AJ Racioppi is our resident hype man, oddly personifying both "grumpy old man" and "the most genuine guy you'll meet." You can find him roaming the streets of Bernardsville, sharing from his deep cellar and making connections all over the country through his palpable excitement over all things beer.
How did you get into the world of craft beer?
I pretty much only drank Miller High Life until one of my oldest and best friends, Karen Forgione, turned me on to either a Dog Fish Head 60 Minute IPA or an Ommegang beer back in the early 2000s -- my brain doesn’t work like it should anymore. From that point on I was hooked. Not only did I start drinking all the new and off the beaten path beers I could find, but I also started collecting and trading them, and it turned it into a lifestyle sort of thing. Around that same time, I got deep into the beer culture – I started going to and hosting bottle shares, heading to beerfests, taking brewery trips. I was, and still am, hooked on craft beer. But I also love me some Miller High Life.
What’s your favorite Oakflower beer?
All of them. But if you’re forcing me to single one out, I’d say our grisette called Dew Drop. It’s crushable and refreshing but won’t kick your ass due to the low ABV. I am always so surprised how much flavor is packed into that little punch.
So, why now? What inspired you to launch Oakflower? My answer would be, “why not now?” We could sit around in our kitchens and talk exhaustively about “woulda, coulda, shoulda,” and do nothing about it, but that’s not how the four of us are wired. You see an opportunity, you go for it, and you go for it 100% -- or don’t bother going for it at all.
Beyond the nature of this team, I’d also argue there’s never been a better time to jump into the world of craft brewing, in New Jersey especially. It’s a ripe spot for craft brewers looking to launch their own operations. It’s at the bottom of the list in terms of breweries per capita. So there’s plenty of space for brewers to join the growing craft beer scene and the other amazing breweries who pour in the state.
If we’re talking inspiration though, it’s 100% Colin’s brewing, not kidding. After tasting his earlier batches, I knew we had something special. When you believe in something and someone so much, it’s a no brainer to try and take it to the next level so others can experience the same excitement in drinking beer as I do every time I sip on one of ours.
Talk to us about the future. What does Oakflower look like in 5, 10 years?
Great question. I honestly see Oakflower becoming whatever we want to make it; that’s how good I know the beer being brewed here is, and the team we have in place -- I am super modest, I know.
No matter its evolution, there are a few constants I only see becoming more engrained in this brewery – a sense of community and an appreciation of the agriculture behind brewing. We’ve always talked about ways to bring the local ingredients behind the brews more front and center, so that’s something we’ll keep exploring, along with connections within Millington and neighboring communities to expand our suppliers.
So to sum it up, 5-10 years from now, I see Oakflower being relevant in the beer world no matter its iterations and joining a long list of amazing breweries in the Garden State/East Coast area that have the combination of great beer and a great sense of culture.
Any advice for newcomers to the world of craft beer?
Start sipping! Try as many different styles of beer as you can, trust your tastebuds, and try not to buy into hype. Taste is something that is subjective, and nobody but you can tell you what is going to be good or not. That said, I too am guilty of buying into hype at times…with the exception of fruit puree slushy beers; those are not for me. But hey, that’s the point of trying everything, right?