There’s a lot to get into when talking about Invertase Brewing: the unique science background of its owners and brewer, the solid lineup of beers in a variety of styles, to name two. But the first thing you’ll notice upon visiting the brewery’s spacious Phillipsburg brewery and taproom, and maybe the foremost thing you’ll take with you, is that it’s just a great place to drink beer.
Within minutes, you’ll find yourself either in its big indoor drinking area, maybe slinging some discs down a shuffleboard table with some friends, or, you’ll be in the outdoor beer garden. You do you, but… you should be in the Invertase beer garden.
There are plenty of umbrella-covered picnic tables scattered around with fire pits for cool nights, and abundant, pretty green lawn to let the kids and/or the dogs jump around in. More often than not, you’ll hear live music from the newly-constructed bandshell at the edge of the property. Peek behind you and there’s the bridge to Easton, look the other way and it’s the Delaware River. By the time you get acquainted with just how excellent a spot this is, it’ll be time to walk up for another beer.
The come-one-come-all-and-hang vibe is mostly by design, say Steve and Karen Zolnay who run the show at Invertase, along with their son, Stephen. As Steve describes: “We’re a family-run business. My son and I co-own it. He’s the brewer and I run the front of the house. My wife tells us what to do.”
“Sometimes they listen,” adds Karen.
Look, there’s one very famous subpar Italian chain restaurant that promises that when you’re “(t)here, you’re family.” But what Invertase offers is something much closer to what that slogan promises: comfort. You feel at home in the sprawling Invertase beer garden, especially if you bring your tribe.
“We want people to walk away feeling like family,” Karen says. “We have got great beer, but we want people to feel like family.”
Now, all those good vibes would be wasted if the beer weren’t good. (It is, fortunately). It’s precise beer that delivers what it promises; makes sense, all the Zolnays are scientists: Steve’s a biochemist, Karen’s a virologist, and Stephen’s a mechanical engineer (and Invertase, by the way, is an enzyme used in the brewing process). The science-to-beer transition makes a lot of sense, and comes with built-in advantages.
For instance, says Steve of his brewer son: “His attention to detail is pretty psychotic. When you build a brewery you’re going to have to get a brewhouse to brew the beer. Normally that’s a $100-250,000 check. If you have a son who’s a mechanical engineer, you call up [the brewing supply store] Bubba’s Barrels and buy their barrels and you build it yourself in the basement and you spend $15,000.”
The background in science translates to the beer itself, too, Steve says: “As scientists, we deal with variables day and night. In the beer-making process, there are so many variables. You have water, yeast, grains and hops, but within each one of those categories you have many levers you can pull. … What if I added a little more of Mosaic hops, what if I add extra grain, where does that push you in the palate?”
Karen, meanwhile, is the brewery’s yeast and sterility expert, and has a built-in lab in the Phillipsburg facility. Yeast, of course, plays a starring role in the fermentation process, but not all yeasts are equal. In fact, individual yeast strains can create wildly different flavors in the end product. It’s common practice for many big breweries to have proprietary yeast strains that they nurture and reuse indefinitely. It’s not so common for that to be the case at a craft brewery. Karen is (understandably) reluctant to share the specifics of the yeast strains at Invertase, but suffice it to say she and Stephen know what they’re doing.
“Stephen’s in charge of experimentation. For the different yeasts, he’s able to determine what that does for him, so then he will ask what he needs and make a new beer,” she says.
“Stephen knows what he’s doing. ‘If I use that yeast instead of that yeast I can move things around in that space, if I want to make it brighter or funkier,’” Steve says, comparing his son’s work to an artist who’s keenly aware of what arranging and mixing the colors on their palette might create.
About the beer, then. Everything on the tap list (when we visited at least) was well-executed. The 1600 is an eminently drinkable, snappy American pale ale with floral and citrus notes on the nose and palate.
The IPAs, of which there are several to choose, are remarkably well-honed. Take the Clashing Plaid, a triple NEIPA. You’ll be hit by tropical fruits on the palate, and knowing its ABV is 10.1%, you instinctively brace for a wallop. It never comes. The beer is smooth from start to finish, with a low bitterness and an unmistakable sturdy backbone that the brewing notes indicate come from flaked adjuncts. A supreme beer, this is.
It’s fun to taste all Invertase’s IPAs in a flight so you can see the taste the work that went into delivering refined, focused beer. Each is unique.
The West Coast IPA is an actual West Coast IPA (unlike others we’ve tried in the state); crisp, bitter and imbued with orange/clementine/tangerine citrus. The Big Fuss (made in collaboration with Invertase’s de facto house band, who provided tasting direction) is a fruity and malty IPA, which makes it stand out from the crowd. And you’ll taste the honey in Tessellation, which is culled from the goat farm Karen finds time to manage down the river in Stockton.
And the fruited sour Tropical Dreams Vol. 1 is certainly worth a try (you’ll likely follow it up with a bigger pour). Again, you expect a big sour or fruity punch, because that’s the way brewers are making them these days, but the refinement in this beer is what makes it stand out. A manageable, refreshing sourness is paired with a papaya/pineapple/passionfruit tropical sweetness for a unique, absolutely delicious take on the style.
Oh, and for those choosing not to drink, or unable too, the house-brewed root beer left the non-partakers happy at our table.
After opening about five months before the pandemic shut them down, one could forgive the Zolnays if they just wanted to ride out what figures to be a normal summer and regain their bearings. But, given the outdoor beer garden (and a pivot to canning) kept them going, maybe thriving, during the last two summers, Steve says they’re forging ahead.
“We never rest on our laurels. We’re expanding this summer again,” he says, adding the new bandshell will “kick off with The Big Fuss with eight tribute bands coming throughout the summer [including Phish, DMB, The Beatles and more], which will pack the beer garden as well. We’re negotiating with someone to do corn hole, looking to partner with other organizations and do stuff with charities. We’re contactually on the lookout for what else we can do.”
Though for many of us in the state, Phillipsburg may be a bit of a drive, we’re making sure we’ll be there this summer to hang. With family.
Invertase Brewing Company. 51 Broad St., Phillipsburg. invertasebrewing.com