Situated thirty miles south of Atlantic City, the five-mile island of The Wildwoods is known for its wide sandy beaches, unique history, and world-class boardwalk filled with numerous amusement piers, restaurants, and saltwater taffy. Just three miles off the Garden State Parkway lies a refurbished motorcycle shop, MudHen Brewing Company. It’s certainly hard to miss the brewpub, taking up nearly an entire block, with four full bars, a spacious interior, a newly renovated outdoor area, and an extensive list of in-house craft beers. Owner, operator, and Wildwood native, Brendan Sciarra has a reputation for being an entrepreneur in the industry after launching several successful local businesses such as the Dogtooth Bar & Grill and Poppi’s Brick Oven Pizza & Kitchen. In 2018, he jumped at the opportunity to open Wildwood’s first craft brewery. Brendan’s ultimate mission was to create excellent quality craft beers with detailed attention to food and bar service, and now, MudHen is considered a staple on the southernmost barrier island. Heady Times sat down with Head Brewer Tony Cunha to discuss his background, the history of MudHen, and what’s to come.
Heady Times (HT): Tell us a bit about your background and how you became a brewer.
Tony Cunha (TC): I started homebrewing in 2011, and I was hired as an assistant brewer in 2013
at Rock Bottom in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. I worked for Brian McConnell, who was the Senior Regional Brewer at the time. I followed him to his next business venture at Sterling Pig Brewery, where I assisted him with the whole process of opening a new brewery, setting up the draught lines, and getting the keg systems ready. Two years later, I was hired by Brendan after he visited Sterling Pig needing some new brewery equipment. I grew up in Wildwood, and I wanted to return to my hometown, so I reached out to see if they needed any help down at MudHen Brewing. I received a phone call a week later, and shortly after, I was hired as Head Brewer.
HT: MudHen is a unique name for a brewery. Can you tell us why that name was chosen and the history?
TC: Originally, it was going to be “Five Mile Brewing Company” since Wildwood was also referred to as “Five Mile Island” for many years. However, a neighboring brewery had opened just offshore with a similar name. We then hired Russ Simmons as our graphic designer, who is a history connoisseur. Russ spoke of a train built in 1883 that carried passengers from Cape May Court House to Anglesea through thick marshes that were often washed out from high tides, giving it the nickname “MudHen.” Also found near the rail line were plump, chicken-like birds known as the American coots often referred to as mud hens. Russ combined the train and bird elements to create the brand we have today. Russ is also our conceptual mastermind behind all of our can designs that are historical references for the Wildwoods. For instance, Baker’s DIPA refers to the Baker Brothers, who purchased and developed the island back in the 1890s. We also have our Sea Tiger, which pays homage to a local legend who spent many summers watching over vacationers enjoying the beaches and shoreline of Wildwood Crest. You could say we conduct a history lesson in every sip.
HT: Can you tell us more about your flagship beer, 1883 IPA?
TC: When I started home brewing, I was just like any other brewer messing around with IPAs. Our flagship 1883 IPA, which refers to the year of the first passenger train in Wildwood, is mashed low and made pretty dry yet fairly bright in color. I wanted to make something that’s not overly hoppy and anywhere from 55 to 65 IBU while keeping the ABV below seven. It’s been our top seller since we opened the doors. It’s been quite entertaining to watch the sales for our local market that enjoy more of a pilsner-style beer, whereas our visiting consumers from the metropolitan areas flock more for the IPAs.
HT: How did COVID-19 impact your business?
TC: Like most breweries, we had to embrace change. One of the significant changes we implemented was making the pivot to package. March of last year, we were stuck and uncertain of the future as many others. I had tanks sitting full of beer and unsure of what to do. Thankfully, we had plenty of crowlers and growlers, which tried to sell at bottom-dollar pricing due to the circumstances. Fast forward to today, the pivot to package was vital in getting us through the pandemic. Currently, we see our draught sales grow daily.
HT: Is there anything exciting happening at MudHen this summer?
TC: This summer season, I feel like we will have one of the best summers yet, especially with COVID-19 restrictions lifting and life returning to normal. We participate in the Byrne Plaza Farmers Market on Saturdays, which hosts over 60 vendors through Labor Day weekend. We will be selling beers that we’re currently canning, like our New England Style IPA, Wildwood Haze, and our Fourth of July beer, Kitty Cats & Fireworks. In addition, we have our fan-favorite Fruitie Patootie, our blonde ale series made with organic fruit purée rotated throughout the summer months. On top of our craft beer, we also have an enormous and diverse food menu featuring everything from barbecue ribs, wings, juicy burgers, and even our signature creamy mac & cheese skillets. With our spacious outdoor expansion and fully functioning outdoor bar, we invite locals and visitors to our live music and various daily food and drink specials.
127 W Rio Grande Ave, Wildwood, NJ 08260 · mudhenbrew.com