The driving force behind the Excelsior Brewing Company was John Reisenweber who was the owner of a restaurant called “Reisenweber’s at the Circle.” Located at Columbus Circle, it was one of the oldest and most popular New York City restaurants at the time. His entry into the brewing business and the early history of the brewery was described in a section of the Staunton (Va.) Daily Leader entitled “Industry and Commerce” published on May 23, 1908.
Scores of New York’s prominent citizens and many thousands whose frames are not enrolled in any Hall of Fame have quaffed the foaming steins of beer dispensed at the popular hostelry and restaurant of mine host John Reisenweber at Columbus Circle, but few of them are aware, perhaps, that the grateful beverage served there has been brewed under the vigilant eye of the genial hotel man himself. To them it will be interesting to learn that Mr. Reisenweber is the president and active head of the Excelsior Brewing Company, whose large plant at Hart and Pulaski Streets, Brooklyn, N.Y., is a worthy example of a large industry.
What is now the Excelsior Brewery was established in 1890 by the Fred Hower Brewing Company. This company went into bankruptcy in 1895, and the brewery was taken over by the John Kart Malting Company of Buffalo, a creditor. In 1898 a number of gentlemen engaged in the liquor business in Greater New York conceived the idea of co-operating in the establishment of a modern brewing plant. The leader in the movement was John Reisenweber and associated with him were Frederick D. Frick, Charles P. Faber, Franz Neumuller and others…
Casting about them for a suitable site, they learned that the Hower plant was in the market, bought it, and on the 16th of May, 1898, took possession. The new owners almost immediately took steps to remodel the then small brewery. They built extensive additions, including new cellars, which increased the storage capacity from 75,000 barrels to 150,000 barrels, and installed a new 75-ton refrigerating machine and complete set of new boilers.
As a result of these extensive alterations, which cost $200,000, the Excelsior Brewery today is second to none in New York in point of modern equipment, and ranks among the largest in point of capacity and output. The buildings, which are fireproof, are up to date in every detail. The company owns a plot equal to 33 city lots, having a frontage of 700 feet on Pulaski Street and running through to Hart Street. The output, which was only 20,000 barrels in 1895, was gradually increased to 160,000 barrels last year. To operate the brewery requires over eighty employees, while 95 horses, 38 wagons and 2 electric trucks are required for the distribution of the output. This output, besides having many consumers in Greater New York, is shipped to points on Long Island, in New Jersey and Connecticut. The value of the plant has practically trebled and it is today worth about $1,500,000.
Four grades of beer are brewed – Real German Lager, Pilsner Bohemian and Wurzburger. In quality they are equal to the best imported product and their popularity is attested by the strong and growing demand for them.
The officers of the company are John Reisenweber, President; Franz Neumuller, Vice President; Frederick Frick, Treasurer, and Charles P. Faber, Secretary.
The feature mentioned that the Reisenweber ownership group took possession of the plant in May of 1898. It wasn’t long after that the brewery reopened. The August 1898 issue of the “American Brewers Review” announced that:
The newly organized Excelsior Brewing Co of Brooklyn NY was opened on July 31, 1898. Some German singing societies were invited among others who helped entertain the visitors by a number of songs. The favor accorded to the new brew must have given John Knoll, the brew-master, intense satisfaction. The guests were received by Franz Neumueller, the first vice president and Ernst Distler, the superintendent.
An advertisement published in March of 1909, provided an overall picture of the plant less than a year after the feature was written.
The Bottling Department of the brewery was apparently run by John H Muller. His name appears on an October 5, 1907 advertisement that touted the same four beers mentioned in the 1908 feature: Pilsner, Real German, Bohemian and Wurzburger.
The 1913-1914 Copartnership and Corporation Directory of the Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens continued to list John Reisenweber Pres, Frederick D Fricke Tres and Charles P Faber Sec. Frick was an old time New York hotel man who owned Earle’s Hotel on Waverly Place. Faber, also in the hotel business, was a director of the Dollar Savings Bank.
A June 21, 1921 article in the “Beverage Journal” provided a review of brewery activities (during prohibition) that stated that the Excelsior Brewery was operating a cold storage plant and was producing cereal beverages. In May 1923 the plant apparently closed and was sold at public auction.
The plant in Brooklyn ultimately sold for $500,000 and the Excelsior Brewing Company was dissolved in August of 1924. The July 1, edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote:
The dissolution of the Excelsior Brewing Company, 254 Hart St., another victim of the Volstead law, will be completed by August 15, as the result of an order signed today by Justice Callaghan, setting that date as a limit for the filing of any claims against the defunct corporation. The certificate of dissolution was filed today in the County Clerk’s office and the petition to Justice Callaghan by John Reisenweber, who was president of the corporation, states that all of the presented claims have been paid.
Four years later the plant was operational again producing a “near” beer called “OLDe KEG” under the name of Excelsior Brewery, Inc.
While Olde Keg may have been “Within the Law,” other beverages being produced by the brewery in the late 1920’s apparently were not. On August 8,1930, the current reputed owner, Charles I. Mandel, was arrested and the brewery seized for violation of the prohibition law. This followed a seizure the day before of equipment for bottling and distributing beer in a garage on DeKalb Avenue, a block away. The prohibition agents contended that they traced a pipeline through an old sewer trench from the garage into the brewery. Later the arrest and seizure were voided on the grounds that the federal agents failed to obtain a search warrant prior to invading the premises.
Nonetheless, the brewery was seized again in August of 1931. This seizure was also set aside even though 35,000 gallons of beer were found on the premises. It was ruled that the search warrant was obtained on insufficient evidence.
In 1932, the plant was sold to a group of Manhattan purchasers headed by Samuel Rosoff, a contractor and subway builder. It operated as the Kings Brewery from 1932 to 1938 when it was closed after an attempted reorganization in 1937.
A community school is currently located at the former brewery location.
I have three bottles from this business. One is a champagne style tooled blob embossed Excelsior Bottling Dept that probably goes back to the beginning of the Reisenweber ownership. The bottle also has the initials JHM embossed on it which stand for John H Muller. The two other bottles are champagne style tooled crowns from 1900-1910.