Tapping boro's history keg
By BILL FARRELL
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
The history of the Brooklyn beer-brewing industry is on display at the Brooklyn Historical Society, featuring 100 bottles of beer on a wall.
The Brooklyn Historical Society will pop the top on an exhibition exploring the history of Brooklyn beer and breweries tomorrow.
A walk through "100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall: Brewing in Brooklyn," on the third floor of the society's newly renovated Brooklyn Heights headquarters begins at a wall containing - what else? - 100 bottles of beer.
All the bottles are empty, and bear only brewery names etched into them - names that trigger memories of a bygone time when Rheingold, Schaeffer and Piels were the preferred local brews.
Looking through glass displays at coasters featuring Bert and Harry Piel, or hearing Louie Armstrong singing the Schaeffer jingle from an old television ad, or studying a poster of Miss Rheingold candidates are experiences guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of any exhibit visitor over age 40.
But the exhibit, which is open through Oct. 15, is about a lot more than nostalgia. It provides a rare opportunity to look inside the birth, life and eventual demise of a Brooklyn industry that at its peak produced more beer than Milwaukee, Detroit and Washington combined, according to Wendy Aibel-Weiss, co-curator of the exhibit.
The oldest item on exhibit is the 1822 Brooklyn directory that listed brewer William Johnson at 79 Front St.
The influence of German immigrants, using pure water drawn from the lakes of Long Island, helped Brooklyn's beer industry grow.
"They were all very local operations with over 100 breweries in Brooklyn, most in what is now Bushwick and Williamsburg," said Aibel-Weiss.
While the industry was able to survive the Anti-Saloon League of the 1890s and Prohibition in the 1920s, and even World War II, it couldn't survive the national expansion of such giants as Anheuser-Busch and Miller, and the realities of the bottom line.
In 1976, when Schaeffer and Rheingold shut down their operations, it cost 46 cents less per case to brew beer in Winston-Salem, N.C., and ship it north than to brew it in Brooklyn.
But in the mid-1980s, inspired by the the borough's great brewing history, Steve Hindy and Tom Potter founded Brooklyn Brewery and began brewing Brooklyn Beer.
"The story really has come full circle," said co-curator Ann Meyerson.
Brooklyn Brewery helped fund the exhibit. The Brooklyn Historical Society is at Pierrepont and Clinton Sts.