Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Brewery on the Palisades: The White Brewery

In today's world, craft beer has taken on a life of its own. Anyone with a passion for beer can brew themselves a nice homemade batch, like I have done, or with enough capital can start a venture in the brewing business. This last weekend I visited the New Jersey Beer Company in my home town of North Bergen, New Jersey. I had their Hudson Pale Ale and the seasonal, Wheat Heavy, both very excellent beers. But while I was there enjoying some finely crafted beers, good conversation, plenty of laughs and the ambiance of the brewery I noticed, cover by a jacket or 2 a familiar poster on the wall. The poster was an old advertisement for the Hudson County Consumer's Brewery, which was once located where present day Union City High School is. During its heyday it was the probably the most successful brewery in the area, only the William Peter Brewery Company, which is now the American Self Storage building in Union City, could have been a close second. Seeing the poster got me thinking, what about the breweries before Hudson Consumer's and William Peter? I know Hudson County has a long history of brewing, which the NJ Beer Co. is now continuing, but which brewery could be called the first in Hudson County?

Weehawken Ferry (1875) by Andrew Melrose
Notice the White Brewery in the upper left area.

I will give credit where credit is due, the first actual brewery in Hudson County was Aert Teunison Brewery of Hoboken, which began operation in roughly 1648. However, after that the idea of what we'd call a brewery died out and only small home brewers would supply the public and basically 17th and 18th century brew pubs would be the only place you could grab a cold one...coldish one. However, that would change in 1855. Otto Kohler of Hannover and Andrew Finck, of Munich, opened the first major brewery in Hudson County in the area that would become Guttenberg, White Brewery. However, Finck would leave in the mid 1870s to from his own brewing business in New York City, the White Brewery accountant Woltze Kamena, would then become Kohler's partner for a brief time. Finally it would be run under the name Kohler & Son, as it became a family run endeavor after 1876, with his sons Frederick and Peter. The brewery was between the area known as Belle Vue, now the area of Guttenberg between 68th and 71st and Park and Boulevard East, and Bulls Ferry Road. The brewery was quite impressive, standing at eight stories high and perched on the edge of the Palisades, it was the major landmark atop the the cliffs at the time.

The brewery was also home to an outdoor beer garden, obviously, and a dance hall. The brewery also sponsored and housed a sporting club. Wrestling and boxing matches were held weekly and even a cock fight or two were known to take place there, I know, it was a different time. The brewery also sponsored medicine shows, which Kickapoo Indians were brought in and gave examples of Native American medical practices. The brewery was not only used by residents of Hudson and Bergen county, but by Gothamites as well. Every weekend the brewery would be filled to capacity with people from all over and from all social classes. 

The White Brewery circa 1862
History of West New York

Aside from being an extensive building the brewery also dug deep into the Palisades. Remember this brewery was built in 1855, and the idea of modern refrigeration was still a long ways away, but they had the next best thing, the Palisades. The blue stone of the Palisades provided for a cool place to store the barrels of beer produced.  Under the brewery 2 storage rooms were kept, both 60 feet high. Tunnels were also dug at the base of the Palisades to keep beer cool as it waited to be ferried to New York City, which if your old enough may remember them before the Galaxy and river front was developed. Most of the lager produced at the White Brewery made its way to New York City. However, for sometime, Kohler had his bottle beer shipped to distant ports, mainly in England, Germany and Holland as many shipping lines from these countries called New York Harbor their American home port. Even though the brewery was a success the White brewery was not destined to be in operation forever.

Stock Photo

Otto Kohler would pass away in 1880, and is buried in the famous Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, and with him ended not only Kohler & Son, but the White Brewery as well. The brewery was sold several times and each new brewing company failed to have the success of Kohler. From 1880-1884 Hauenstein & Weiss Brewery operated in the building followed by Alois Kremer Brewery (1884-1891) and finally August Hammersen Brewery (1891-1896). After the August Hammersen Brewery closed the building was left vacant. It burnt down in October of 1896. Today, the memory of Kohler and the brewery are practically gone. Kohler was a great man, an intelligent business man but a man of the people as well. With any venture he partook in, he was always interested in how it would affect the people of Guttenberg. He was influential in the creation of the Guttenberg school system. He was frank, open and outgoing. When he wasn't in the brewery or working to make Guttenberg better, he tended to his grape vines and cacti, that's right the man grew cactus in Guttenberg. Kohler was kind of an unofficial representation of Hudson County. His brewery stood proudly atop the Palisades as a welcome sign to those in New York City looking to escape to the "country" for the weekend, while at the same time was a community gathering place for locals, as the first annual Guttenberg Ball was held there on October 29, 1866. That is why, as I sat in the New Jersey Brewing Company building, enjoying more than a few drinks, I found it amazing that the brewing industry is returning to the area and in almost an unchanged manner. Locally brewed beer, people coming to enjoy it, and it's shipped elsewhere. So even though Kohler and his business are long gone from the memories of Guttenberg, it is important to remember the man for what he contributed to the newly forming town, and that at one time in the town's history, it was home to Hudson County's own King of Beers