Last fall, the Fort Nonsense Brewing Company decided to turn 100 pounds of canned pumpkin into a Starbucks-inspired Pumpkin Spice Lager. The beer-making project quickly got tricky. “That was a long day,” recalls Andrew Aslanian MGSA’15, the youngest of three brothers, all Rutgers graduates, who co-own the craft brewery in Denville, NJ. “It took forever, because the pumpkin gummed everything up.”
Still, as the Aslanian brothers—Andrew; James MGSA’12; and Thomas ENG’10—tell it, a lot has gone smoothly in the three-plus years since Andrew announced, “We should totally open a brewery,” and Thomas replied, “You’re crazy.” That’s how Fort Nonsense, named for a Revolutionary War site in nearby Morristown, became part of a craft beer industry that is growing nationwide, with production up nearly 4 percent in 2018, according to the Brewers Association. New Jersey’s 109 craft breweries rank the state 21st in total number of breweries but 45th in breweries per capita.
Andrew’s suggestion wasn’t entirely random: Seven or eight years ago, seeking an innovative Father’s Day gift for Robert Aslanian NCAS’80, a former pharmaceutical-industry scientist who now teaches college chemistry, the brothers had chosen a home-brewing kit, figuring it would make a fun father-and-sons project. As the brothers took to the hobby, they began storing equipment in the basement of their parents’ Rockaway, NJ, home, using the kitchen for brewing. Their mother, Antoinette Capone Aslanian NCAS’81 “was supportive, as long as we mopped up,” James says.
They invented recipes and asked friends for their opinions on the results. (“It’s always hard when you give someone free beer to get decent feedback,” Thomas says. “‘It was free! It’s great!’”) As the brewery project took shape, Thomas, the engineering major, ran the numbers. Antoinette bought Andrew a how-to-open-a-brewery book. Eventually, the Aslanians raised more than $15,000 on Kickstarter, financed the rest themselves, and leased a building on a busy state highway.
They spent months renovating the space, previously a spa for children’s parties. (“Everything was pink,” Andrew remembers. “There were feather boas on the walls.”) In December 2017, they began brewing in stainless-steel tanks visible through plate-glass windows, and a month later, at their grand opening, the line snaked out the door.
Today, the brothers divvy up responsibilities. Andrew works at the brewery full time, regularly pulling 12-hour days. Thomas, a civil engineer, handles paperwork and legal issues. James, a high school music teacher, runs the tap room and, during summer vacation, delivers to the 40 liquor stores, bars, and restaurants that stock Fort Nonsense beers. Their mother, an accountant, keeps the books. Susanna Su Aslanian MGSA’11, Thomas’s wife; Brianna Doran Aslanian MGSA’15, James’s wife; and Emily Maas Aslanian SAS’14, Andrew’s wife, also help out.
Co-owning a business hasn’t eroded the camaraderie of the brothers’ younger days, when they shared off-campus housing and played together in rock bands. “We still bicker and fight, like siblings do, but I think there’s this underlying understanding that we have the same goal,” James says. “When we do argue, it’s because we’re passionate about what we do and we want it to be successful.”
From behind the wooden bar in its tap room, Fort Nonsense serves up beer five days a week—four standard flavors of ale and porter, and four rotating varieties, which have included a fruit-salad Hefeweizen featuring melon, berries, and kiwi, and a Thanksgiving-themed sour ale called Pass the Cranberry Sauce.
Especially adventurous new flavors get a five-gallon test drive before a full batch is brewed. In one test last spring, “I did a golden Oreo stout,” Andrew remembers. “It was really tasty.”
“When did you make that?” James asks, intrigued. “We should totally make that.”