As he approaches an opening date, Chris Mattern wants to grow his corner microbrewery slowly and with a home-brewer’s aesthetic.
By Matt Skoufalos | September 30, 2016
Photos by Tricia Burrough
Chris Mattern has been spending Thursday nights with a group of close friends for decades.
He’s taken the same guys with whom he’s been home-brewing out sailing probably for about as long.
“They’d make fun of my boat, and they’d make fun of my beer while they were drinking my beer in my boat,” he said.
It was all in good fun, but years later, it’s Mattern who’s laughing the loudest, as the Haddon Township resident prepares to open the doors on Eclipse Brewing in Merchantville.
It began five years ago with a visit to the fledging Cape May Brewery, whose start-up feel appealed to Mattern and his girlfriend, Beth Manning. They mused how much fun it might be to operate their own brewery someday. About two years ago, Mattern turned to Manning and told her he was serious about the idea. She told him to go for it.
Mattern has a different vision for Eclipse than those of other micro- (or nano-) brewers.
He likes the idea of being a home brewer, and of making very small batches of beer in his 1.5-barrel (45-gallon) system.
That means brewing more often—and cleaning even more often than that—than larger-batch breweries.
Mattern expects that the menu at his 18-tap system, which accommodates 15 beer and three soda lines, will be “continually changing and evolving.
“I’m the smallest and I embrace my smallness,” he said. “I’m not looking to get a lot bigger. I want to improve what I have here, but I don’t expect this to look a lot different five years from now.”
Located in the renovated Merchantville EMS building at 25 East Park Avenue, Eclipse has the makings of a homey corner bar. Its blonde-wood tasting room has high tables, a push-pin map, and brewing books for conversation starters. Friendly touches from peanut bowls to an old-fashioned popcorn machine round out the den appeal, as do Mattern’s wildlife photography, which lines the bathroom.
Four-glass flights are served up in hand-made, wooden boxes, and guests are invited to make their choices with golf pencils on quarter-page sheets.
“This place is cozy, friendly; kind of like Cheers,” Mattern said. “I’ll be making the beer and I’ll be serving the beer.”
One chalkboard runner along the ceiling helps guests to identify the four varieties of roses blooming on the property along with the Centennial hops climbing the trellis out back.
Another lists current and upcoming beers and non-alcoholic sodas, including petit syrah grape and Torani lemon. At a soft opening Thursday, the rotation included cream, coconut cream, and honey ales as well as an IPA and double IPA. A kolsch, porter, and saison may be on the horizon. All pours are $5.
Initially, Mattern said Eclipse will likely confine its taproom service to a few hours on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, expanding operations as his brewing schedule grows.
A grand opening date hasn’t yet been set, but should be coming within a month or less.
The 18-month wait was frustrating, but with help from Manning and his brother, Chuck, Mattern took that time to renovate the property.
The day he got his license to brew, Mattern “was walking on air,” Manning said.
“He couldn’t stop smiling,” she said. “It’s just been wonderful. I knew he brews great beer, and for him to get a chance to do this, I think it’s great. I think we’re going to be successful.”
“I would never have done it if I’d realized how difficult it would be,” Mattern said.
“If you ask me now, I’d say I’m glad that I have.”
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