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Drink Up: Long a dry town, Collingswood welcomes downtown microbrewery

The Lumberyard in Collingswood

Second Saturday in Collingswood

The Collingswood Farmers' Market

Since 1873, Collingswood, New Jersey, has been a dry town: no bars, no liquor stores, no alcohol served at its restaurants. But now the old Quaker borough is preparing to welcome, of all things, a craft brewery to the heart of its booming downtown.

Devil's Creek Brewery opens to the public in May as a tasting room offering eight beers brewed on its premises. Getting suds to flow from those taps has been years in the making, requiring changes to state law, planning and zoning approvals, and exhaustive licensing authorizations. 

Longtime mayor James Maley, Jr. and others see the microbrewery as a great complement to the thriving restaurant scene along Haddon Avenue, the borough's main drag. But Devil's Creek is as notable for what it is as for what it isn't.

"We're not trying to be a bar," insists Devil's Creek proprietor Anthony Abate. "Collingswood is a dry town and we're not going against that image."

Under the terms of its "limited license" -- and in order not to pose unfair competition to the 20 or so nearby restaurants -- Devil's Creek will sell only what it makes. There will be no food, no entertainment or music, no TV screens or pool tables. 

"We're looking to make it a tasting room and not a lousy bar," says Maley.

Diners can grab a take-out growler at Devil's Creek to bring to a nearby restaurant. Or enjoy a quiet beer after dinner. Or "BYOF" – bring your own food. The brewery will initially be open Thursday through Saturday, closing at 10 or 11 p.m. 

Abate, an electrical engineer by day and longtime homebrewer, expects that Devil's Creek will brew seven barrels of beer at a time in its 1,500-square foot space, yielding about 800 gallons every three or four weeks. Those eight tap beers will include a stout, an IPA, a wheat beer and a red or amber ale, plus four seasonal brews. In addition to growlers, the brewery will also sell "sixtels" (one-sixth of a keg).

Maley says that "sentiment in town is very positive" for the brewery -- the required ordinance, planning and zoning changes were approved unanimously. Initial concerns by neighboring restaurateurs have now evolved into cross-marketing plans and new take-out menus. 

"Collingswood is an up and coming town with a lot of restaurants and retail shops," says Aaron Walzer of Ingerman, developer of The Lumberyard, the high-visibility, mixed-use downtown development where the microbrewery is located. "This new use is one that will help stimulate local tourism and be a main draw for the town. It is prominently located in our building and has great frontage on Haddon Avenue."

Still, Maley is adamant that the brewery isn't a first step towards turning Collingswood wet. With so many restaurants and only three possible liquor licenses that could be awarded (to say nothing of their price tag, often in the neighborhood of $1 million) allowing liquor would be disruptive to the restaurant trade. Nor is there an appetite for allowing a liquor store in the borough.

But prospects for the microbrewery are good if demographics are any indicator. Since Maley became mayor, Collingswood has experienced an influx of younger residents, dovetailing with a dramatic turnaround of the once sleepy downtown. It doesn't hurt that the borough is less than 15 minutes from Center City Philadelphia via PATCO.

Cass Duffey, the borough's director of community development, says that nearly 100 new businesses have opened in Collingswood (not just along Haddon Avenue) since 2011 and that retail vacancies are snapped up fast. The borough hosts a steady calendar of events, including a weekly farmers' market, a highly regarded annual book festival and the May Fair, which brings more than 50,000 people to Collingswood. 

The borough's transformation has attracted numerous awards and accolades, notably from the American Planning Association, which lauded Haddon Avenue as one of the 10 best streets in the U.S., and from Forbes, which named Collingswood one of the most transformed communities in America.

"For everything we've done, the motivating factor has been that people like to have fun," says Maley. "Including, now, beer drinkers."
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