Beers Gone By: The Life, Death and Rebirth of 5 Brooklyn Breweries

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    When most people think of brewing in Brooklyn, they think of crafty IPAs, fixed gear bikes parked outside trendy brew pubs, and artistic recipes that have come to define the spirit of Brooklyn as a whole over the past few decades. But there’s so much more to the history of beer-making in the borough than meets the eye these days.

    It’s existed in many different iterations since Dutch colonization in the 17th century, and Brooklyn has a rich history of brewing. The borough had dozens of breweries, with many concentrated in Bushwick.

    We’re going to check in on five historic Brooklyn breweries, dive into their past, and look at what the present and future hold. Some have been razed to make way for new developments, while others have been converted into offices or housing.

    While brewing is back on the upswing with nearly a dozen small craft operations around the borough, let’s take a look back at the beer-making tradition that defined Brooklyn.

    Schaefer Brewing Company
    Location: 440 and 446 Kent Avenue, Williamsburg
    Currently: Condos
    GMAP

    The F & M Schaefer Brewing Company was founded by two German brothers, Frederick and Maximilian Schaefer. Frederick, who arrived in New York with a dollar to his name in 1838, bought a small brewery operation in 1842. First founded in Manhattan, the company moved to a Williamsburg facility in the early 20th century. For a time in the middle of the 20th century, the Schaefer brand was a top 5 seller in the United States.

    brooklyn beer breweries history

    View of Schaeffer Brewery buildings and the interior of the bottling plant in 1948. Photos via Library of Congress

    However, as deindustrialization hit Brooklyn in the 1970s, Schaefer packed up their operation and headed to Allentown, Pa., in 1972, ultimately closing the Williamsburg operation in 1976.

    Today, the site is the spot of the Schaefer Landing residences. The condo development, which consists of two main apartment towers and has 350 units, was built in 2006. The developer was BFC Partners and the architect was Karl Fischer Architects.

    brooklyn beer breweries history schaefer

    Schaefer Landing residences.

    Nassau Brewing Company
    Location: 949 Bergen Street, Crown Heights
    Currently: Mixed-use complexes under construction
    GMAP

    The Nassau Brewing Company has been gone for 100 years this year, but unlike many old Brooklyn breweries, part of it still towers over Crown Heights. Founded in 1849, it took on a variety of names, but its most famous legacy is a beer nearly any American beer drinker knows well.

    brooklyn beer breweries history nassaue

    Nassau Brewery circa 1941. Photo via Big Sue LLC

    In the late 19th century, the owner of the company, William Brown, was in search of the ideal beer to create at his Brooklyn brewery. The search brought him to a city in today’s Czech Republic called České Budějovice — in German, Budweis. Naturally, he called his new beer and brewery Budweiser.

    This went about as well as you’d expect it to. A brewer you might have heard of out in St. Louis named Anheuser-Busch was brewing a product by the same name, which they trademarked in 1878. Under the threat of lawsuit, Brown changed the name of the operation to Nassau, which it remained until its closure. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.

    The old brewery building is owned by Crow Hill Development head Fabian Friedland, who is restoring it and plans to transform it into a mixed-use complex with shops and apartments. In 2014, Yoel Goldman of All Year Management bought the Dean Street side of the property from Friedland for $17.5 million. On the Dean Street side, a new building, 608 Franklin Avenue, is near completion, and will house apartments and retail space.

    brooklyn beer gone life and death of brooklyns breweries

    The old Nassau Brewery building and the new building at 608 Franklin Street.

    Liebmann’s Brewery
    Location: 74 Stanwix Street, Bushwick
    Currently: Affordable housing; mixed-use under construction
    GMAP

    Liebmann’s Brewery probably doesn’t ring a lot of bells for the casual Brooklyn beer drinker today, who is more familiar with the trendy, newer choices like Brooklyn or Six Point. However, Liebmann’s, a Bushwick staple for nearly a century, gave New York what is quite possibly its most famous beer ever — Rheingold.

    brooklyn beer brewery rheingold

    Liebmann’s Brewery in 1981, just before demolition. Photo via The Library of Congress

    Rheingold, often used as the name of the brewery itself, was introduced in 1883. The beer was the official beer of the New York Mets for a time, and was endorsed by celebrities like the Marx Brothers, Les Paul and Jackie Robinson. Additionally, the beer’s “Miss Rheingold” contest was a huge hit amongst its drinkers, who voted on the selection each year.

