Water world! Seltzer men continue to churn up the bubbly

Eli Miller is a seltzer deliverer for Gomberg Seltzer Works in Canarsie, the only working selzter factory left in Brooklyn.
Photo by Bess Adler

Old seltzer men never die, they just lose their fizz.

Kenny Gomberg and his bubbly crew of seltzer makers have been bottling the beverage at Canarsie’s Gomberg Seltzer Works, the last remaining seltzer factory in New York City, for more than 50 years.

There were dozens of bottling plants in Brooklyn at one time, but they all dried up save for the one on E. 92nd Street. As he fills the void, Gomberg has bought up hundreds of vintage seltzer machines, wooden crates, and glass bottles to keep his family’s business running.

And hundreds of loyal customers continue to order his refreshments.

“It’s not the taste they want, it’s the bite,” said Gomberg. “Strong seltzer has good pressure in the bottle, and it stays that way for months.”

The process of making the calorie-free drink has largely remained the same: city tap water travels through three filters using sand, charcoal, and paper to purify the water, before it is chilled at 33 degrees. Then carbon dioxide gets pumped into the mixture so the gas bonds with the water at the molecular level.

Finally, a seltzer filler takes an empty glass bottle and fills it in a century-old British-made carbonation carousel, which forces the gaseous liquid through its spigot.

“It couldn’t be simpler,” said Gomberg.

These days, Gomberg fills nearly 4,000 bottles per week, which six delivery men, including the country’s oldest seltzer man, Eli Miller, distribute to families throughout the borough by hand.

“Seltzer is still the poor man’s champagne,” said Miller.

Gomberg himself drinks 26 ounce bottles of seltzer for dinner every night — which can lead to gaseous interruptions.

“Yes you belch, but it doesn’t make you fart,” he said. “Nothing like a good hearty grepts.”

Gomberg Seltzer Works [855 East 92nd St. at Avenue D, Canarsie (718) 257-9369] Weekdays 7 am–4pm, Saturdays 9 am–1pm

Reach reporter Aaron Short at ashort@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2547.

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