Beer Garden State

My dearly departed father spent the better part of his
life extolling the virtues of New Jersey to anyone who
would listen, and occasionally to those who wouldn't.
He was also a beer lover and both of those interests
have passed to me. I, too, love the Garden State in
spite of it's many faults (congestion, high cost of
living and taxation, corrupt politicians and wildly
overactive Supreme Court etc., etc.,) and I, too, love
beer, so this month I'd like to do a little reminiscing
about beer related memories that are uniquely New

There's no better place to start than with the recently
removed "Big Bottle" (
pictures). As eagerly as
nineteenth century mariners searched for lighthouses
on rocky coasts, so did I and my siblings seek out the
"Big Bottle" on homebound trips in the 1950s.

Originally erected by the Hoffman Brewing Company
at their brewery on South Orange Avenue and Grove
Street in Newark, it was painted in the colors of  
Hoffman Ginger Ale, but by the late fifties was
repainted as a giant Pabst Blue Ribbon Bottle, some
years after Pabst bought the Hoffman plant. It was
dismantled several weeks ago and stored in a
warehouse to hopefully await restoration as a legacy
to the great brewing history of Newark and the
Garden State, and rightfully so!

Not only was the bottle a great memory from baby
boomers' childhoods, but the producers of  The
Sopranos, another New Jersey institution, featured it
in the episode in which "Uncle June", suffering from
dementia, gets solicited by a hooker with the bottle
standing as a monument in the background.

Until 1957, when the Joseph Hensler Brewery closed,
my father was a dedicated drinker of the beer that
was "Brewed Today, Grandfather Hensler's  Way." Just
before it closed this local brewery in Newark's Down
Neck section promoted it's product as "Whale of a
Beer", but just prior to that  it's advertising signs and
coasters proclaimed "In Jersey it's ...HENSLER beer!"
Just how local was this brewery is demonstrated by
Pop's  attending a convention in Atlantic City a scant
ninety miles away, requesting a Hensler, and being
told by the bartender that he'd never heard of it.

For years, as they made their way around the helix
exiting from the Lincoln Tunnel, homebound
commuters and new arrivals to New Jersey were
greeted by the huge sign painted on the brick wall of
the William Peter Brewery of Union City. Certainly a
warmer welcome to the Garden State than a picture of
Jim McGreevey or Jon Corzine!

Over the years some beers have had uniquely New
Jersey names. Many of them are no longer brewed
and many were not even brewed in New Jersey, but
the marketers evidently thought the “Jersey” name
would generate sales. “Hoboken” Ale was brewed in
New Haven , Ct., and“Jersey” Lager, “Atlantic City
Diving Horse" ale and “Goldfinch” ale (the REAL NJ
state bird, NOT the mosquito) all brewed in Wilkes
Barre, Pa. are examples of out of state breweries
contracting beers for sale in the Garden State.

Also on this list are LBI Wheat Beer and Avalon
Amber Ale, produced in Delaware, Barnegat Light
Beer and Jersey Shore Gold, all trying to reach the
millions of summertime visitors who travel “down the
shore”. Jersey Harvest Ale and Jersey Ale are
produced in Pennsylvania, and even the recently
resurrected George Wiedenmayer’s Jersey Lager is
made out of state , but marketed here. The only
example I know of a beer marketed as a Jersey beer,
not brewed in New Jersey and not even sold here
came to my attention in San Francisco in 1979. While
walking through Chinatown I noticed a small
restaurant that had sample cans of their offered
libations displayed in the front window, one of which
was “Bilow Garden State Beer”. Turns out this was a
house brand of Henry Bilow’s (Bet you thought Bilow
was a discount come-on, eh?) chain of liquor stores,
brewed by Furmann and Schmidt of Shamokin, Pa.

Some Jersey named beers were made here. “Mile
Square” (named for the mile square city of Hoboken)
“Camden” beer and “Lord Camden” ale, “Trenton Old
Stock” beer, “Red Bank” lager and Feiganpan’s PON
(Pride of Newark) are no longer available but were
decidedly Jersey themed. Still available  is “Roselle
Park” beer, brewed by Dave \Hoffmann of the Climax
Brewery in, where else, Roselle Park.

Since brewpubs became legal in New Jersey about a
dozen years ago only three have elected to take a New
Jersey oriented name. Sadly, “Jersey Jim’s” is now
closed, however Long Valley and our own Gaslight are
actively in operation. The Gaslight is so named
because of it’s location in South Orange,  only one of
a handful of towns in the United States still lit by
gaslight. Uniquely New Jersey!

The Ballantine Brewery of Newark, purveyors of the
country’s most famous ale, had the distinction of
being the country’s largest brewery under one roof. It
was among the giants of the brewing industry in my
early years, rising to become the country’s second
largest brewer in the early fifties. And they did it all
from their only location in Newark! Newark is also the
site of Anheuser-Busch’s first plant outside of St. Louis
and today this brewery produces more Budweiser
than any other plant in the world.

It would figure that a state with such a rich brewing
history would have been home to Gottfried Krueger,
owner of Newark’s Krueger Brewing Company, which
marketed the world’s first beer can in 1935. Even
though the test marketing was done in Richmond,
Va., the beer can stands as yet another New Jersey

During the beer can collecting craze of the 1970s,
breweries would offer new cans in order to increase
sales, knowing that a lot of the beer wouldn’t even be
consumed. The Pittsburgh Brewing Company, the
most prolific user of this marketing ploy, issued a set
of “Jersey” cans, filled with Iron City and featuring a
map of New Jersey, the Twin Lights at Atlantic
Highlands, the Great Falls at Paterson, the Atlantic
City Boardwalk, and “Old Barney” on Long Beach
Island. I wonder how much Iron City was poured
down the drain by crazed collectors who only wanted
the can?

Only New Jersey legislators could have passed a law
that allowed a thirsty citizen to sit in a tavern from
opening till closing time on a Sunday (in Hoboken ,
saloons were only required to close for one hour a
day) and drive home, but prohibited him buying a six-
pack to enjoy in his own backyard. They did,however,
allow “containers”. This later equivalent of the growler
enabled Jerseyites to take home cardboard containers
of draught beer, which usually slopped onto someone’
s lap during the ride home. But, boy they tasted good!

Gus’s Tavern,on the border of Edison and Colonia,
offered a different take on the “container’. Gus’s,
which had no basement and no drain connections for
it’s draught system, (the spillage ran directly under
the building and gave Gus’s it’s rather stale beery
ambiance), provided huge glass jars with a screw on
lid, which eliminated the possibility of the “wet lap”,
but created a somewhat different catastrophe when
the jar was accidentally dropped on the way into the
house. Thankfully, thirty years ago beer sales on
Sunday became legal.

Drinking from big glass steins at the Clam Broth
House in Hoboken, which proudly claimed to sell
more Ruppert Knickerbocker beer than any restaurant
in the world, sipping LBI Wheat Beer in the late
afternoon at Surf City, submersing cans of Hensler in
the Black River at Hacklebarney State Park in order to
keep them cold, taking a “brewery tour” on Friday
nights at Cricket Hill in Fairfield, or having a great
Gaslight pint any time are all wonderful examples of
the New Jersey beer drinking experience.

To take a little poetic license with our former
governor, Tom Kean,

New Jersey and Beer…..Perfect Together


Another two
glasses up
article from
Dan Hodge!
has to say
these things
and it could
only be
Ballantine's original
Newark brewery
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by   Dan Hodge