Brewer’s Row, A History of Breweries in Bushwick
With construction on the first of ten developments at the former Rheingold brewery site in Bushwick set to start this summer, I thought it might be interesting to look into the history of Bushwick’s breweries. The Rheingold brewery, which opened in 1883, was one of two dozen breweries operating in Bushwick at the time. Now, only two of the original buildings remain, one of which is home to a small brewery. What happened to Bushwick’s formerly thriving brewing industry?
In the 1840s and 1850s, Brooklyn saw a wave of immigration as Germans fled a failed revolution and poured into the city. A large number of these newcomers settled in an area of Brooklyn which extended from Bushwick Place to Lorimer Street and covered Scholes and Meserole Streets. They set up a number of breweries, leading to the area being nicknamed “Brewers’ Row.” By 1890, there were 14 breweries operating within this 14-block area, and Bushwick was dubbed the “beer capital of the Northeast.”
Bushwick’s brewing industry was able to thrive during the last half of the 19th century due to improvements in bottling and brewing technologies, as well as the construction of the elevated railroad along Myrtle Avenue. Since beer was a regional product at the time, and people usually only drank beer that was made nearby, there was a huge market in the Northeast. Brooklyn’s 35 breweries were producing 1.1 million barrels of beer annually – and more than two dozen of those were in Bushwick.
Among Bushwick’s most famous breweries was Trommer’s, one of the few plants in America to produce all-malt beers and ales. F&M Schaefer, in addition to being the beer of the Brooklyn Dodgers, sponsored exhibits at both New York World’s Fairs and hosted dancing tents at Jones Beach Theater. The William Ulmer Brewery at 81 Beaver Street was designated the first brewery building in New York City to be landmarked in 2010. And, of course, Rheingold, which was founded in 1855 and known as the official beer of the New York Mets, went on to sell its formula for their light beer to Miller, which is now known as Miller Lite.
Prohibition forced many of Brooklyn’s breweries out of business in the 1920s, even though the Volstead Act allowed the brewing of beer as long as the alcohol content was under 0.5%. After the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933, only a dozen of Bushwick’s breweries remained. By 1977, no breweries were operating in all of Brooklyn due to the growth of national breweries and the fact that Brooklyn plants were not modern enough to keep up with new standards of economy and efficiency. This was the end of the beer industry in Bushwick and Brooklyn as a whole, until the Brooklyn Brewery opened in 1996 and microbreweries began to pop up in the years since. The Braven Brewing Company, established in 2003, was the first brewery to open in Bushwick in thirty years.