RAILS AND ALES

As much as I love the sound made by the uncapping
of a fresh bottle of beer or the happy chatter of a great
brewpub, so do I love the clickety- clack of a steel
wheel on a steel rail or the unmistakable hum of an
old Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 pulling into Newark
Penn Station. The romance of riding the rails has
always inspired pleasant memories for me, especially
when accompanied by a glass of beer. Although beer
has been around for over 5000 years and the
American railroad for only slightly longer than
Yuengling’s, these two bits of Americana have always
been linked in the minds of those who love both.

The first major role railroads played in the history of
American brewing is a “:good news, bad news” sort of
relationship; the good news being that the
development of refrigerated freight cars (or “reefers”)
enabled large brewers to market their products in
much larger, even national, distribution areas, creating
household names such as Anheuser-Busch, Schlitz,
Pabst and Miller. Milwaukee brewers were making
regular rail shipments to inland areas by 1852, and in
1879 the Chicago and Alton Railroad was delivering
kegs of Pabst to Kansas City and returning empties to
Milwaukee for a dollar apiece. The larger brewers even
organized their own roads for delivery. The Western
Cable Railway was a wholly owned subsidiary of St.
Louis’ William Lemp Brewery, a distribution idea
copied by Anheuser-Busch.

The “Beer Line” was a six and a half mile branch line of
the Milwaukee Road, built in 1854, which began in the
Schlitz railyards and also served the Pabst, Miller, and
Blatz breweries. At the high point of it’s existence as
many as 270 carloads a day brought malt , hops, and
empties to Milwaukee and sent hundreds of thousands
of barrels of liquid gold to thirsty consumers all over
America. However, when “Blue Ribbon” and “High
Life” began to penetrate far away markets, local
brewers, who had previously had a lock on beer sales
in their areas, began to fall by the wayside in their
efforts to compete with the big boys, which resulted in
only a couple of dozen local breweries still functioning
by the !970’s. Perhaps it’s only fitting that by the early
1980’s , and the demise of Schlitz the “Beer Line”
ceased to exist.

There are whole websites devoted to collecting model
train “beer cars”. One site I visited listed over 170 HO
scale cars available, advertising almost any beer you
could think of. Because of the fanaticism of the anti-
drinking crowd, manufacturers are offering less and
less of these beautiful toys, making those that remain
highly collectible. I may be old fashioned, but I don’t
understand why anyone would think that a seven year
old, running his Lionel set around the Christmas tree
with a Genesee car in the consist could develop into a
drunkard because of it.

Railroads are a great source of names for brews.
“Altoona 36 Lager” featuring a Pennsy K4 locomotive
on the label and “Horseshoe Curve” were two products
of the defunct Altoona Brewing Company. ( Probably
defunct because the same Pennsylvania Railroad was
able to bring oceans of Budweiser into Altoona around
the same Horseshoe Curve on a train pulled by the
same K4) Every year in March I look forward to the
Berkshire Brewing Company’s “Steel Rail Ale” during
my band’s trip to perform in the Holyoke,
Massachusetts St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The Karl
Strauss Brewery’s “Red Trolley Ale” and Lone Tree’s
“Iron Horse Dark Ale” are other examples of “rails and
ales” but the best is the Railway Brewing Company of
Anchorage, Alaska, where brewer Ray Hodge(no
relation) turns out “Gandy Dancer Hefeweizen”,
“Scottish Rail Ale”, “Railway IPA”, “Steel Rail Chili Ale”
and “Iron Horse Nut Brown” from a brewery located in
Alaska Railway’s depot building. Over 300,000 visitors
a year pass through the depot since the Alaska Railway
offers the only land route to some of Alaska’s most
scenic destinations. Interestingly, in order to gain
traction on wet rails, this railroad fills it’s locomotive’s
sand boxes with crushed beer bottles instead of
Wisconsin sand. “Hurry boys!!! Drink up!!! She’s
slippin’”!!!!

Foggy Bottom (railroad bridge), Mill City(three tracks)
Sweet Georgia Brown(civil war era locomotive) and
Devil Mountain(2-8-2 loco) are examples of recent
packaging depicting trains or railroads on the labels.
All late nineteenth and early twentieth century brewery
pictures show trains and/or trolley cars in the
foreground, but the king of this type of ad was the
Jacob Best Southside Brewery in Milwaukee, whose
calendar picture shows no less than eleven tracks
heading into it’s grounds! This was probably an
exaggeration since the old brewery pictures also
exaggerated the actual size of the brewery, which was
always featured as the dominant edifice, towering
many stories above the surrounding buildings and
landscape.

