Brewing in Syracuse
... from 1804 to the Middle Ages


by Peter A. Ensminger External
(modified from Great Lakes Brewing News External, October-November, 1996, vol 1(5): 3,24.)

Brewing has a long and venerable history in Syracuse External. Commercial brewing began around 1800 and by 1880 about forty breweries had been established in Syracuse. The number of breweries began to decline in the late 1800's and in 1962, its longest operating brewery - Haberle - closed its doors. Now, with a microbrewery, a brewpub, and an energetic group of homebrewers, Syracuse is experiencing a revival of its long tradition of brewing.

The Early Years
In 1804, Johann Mang, a physician and German immigrant, is considered to have opened the city's first commercial brewery. Mang is believed to have brewed beer in his cellar and sold it upstairs at his tavern on North Salina and Wolf Streets. Little information is available on Mang's brewery, because it was so small and short-lived and because Syracuse itself was very small and unincorporated at that time.

Kellog and Morey, which operated from 1824 to 1827, was another early Syracuse brewery. This downtown brewery, like many others, was located next to the old Erie Canal External, a major transportation route which connected Syracuse to the rest of New York. The Canal was particularly important to the Syracuse economy, since it allowed easy export of salt that was mined from nearby Onondaga Lake. Salt mining was the largest industry of the Syracuse area, and Syracuse became known as the "Salt City". The Erie Canal was also important to Kellog and Morey, since they reportedly used its water to make their beer!

By 1845, there were 102 operating breweries in New York state, with seven in Syracuse. Most of these were owned and operated by families of Irish or English descent, and they all brewed ales that were characteristic of their homelands. They imported their barley from Canada, where the growing conditions were better, and used hops grown in central New York, which was the nation's leading hop producer at that time.

In 1858, John and George Greenway, English immigrants, established the Greenway Brewery. Greenway brewed English-style ales and became the largest Syracuse brewery of the mid and late 1800's. At its peak, the Greenway Brewery was 6-stories high and occupied an entire city block along the Erie Canal. John Greenway was well-known for his magnanimity and generosity. In 1870 he held a barbecue on Clinton Square (in downtown Syracuse) to feed thousands of local residents who were hard-pressed by the economic depression of that time. Greenway was also famous because he convinced the city of Syracuse to import its water from Lake Skaneateles External, one of the Finger Lakes. Greenway even advertised his beer as using Lake Skaneateles water. By 1890, Greenway was the largest brewery outside of New York City and it exported beer to places as far away as Europe, Australia, and Asia. Greenway's brewery no longer exists, but John Greenway's influence remains. Syracuse city water is still piped in from Lake Skaneateles.

By 1870, immigrants from Germany and elsewhere in Europe had established breweries in Syracuse. In fact, brewing soon became a major Syracuse industry, second only to salt mining. Syracuse beer was exported to Buffalo, Albany, and beyond via the Erie Canal External or the railroad. With the influx of German immigrants (in 1890, one third of Syracuse's 90,000 residents were of German ancestry), Syracuse also saw a change in beer preferences. More beer drinkers preferred lagers (associated with Germany) over ales (associated with England and Ireland).

In 1896, Syracuse breweries produced about 300,000 barrels of beer and employed about 400 workers. Up to that time, people mostly drank locally brewed beers, because it took a lot of time and money for a brewery to transport beer. However, with the advent of beer pasteurization, better transportation systems (particularly railways), and improved technologies for large-scale brewing, large breweries in other cities were able to export their beer to Syracuse and elsewhere. Thus, many of the small breweries in Syracuse and throughout the U.S. sold out or closed down because they could not survive the increased competition. Haberle Brewery, which was established in 1855, purchased three of the smaller breweries of Syracuse (Kearney's, Crystal Spring, and National) and soon became one of the larger and better known Syracuse breweries.

