Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The stuff that helped build brands

Whenever brewery history and New Jersey are uttered in the same breath, the names Ballantine and Krueger invariably come to mind, two breweries that called Newark home as far back as the mid-19th century.

Come Sunday, you can get a visual taste of that kind of past while you sip the present.

The Garden State chapter of Brewery Collectibles Club of America holds its annual winter swap at the Polish American Cultural Foundation in Clark, an event that promises to connect the region's rich brewing industry past with today's beer fans of all walks. (Time: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Address: 177 Broadway. Admission for general public: $5)

Trays, glassware, signs, tap handles, bottle openers, coasters, labels, and of course beer cans – the tactile stuff that joined forces with flavors to build brands – will be in abundance for collectors to buy, sell, trade, or reminisce over while they sip pints of today's craft beers paired with hearty Polish cuisine.

"I love the craft beer stuff," says Jack McDougall, 64, president of the 100-member Garden State chapter, "but I still like to think back to the days when I was drinking Rheingold or Schaefer. It's got a good feeling to me."

Closing in on four decades, collectors have been coming together for the meets. McDougall, now retired from the Exxon Bayway refinery, remembers his first, in 1977 at Princeton Day School, a gathering that featured 400 tables of memorabilia, or breweriana as it's called.

"It was all cans back then, and trade only, no money changing hands," he says.

A good find back then would have been flat-top cans from the 1950s, like a woodgrain Shaefer can. (It should be remembered that New Jersey lays claim to introducing canned beer to America almost 70 years ago, thanks to the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company.)

McDougall's can collection numbers 1,000, with five times that many coasters (his cans are boxed up, though, not on display at home). Back in the day, a co-worker who was doing some home remodeling stumbled upon some Krueger Ambassador cans and gave them to McDougall.

"It was a premium brand by Kreuger in the '40s and '50s. It had an illustration of Bavarian dancers," he recalls. "When Narragansett bought (Krueger), they stopped brewing it."

No swap would be complete without beer itself, and at this one look for some Magic Hat, as well as some Jersey-brewed offerings from Cricket Hill and Climax Brewing, and possibly others. (McDougall says club members often show up with growlers from brewpubs they made excursions to.)

Climax Brewing owner Dave Hoffmann, a longtime supporter of the event, is sending a sixtel of Bavarian Dark Lager (5.2% ABV, a beer he pulled out of production (it's a dying style, he says) years ago but brewed again recently at the behest of Paul Kermizian, one of the owners of Barcade (Brooklyn, Jersey City and Philadelphia).

"It's like the real deal. It's got that real nutty, chocolaty, malty Bavarian dark lager taste," Dave says. "It's real balanced, easy to drink, and it's real dark. When you look at it, it's like my Nut Brown Ale.

"I used to make it all the time, but all of a sudden it started not selling. So I stopped making it, and Kermizian was all upset because that was one of his favorite beers that I made."

And now for the Mad Men moment:

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