One of the cool consequences of that research was being able to get in touch with Mike Pelligrino, the author of the new book Jersey Brew, The Story of Beer in New Jersey. Small world. As it happens, Mike and I literally live within a few miles of each other!
If you are looking to learn about the interesting and long history of beer in New Jersey – from colonial times, to Prohibition, to the present day, this book is a must-read!
I was thrilled to get a free copy of his new book to read and review for you in a future post, and I was really happy that Mike was also happy to answer some questions for us about his book, Jersey Brew, The Story of Beer in New Jersey. Stay tuned! We’ll be giving away a free autographed copy of Jersey Brew in a future post!
Where are you from?
I grew up in Bergenfield – graduated BHS in 1984, and I live in Westwood now.
I imagine you enjoy beer, what’s some of your favorite beer styles and brands?
I came up drinking Bud, which seemed to be the official beer of Bergenfield when I was young. Then I moved on to Heineken and Sam Adams. A couple years ago I discovered Cricket Hill and became a big fan of all of the local breweries. I have been on an ale “kick” recently and my fridge is stocked with ale – Flying Fish “Hop Fish” IPA, Cricket Hill’s ale and High Point’s ale. Cricket Hill has a great Summer Breakfast Ale, and I love Climax’s Extra Special Bitter ale.
Is Jersey Brew your first book?
No. I have written two other books. My first book was a postcard history of Westwood for Arcadia Publishing, and then I wrote an investment book called TAX LIEN$, The Complete Guide to Investing in New Jersey Tax Liens.
What inspired you to write Jersey Brew?
I like to read anything that I can find on New Jersey history, and I kept running across references to some very interesting beer stories about the mob taking over breweries during Prohibition and how Lenni Lenape Indians destroyed the first brewery on New Jersey. It occurred to me that there should be a book that ties together all of this history.
How did you come up with the title? Were there any other titles you considered?
“Jersey Brew” popped into my head and I liked it. I really never came up with any other options.
Who designed the cover?
I came up with the concept and my friend Mark Dell put it all together for me.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Re-writes. I enjoyed researching the old breweries and visiting the current craft brewers. The book came together easily but then it took several re-writes to refine it into a final product. Editing and reworking chapters is the tedious part.
What’s the main point you would like readers of Jersey Brew to come away with after reading it?
Before Prohibition, NJ was a big player in the beer industry. We have a much lower profile now, but we have a great heritage in the history of beer. A New Jersey brewery, Krueger’s was the first to sell beer in cans. Ballantine was the top selling ale in the Country. We are not national players any more, but there is a great story in our craft breweries.
What’s your opinion of the New Jersey brewing scene today? In your opinion, what are the greatest problems it faces? What are its greatest strengths? Do you see a bright future for the industry?
The beer story in New Jersey today is craft-brewing. Local microbrewers and brew pubs produce smaller batches of distinctive artisan beers that fill a niche ignored by the mega-breweries. The breweries are open to the public but over-the-counter sales are limited to just two six-packs per customer.
Microbreweries and brew pubs typically brew a number of specialty and seasonal brews that are more full-bodied and flavorful than the mass-produced labels. I visited most of these breweries and found a few similarities. The owners are passionate about their craft, and they are driven to create distinctive beers. All of them are focused on freshness and believe that their brews are far superior to the national brands.
The current trend for “green” products favors the microbreweries in that they typically buy, produce, and sell locally. They even recycle their used malted grain by selling or donating it to local farmers to feed livestock.
Is there anything that New Jersey brewers can learn from reading Jersey Brew?
The brew masters that I met are very knowledgeable and passionate about beer. I hope that there is at least a few things in the book that they have not heard before.
When one thinks of craft beer, usually Colorado, California, Oregon, even Vermont might come to mind. Do you think New Jersey is on the ‘Craft Beer’ map yet, and if not, what will it take to get on that map?
If we are not on the map yet, we should be. Jersey’s craft brewers have won many awards and produce high quality beers. Unfortunately, Bud and Coors are in a high stakes battle over the New Jersey market. They spend Millions to inundate our State with ads. It is hard for our smaller breweries to get any attention against that kind of headwind. I think we are moving in the right direction and eventually the local brewers’ quality that offer will rise to the top. Flying Fish has done a great job with creative, low cost marketing.