On January 15, 1920, prohibition ended all legal brewing in Syracuse, although a few breweries, such as L. House Brewery and Easterly Brewing Company (established by George Oesterle and Frederick Rominger in ~1850), were able to stay open by producing soft drinks. Even though prohibition ended on April 6, 1933, many restrictive laws remained on the books that inhibited establishment of small breweries. Nonetheless, five breweries reopened in Syracuse: Zett's, Bartels, Greenway, Moore and Quinn, and Haberle. Most of the post-prohibition lagers produced by these and other American breweries were made with grain adjuncts (rice or corn) and had little hop character. Indeed, hop growing in central New York was decimated by downy mildew (also called "hop mildew, or "blight"; caused by the fungus Sphaerotheca humuli), and by competition from hop growers in the western US. Thus began the American style of lager beer, which has a light color and body, and subdued flavor and aroma from hops and malt.

By 1950, most of Syracuse's breweries had closed. The mighty Greenway Brewery, which once produced 100,000 barrels per year, employed over 100 workers, and occupied 710 feet along the Erie Canal, closed in 1952. Haberle Brewery was the last survivor but it finally closed in 1962. The Haberle building was demolished in 1964 to make room for a shopping center and parking lot. The shopping center was demolished after a few years later.

More recently, the Syracuse area has been home to a number of American mega-breweries, which are best known for their mass-produced light lagers.

The Modern Years
The past few years have seen a revival of small scale brewing in Syracuse. In 1991, Norm Soine, a former employee of the Schlitz brewery, began making beer at the Syracuse Suds Factory External, a downtown brewpub and restaurant that remains vibrant after 15 years.

The Empire Brewing Company, a brewpub and restaurant, opened in 1995. It was located just a block from the current location of the Suds Factory. Dave Hartmann started as the head brewer and his Bavarian style Weizenbier won a third place ribbon for Empire at the 1995 Great American Beer Festival. Dave went on to run the Empire Brewing Company of Rochester and handed the reins to Steve Schmidt. Steve won several GABF first place ribbons for his Koelsch beer, which he called "Skinny Atlas", after the eponymous lake. Both Dave and Steve studied brewing science at the well known Malting and Brewing program of the University of California, Davis External. Unfortunately, Empire Brewing closed its doors for good in 2003. Rumors have been circulating that the space formerly occupied by Empire will be bought out and that beer will flow again from the Empire taps.

The Towpath Brewery, owned and operated by brothers Ross and Todd Relyea, began brewing beer in 1999. Their name was chosen because their brewery was located very close to the towpath of the old Erie Canal. Their best beers? Hoppin' Mad India Pale Ale, an intensely hoppy IPA, and SkyChiefs Summer Brew, a quaffable beer sold at P&C Stadium during Syracuse SkyChiefs (AAA baseball) games. Sadly, Towpath Brewery closed in 2001.

Another source of the brewing revival in Syracuse is the Salt City Brew Club External. This group of 50-100 home brewers and beer aficionados has a stated purpose to "share ideas, recipes, techniques, and stories all in the effort of each member brewing his or her own best beer". The Salt City Brew Club sponsors an annual homebrew competition at the New York State Fair that features several hundred entries.

The newest brewery in town is the Middle Ages Brewing Company External (1995-Present), located on Wilkinson Avenue, about a mile from Armory Square. Marc and Mary Rubenstein run this microbrewery, whose mission is to make English style ales. Marc and Mary began as apprentices at the Shipyard Brewery External in Maine. Marc later attended a brewing school in nearby Kennebunkport. The Middle Ages was built in an old ice cream factory, whose walls and floors were well insulated with thick layers of cork. Its English style ales are brewed using a system developed by Peter Austin, of Yorkshire England. Austin worked at a large English brewery for many years, and began the Ringwood Brewery after his retirement. His brewing system is used by many other American microbreweries, including Shipyard, Cooperstown Brewing Co. External, and Gritty McDuff's External.

Along with the Syracuse Suds Factory and the Salt City Brew Club, the Middle Ages Brewing Company is contributing to a true renaissance of brewing in Syracuse!

References

My other beer sites: Brewing in Pilsen External || Brewing in Syracuse || Beer Data

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