New York Beer Nostalgia: the early years of craft beer

Clipping from New York Magazine, 7/16/84

In 1983, zero barrels of beer were commercially brewed in New York City. It had been more than half a decade since Rheingold and Schaefer had closed the doors of their Brooklyn breweries in one fell swoop. One man - a Brit - had a plan to bring beer back to New York: in SoHo, no less.

This became the Manhattan Brewing Company, a precursor to the New York craft beer scene that was open from 1984 until the mid-90s on the corner of Thompson and Broome. Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver bit his chops on brewing here before he left for his current longtime employer.

Once it opened in November of 1984, it attracted far less of a sophisticated beer-drinking set, and much more of a college crowd (when it opened, the drinking age in New York was still 19). Said of the brewpub in New York Magazine in 1988:

Fun if you like college kids, are one yourself, or are looking for an excuse to act like one.

Ouch.

The beers, though, were righteous. In fact, Manhattan won two medals at the 1989 Great American Beer Festival for European Pilsners, including one it brewed for sale exclusively at D’Agostino supermarkets. Manhattan Brewing Company made its mark on the beer scene before dying a slow, ugly death.

MBC had a tumultuous last few years, closing, reopening, and dealing with staffing changes before ceding its position as New York’s only brewpub to a bevy of others that entered that tried - and ultimately failed - to enter the market in the 1990s. We’ll talk about those in a future installment.

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New York City's source for local news about craft beer, beer bars, and beer culture in the five boroughs and beyond. | Editor: Chris O'Leary