By Kate Pastor
Brewing beer in the Bronx is as old as Jonas Bronck.
In fact, the first evidence of a Bronx brewery was discovered in the inventory of the Swedish-born settler’s South Bronx estate when he died in 1643.
So whether they knew it or not, those who came to the Feb. 24 sampling of the Bronx Brewery’s Riverd(ale) at the Bronx Ale House in Kingsbridge, were taking part in an historic ritual — one which has been on hold since the days of tie-dye and Woodstock.
Well, almost. The Bronx Brewery is operating out of a warehouse in Yonkers for now. And while the three business partners, one of them a Riverdale resident, have now added actual beer to their Bronx-themed company, they remain short one major ingredient: the $1 million needed to secure a brewing location in the borough, and with it, their positions as the only microbrewers in the Bronx.
If successful, they will be building on a storied past.
“There has been a long hiatus of beer that was actually brewed in the Bronx, but, of course, beer continued to be consumed in the Bronx,” said Bronx Borough Historian Lloyd Ultan.
In addition to the beer-making equipment found on Mr. Bronck’s estate, the second half of the 19th century through the first decades of 20th brought German immigrants who carried their penchant for lager with them to the Bronx, Mr. Ultan said.
During the heyday of Bronx brewing, several large establishments made their homes here. Ebling Brewery Company in Melrose, the Hupfel Brewery near East 161st Street and St. Ann’s Avenue and the Eichler Brewery on East 169th and Third Avenue, with the Zeltner Brewery across the street, put their sudsy stamp on the character of the borough.
The New York Times recently reported an unearthing of that history, which may now be given a second life. The paper reported brewing caves up to 20 feet wide and 100 feet deep had been uncovered in May by a developer building housing on the old Ebling Brewer y site.
Even the first Bronx Borough President, Louis F. Haffen, elected after the Bronx became a borough of New York in 1898, came from a brewing family, Mr. Ultan said.
Prohibition later represented a hurdle, but did not put an end to the practice of milling hops and peddling brews. Hupfel managed to stay in business by converting its building into a mushroom growing facility, Mr. Ultan said, but other breweries circumvented the alcohol ban by making “near beer,” which at below 3.2 percent alcohol was still legal.
Among those who flouted the law was a Jewish prohibition gangster Arthur Flegenheimer, also known as Dutch Schultz. He brewed beer in the Midwest where wheat and grain were plentiful, and shipped bottles to the Bronx in a fleet of surplus WWI trucks at night, Mr. Ultan said.
The proliferation of national beer companies eventually began to push out local brewers, according to Mr. Ultan. The Rheingold Brewery that occupied the old Eichler Brewery grounds was the last to close, in the late 60s.
“And that was the end of beer brewing in the Bronx until, of course, the new Bronx Brewery began,” he said.
Now, “They’re resurrecting the whole process, so in a sense it’s back to our roots,” Mr. Ultan said.