How New York Ate 100 Years Ago
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Just before the American Revolution New York, along with Philadelphia, emerged as one of the leading brewing centers in America. Over one hundred years later, at the turn of the twentieth century, some 78 breweries, four times the number of those before the Revolution, were operating in the recently consolidated five-borough city.

Nearly 50 of these breweries were located in the Brooklyn area!

The tremendous increase in breweries was largely due to the massive wave of German immigrants who came to New York around the 1850s. A large number of these newcomers settled in a two-by-seven-block area of Brooklyn which covered Scholes and Meserole Streets and extended from Bushwick Place to Lorimer Street. This area came to be called "Brewers' Row" because, ultimately, this 12-block square located at least 12 separate breweries (the ownership of which installations changed at least 33 times between 1850 and the 1880s). In fact, the grandfather of William M. Moeller, whom the Brooklyn Brewery commissioned to design Brooklyn Lager, was among those brewing beer here in Brooklyn at the turn of the last century.

All breweries up until 1850 could be classified as regional brewers. A regional brewer marketed its beer exclusively to a local or regional market, in much the same way that today's microbrewer operates. After 1850, new developments not only in the infrastructure of the United States (i.e., railroads) but also in bottling and brewing technology (i.e., pasteurization and the "crown" cap) enabled some regional brewers to expand into a national enterprise.

In any case, lager beer became the drink of choice for most Americans. "Lagering" is originally a German technique, which is believed to have been introduced into this country sometime during the 1840s by John Wagner. The word "lager" is derived from the German verb lagern, which to means "to stock or store." Lager beers are crafted through use of bottom-fermenting yeast. The fermentation process occurs at lower temperatures (45-65 degrees) and takes about six to ten days. top of page

Prior to this point brews were crafted through a process known as "top-fermentation," which produces such "strong" or "common" beers as ales, porters and stouts. Top-fermentation refers to a process in which the yeast rises to the top of the fermentation tanks during the fermentation process. This process occurs at higher temperatures (50-75 degrees) and the fermentation process usually lasts five to seven days.

Brooklyn Brewing Industry
By 1898, nearly fifty breweries operated in the Brooklyn area [which came to be known as the Brewing Capitol of the United States]. Probably the most prominent of those companies was Samuel established in Brewer's Row (see above) was Leibmann's (q.v.) Rheingold brewery, although there were other well-known or colorful firms such as F. & M. Schaefer, George Ehret's, John F. Trommer's and Piels. From forty-three breweries in 1879, the number diminished to three by 1973, and by 1977 no brewery operated in the Brooklyn area. Industry-wide factors of concentration, competition, and growth of national breweries, combined with the fact that Brooklyn plants were not modern enough to keep up with new standards of economy and efficiency, contributed to the decline.

Consumers Park Brewing Company [Manhattan/Brooklyn]
A large group of hotel and saloon-keepers established this Brooklyn brewery in 1897 (for the purpose of sharing profits from brewing and selling beer). The brewery featured a recreation-like décor that included a hotel, a beer garden, and concert facilities. The company merged with the New York and Brooklyn Brewing Company and formed the Interborogh Brewing Company in 1913. Subsequently, the company sold out during the 1920s (perhaps due to prohibition). The primary organizer and first president was Herman Raub. After a dispute with the directors, he returned to the hotel business in 1907, and died in 1915 at the age of forty-six. top of page

Peter Doelger Brewing Corporation
Peter Doelger migrated to America from Bavaria in 1850. Doelger, whose brother Joseph had opened a brewery in 1846, opened a small brewery in 1859 at 101 Avenue A, then moved to a new place at 55th St. between 1st Avenue and Avenue A, where he operated a very successful brewery (eleventh largest in the U.S. in 1895). During the 1880s, Doelger was involved in a number of labor disputes as workers were forming unions. In one incident four men died in an accident at his plant. Afterward, workers engaged in a successful boycott and strike. Doelger died in 1912 at the age of eighty. The family, led by his son, Peter, moved the business in the 1920s and finally settled in Harrison, NJ, at the former Peter Hauck brewery. The new brewery went out of business in 1947.

Edelbrew Brewery Inc. [1 Bushwick Place, Brooklyn]
A German immigrant, Otto Huber, Sr., who had worked for other breweries in Brooklyn, established his own plant in the late 1860s. He purchased the Hoerger Brewery in 1866 and built the new plant, which became one of the largest and most productive breweries in Brooklyn. After his death in 1889, his sons, Otto, Jr., Joseph, Charles, and Max, managed the company and it remained a family enterprise until the 1920s when it was sold to Edward Hittleman, who renamed the brewery after himself. Hittleman produced near beer until repeal of Prohibition, and in 1934 he changed the name of the company to Hittleman-Goldenrod Brewery. Goldenrod was a traditional brand name dating to the Huber brewery. After being renamed Edelbrau after a popular beer, it was finally changed to Edelbrew in 1946. Not long after Hittleman's death in 1951 at age sixty-eight, the brewery closed. top of page

Nassau Brewing Company [1042 Dean Street, Brooklyn]
Nassau was the final name of a fairly successful brewing company in Brooklyn. Founded originally in 1849 as Liberger and Walter, it changed hands in 1866 as Christian Goetz bought the brewery, calling it the Bedford Brewery. He operated it successfully until 1884 when William Brown and a group of businessmen bought the plant. Brown renamed the brewery Budweiser Brewing Company in reference to the quality of beer of Budweis, Bohemia. Inevitably, Anheuser-Busch brought suit against Brown for copying their name, which had been trademarked in 1878. Brown gave in, changed the name to Nassau Brewing Company, and directed the company from 1898 to 1914 when it closed.

