If the weather outside fogs up the second-floor window of Raritan Bay Brewing Co., you’ll see the outline of old telephone number decals on the glass. The foggy imprint “471-0007” is a remnant of the building’s history, once a law office that used to occupy the space where the tasting room now lives. Previous lives of 32 Church St. also include a cigar store, lunch counter and a bank. The brewery’s cooler? It used to be the vault.
Now, the Benfer brothers are breathing new life into this more than 100-year-old building, turning it into Keansburg’s first brewery.
Jeff Benfer, the eldest of the three, taught himself how to home-brew beer in 2011 after a tour in Iraq. While working full-time in IT, he spent his free time with his nose in every brewing book he could find, and when he set his sights on a brew operation bigger than his own consumption, he roped in brothers Dan and Kevin and their parents to help.
“You know, that’s kind of what you do. Read the documentation, do it until you figure out what not to do,” Benfer said.
Though Keansburg hasn’t been the most popular shore destination in recent decades — helped in no way by Superstorm Sandy — its history is rich in entertainment. Before the 1960s, tourists flocked there by ferry, train and trolley. The ferry stopped coming in from New York in the late 1950s, and then new train lines and highways bypassed the town. Today, it’s a quiet place with fewer than 10,000 residents.
The Benfers ran into a few small hiccups between brainstorming and building out the brewery.
The building at 32 Church St. was topped with four layers of roofing that needed to be ripped off and replaced. And due to underground springs, the absence of nearby storm drains and an inability to drain into the sewage system, the brothers had to dig a giant dry well out back to offset moisture in the basement.
But when it opened March 24, the brothers knew it was worth it.
“All we ask is that the residents come to buy beer occasionally,” Benfer said.
Though Raritan Bay Brewing is Keansburg’s first brewery, others within a 5- to 10-mile range include Belford Brewing and Carton Brewing.
“There’s not a lot of competition,” Benfer said. “It’s not like Miller and Bud trying to compete for the same people buying beer off the shelf. Someone might come to my brewery this weekend and another brewery next. More breweries in the area is not like a competition, it’s getting more awareness and generating a bigger market. I think it brings more people out.”