Move over St. Louis and Milwaukee — Brooklyn is back!
Red Hook-based Sixpoint Craft Ales has announced it will open a full-fledged beer-bottling plant in Williamsburg, putting the beer-loving borough back on track to the hoppy days when it was the major brew city in the country, home to more than 100 brewers.
It’s the first time that big batches of beer will not only be made in Brooklyn, but put into regular-sized bottles that you can buy at your local bodega or food coop, since the 1970s.
Brooklyn’s abiding love affair with beer took root in the mid-1800s when German immigrants settled in Williamsburg and Bushwick. Back then, beer making was a cottage industry.
“They brought not only their possessions, but also their love of beer and their favorite recipes,” said Kate Fermoile, vice president of the Brooklyn Historical Society, which had an exhibit on the local legacy of lager.
“They opened breweries and beer gardens where the entire family would go,” such as the old Trommers Evergreen Brewery.
Around the beginning of the 20th century, there were more than 100 independent makers in Brooklyn, most of them in the so-called “Brewers Row,” not one street but an area bounded by Meserole, Scholes and Lorimer streets and Bushwick Place.
Producers began to get drunk on profits, leading to a period of consolidation that continued through World War II.
Their numbers decreased, but production soared with Americans soaking up ever increasing quantities of brewskis.
At the height of its output in the 1960s, ale practically flowed through the streets. Brands like Piels, Rheingold and Schaefer were in full swing, and one-fifth of all American beer originated in Brooklyn.
But the old-time gang didn’t link its identity to the borough in the same way as the new brew crew — which includes Brooklyn Brewery on North 11th Street in Williamsburg, Sixpoint Craft Ales on Van Dyke Street in Red Hook, and Greenpoint Beer Works, which is on Waverly Avenue in Clinton Hill and makes beer for Heartland Brewery and has its own line called Kelso of Brooklyn.
“None of those [old] breweries ever celebrated Brooklyn,” said Steve Hindy, head of the Brooklyn Brewery.
Yet it was still a sad moment when the industrial equivalent of a keg party died in 1976, the year the last two holdouts, Rheingold and Schaefer, shuttered their factories.
Hindy opened the spigot again in 1988, when he founded the Brooklyn Brewery — setting off Brooklyn’s beer revival (though Hindy only makes limited batches of draught beer and some specialty bottles in his Williamsburg plant).
These days, he sees big differences between the mass-produced libations of the last Beer Age and what the new brew crew sells.
“We’re making a whole rainbow of beer flavors,” Hindy said. “The brewers of yesterday in Brooklyn did not have anywhere near the range.”
By the way, Hindy said that the mainstream beer of the 1940s and 1950s was superior to today’s giant corporate swill.