The Brooklyn Growler

"Life is all skittles and beer." — Tom Lehrer

Celebrator Good Times

I’m a sucker for little plastic goats. As it happens, the Ayinger Brewery‘s Celebrator Doppelbock just happens to arrive with a little plastic goat on a string. Having picked up a bottle around the holidays, I wondered if it was part of an Xmas promotion. Drink fifty bottles of Celebrator and decorate the tree.

The goat has a greater purpose than just beer-bottle candy, though. It comes from the style of beer – doppelbock.

A bock is a style of German beer that is, essentially, a strong and sweet beer. Not too sweet, mind you. But sweet nonetheless. Bocks are lightly hopped and malty. Bocks were first brewed in the German town of Einbeck in the fourteenth century. Bavarians adopted the style in the seventeenth century. They pronounced Einbeck as “ein bock,” which translates to “a billy goat.”

Goats have since adorned bottles of bock beer. The Thank Heaven for Beer blog notes that the appearance of a goat (or a ram) also indicates that a bock is a strong beer.

And a doppelbock is a stronger version of a bock. Double bock. Doppel bock. Hotcha.

Ayinger’s Celebrator Doppelbock is a mighty fine example of the species. The groupmind over at Beer Advocate gives it an A overall, lauding both its drinkability and complexity. I agree. Served in a bell glass, this doppelbock really opens up. It’s like a buncha monks decided to have a party in your mouth. Coincidentally, monks often drank bocks and doppelbocks during their fasts.

Brooklynites can pick up a bottle retail at Brooklyn Beer & Soda. Watering holes such as the Fourth Ave. Pub, Mug’s Ale House, and Radegast Hall have some Celebrator’s behind the bar.

Filed under: beer history, beer reviews, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Without Victory There Is No Survival

Pilsners, to me, are a distinctly summery beer, which is why I was happy to have a Victory Prima Pils on a recent September afternoon.

The Prima Pils from Downington, Pa.’s Victory Brewing Co. is brewed in the classic German style. Pilsners are a lager beer – historically stored in caves as a form of cold conditioning – that have a straw-like color and a nice but mild bite of hops with a refreshing finish.

Victory’s pilsner is all that and a little more. This pilsner has a 5.3 percent ABV and is double hopped to give it a sharper bite than most pilsners. The Prima Pils a strong-bodied pilsner that is full of flavor that fully embraces the pilsner style.

Pilsners often get a bad rap from craft-brew aficionados due, in part, to the proliferation of American-style pilsners such as Budweiser, Miller, and the like.

It was in the 1870s that pale lagers like Budweiser began to take hold in America, shifting tastes away from the heavy amber Bavarian beers. These new pilsners were made with corn or rice and were, at the time, more expensive to make than the all-malt beers – and these beers satisfied American beer drinkers more than any other beer. (The process for making them grew cheaper as time passed; at the time of their inception, though, it’s important to note that a Budweiser was actually an expensive beer to produce.)

These pilsners formed the backbone of the industrialization of the brewing industry. And as Maureen Ogle notes in her book Ambitious Brew, many local beers of the nineteenth century were made of poor quality and had an inconsistent, sour, or nonexistent flavor. It was Budweiser and its competitors who produced consistent-tasting beers at a high enough volume to break into markets throughout the U.S.

These sweeter-tasting beers came to dominate the market and thereby defined what a beer was to many beer drinkers.

But German pilsners always remained the same – Pilsner Urquell, Jever, and Spaten to name a few – retained that crisp bitter flavor without the sweetness. They’re mass produced in Germany and imported to U.S., sure, but the style is distinct from a Budweiser, which is a sweet, watery beer that doesn’t offend.

I always find it bold of craft brewers to take a shot at a pilsner. The style might not excite many hop enthusiasts. In my mind at least, the first thing I think of when I think about a craft beer is an amber-colored brew with a strong hoppy flavor and a rich, malty taste. While a golden pilsner seems like the antithesis of craft brewing. But it’s all about the ingredients and Victory doesn’t skimp on the Prima Pils.

And so with that said, when a craft pilsner works out – it’s a victory.

Filed under: beer history, beer reviews, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When Schaefer Put the Lights Out

The F&M Schaefer Brewing Co. is America’s oldest lager brewing company. It was also the longest-running brewery in New York City, and the last to leave in the 1970s.

By the beginning of the 20th century, there were an estimated 50 breweries operating in Brooklyn, by the end of the 1970s – all of them would be gone.

Launched in 1842 by two German brothers – Frederick and Maximillian – Schaefer was originally based in Manhattan. Its first location was on Broadway between 18th and 19th Streets, while the second was uptown on Park Avenue (then known as Fourth Avenue) and 51st Street. In 1914, the brewery moved to 430 Kent Ave between South 9th and 10th Streets in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.

During Prohibition, Schaefer survived by brewing “near beer,” manufacturing dyes, and artificial ice at the Brooklyn plant. But once Prohibition ended in 1933, Schaefer hit New York City with a marketing blitz built around the motto, “Our hand has never lost its skill.” By 1938, Schaefer was one of the few breweries to produce over one million barrels of beer each year. By 1944 (a few years after its 100th anniversary), Schaefer was producing over two million.

By 1971, Schaefer had constructed an ultra-modern plant in Allentown, Penn. It was only a few years later that the company decided to shutter its Brooklyn plant as well as two other plants that were full of outdated machinery and were expensive to operate.

The breweries of Brooklyn were all shutting down by the 1970s. The last two to leave were Rheingold and finally Schaefer, who turned out the lights in 1976.

The building that housed Schaefer’s Brooklyn plant still exists. Here it is pictured in the 1970s from the book Breweries of Brooklyn by Will Anderson (photo by Karen Umminger), next to a photograph of the face of the building as it exists today.

Schaefer of the ’70s and today.

The lettering for the original F&M Schaefer brewery has been covered up by the new signage. Also lost is the logo featuring a barrel and a banner that reads “fine beers.”

There is a developer who has been working to convert the building into eighteen and twenty-four-story residential towers. The project has been stalled, but don’t count it out yet.

Some sign of the building’s former beer glory still exists.

Filed under: beer history, , , , , , , ,


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