In 1854 Samuel Liebmann arrived in the US from Germany and according to company advertisements established a brewing business the following year.
For the next 100+ years his family continued to operate in Brooklyn. Over the years the business was listed in the Brooklyn Directories under the following names:
- 1858 to 1868 – Samuel, and later his sons, were listed individually as brewers
- 1869 to 1871 – S. Liebmann & Sons
- 1875 to 1887 – S Liebmann’s Sons
- 1889 to 1922 – S Liebmann’s Sons Brewing Co
- 1924 and later – Liebmann Breweries
According to Times Newsweekly.com, In 1855 Samuel Liebmann began with a small rented brewery on Meserole Street producing approximately 2000 barrels. At the same time he bagan construction of a new brewery in Bushwick on Bremen Street between Noll, Forest and Montieth Streets that he operated until his retirement in 1870. At this point he turned the business over to his three sons, Joseph, Henry and Charles. Over the next 35 years they grew the business, acquiring the P Schoenwald Brewery in 1878, the Ridgewood Park Brewery in 1891 and the Claus Lipsius Brewery in 1902. Over this span their annual output grew from 39,000 barrels in 1877 to 200,000 barrels in 1902. In 1905 all three sons retired together and turned the business over to their sons; Adolph, David, Charles, Julius, Samuel and Alfred.
The Corporation and Copartnership Directory of the Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens 1913-1914 listed David as President, Julius, Adolph and Samuel as VP’s and Charles as Secretary and the address as 36 Forest. This is typically the address the business listed for the brewery complex in the various directories.
The pre-Prohibition growth of the business over this period is demonstrated by an advertisement printed in the May 19, 1912 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. It contained a map depicting the size of the brewery in 1912 and stated:
This drawing shows the great space now occupied by the S. Liebmann’s Sons Brewery, Brooklyn. 58 years ago it occupied but one small building.
Another advertisement, this one in February of 1909, actually showed a picture of their plant at the time.
Around this time, S. Liebmann’s Sons claimed they had the largest bottling establishment in the East and they were continuing to expand. A February 20, 1909 story in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle documented the Bottling Department’s growth.
The S. Liebmann’s Sons Brewing Company are again building an addition to their already huge plant in the Eastern District. The buildings already occupy four city blocks. The demand for their product is growing to such an extent that this year they have been required to enlarge the Bottling Department. The building is now in the course of construction.
The Liebmann bottling Establishment has for many years been the largest in the East, rivaling the big concerns of the West. The growth of the plant is commensurate with the growing demand for their popular Rheingold beer.
When the the company introduced their famous brand name, Rheingold, is not clear to me. A story in the June 27, 1893 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle talked about Liebmann’s exhibit at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, mentioning Rheingold specifically, so it dates back at least that far.
The Liebmanns have acquired, during long years of experience, a thorough knowledge of the tastes of the beer drinking public and have developed from this knowledge the two brands so widely associated with their name, their Wuerzburger dark beer and the Rheingold, their pale table lager.
The article goes on to say that:
The Liebmann lager was awarded a premium at the Centennial, in Philadelphia, in 1876. The report of the reward was as follows:
The undersigned, having examined the product herein described, respectfully recommend the same to the United States centennial commission for award for the following reasons, viz.: Perfect in brightness, excellent in taste and flavor. Grude Marx, judge. Approved by Group Judges John Bradford, W.C. Kerr, E.H. Baumham, R.T. Brown, Juan Morphy, W.S. Greene, G.F. Secchi de Casals, H.G. Joly, Dr. Nicolan Morcera.
Given by authority of the United States centennial commission.
A.T. Goshorn, director general
Based on this it’s clear that the beer itself dates back to the 1870’s. However, at this point the story refers to the beer as the “Liebmann lager” so whether it was actually branded as Rheingold back then is open to interpretation.
A 1912 photograph of Moeschle’s Cafe in Ridgewood Queens indicated Rheingold was well accepted as a brand by that time.
A June 21, 1921 article in the “Beverage Journal” provided a review of brewery activities (during prohibition) and stated that S Liebmann’s Sons were making ice, cereal beverages, root beer and cider.
One product they attempted to market in the early 1920′ was called “Scotch Brew” Their advertisements called it:
A malt and hops brew, made by a rare Scotch formula that dates back to 1740 – yet within the law!
The company actually ran promotions to try and stimulate sales. One offered a free bottle of Scotch Brew to anyone having lunch or dinner in the hotels and restaurants of New York on November 22, 1922.
Another offered a free bottle to anyone buying specific products from grocery stores and delicatessens on May 2, 1923. Apparently a bust, soon after the Scotch Brew advertisements ceased for good.
Hit hard by National Prohibition as early as May of 1922 they began auctioning off their retail properties. A story in the May 21, 1922 issue of the New York Times introduced one such auction.
S. Liebmann’s Sons Brewing Company will dispose of twenty-two Brooklyn properties consisting of stores, business buildings, flats, tenements and vacant lots, including ten corners at auction on Tuesday evening, May 23, at 8 o’clock, in the Brooklyn Real Estate Exchange, 189 Montague Street., by the Jere Johnson Jr. Company, auctioneers.
The advertisement associated with the auction appeared in the newspapers as well.
At least two more auctions of similar size followed, one in January of 1923 and the other in June of 1923.
In 1924“Obermeyer and Liebmann” was merged into S Liebmann’s Sons under the name of Liebmann Breweries, Inc. Their new trademark included “Liebmann Breweries” written in a semi-circle. Later, at the end of Prohibition in 1933 it appears they registered another trademark that included a circled “L”.
Their license to brew beer at the end of Prohibition was posted in the June 1933 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Liebmann Breweries was ready when beer sales were allowed again on June 1, 1933. In fact, according to a story in the March 29, 1933 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, at the end of March they began bottling and storing the real thing.
It is at Liebmann’s Brewery, at 36 Forest St., that the floodgates of beer have been unloosed. Blessed with particularly ample storage space, the Liebmann brewers halted the making of near-beer on Friday and began bottling the real thing – to the extent of 3.2 alcoholic percent – yesterday. And, said Thomas Buechner, chief of the sales and advertising staff, the bottling will continue and the beer will be stored, at the rate of something like 2,500,000 bottles a week until the law says that it may be sold.
The story went on to say that just prior to Prohibition, Liebmann’s had absorbed many famous brands of beer and breweries including Welz & Zerwick, George Ehret’s, Beadleston & Woerz and the Krumenaker Bottling Works and some 30 other brands and that they will now be bottled as Liebmann’s.
The business continued to expand after Prohibition, acquiring the John Eichler Brewing Co, Trommer’s Orange NJ plant and two breweries in California that were owned by Acme Breweries.
In 1964 the family sold the business to Pepsi-Cola United Bottlers who changed the name to Rheingold Breweries Inc. Chock Full ‘O Nuts Corporation bought the Brewery in 1974 and closed the Brooklyn plant in 1976. I’ve read that the entire brewery site is being parceled up and sold for future development.
I’ve found quite a few S Liebmann bottles over the years, all embossed S Liebmann’s Sons Brewing Co, so they date between 1889 and 1924. They include tooled blobs from the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, tooled crowns from the 1900’s to 1910’s and machine made bottles that date closer to 1920. All are champagne style. I’ve also found a Liebmann Breweries, Inc. export style bottle with the post prohibition, circled “L” trade mark.