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Dec 19, 2014

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Consumers Brewing

By Gregg Smith

Could a late arrival to the New York Brew scene, and a relatively small operation, still make history? Of course it could. That's the wonderful part of history. It happens all the time and all around us and you never know when the seemingly mundane will prove pioneering.

Imagine yourself a saloon or restaurant owner in New York during the late 19th century. Moreover, locate your business in Brooklyn. One of the things that would have bothered you would be your supply of beer. Deliveries weren't timely and service was very poor. This was caused in part by the brewers owning their own bars and hotels (in the days before tied houses were outlawed) creating a conflict of interest. Of course at that time it was all legal and the brewers thought everything was going along splendidly. After all, it was merely sound business practice.

But you on the other hand, and other bar, restaurant and hotel owners, did not necessarily share their rosy view. After all, it didn't seem fair but what could you do other than owning your own brewery?

That was the conclusion the saloon keepers of Brooklyn reached in November 1897 and their solution was to do the obvious - build their own brewery. Shortly after they reached agreement, a site was purchased on Franklin Ave. and Montgomery streets. Construction started immediately and what arose was a brewery which incorporated a recreation like decor that included a hotel, beer garden and concert facilities. Even more unique, and securing it's place in brewing history, was the installation of electricity. Totally electrified by the Bullock Electric Company of Cincinnati, it was the first in the country to be so equipped.

The primary organizer and first brewery president was Herman Raub from Baden, Germany. Born in 1869 he emigrated to the United States in 1885 and was only 28 when he assumed his position. A well built man with close cropped hair, he cast a watchful eye as the facility began production in October 1899. Raub led the brewery with efficiency and by 1900 it reached a production level of 72,000 barrels. At the same time he was building a reputation of quality so well known that when German Prince Henry visited America in 1902 only Consumers beer was served aboard the imperial yachts.

When prohibition hit the saloon owners no longer needed the Franklin Street plant and it was sold out in the 1920s. Then, on prohibitions repeal, the United States entered a period of three tiered sales in which breweries weren't allowed to own bars and taverns. Likewise Taverns couldn't own a brewery. Thus there was no longer a need for a consortium of saloons to break the price fixing of the big brewers, and an era came to an end.

Gregg Smith

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