beer, History

New Jersey: Come See For Yourself

New Jersey

New Jersey has a strange relationship with beer and brewing. The Hoboken Historical Museum lists the state as home to “Americas First Brewery” founded on February 5, 1663, yet Gregg Smith in Beer in America states that most historians in America agree that the first brewery opened in New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island in 1612 by Adrian Block and Hans Christiansen (also mentioned here).

During prohibition, New Jersey openly defied the new federal laws, and in Trenton, bootleggers had the support of the police chief.

Speakeasies illegally (but openly) operated throughout the state. Trenton, for example, flourished with taverns, with one such dive “secretly” operated on Chancery Lane — across the street from the police station.

The History of Beer in New Jersey

And only recently, New Jersey relaxed their very restrictive and antiquated brewing laws that prevented them from competing with neighboring states with restrictions such as limiting microbrewery production to 3000 barrels a year.

With the new laws, it will probably not take long before we start to see an increase in production, and more interesting brews flowing out of New Jersey. In the meantime however, New Jersey beer is not available in Massachusetts, so I had to extend my search across borders. To get some beer for this week, I relied on a planned holiday drive to the south. On the drive, we stopped at a Wegman’s in Wilkes-Barre PA, for nourishment and to check out their craft beer selection. I heard from friends that they had a nice variety of craft beer and I should be able to find some of the beer I was looking for. While I did not find anything other than Dogfish Head for Delaware, I did find two breweries from New Jersey – a huge score. Since I knew we would be passing back through the state in a week, I decided to wait until the return trip to make my purchase.

What I didn’t plan for however was a snowstorm on the return trip to mess up the deliveries and the store running out of  beer from Flying Fish (It must be good!). I was really looking forward to Flying Fish, and I am now even more curious about it.

During the planning stages for this blog, Flying Fish was the first brewery I discovered from New Jersey and had it listed in my notes as number one on my NJ target list. Flying Fish is considered New Jerseys largets microbrewery and has an interesting line of brews. They even have a series project called the exit series, based on the New Jersey Turnpike, with each beer representing the “uniqueness” of the region around the exit number on the label. If you have ever travelled through New Jersey, you have probably been on the New Jersey Turnpike. Considered one of the most heavily travelled highways in the country, the Turnpike provides access to most of the state and is often used as a starting reference point. “Your from Jersey?, What Exit?” was an often heard expression of my youth. With the Flying Fish exist series, they are trying to capture that essence.  For example, the first beer in the series appropriately called Exit 1, is an Oyster Stout, representing the oyster industry of the Exit 1 Bayshore area.

River Horse Brewery

Even though there was no Flying Fish to be found, I was not left high and dry. Saved by a variety 12 pack from River Horse Brewery, I had something to sample for New Jersey. River Horse Brewery is located in Lambertville, New Jersey (exit 14), on the banks of the Delaware river and will be the fifth brewery we sample in this adventure.

The nice thing with variety packs is they give you the chance to sample a few different brews from a single brewery. With the River Horse variety pack, there were 4 selections: American Amber Ale, American Pale Ale, Belgian Style Tripel, and a Rye IPA.

New Jersey - River Horse

River Horse Variety Pack

The first brew I grabbed out of the box was an American Pale Ale called Hop Hazard. This beer had a nice proportion of hops, a distinct characteristic in American Pale Ales. It was not over powering, and with the last two weeks of extreme beers, it was a much required change of pace. The American Pale Ale is considered “one of the first Americanized styles”, and originated with the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Based on a British Pale Ale, but with local ingredients, such as the American grown Cascade hops, an American Pale Ale can impart citrus and piney tastes. I didn’t get the piney, but the citrus was definitely there in the smell. The color was a beautiful orange hue. It is typical for this style of beer to be unfiltered, and that is apparent in the haze seen in the glass. Overall I loved this beer, It was easy to drink. The flavors were well balanced and at 6.5%, it wasn’t too over powering.

New Jersey Beer

River Horse – Hop Hazard



River Horse – Rye IPA

The next beer I sampled was a brew in their Brewers Reserve Series – a Rye IPA.

When it comes to rye, the first thing that pops into my mind is rye bread with its wonderful distinct sour taste. In a beverage, I picture a short glass with a distinct dark brown liquid from Kentucky, or the Rock and Rye my uncles swore by when they were under the weather. Until recently, beer was the last place I expected to see rye. It just wasn’t common. The first time I saw it in a beer it was Rich and Dans IPA, from Harpoon. Now I had my second Rye beer in my hands.

The Rye IPA from River Horse looked darker than the Pale Ale in the glass. It wasn’t quite the Kentucky rye color, but it was getting close with it nice reddish tint. When used in beer, rye adds another level of complexity to the flavor. It doesn’t have that hearty  sour flavor you would associate with a nice slice of rye bread, but you can definitely notice something in addition to the typical flavors of an IPA.  After sampling this beer, I was having a hard time picking a favorite between the rye and the Pale Ale. The others that sampled it all agreed, this was a beer they could kick back and enjoy.

Two down, two to go.

Having sampled a Tripel last week, I was a bit hesitant to grab the Tripel Horse, but in this case, the hops wasn’t overpowering. This was a drinkable beer. While not my favorite of the tasting for the evening, this was something that I would drink again.

The final beer of the evening was the American Amber Ale. Like the American Pale Ale, the American Amber Ale is also a beer from the early years of American craft brewing. The name originated from the color of the beer, with its nice amber color. The American in the name comes from the American hops used in the brewing process.

This was another beer that was well liked among the group. I had a hard time distinguishing any specific characteristics of the beer, they were all starting to merge with the previous tastings. I guess that should be expected with the different brews are not as extreme as the previous weeks.

Wow, what a difference a week makes. Last week, we were all reaching for something other than our samples. This week, we couldn’t get enough. As the New Jersey slogan says, Come See For Yourself, I recommend that you try River Horse when you get the chance.

Tune in next week for Georgia, there are some interesting samples on hand.



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