The State of American Craft Beer – New Jersey

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With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only makes sense for us to start a new series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.

For the sake of clarity and with an eye toward avoiding any bias, we’re doing this thing alphabetically. Our series is starting to feel like an adult now that we’ve hit the 30th state on our list, The Garden State, New Jersey. The state’s nickname is often attributed to an Attorney General of the state, Abraham Browning, who stated at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, on New Jersey Day, August 24, 1876, that “our ‘Garden State’ is like a huge barrel, with both ends open, one of which is plucked by New York and the other by Pennsylvania.” This has been refuted though as others claim it’s been in use since its early days as a colony.

New Jersey ranks 11th in total population (roughly 9 million), is ranked 1st in population density and houses 51 craft breweries as of 2015 (an increase of 27 since 2011) who are represented by the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild. The state ranks 24th in total breweries (including D.C.) and 45th in breweries per capita as of 2015, according to the Brewers Association.

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History

One thing is clear about New Jersey’s brewing history… it’s complicated, filled with big brewery buyouts and more recently with confusion over who the first craft brewers were in the early 1990’s.

The state starts its brewing history in what is now its most populated area, known today as Hoboken, just west of Manhattan Island. Aert Teunissen van Putten was the state’s first brewer, a Dutch settler who only lasted two years on the banks of the Hudson before his settlement was overrun by the Lenni Lenape tribe in 1643.gottfried_krueger_ad

Flash forward to the mid 1800’s when German immigrants such as Joseph Hensler (Joseph Hensler Brewing, 1854) and Gottfried Krueger (Krueger Brewing, 1858) set up shop in Newark and managed to last until the mid-1900’s. By 1880, the city of Newark was reportedly housing 242 brewers with 204 of them originally hailing from Germany.

Scotsman Peter Ballantine opened what is arguably the state’s most famous brewery, P. Ballantine & Sons, in 1840. While the company was the 6th largest brewer by 1879 (nearly double that of Anheuser Busch at the time), no one from the Ballantine clan survived past 1905.

The brewery continued to be managed by other ownership under the same Ballantine name until 1972 when they were acquired by Fallstaff. The brewery was then sold to Pabst in 1985, who recently revived the brand in 2014, focusing on more craft focused offerings, such as their IPA, which was originally brewed in 1930.

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Aside from being one of the first states to produce an American version of the IPA, the aforementioned Krueger was the first to offer canned beer on January 24th, 1935. Krueger was later sold to Narragansett in 1961 who was then bought by Falstaff in 1965. Anheuser-Busch opened a plant in Newark in 1951 and would be the only brewer remaining in the state by 1986.

The first brewpub in the state appears to be The Ship Inn, located in Milford and opening in 1995, although many consider Climax Brewing in Roselle Park the oldest microbrewer in the state, which opened in 1996. While Flying Fish Brewing in Somerdale, the largest craft brewer in New Jersey, claims to be the world’s first virtual brewery in 1995 and the state’s first microbrewery when they physically opened their doors in 1996.

We’re not going to take sides in this matter, though it’s clear that Flying Fish has won more GABF medals than any other in the state, taking home 10 total and all of them over the past 8 years. In all, New Jersey has earned 27 GABF medals since 1998.

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5 More New Jersey Breweries We Like and You Should Check Out

Carton Brewing (Atlantic Highlands) – Opening in 2011, just down the road from the shores of Sandy Hook Bay, Carton has specialized in Double IPAs (the 077 series), Imperial Cream Ales (Regular and Irish Coffee among others) and everything in between. Cousins Chris and Augie Carton have been quite successful cranking out some of the states best, creating over 75 styles and featuring many of their offerings in colorful cans.

High Point Brewing (Butler) – More commonly known as Ramstein Beer, synonymous with the German town of the same name, it was founded by Greg Zaccardi in 1996. Utilizing a yeast strain he was granted permission to borrow from a small brewer in Bavaria, they adhere strictly to German Purity Law and produce almost exclusively German styles such as wheats, bocks and lagers.

kane-website-logo-1Kane Brewing (Ocean) – Located in Ocean Township, just west of Asbury Park’s shore, Kane has been handcrafting fine Belgian and American style ales since 2011. Founded by Michael C. Kane, the brewery features 3 flagships, 13 specialties in their Tidal Series, 5 barrel-aged beers, 7 bottle-conditioned styles and the 27 iterations of their mysterioso series of small-batch brews. In all they’ve created over 200 styles, netted one GABF gold in 2014 and are the best rated brewer in the state.

Magnify Brewing (Fairfield) – The youngest brewery on the list, Magnify has only been open since May of last year, yet have already created roughly 60 styles. Located roughly 45 minutes from Mid-town Manhattan, they were founded by Eric Ruta, with brewing duties undertaken by Erich Carrle, who’s showcasing his talents after stints in Brooklyn and the San Francisco Bay. With 4 year round releases and new small batch offerings regularly, they’re not to be missed in the Garden State.spellbound-brewery-moon

Spellbound Brewing (Mount Holly) – Co-owners John Companick, Mike Oliver and Scott Reading have only been open since October of 2014, yet they already captured a GABF medal in 2015 for their Palo Santo Wood-Aged Porter. In that short time they’ve also created over 54 styles, specializing in various forms of their flagship IPA, porters and stout, plus a number of one-off Belgians and other barreled delights. An excellent diamond in the rough that’s worthy of your taste buds.

Special thanks to Off The Leash who provides an excellent history of brewing in New Jersey.

About Warren Wills

Warren is the former Assistant Editor & Portland Correspondent for American Craft Beer. Creator of "The State of American Craft Beer" series, he now maintains his own site at craftbeerscribe.com.
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