Brian Kulbacki’s parents were about to kick him out of the house, so he had to do something. Of course! Start a brewery! Well, it wasn’t exactly like that. Here’s the back story.
He was putting himself through Boston College with a bartending gig. “My buddies and I were fed up with cheap, light beer,” he recalls. “We took a tour of the Sam Adams brewery. That opened our eyes to craft beer, and we got the bug.”
A stint in Miami where “there was no beer scene; the closest thing was a Corona Light” further whetted his appetite for better brews. He started reading about home brewing and moved back to his native state of New Jersey; he grew up in East Brunswick.
As it happened, his best friend, Chris, had Celiac Disease, which means a gluten-free diet. “I’d open his refrigerator, and the beer selection was not good for people with that disease,” Kulbacki relates.
Then a tragic event put Kulbacki into a funk. In 2010, Chris died in a car accident, which triggered the 18-month stay with his parents. “They said I had to get my shit together, and I definitely agreed,” he says. He used his friend’s death “as an inspiration to chase my dream,” which was not to stay in his parent’s funeral business. Instead, he took courses at the American Brewers Guild.
His motto? “Don’t talk about it. Be about it.”
Oct. 10 marked the first anniversary of Departed Soles Brewing Company, which he opened at 150 Bay St. “We’re a one-man show and a six-legged team,” he says, referring to his dog’s invaluable contributions. “Friends help out in the tasting room on weekends,” he says, “but I do all the brewing, selling, and delivering.”
Visit departedsoles.com to find out about tours and tastings and what’s on tap.
His friend’s Celiac Disease turned out to be a key factor in the identity of Departed Soles. The brewery offers several gluten-free options, one of which won a bronze in the World Beer Cup. “We were beat out by two foreigners, so we are the best in America,” Kulbacki jokes.
He supplies a number of bars and restaurants in Jersey City, including Battello, Marker’s, Reval, White Star Bar on Warren and White Star Bar on Brunswick, Barcade, Porta, Greene Hook, Iron Monkey, and Tap Haus.
First Person Plural
“From a personal perspective, when I talk about the brewery, I always use the plural ‘we,’” Kulbacki says. “Departed Soles in and of itself isn’t me. It’s the memory of my best friend. It’s rewarding for me, something I did for him. It’s pretty cool, though maybe that’s not the right word to capture that emotion.”
The brewery’s philosophy is inclusive. “What I’m doing with Departed Soles is different from most new breweries,” he says, “because I want to brew a beer for everybody, not just the weirdest or craziest.”
Kulbacki loves it when a group comes in for a tasting and the one gluten-free member doesn’t have to be the designated driver for once. “You can come with anybody you want,” he says, “and all of a sudden there’s a beer that everyone can have.”
But not all the offerings are gluten-free. “Brewing is playing with live organisms,” he says, and he’s come up with beers with names like Light Rail Ale, A Dark Night, and Naughty by Nature.
“Downtown Jersey City is such a diverse community,” Kulbacki says. “I wanted to be where there’s mass transit access: bus, ferry, light rail, PATH, or walk.” Basically, he doesn’t want anybody to be a designated driver. Come for a tasting and go home safely on public transportation.
When he was looking for a property, 150 Bay St. in the Powerhouse Arts District was one of the first buildings he was shown. “I couldn’t be happier,” he says. “You can walk to everything, and Jersey City has a community that fits with my interests.”
One of which is beer. He says, “It’s an integral part of American culture.”—JCM