The roots of alcohol production and consumption stretch deep back into the history of Newark. First, the city was a major hub for the brewing of beer. Famous breweries included Hensler, Krueger, Feigenspan, and Weidenmeyer. Towering above them was Ballantine’s, whose three-ring symbol was recognized nationwide. In fact, the Ballantine Mansion still sits on Washington Avenue and is a part of the Newark Museum. The love for beer, in large part, stems from the large populations of immigrants that descended upon Newark in the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly the Germans and the Irish. Distilleries also dotted the landscape, producing whisky, rum, and gin.
Prohibition, enacted by the ratification of the 18th Amendment in 1919 and the passage of the Volstead Act, was both a blessing and a curse for the drinking culture of the city. The once mighty distilleries and breweries either shuttered their operations or moved to the production of goods. Many of them would not return to production in 1932, when the amendment was repealed. On the other hand, Newark became the center of a thriving nightlife scene centered around jazz and speakeasies. Newark had the most speakeasies per capita in the nation. African American musicians arriving as part of the Great Migration from the South fostered this culture, which in turn made Newark into a proving ground for the great jazz musicians of the 20th century (e.g., Sarah Vaughan).
The repeal of Prohibition did not immediately bring back the previous, vibrant industry. Instead, consolidation led to the creation of large conglomerate breweries and distilleries—think Anheuser-Busch or Miller-Coors, later InBev and Diageo—many of whom moved their operations outside of Newark, with the notable exception of Anheuser-Busch. However, paralleling this and partly spurred on by the re-legalization of home brewing by President Jimmy Carter, craft brewing and, later, craft distilling began to emerge. While not being the first in the game, Newark is slowly becoming home to these artisanal producers. One of our guests, All Points West, founded and run by Gil Spaier, currently produces several gins, vodkas, and whiskeys and is looking to expand its distilled offerings. On top of that, our other guest, CoolVines, managed by John Ward, marks the first entry of a retail shop in Newark focusing on small production wines and craft spirits and beers.
Newark’s drinking culture seems to be making a turn around. Only time will tell if this will be able to sustain and grow itself.
Background & Articles:
CoolVines’ Main Website: here
All Points West’s Main Website: here
Brief History of Prohibition in Newark: here
Cocktail Challenge Website: here
Gil Spaier—Gil was born and raised in New York and educated as an Architect in New Orleans. Both cities were essential to the formation and continuation of American Cocktail Culture, and Gil always viewed the bottles with their mysterious liquids and the concoctions that came of hands of bartenders as near magical in their properties. Having lived in Newark, NJ for the last 16 years he wondered if Newark would every have something to replace the pride the city once took in her beers and music clubs, and wondered if Newark could ever again have an affirming beverage culture like it once had and that the cities where he used to live maintained. All Points West Distillery is his attempt revive this lost essence of Newark.
John Ward—John grew up in Austin, Texas, spending his days golfing, swimming, fishing, and getting on Lake Travis whenever he could. Realizing that swimming and golfing all day didn't pay very well, John earned a BBA in Marketing from Texas State University in 1997. He spent his first few years out of college working as the ARB Volume Broker for Dell Computers. Gaining valuable experience at Dell, John then became the youngest-ever Marketing Director for Image Microsystems. After expanding their operations from Los Angeles to Austin, he sought new challenges outside the IT Hardware vertical. Shortly after John became the Senior Government Contracting Consultant for Epipeline, transitioning to cloud computing and SaaS. After 13 years with Epipeline, he moved onward and upward as Director of Marketing for Texas Tournament Zone. That same year, he also founded WinGov Consulting, a private consulting firm. In August 2018, John's wife wanted to be closer to her parents in New Jersey, where she was born and raised. The Ward family said goodbye to Austin and headed to Jersey City. With this residential move came a career move, as John decided to seek a role in a field he's always loved: wine, beer and spirits. John found CoolVines, a small, family-owned wine, beer, and spirits retailer just down the street from his new home. A long time beer geek, wine and spirits aficionado, and enthusiastic jack of all trades, it didn't take long for him to shine. After six months at CoolVines' Powerhouse location, he was selected to be the point man for CoolVines Newark. John still works as an adviser for TTZ and serves as the president of WinGov Consulting. But most nights you will find him in the Hahne building, out on the floor of CoolVines Newark, chatting up locals, flashing a big smile, and laughing as he happily discusses wine, beer, spirits, and Newark!
"Nightlife flourished, in part because Newark was a beer town, the nation’s third leading brewer in the 1920s, home of the ‘Big Five’ —Ballantine, Hensler, Krueger, Feigenspan and Weidenmeyer. During prohibition Newark was wide open, its speakeasies accessible for the price of a membership card. Although the Volstead Act, energized by illegal rum and whiskey running. took a toll on the beer trade, Newark still had nearly a thousand saloons in 1938, one for every 429 residents, the most per capita of any American city.”—Barbara Kukla, Swing City. Newark Nightlife, 1925-50