a regional disadvantage. You can go to Pennsylvania, you can go into New York and have food. No guest taps,” Wells says. “Because of that weird level of competition we’ve faced, we’ve seen some dramatic innovation. There’s been a lot of Great American Beer Festival [awards] won by NJ brewers—Kane is a perennial contender—because we have to focus on the beer and nothing but the beer. I do think that is good for us to help really drive the quality of the liquid first.”
And the liquid at Bolero Snort indeed holds its own. It’s an ever-changing lineup that spans styles, from lager to IPA to milkshake IPA to kettle sour. That last category, in part, spawned the decision to bring in a centrifuge and pasteurizer. When Bolero Snort finishes a heavily fruited kettle sour, for instance—“which I’ll put up against anyone else’s in the country,” Wells says—it needs to be kept cold, lest it explode. The pasteurizer allows Bolero Snort to stabilize the beer so it won’t explode on the shelf; “We’re going to be one of the only places in the country,” with that capability, Wells says.
You’ll find a lot of lactose in the beers on tap at Bolero Snort (the logo is a cow head after all, well a bull, and no, bulls don’t produce milk… nevermind, just ask them about it); from the Blueberrie’S Moothie Sour to the Strawberry Vanilla Bullsicle IPA (also available in orange) to the Abominabull Stout brewed with white chocolate, cream-filled cookies and vanilla.
“A lot of the stuff we’ve been doing has become the norm for our brewery. We pushed out lactose IPA for five years, when people are like, what the fuck are you doing? Now, it’s like a joke, ‘Can you give us beer without lactose in it?’”
(The joke is immortalized in the name of the Oops! No Lactose Hazy IPA, which, you guessed it, has no lactose.)
But there’s also a strong lineup of barrel-aged stouts and scotch ales, and easy drinkers like the Juicy Pebbulls hazy IPA (brewed with Cashmere, Lotus, Mich Copper and Cryo Citra hops) the Pebb Light (a stripped-down, low-ABV version) and the Ragin’ Bull Amber Lager, an exceptional guzzler that Wells says is his preferred take-home weekend six-pack.
As you can tell, Bolero Snort doesn’t shy away from trying to replicate iconic flavors like the creamsicle or Fruity Pebbles. It’s a point of pride, in fact.
“[Bob and I] are both fat guys, so most of the time we are very food-inspired and we are trying to give you a representation of something, that if you’re trying something, you say, ‘Holy shit, this is what it is.’ When we say it is something, we need to execute for it to be that.”
That color flavor comes through in the colorful artwork for the cans, which is, as Wells says, phenomenal. It not only demands attention on beer store shelves, but rewards long-time drinkers with Easter eggs and other eye candy.
“[Artistic Director Jim Kohl’s] artwork is phenomenal,” Wells says. “It’s comic book-themed but on brand. They’re slowly telling stories through the cans. if you’re our more avid fan, you’ve been picking that up. Our labels are constantly evolving the same way we are. This is the fourth or fifth Snowball Fights [Milkshake IPA]; if you had every years’ worth of that can, you can arrange those cans so it’s building out one larger picture, but they’re all aspects of a larger, grander snowball fight with bull-shaped snowmen and bull children.”
Colorful. Flavorful. Bold. Fun. That’s Bolero Snort in a can and in a glass. Next time you have an hour or more to kill, and you’re in the Meadowlands, go here, or make it a day trip—there’s more life in one can of Bolero Snort beer than you’ll find in a whole day at the American Dream mall.