With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only makes sense for us to start a new series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.
For the sake of clarity and with an eye toward avoiding any bias, we’re doing this thing alphabetically. We’ve somehow swilled our way to the 32nd state on our list, The Empire State, New York. The state’s nickname recognizes its wealth of resources and cultural importance. While the origin of the nickname isn’t certain, some credit George Washington, who in 1784 referred to it as the “present seat of the empire.” It’s also known as the Excelsior State (the state motto) and the Knickerbocker State, derived from the pants early Dutch settlers wore.
New York ranks 4th in total population (just under 20 million), is ranked 7th in population density and houses 208 craft breweries as of 2015 (an increase of 133 since 2011) who are represented by the New York State Brewers Association. The state ranks 5th in total breweries (including D.C.) and 33rd in breweries per capita as of 2015, according to the Brewers Association.
While Italian and French explorers first set foot in the area now known as New York in the mid-1500’s, it was Henry Hudson, sailing for the Dutch East India Company in 1609, who spread the word of great trading in the area. By 1612, three Dutch breweries were already churning out suds in New Amsterdam (NYC), where America’s first commercial brewery opened in 1632.
As the story goes for most states, the brewing scene exploded once the Germans arrived in the mid-1800’s, bringing with them recipes for the new hotness, Lager beer. The largest brewers pre-prohibition, Hell Gate Brewery (1866) and Jacob Ruppert Brewery (1867), were both in Manhattan’s Upper East Side and dominated the region.
George Ehret’s Hell Gate was the largest brewery in the county until Adolphus Busch eclipsed them in 1898, largely due to his bottling and distribution of beer. Jacob Ruppert, the son of a brewer and father to the Yankees owner who famously purchased the contract for Babe Ruth, expanded his brewery to a capacity of 2 million barrels annually by 1913.
Additionally, the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn had it’s own dominant brewing culture as well, as it was home to a 14 block area known as “Brewer’s Row,” home to roughly 50 brewers at the end of the century. Of these brewers, two of the most successful were F & M Schaefer Brewing (1842) and Liebman Brewery (1883 – makers of Rheingold Beer).
Schaefer moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn to handle increased production and later built breweries in Albany, Baltimore and Allentown, PA. Production peaked at 5 million barrels annually in 1975, but just couldn’t compete with the larger national brewers, eventually selling to Stroh Brewery in 1981. Best known for their slogan “Schaefer is the one beer to have when you’re having more than one.”
Rheingold, at it’s height, commanded 35% of the beer market in New York between 1950-1960 and were once the official beer of the New York Mets. Going out of business in 1976, it was a curious thing that empty cans of the beer were found among the rubble following the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers in 2001. Workers left empties in the beams, having finished construction of the buildings 3 years before the brewery closed.
In 1878, the state’s oldest existing brewery, Genesse Brewing, opened in Rochester. Originally a bowling alley, they resorted to baking pastries during prohibition. While they’re mostly known for their Cream Ale, they were revitalized after being sold to North American Breweries in 2009, which was then purchased by Cerveceria Costa Rica, subsidiary of Florida Ice and Farm, in 2012.
New York is one of the few states that didn’t cease all brewing operations before the micro-brewery revolution of the 80’s, so it’s honestly tough to ascertain who the oldest craft brewer in the state is. Brooklyn Brewery, founded in 1988, appears to be the oldest existing to start during that period. Having won 11 GABF awards and producing in excess of 220,000 barrels annually, they’re one of the best known and loved from the state.
10 More New York Breweries We Like and You Should Check Out
Captain Lawrence Brewing (Elmsford) – Originally opened in Pleasantville in 2005, Scott Vaccaro’s 40bbl brewhouse produces roughly 25,000 barrels annually. They’ve won 8 GABF medals over the past 9 years, primarily for their sour ales, though are also known for their IPAs, Session IPAs and classic German styles.
Evil Twin Brewing (Williamsburg, Brooklyn) – Founded in Copenhagen, Denmark by Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø in 2010, this “gypsy brewer” set up shop in New York in 2012. In that short time, his brewery has created over 220 brands and are known for their variety of IPAs and rich Imperial Stouts. His first permanent facility (including a taproom) will open in Queens later this year.
Finback Brewing (Queens) – Operating a 20 bbl brewhouse, Finback was founded in 2011 but finally settled in Queens in 2013. Known for their fruited sours and a wide variety of dialed in IPAs, they’ve already created over 100 brands and have quickly become one of the best rated brewers in NYC.
Grimm Artisanal Ales (Williamsburg, Brooklyn) – Founded in 2013, Grimm is also a nomadic brewery founded by Jim and Lauren Grimm. They pilot test their beers at home, then craft their recipes on other brewers systems, making single batch, limited-edition releases. Primarily focusing on Wild and Sour Ales, and Imperial IPAs and Stouts, every bottle of Grimm is a special flavor experience waiting to happen.
Brewery Ommegang (Cooperstown) – Specializing in Belgian styles since their founding in 1996 by Don Feinberg and Wendy Littlefield, Ommegang was the first American brewery “dedicated to Belgian-style, all bottle-conditioned, cork-finished beers.” They’ve won 8 GABF medals for their efforts and are known for their popular series of seven Game of Thrones inspired beers.
Other Half Brewing (Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn) – Only in operation since 2014, this brainchild of Samuel Richardson and Matt Monahan has created quite a buzz in the beer nerd community nationwide. Focusing more on draft consumption, releases of their coveted cans of New England style IPAs are in demand everywhere. With over 200 brands under their belts and top ratings on most beer sites, they’re one of the best brewers around today and one to watch for years to come.
Peekskill Brewery (Peekskill) – Located upstate and nestled in the Hudson River town of the same name, Kara, Keith and Morgan Berardi have been spoiling the area with great food and beer since 2008. With roughly 100 brands in the books and an amazing menu of savory delights, Peekskill is not to be missed if visiting or just looking for their beer on tap in NYC.
Sixpoint Brewery (Red Hook, Brooklyn) – In operation since 2004, Sixpoint has become one of the largest and most established brewers in the state. Once they started canning in 2011, they begin distributing throughout the country, becoming known for the Resin DIPA, Bengali IPA and Sweet Action Ale. A rare brewery to have created nearly 300 brands and currently brew over 60,000 barrels annually.
Southern Tier Brewing (Lakewood) – Open since 2002 and producing over 100,000 barrels annually, Southern Tier has become a national craft powerhouse. Establishing themselves as brewers that push the envelope of flavor, they’re most known for their Pumking Pumpkin Ale, Choklat Imperial Stout, plus a variety of IPAs and other experimental styles.
Transmitter Brewing (Queens) – Founded by cycling buddies Rob Kolb and Anthony Accardi in 2014, their passion for brewing was born out of their love of food. Possessing over 20 isolated strains of Brett, Lacto and Pedio plus a wide variety of international yeasts, they’re focused on full-flavored results. We love their scientific approach to number/letter coding and an awesome assortment of wild and funky Belgian creations.
Huge thanks to munchies.vice.com for one of the best brewing histories we’ve read.