The New York Historical Society has officially opened the doors to its comprehensive exploration of the city’s brewing legacy, titled Beer Here: Brewing New York’s History.
The exhibit covers more than three centuries of the fermented beverage’s history in the Big Apple, beginning in colonial times and culminating in today’s craft brewing revolution. The latter element gets a hands-on component in the form of a beer hall, sampling offerings from New York-based craft brewers.
“Our exhibit consists of eight sections, we’ve arranged them loosely chronologically to look at the very rich and long history of consumption and production of beer in New York City,” said co-curator Debra Schmidt Bach at a media unveiling of the exhibit on Wednesday.
Topics include the nutritional properties of colonial beer and early New York brewers in the age of revolution; infrastructure innovations and the importance of access to clean water; large-scale brewing in nineteenth-century New York and the influence of immigration; temperance movements and the impact of prohibition; bottling, canning, refrigeration and other technological advances; and the promotional efforts of the City’s breweries in the age of mass production. These topics will be highlighted through a display of historical objects and documents such as a 1779 account book from a New York City brewer who sold beer to both the British and patriot sides; sections of early nineteenth-century wooden pipes from one of the city’s first water systems; a bronze medal that commemorates an 1855 New York State temperance law; beer trays from a variety of late nineteenth-century brewers; souvenirs from the campaign to repeal prohibition; and a selection of advertisements from Piels, Rheingold and Schaefer, beloved hometown brewers.
One of the most striking image in the exhibition was a painting of George Ehret’s Hell Gate Brewery, which occupied several blocks on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in the late 19th and early 20th century. The sheer size of the facility illustrates the scope of the brewing scene during the period.
A little known fact is that the state of New York was once a hotbed of hop-growing. “We had no idea that in the late 19th century, approximately between 1870 and 1900 that hops produced in New York State were the most numerous,” said co-curator Nina Nazionale. “The hop crop in New York State was the biggest one in the country.”
The exhibit features actual tools used during the period to harvest hops, as well as a diary of a 15-year-old girl who worked with her family in the hops field during the period.
Another highlight of the exhibit include the gown worn by Miss Reingold 1956—the annual pageant the New York brewery hosted between 1950 and 1964. The gown was lent to the exhibition by Miss Reingold herself, Hillie Merritt Mahoney, who was in attendance at the media event.
Crown Holdings, which revolutionized beer packaging when its founder, William Painter invented the modern crown bottle cap—known at the time as the crown cork—is a major sponsor of the event.
“As a company we’re thrilled to sponsor a great celebration of New York’s brewing history,” said Michael Dunleavy, VP of corporate affairs at Crown Holdings. “Crown had a lot to do with that history…Before Mr. Painter’s invention there were a number of sealing systems, everything from corks in bottles to metal and ceramic contraptions, none of which could effectively hold flavors, carbonation or travel great distances from the breweries in Brooklyn to the drinkers in Manhattan. In essence the crown cork changed the face of the industry by enabling beverages to reach not only consumers in the nation, but even move around the globe.
Beer Here: Brewing New York’s History, runs through Sept. 2 at the New York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York.
For more information visit nyhistory.org