A New Microbrewery Rolls Out the Barrels
by Joe Harkins

    Hoboken has always been a popular place to buy a drink. Through most of the 1940s and 1950s, every bar along the Mile Square City's waterfront would close each night for an hour--just to clean the place out. By the time they reopened, the ferry-boats from Manhattan would be off-loading thirsty refugees from New York City bars that had just closed for the night. Nowadays, especially on weekends, PATH trains carry a similar wee-hours crowd to visit Hoboken's 100 licensed hotspots.

    It's not surprising Hoboken should now have a microbrewery of its own. The Hoboken Brewery Company, which started making beer last September, is owned by the Dell'Aquila family, whose roots go back a few generations in the city. What is surprising, though, is how long it took.

    The custom breweries, which have become popular all around the country, are usually small, entrepreneurial operations of limited capacity, but they have become important as a bellwether of consumer taste. Last year the entire beer industry sold 198.5 million bbls, packaged in bottles, cans and all the bulk methods allowed by law. The $1 million Hoboken Brewery, which operates out of a corner of the former Maxwell House Coffee factory, is working at an annual capacity of 4,800 bbls.

    That capacity is bubbling up quickly, according to Mitchell Dell'Aquila, 30, president of the Hoboken Brewery, which makes Mile Square Golden Ale and Mile Square Amber Ale. Dell'Aquila says that output will probably reach the rate of 15,000 bbls a year by the end of 1996, thanks to a statewide distribution pact it signed in January with four regional distributors. Those four distributors include Kohler (Bergen, Sussex, Passaic, Morris), Peerless (Hudson, Essex, Union, Morris), Shore Point (Hunterdon, Warren, Somerset, Ocean, Monmouth, Middlesex) and Trentacoste Brothers (Burlington, Camden, Glouster, Salem, Atlantic, Cumberland, Cape May, Mercer).

    Shore Point started delivering the Hoboken brew on March 1. "The first 90 days will tell us if it's a hit," says Pete Breedlove, Shore Point's sales director. "You need first class point of sale materials. What Mile Square beer is giving us is equal to any in the business, even compared with the big boys. It's getting attention. Hoboken's timing is great. As people abandon loyalties to established brands, the market is opening to new producers." Dell'Aquila says he eventually hopes to "compete with Sam Adams beer."

    That goal may lead Hoboken Brewery into the heart--or hops-- of a rising battle in the beer industry. The Dell'Aquila's business has arrived on the scene at the start of a marketing brawl that hasn't been seen in the beer business since the days of gas lamps, sawdust on the floor and free lunches. Before it's all over, companies like the Hoboken Brewery may get sucked into the sudsy spat.

    Anheuser-Busch of St. Louis, Mo. and a group of West Coast microbrewers have filed a petition with the U.S. Treasury Department Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms saying that at least two leading brands of so-called microbrewery beer, Samuel Adams sold by Boston Beer, and Pete's Beer from Pete's Brewing are deceptively labeled because their products are actually brewed and bottled by such major brewers as Genesee Brewery and Pittsburgh Brewing. The brawl, which involves Anheuser-Busch's Newark operations, promises to get hotter.

    At least for now, though, Dell'Aquila says it's not his battle, adding, "I'm too busy making beer." The family business is only a few yards down the block from where the first active brewery in North American was built in 1660. It is also about the same distance from the genesis of a pastime that many fondly pair with throwing back a few beers, Elysian Field, the site of the nation's first baseball game.

    Mitchell's brother and father are also active in the Hoboken Brewery. Brother Anthony, 37, president of the family garment-making business in Passaic, is VP/marketing at the brewery. Their father Vito, who has been in the clothing business for decades, is treasurer. But it was their brother, Perry, who came up with the slogan printed on all the company's promotional materials: "When making the Rounds, Make it a Square."

Sounds like a great toast.


Business News, New Jersey - April 6, 1996

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