Located in a freestanding gold Mediterranean stucco building at Toms River-based Seacourt Pavilion, ARTISAN’S BREWERY & ITALIAN GRILL began as Basil T’s (originally visited September 2004 during  extensive Garden State journey initiated at another easterly seabound alehouse in central Jersey, Woodbridge’s J.J. Bitting).

By 2010, the Gregorakis family, owners of Basil T’s, changed their upscale brewery-grill to ARTISAN’S in order to avoid confusion with nearby Red Bank’s similarly named brewery.

On first stopover, my wife and I enjoyed the casual intimacy of this recommended midsize eatery (with private cigar lounge). At dimly lit piano bar, we sampled the nicely diversified and oft-times delicate brews emanating from the leftside brew tanks. Along with family-styled Italian food (Marguerite pizza/ Giambotta), dry-spiced wheat husker Barnegat Light Ale; sourly lemon-bruised caramel roaster Toms River Red Ale; muted orange-peach-melon-fruited, mildly Cascade-hopped American Pale Ale;  praline-honeyed, hazelnut-buttered, macadamia-sugared Nut Brown Ale; light-spiced, wheat-sullen Sunset Ale; and dry orange-bruised, lemon-tart Hefeweizen easily passed muster. These beer recipes would soon take a major step up.

Upon July ’08 revisit, Climax Brewery brewmaster Dave Hoffmann was brought onboard to improve the quality and diversity of Basil T’s (now Artisan’s) new-fashioned beer selection. Along with Cobb Salad and Flatbread Mediterranean Pizza, quaffed lemony plantain-fronted, fig-date-receded, dry-bodied Basil T’s Light Ale, white-breaded, grassy-hopped, mineral-grained, lemon-perfumed Helles Lager, balmy sweet ‘n sour banana-centered, lemon-bruised, cereal-grained, chocolate-malted Dunkelweizen, and red-yellow-fruited caramel-malted Maibock.

Better still were spritz-y lemon-hopped, banana-breaded, malt-lacquered Hefeweizen (served with an orange slice), mildly coffee-roasted, orange-dried, fennel-tapered, earthen-finishing, Irish-styled Red Ale and honey-roasted, banana-blustered, floral-spiced, hop-embittered English Extra Special Ale. After lunch, relished soft-hopped, wood-dried, apple-orange-pear-brightened West Coast Style IPA.

On my June ’11 stopover, I took a seat at the U-shaped, slate-topped central bar to try delicious feta-stuffed lamb meatballs and cream of mushroom soup with five soft, approachable beers and one robust Bavarian pils.

“I concentrate on making well-balanced beer,” brewer Dave Hoffmann claimed as he tendered a newly brewed German Pilsner that retains a bold hop-embittered aggression to counter its crisp rye graining and dainty lemon-rotted grapefruit wisp.

Hoffmann doesn’t try to hit you over the head with outrageous hop bittering or obnoxious alcohol persistence, keeping beer profiles accessible to mainstream customers as well as obliging aficionados. Though his springtime weizenbock and maibock were gone by time I arrived, tart banana bubble-gummy Hefeweizen (with its perfume-hopped green apple and white grape nuances) nicely sufficed.

Best selling standard fare still includes grassy-hopped, yellow-fruited, alfalfa-dried, barnyard-leathered Artisan’s Lite Ale and subtle pine-needled, red-fruited, biscuit-buttered West Coast IPA. Better still were peanut-shelled, walnut-bound, chocolate-chipped, molasses-backed Nut Brown Ale and ESB-like, caramel-toasted, coffee-roasted, wood-grained Artisan’s Red Ale.

After a long July ’11 week of body surfing in Long Beach Island, headed north to Toms River and once again perused Artisan’s for lunch. Seated directly behind the brew tanks with family, I noticed a beautiful canvass-like mural exhibiting the brewing process (spread across the interior wall above our heads). The goat cheese salad was delightful, as was my wife’s Mediterranean pizza.

Getting down to business, brewer Dave Hoffmann supplied a newfangled English-Style IPA that truly hit its stylistic mark. Its mild mineral-watered crispness centered the amiable spice-hopped yellow fruiting, grainy pumpernickel breading, mossy black tea herbage and veering nutty undertones.

Better still, Hoffmann’s 10th Anniversary Dunkelweizen reigned supreme. Boasting an unanticipated hop-roasted coffee entry, its ashen mocha malting saddles earthen red, purple and Muscat grape esters with lively banana-pureed black cherry, burgundy and Merlot illusions for a bold, yet congenial, template.

At mid-afternoon on a Saturday in March, 2012, my wife and I settled at Artisan’s after perusing Carton Brewery half an hour north. We get seated in the intimate left dining area, a cozily romantic space where I down brewer Dave Hoffmann’s two latest libations. (Cigar aficionados should be advised that a sectioned off area accommodates smokers.)

I’ve always found Hoffmann’s general fare to be refined and soft-toned. And the man who splits time fronting Climax Brewery would not disappoint this time.

The amiable Artisan Bock balanced mild chocolate-roasted coffee tones with sugared fig, dried cherry, musty grape and wafting cellar dew. Arguably better, coffee-roasted dark chocolate leanings and earthen peat malts secured Baltic stout-like Chocolatey Porter, a waterier dark ale crowding hazelnut, peanut and macadamia undertones in a crisply clean manner.

I’m completely full after chowing down Artisan’s incredibly generous $14 Early Bird Special consisting of rich mushroom soup, Bleu cheese salad, stuffed flounder (with spinach and feta cheese) and strawberry-topped cheesecake. I don’t even sample my wife’s Mediterranean Flatbread Pizza (gathering hummus, olives, roasted peppers, caramelized onions and feta) until I reach home nearly an hour later.

After visiting Hoffman at Climax, drove half-hour down to Artisan’s to try two new offerings. Just slightly more aggressive than Climax IPA, easily approachable WaCoCiCaN! IPA combined high alpha Warrior hops, wood-toned Columbus hops, citric Centennial hops, floral-fruited Cascade hops and experimental Newport hops for a lemony orange-grapefruit tang resonating above caramelized Vienna malts and celery watering with proper acidic astringency.

For dessert, milky cocoa-fronted Hazelnut Oatmeal Stout let black chocolate, vanilla and espresso overtones and ancillary chocolate mint, cappuccino, coconut and biscotti oatmeal illusions receive tar-like hop bittering in the dewy midst.

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