    Rheingold was the best selling beer in the New York area for nearly three decades. It closed in 1976 after not being able to keep up with national brands like Miller and Anheuser-Busch.

    The Rheingold site was a massive one that occupied multiple blocks in Bushwick. Today part of the site is home to an affordable housing development championed by Vito Lopez and built in the early 2000s. It has more than 300 units in total, consisting of houses and rental apartments, at addresses including 535 Bushwick Avenue, 14 to 38 Monteith Street, and 16 to 38 Noll Street. Titled Rheingold Gardens, the project has won three awards for design and innovation, including the 2006 Building Brooklyn Award.

    The remaining undeveloped blocks are now being redeveloped into for-profit apartments with 20 percent affordable units. Owner and developer Read Property got the site rezoned in in the early 200s to allow residential development, then sold off some of the lots to other developers.

    Addresses currently under construction include Rabsky’s 10 Montieth Street, 115 Stanwix Street and 123 Melrose Street.

    The development has been controversial because Read initially promised the community board it would make the entire development 30 percent affordable in exchange for the rezoning.

    brooklyn beer breweries history rheingold

    From upper left: Townhouses built on the Rheingold site, 10 Montieth Street, Rheingold Gardens, 123 Melrose Street

    William Ulmer Brewery
    Location: 31 and 81 Belvidere Street, Bushwick
    Currently: House and mixed-use rentals
    GMAP

    German immigrant William Ulmer became a partner in a Bushwick brewery in 1871, and eight years later, the William Ulmer Brewery was born.

    brooklyn ber gone life and death of brooklyns breweries ulmer

    William Ulmer Brewery. Image from The Brooklyn Historical Society via NY Landmarks Commission

    Ulmer’s operation was successful and profitable up until Prohibition. The office at 31 Belvidere, built in the Romanesque Revival style by Theobald Englehardt, was landmarked in 2010 and is now a private home.

    The old factory is home to 16 rental loft apartments occupied by artists, according to the zoning, and one commercial unit, city records reveal. The factory, whose address is 81 Beaver Street, went up for sale in 2014, Real Estate Weekly reported at the time, but hasn’t sold, according to city records.

    brooklyn beer breweries history ulmer

    The Ulmer factory and a glimpse of the office at 31 Belvidere Street.

    Consumers Park/Interboro Brewery
    Location: 960 Franklin Avenue, Crown Heights
    Currently: Spice factory
    GMAP

    One of the lesser known entries on our list, the Consumers Park Brewery was a much different entity than your typical Brooklyn brewery.

    brooklyn beer breweries history consumers

    Ad for Consumers Park Brewery, 1900. Image via Brooklyn Daily Eagle

    For one, Consumers Park was the invention of a group of hotel and bar owners who wanted to control the pricing of their own product. Opened to the public in 1900, the brewery sat on the Brighton Beach line (and had its own train stop) and contained a beer garden, hotel, restaurant and concert facility.

    Consumers Park was also an innovator in another groundbreaking fashion — it was the first brewery in the United States to be completely electrified. The brewery’s electrification also benefited local residents, as their homes were the recipients of electricity not long after.

    In 1913, the brewery merged with two other local beer makers and became the Interboro Brewing Company. Unfortunately, like so many other Brooklyn brewers, it did not survive Prohibition. The site was taken over by the Morris J. Golombeck Spice Company, founded in 1931.

    The spice company still operates out of the main brewery facility to this day.

    The biggest remnant of the old Consumers Park/Interboro Brewery is the giant smokestack that rises above it all, a physical reminder of Brooklyn’s brewing tradition.

    The brewery’s name survives in the form of a new brewery called Interboro Spirits and Ales in East Williamsburg — the founders named their establishment after seeing the smokestack of the old Interboro factory.

    brooklyn beer breweries history

    The Spice Factory office at 960 Franklin Avenue in Crown Heights

    [Photos by Seán Devlin unless noted otherwise]

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