A defining feature of the craft beer movement has been the ability to balance looking forward with new creativity while at the same time appreciating the history of brewing and beer. Urban Oyster runs several tours that feature beer against the historic and dramatic backdrop of New York City. Earlier this month we attended the “Brewed in Brooklyn” tour. The three-and-a-half hour walking tour covered the rich brewing and immigrant history of the Bushwick and Williamsburg neighborhoods as well as exploring the beer revival of the borough.
Few places in the country could provide a clearer perspective on the arc of brewing than Brooklyn and the tour seemed designed to make this abundantly clear. It began at the Brooklyn Brewery, which revived brewing in Brooklyn in 1996. A brewery tour guide showed us the original brewery and the recent expansion. We then had generous portions of twelve different Brooklyn beers: Radius, Summer Ale, Gold Standard, East India Pale Ale, Sorachi Ace, The River, Fiat Lux and Blast!. It was too much beer to appreciate in one sitting but the range of styles gave a great overview of the brewery. The traditionally earthy English style East India Pale Ale sat next to the new and style stretching Fiat Lux, a wit beer brewed with lime peel and coriander.
We left the brewery by car and arrived at the Huber/Hittelman Brewery building on Meserole St. that was part of a section of Bushwick called “Brewer’s Row” that packed twelve breweries into an eleven block stretch during the late 19th Century. Helped by access to high quality water and grain from Long Island, at one time 48 breweries called Brooklyn home. Our tour guides Claire and Laura (below l-r) brought us up to speed on the history of the area and gave insight into the important place that brewing held in society. Pictures provided by our tour guides helped connect the stories to the brewers and beer halls that they spoke about. The tour included a stop for lunch at Danny’s Pizzeria on Bushwick Ave, where the group discussed how the mix of German and Italian in the neighborhood could very well have yielded the earliest pairing of pizza and beer.
We saw some of the other brewery buildings that were left behind like Schneider’s and Fallert. Perhaps the most interesting part of the tour was fitting the breweries into a landscape with other historic sites that we visited in the area, like Berlenbach House and Most Holy Trinity St. Mary Church, places that together would have helped form the experiences of those living and working in the area at the time. Stories of how brewers supported and competed with each other mixed with the mysterious murder of a church janitor to give a full picture of beer’s connection to the life of the community.
The tour finished with a beer at Barcade (one of our favorite Williamsburg spots) where we sampled some experimental craft beers while surrounded by vintage arcade games. It all seemed to make sense, a rich history of brewing within a community revived in a new way.
Tickets for the Brewed in Brooklyn tour are $60 (10% off for members of the Brooklyn Historical Society or Tenement Museum). Public and private tours are available.