Mid-Atlantic Brewing News October/November 2009
Breweries Gone But Not Forgotten
By Rich Wagner
I can remember some of the first meetings of the Homebrewers of Philadelphia and the Suburbs (H.O.P.S.) in the mid-1980s. We knew it was just a matter of time before Philadelphia got a brewery, and some of us fancied ourselves as being the one to make it happen. The term that was used back then was “microbrewery” or “micro beer” and we would scour the countryside looking for this new kind of beer, which was, for the most part, being produced many miles away.
It may be difficult for those who have grown up surrounded by craft beer and brewpubs to imagine those days when a handful of people with dreams had just begun to change the face of America’s brewing industry. I had traveled quite a bit and had seen Boulder’s first brewery on a goat farm, Red Hook’s brewery in an old transmission shop, and Bert Grant’s brewpub in Yakima, the first in the nation. But it wasn’t until 1985 that I would get to visit two of this new breed of brewery in the Mid-Atlantic region: Chesapeake Bay Brewing Company in Virginia Beach and the William S. Newman Brewing Company in Albany.
Two years later H.O.P.S. sponsored bus trips to visit the Manhattan Brewing Company and Stoudt’s, Pennsylvania’s first microbrewery in Adamstown. Looking back on it now, I don’t think anyone could have predicted the number of breweries and the impact they’d have on the nation’s brewing industry, but I have to tell you it was exciting because we knew something was happening, and in some way these new upstarts were “sticking it to the man.”
Later that year I visited the New Amsterdam Brewing Company, the brainchild of an investment banker who started out making a contract brand and then started up a combination brewpub/production brewery in an old B & O R.R. warehouse near Greenwich Village and the Vernon Valley brewery in New Jersey, a brewery the likes of which I have yet to see imitated.
But as I go down my list of Mid-Atlantic craft breweries visited, I see that many, including five out of six mentioned above, no longer exist! Out of 168 breweries in the region that I have visited over the years, about a third are no longer with us. I guess this should come as no surprise as the average lifespan of a brewery in Philadelphia in the past three hundred years has been about five years. Let me jog your memory a bit with some of the Mid-Atlantic breweries that I have seen come and go over the years.
In 1990 in Maryland I visited the British Brewing Co. in Glen Burnie, the Wild Goose brewery in Cambridge, and the Baltimore Brewing Company. The same year I visited the Virginia Brewing Company (previously Chesbay), and the Nineteenth Street Brewery in Virginia Beach as well as the short-lived Happy Valley Brewery in State College, PA. Dock Street Brewery and Restaurant opened in Philadelphia to become the city’s first “full mash” brewery. It had a good run, surviving through its contract brand and has recently re-morphed with a new name in a new location.
In 1992 I visited Old Dominion Brewing Co. in Ashburn, MD, which closed but is in the process of being reborn; Arrowhead Brewing Company in Chambersburg, PA and Zip City in NYC.
Philadelphia’s first production brewery appeared in 1995 with Independence Brewing Co., the same year Yards Brewing Co. got its start. These were followed by Red Bell and Poor Henry’s but unfortunately the second half of the decade became known as the “bubble” or the “shakeout,” and of the four, only Yards remains in business. I visited the Valley Forge Brewing Company in Devon, PA, that year, and I still regret not having my camera with me when I visited Queen City in Allentown, as it was out of business the next time I drove through town. The Whitetail Brewing Co. in York, PA was in a Penn State Business Incubator but it too went by the wayside. Rockford was another short-lived production brewery near Wilmington, Delaware.
One of the more unique establishments I visited in 1996 was Joe’s Mill Hill Saloon in Trenton, NJ (the beer was fermented in Hoff-Stevens kegs). Hansen’s Time Square Brewery and Commonwealth in Manhattan are both gone. Across the river from Harrisburg was another ill-fated brewpub called the Old Firehouse in New Cumberland, PA.
Seven of the breweries I visited in 1997 no longer exist: John Harvards in Wayne and Pretzel City in Reading, PA; Cedar Creek Brewpub in Egg Harbor and the Red Bank Brewing Co. in Red Bank, NJ; Old Virginia Brewing in Newport News, Capital Brewing in Shirlington and Bardo Rodeo in Arlington, VA.
Visits to now-defunct establishments the following year included Mount Nittany Brewing Co. in Philipsburg, Old Lehigh in Allentown, Franconia Brewing in Mount Pocono, PA, and Kokomo’s in Wildwood, NJ.
Here is a list of the Pennsylvania breweries I visited in 1999 and 2000 that are no longer with us: John Harvards in Springfield and Monroeville, Freedom in York, Valley Forge II in Centre Square, W.T. Hackett’s in Scranton, New Road in Collegeville, Jack’s Mountain in Lewistown, Primo Barones in Franklin, Valhalla and the Foundry Ale Works in Pittsburgh.
Of the breweries I visited in 2001 and 2002, Downtown Brewing Co. in Wilmington, DE, Black Rock Brewery & Restaurant in Wilkes-Barre, and Mystic Brewpub in Temple, PA, are all out of business.
I visited Heavyweight Brewing in Ocean Township, NJ, in 2005 which closed, and the following year Destiny Brewing was Phoenixville, PA’s only brewery.
Most of the breweries I’ve visited since then are still in business as far as I know, and it is encouraging to see new breweries continue to open and cast their fates to the winds.
NOTE: This is the version of the article Rich submitted to the MABN editor, not the shorter version that appeared in print. It should be noted that Rich sent in over 60 photographs from those early days of Mid-Atlantic breweries of which 8 were printed.
Sisson's, Maryland's first brewpub, was still under construction when this photo was taken in June 1989.
The brew crew of the short-lived Arrowhead Brewing Co. in Chambersburg, PA poses by the mash tun.
Happy Valley Brewing Co. in State College was an early Pennsylvania brewpubs
Anna Wagner raises a glass or two during a 1985 visit to Chesbay.
This copper brew-kettle lined with tile, looks like it might be a century old (Vernon Valley, NJ).
The entrance to British Brewing Co. in Glen Burnie, Maryland.
Tom Pastorious, original and perhaps future owner of Penn Brewery in Pittsburgh, couldn't wait to unwrap his new brewing equipment when it arrived in 1989.
Gene Muller leads a tour group through his Flying Fish Brewing Co. in 1996.
Wagner, Rich. “Breweries Reincarnated as Breweries.” American Breweriana Journal. Nov./Dec. 2014.
Wagner, Rich. “Brewing into the Twenty-first Century in Montgomery County.” Bulletin of the Historical Society of Montgomery County Pennsylvania. Volume XXXVIII. 2018.