Brewery will make a dry town damp

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There are no saloons in Pitman. No bottle shops or restaurants with liquor licenses, either. This is a dry town, a vestige of its founding as a Methodist retreat.

Yet on Saturday afternoon, with a ceremonial tapping of the first keg, a brewery will open on Broadway, the Gloucester County town’s main drag. A brewery with a tasting room and eight taps and plenty of suds.

And that’s not all, for by the end of summer, a second brewery is expected to open a mere two doors down the street – a veritable brewery row in a borough where, for 100 years, the closest thing to a stiff drink was a bottle of hair tonic at the barbershop.

No, the Methodists did not suddenly fold up their pews in Pitman. But demon alcohol is moving in, nonetheless.

“We couldn’t be more excited,” Pitman Mayor Russell Johnson said of this weekend’s planned opening of Kelly Green Brewery. “It’s going to be a big shot in the arm for this town. “

The arrival of a brewery in an otherwise dry town is both a quirk of state liquor laws and a sign of the remarkable evolution of beer in America.

Though liquor licenses still are banned in Pitman, Kelly Green is opening under a new state law that allows so-called limited breweries to produce beer and sell it by the glass in a tasting room. Meanwhile, several wineries have broken the dry spell by exploiting another recent provision that allows them to lease space in restaurants to sell wine to diners.

“Technically, we’re not dry,” Johnson said. “We’re damp. “

Increasingly, small town mayors like Johnson are seizing on the new law to lure new breweries to their downtowns. Rather than the community scourge, a small brewery is often viewed as a proud civic asset – one that generates jobs and taxes and, most important, attracts young visitors.

Indeed, Pitman isn’t the only historically dry town in New Jersey to welcome a brewery. In the next month, Devil’s Creek Brewery is expected to open in Collingswood, where liquor had been banned since the 1800s.

Local BYO restaurants, fearing that beer would draw away their patrons, initially balked at the plan, then backed down when the borough enacted new zoning rules prohibiting the brewery from serving food.

In Pitman, the change of attitude surprised even Justin Fleming, the 35-year-old former nuclear plant worker opening Kelly Green with his wife, Jeannette, and home-brewing pal, Dave Domanski.

“My wife and I grew up in Pitman, so we’re very familiar with the history of this town,” Fleming said. “This town is deeply rooted in religion,” he said. “For a while, the feeling was that if you open it to alcohol, there’d be drunk people laying on the sidewalk. “

Indeed, just behind the brewery stands Pitman Grove, now a national historic place that was founded in the 1870s as a camp for Methodist revival meetings. Small cottages still line the grove’s 12 original “avenues” representing Christ’s disciples.

But if the local Methodist church has any issues with a brewery in its town, it hasn’t made any noise. Phone calls and emails to the pastor went unanswered.

“Without a doubt, I assumed some old-school mentality would come our way,” Fleming said. “But it didn’t. I was extremely surprised. “

Equally surprising are the plans to open a second brewery just two doors down from Kelly Green. There, in the former Bus Stop Music Cafe, brewing partners Megan Myers and Emily Barnes plan to open Human Village Brewing Co. as early as next month.

“We really love Pitman,” Myers said, when I asked her how they chose their brewery’s home. “A lot of things are going on in this town . . . a brick-oven pizza restaurant, a burger cafe, and the Broadway Theatre, which is just beautifully refurbished from the vaudeville era.

“It’s a beautiful, walkable town. The population is shifting; we’re staring to see a new generation of people coming in.

“I think a small brewery – two small breweries – is really good for the town. “


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