A recent enhancement to rail travel is the “Beer Train”.
Usually these are one day excursions on restored
scenic short lines featuring microbrew tastings, such as
the annual trip from Anchorage to Portage, Alaska, a
joint venture between the Glacier Brewhouse and the
Alaska Railway. However, Amtrak’s Keystone route
also is fondly referred to as a beer train because one
can depart from Philadelphia after visiting the Yards
and Independence Breweries and travel to
Downingtown, home of Victory Brewing Company.
Next stop is Lancaster where one can detrain for a
couple of Lancaster Brewing Company pints and board
the next westbound local for Mt. Joy and Bube’s
Brewery before arriving in Harrisburg for the Troeg’s
and Appalachian Breweries. California’s “Caltrain”
service has a beer train that runs from San Francisco to
Gilroy and offers a brewpub within walking distance of
every stop.

While we in the Garden State don’t have an official
“beer train’, it’s not too difficult to start one’s own.
After a couple of frothy pints at the Gaslight, a two
minute walk brings you to New Jersey Transit’s South
Orange Station on the Morristown line. A fifteen
minute ride to Newark’s Broad Street Station and a
connection via the new light rail to Penn Station allows
easy access to the Northeast corridor line and the
twenty minute ride to New Brunswick. The Harvest
Moon Brewpub is only a short walk from New
Brunswick Station, and a boarding of the next
southbound local speeds you to Princeton Junction.
Detraining there and boarding the “Dinky” or “PJ&B” (
Princeton Junction and back) for the three mile ride to
Princeton finds you only a couple of blocks from the
Triumph Brewpub on Nassau Street. For the really
thirsty, reversing the route back to Rahway enables a
connection to Jersey Coast line and a stop at
Woodbridge Station, next door to JJ Bitting’s Brewpub,
with a later destination to Red Bank and Basil T’s.
Never mind “Anaheim…Azuza… and Cuc…a monga!”
These days it’s “All Aboard for Barleywine, IPA and
Hefe…weizen!

My favorite family vacation took place a few years ago
when we took a three week Amtrak trip around the
country which presented the scenic grandeur only the
American west can offer and almost unlimited
opportunities to sample local micros unavailable on the
east coast. One of my fondest memories was riding
the “Coast Starlight” from Seattle to San Francisco in a
restored 1950’s Santa Fe domeliner, complete with
swiveling , upholstered arm chairs, classical music,
fruit and cheese and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, sipped as
we made our way through scenic Oregon. Riding the
“Sunset Limited” from Tucson to New Orleans afforded
me time to try two beers from Colorado’s New
Belgium Brewing Company, picked up shortly before
we boarded. The “Sunset”, America’s only truly coast
to coast train, is always hours late, but who cares
when you’re relaxing in a family bedroom on a
Superliner with a cooler full of Fat Tire Ale and New
Belgium Trippel.

The only place I have ever seen Pacific Ridge Pale Ale,
Anheuser-Busch’s answer to Sierra Nevada, was in the
bar car on the “San Joaquin”, running between San
Francisco and Bakersfield. Even if this beer never
becomes available on the east coast, I’ll always
remember the ones I had while riding the rails. It
shows A/B can make great beer if they really want to.

The Erie-Lackawanna’s multiple unit cars were
equipped with neither bathrooms nor bar cars, but
they did offer an end of the business day treat for
suburban commuters leaving Hoboken Station. On
some of the trains, a man would place a plank over the
tops of two adjoining seats and set up a mini bar from
which he dispensed cocktails and Schlitz “Tallboys”.
One “Tallboy” would just make Maplewood Station on
the Morristown Line, but two would have been more
suitable for the ride to Denville or Dover.
Unfortunately, the “Tallboy” has gone the way of the
old green Lackawanna MUs, but New Jersey Transit
does allow alcohol consumption on it’s trains so it is
possible for commuters to brown bag it for the ride
home.

The caboose, or “cabin” in railroad terminology, was
the last car on a freight from where the conductor
oversaw the operation of the train. I can’t think of a
better end to this article than to relate my dream of
someday having enough money and space to own one
of these retired pieces of rolling stock and turn it into a
little private pub to which one could retire and drink
good ale.


Cheers!

Dan
Another two
glasses up
article from
Dan Hodge!
Someone
has to say
these things
and it could
only be
Dan!
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