F.W. Witte Brewing Company [96-102 Luquer Street, Brooklyn]
Frederick W. Witte founded this Brooklyn brewery in 1874. The brewery was fairly small but continued until 1903. It was known for production of weiss beer, which is mild and pale and normally brewed from wheat. This beer was somewhat popular before Prohibition but since then it has practically disappeared from the American market.

Rheingold Breweries, Inc. [36 Forrest Street, Brooklyn]
Samuel Liebmann founded this famous and long-lived Brooklyn NY brewery in 1855. Born in 1799, he left Wurtemberg, Germany, in 1854, partially for political reasons. Liebmann and his sons, Joseph, Henry, and Charles, built a large brewery. The sons carried on the business after Samuel died in 1872, but changed the name to S. Liebmann's Sons. In 1905, on the fiftieth anniversary of the company, the three sons retired and their six sons took over. top of page

Liebmann Breweries
In 1878 the Hohn P. Schoenwald Brewery was purchased, Clauss-Lyssius in 1902, and Obermeyer and Liebmann in 1924. The latter brewery had been opened in 1868 by Samuel Liebmann and run by his two sons-in-law. After the repeal of Prohibition, Liebmann Breweries, Inc., grew steadily and branched out with the purchase of the John Eichler Brewing Company in 1947, Trommer of Orange, NJ, and then two breweries in California that had been owned by Acme Breweries. Rheingold was the company's main brew dating from the 1880s, and that name was adopted for the company when Pepsi-Cola United Bottlers purchased Liebmann Breweries in 1964. In the meantime, all but the Brooklyn and Orange plants had been sold. After a number of business shifts, amid declining sales, Chock Full O' Nuts Corporation bought the brewery in 1974 and then closed down the Brooklyn plant in January 1976. Two plants, in Orange and New Bedford, Massachusetts, remained open. In October 1977, C. Schmidt & Sons, Inc., of Philadelphia purchased the label and brewing rights for Rheingold.

George Ehret's Hell Gate Brewery
Ehret's was a prominent New York City brewing company founded in 1866 by George Ehret, an 1857 German immigrant. The brewery was situated across from a precarious passage on the East River know as Hell Gate. Ehret chose the name for his brewery. After a fire in September 1870 destroyed much of the original plant, Ehret rebuilt and took advantage of the loss by installing more modern equipment and expanding facilities. For example, he added a De La Vergne refrigeration system to his plant.

By 1877, the Hell Gate Brewery was the largest producer in the U.S. although Ehret's marketing area continued to be geared primarily to New York. His ranking as a large brewer dropped to fourth place in 1895, behind Pabst, Anheuser-Busch, and Schlitz, but the brewery continued successfully into the 1920s. When Ehret died in 1927, his estate was estimated at $40 million. The heirs kept the plant open for a few more years but sold out to Col. Jacob Ruppert in April 1935.

But the Ehrets reentered the brewing business later the same year with the purchase of Brooklyn's Interboro Beverage Company, which had been the Leonard Eppig brewery until 1920. Louis Ehret headed the new enterprise. In 1949 the company sold its Brooklyn plant to Schlitz, marking that company's first venture in opening a non-Milwaukee plant. The plant was later closed. Meanwhile, Ehret's moved to Union City, New Jersey, but closed in 1951. (see photo next page) top of page

John F. Trommer's Evergreen Brewery [Bushwick Ave at Conway Street, Brooklyn]
The Brooklyn brewery was founded by John F. Trommer, who had emigrated from Germany. He settled first in Maine, then worked in Boston, and finally settled in New York City. After working in a number of breweries, he purchased the recently built plant of Stehlin and Breitkopf in 1896. Know as the Evergreen Brewery, it grew gradually during the next two decades. Trommer died in 1898, but his son, George, continued the business. Somewhat atypically, George Trommer managed to expand business during the 1920s by lending money and giving support to potential owners of hot dog restaurants-which, of course, featured Trommer's White Label Near Beer. By 1930 he supplied more than 950 such places.

In 1933, a second plant was opened in Orange, New Jersey, and both breweries proved very successful well into the late 1940s. [Furthermore, Trommer's housed one of Brooklyn's most popular beer gardens called the Maple Garden.] The New York City strike of 1949 and loss of sales thereafter hurt the company, however, and the New Jersey plant was sold to Rheingold in 1950. In 1951 Trommer announced the sale of the Brooklyn plant to Piel Brothers. George Trommer died on November 16, 1956, at the age of 83.

In Bushwick, the presence of the brewing industry encouraged the dairy industry. Farmers collected spent grain and hops for cow feed. Milk, with close to 4% butterfat, was sold fresh, made into cream, butter, cheese or ice-cream, or thinned for drinking. The milk business supported blacksmiths, wheelrights and feed stores along Flushing Ave. The Bedford section of Brooklyn (now part of Bedford-Stuyvesant) was agricultural until the 1920s, hosting substantial dairy activity. (for more see Links page) top of page

Source: Dictionary of the History of the American Brewing and Distilling Industries by William L. Downard (Greenwood Press, Westport, CT. 1980). Thanks to Dr. Annie Hauck-Lawson for help. Excerpted from: Dictionary of the History of the American Brewing and Distilling Industries by William L. Downard (Greenwood Press, Westport, CT. 1980)

Every reasonable effort has been made to trace the owners of copyright materials in this work. The NY Food Museum would be glad to receive information leading to more complete acknowledgements and in the meantime extend their apologies for any omission.

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