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The ale trail (continued)

A bit further down Heath Street stands the once and future majesty that is the American Brewing Co. (1893–1918), another establishment owned by James Kenney. Reiskind points to the stained glass in the second-story office’s half-moon transom windows. To its ornate terra cotta and brickwork. To the two artificial clocks stuck in the head house’s spire, their hands perpetually set at seven o’clock and five o’clock — the beginning and end of the brewery worker’s day. Around the corner is a cobblestone courtyard with a well head for the once-flowing spring. The high ceilings and interesting room shapes necessary for some brewing processes lend themselves to some pretty dynamic living spaces — a fact seized upon by the developers of the new Brewery Lofts, a high-end residential repurposing of the building that’s slated for occupancy by next summer.

Back when they were constructing the Stony Brook MBTA station in 1987, Reiskind lobbied hard to have it named Haffenreffer. (He lost out, but figures Stony Brook is a nice compromise, since its waters fueled so many breweries.) Instead, Mr. Haffenreffer has been memorialized in another way, thanks to the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) and Jim Koch’s Boston Beer Company.

Ever since 1985, after two fallow decades, the 14-building Haffenreffer complex is alive again, and it’s been spruced up immensely. With Sam Adams, the JPNDC, and several other businesses — many in the food-service industry — as tenants, it’s almost like a small village. Reiskind points out some of its salient features: the 19th-century slate-roofed workers’ housing, clustered around the periphery. The old paymaster’s building with a night safe built into the wall. The tall smokestack that used to say HAFFENREFFER, but had to be shortened due to safety concerns; all that fits now is FENREFFER. The old stable (JPNDC headquarters), with its paneled brick and gorgeous embellishments. On the outskirts of the plot sits Rudolf Haffenreffer’s house. Across the lane, beer is being brewed again. The air is heavy with the pungent smell of malt.

INSIDE, THE past lives behind glass. The folks at Boston Beer Company have amassed a small reliquary of Boston’s brewing history. Drink it all in: the 1930s-era advertisements for Haffenreffer’s flagship product ("Pickwick: Ale That Is Ale"). The array of Pickwick cone-top and flattop cans. An antique statue of the Pickwick country dandy, bespectacled and in breeches. Bottles of Suffolk Brewing Company’s Double Diamond Ale and Liberty Beer. A dusky bottle of King’s Bohemian, billing itself as "A Body-Building Food Beverage of Superior Excellence." A Sterling beer tray that trumpets, "Tastes Like Old Times." A bottle of Haffenreffer Non-Intoxicating Ginger Malt.

These artifacts reflect a different, more innocent sensibility and provide a tangible link to a vanished past. They are what attracts people like Mark Benbow, card-carrying member (#13056) of the Beer Can Collectors of America. He’s from Washington, DC, but when I reach him by cell phone, he’s with friends in Western Massachusetts on a "dumping" run: scoping out remote locales that "look like they used to be settled and aren’t any more" and poking through detritus and dirty leaves with a metal detector and a shovel.

Benbow doesn’t even drink. But ferreting out rusty old beer cans (and curating a Web site, RustyCans.com) satisfies his "inner archaeologist," he says. Benbow is partial to New England brands, like the green Croft cans with the "lemon head" cartoon faces tipping back a glass. Or New England Ale from Commonwealth Brewing in Springfield. Sadly, most of the cans he unearthed earlier in the day were regionals from New York and New Jersey: Jacob Ruppert, Rheingold, Peter Doelger. That’s probably because he was in the western part of the state. But it’s also likely they’re remnants from the period when Boston brewing was already in the gloaming. "Digging up cans like this is another way of preserving history," Benbow says.

Then there’s Kevin Logan, curator of the mock-heroically monikered East Taunton Beer Can and Breweriana Museum. (It’s actually an awe-inspiring array of 2000 or so cans in his basement, and isn’t open to the public — although he does offer a "virtual tour" via his Web site, kevslog.tripod.com/beercanmuseum.) Logan — who started collecting at 14, long before he was of drinking age — says he’s "only got half a dozen or so cans that are worth anything." But that’s not really the point.

In his basement, as jaunty voice-overs from vintage black-and-white beer ads blare from a small TV, Logan shows off his green can of Krueger’s Cream Ale, circa 1935. It was the first-ever can of beer; opening instructions are printed on the side. He points to a Schlitz can from the early ’60s, one of the first with a pop top. To a can of Lowell-brewed Harvard Ale, its design a little like university tweed. To an ancient bottle of Schlitz, imprinted with a Boston provenance and 1909 date. Narragansett. Dawson’s, from New Bedford. Brockert Pale Ale, from Worcester. Bohemian, from Fall River. All vanished. Arrayed in kaleidoscopic precision, a sea of painted, weathered metal, these little steel and aluminum vessels are a wonder to behold. "It’s like a little art museum," Logan says.

"People collect for different reasons," says Dan Morean, who runs a breweriana emporium in Brimfield. (See his astounding array of wares at www.breweriana.com.) "Some people like brewery history and like to have things that document breweries’ brands or locations, or what they looked like. A lot of older people collect because they remember the breweries; they remember Pickwick Ale being called ‘poor-man’s whiskey.’ Some people just collect because they think the stuff looks neat."

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Issue Date: May 27 - June 2, 2005
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