Piel Brothers’ East New York Brewery, was founded by brothers Gottfried, Michael and Willian Piel. German immigrants, Gottfried and William had business/commercial backgrounds while Michael was a brewer who gained his experience in Germany’s famed Dortmund Brewery.
A story in the February 9, 1951 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle provided a good overview of the early days of Piel Bros.
In 1883 , three Piel brothers, Gottfried, Wilhelm and Michael, pooled their funds and bought the old Lanser Brewery in East New York, a small three-story brick building set in the middle of farmlands and a good half-day’s journey by horsecar from Brooklyn’s City Hall. Here with a handful of employees, the Piel brothers succeeded in recreating the fine Old-World quality of which they had dreamed, and offered a new brew to the surrounding countryside.
Photographs of Gottfried and Michael Piel together with a photograph of the original brewery purchased from Lanser were included in a 1964 Piel’s Beer advertisement that appeared in the newspapers of several eastern states. The photo-caption mentioned that the original brewery measured 50 x 75 feet.
The 1951 Brooklyn Daily Eagle story went on to say:
During the first year, 850 barrels were brewed and sold. Piel’s had started on its road to fame with a reputation for superior quality which has constantly been maintained from this humble beginning.
From the neighboring farmers, the fame of Piel’s Beer soon spread throughout the country-side to Brooklyn and “far-away” Manhattan. From the beginning it was the policy of the company to make the business grow purely through the quality of its product and without offering financial aid to outlets, either retail or wholesale. This was a daring and courageous stand for any brewer to take in those days and one from which the company never varied.
The pioneering spirit which launched the business was later in evidence on many occasions. Piel’s Brewery was first to produce and maintain a brew that really matched Old World quality and flavor; the first to use the automatic pasteurizer; the first in this country to employ cultured yeast; the first to use colored bottles and a leader in the precise control of its brewing process – another step forward in uniformity of product.
I haven’t been able to confirm the 1883 start date using the Brooklyn City Directories but according to this September 4, 1885 notice in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle they were certainly brewing by then.
The first Piels listing that I can find was in the 1887 Brooklyn Directory. Gottfried, Michel and Piel Bros were all included with the occupation liquors, located on Sheffield Avenue, corner of Liberty Avenue. Later in 1889 William was also listed and all three brothers and the business were called brewers.
In 1888 the Piel brothers opened a beer hall associated with the brewery. Notices announcing the opening appeared in the Brooklyn newspapers throughout the fall of that year.
The notice included this description of “The Magnificent New Hall:”
THE MAGNIFICENT NEW HALL OF PIEL BRO’S BREWERY has been opened. Built in Italian palace style and richly decorated, it is really the finest family resort in the city.
Eight years later, this advertisement in the September 13,1896 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle made it clear that the complex had grown to include a second beer hall, barroom, restaurant and hotel. Other advertisements also mentioned a “large charming summer beer garden unrivaled in beauty.”
Around the same time, a June 15, 1895 story in the (Brooklyn) Times Union mentioned that the brewery took up in all twenty city lots and had just added a bottling department.
Very important additions have been made during the past year. The bottling department is a very important adjunct, at least two-thirds of the output being annually placed in glass; a large family, saloon, restaurant and hotel trade being done in New York City and Brooklyn. Piel Brothers ship also, we understand, into New England and New Jersey.
The business filed their articles of incorporation in the State of New York on March 4, 1898. The incorporation notice was printed in the March 4, 1898 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
With a capital of $1,000,000 and its principal business office in Brooklyn Piel Bros. filed articles of incorporation today with the Secretary of State. It is proposed to manufacture and sell lager beer, ales and other malt or spirituous liquors and alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages. The capital stock is divided into shares of $100 each and the company is to begin business with a capital of $3,000. Its directors are Herman Peterson and John J. Roach of Brooklyn and Edward J. Dwyer of New York. Each takes ten shares of stock.
Early officers of the corporation were Gottfried Piel, president, Michael Piel, Vice President and Herman Peterson, secretary and treasurer.
A June 21, 1921 article in the “Beverage Journal” provided a review of brewery activities (during prohibition) and stated that Piel Bros remained active making malt extracts, soft drink syrups, cereal beverages, birch beer, ginger ale, cider and apple beverages and white and red champagnes.
Their cereal beverage (near beer/less than 0.5% alcohol) line was called Kovar. A June 30, 1919 advertisement published in the New York newspapers introduced Kovar to the public.
To Thirsty New Yorkers
Tomorrow prohibition ends for the present your use of beverages you have greatly enjoyed. For what period of time no one can say. But during July and August you will want new beverages – beverages of a congenial type and of satisfying body and flavor.
Over five years ago Piel Brothers anticipated your wants. They began at that time a most extensive and costly study for the purpose of discovering ideal beverages which would save the day.
More than $200,000 has been invested to date in this work.
Thus the wonderful new Kovar process was discovered…
The advertisement went on to describe eight “delicious” Kovar beverages.
In 1933, with the end of Prohibition looming, this March 23rd (Brooklyn) Times Union story announced that Piel Brothers was one of the first brewers to obtain a permit to bottle the real thing.
With the amber brew sloshing merrily into the great beer vats of the city’s breweries, three of the biggest beer plants in the east-located in Brooklyn-were among the first eight in the State to get permits to bottle the thirst quencher and store it until the legal sale date at 12:01 A.M. April 7.
Trommer’s, the Schaefer Brewing Co. and Piel Bros. were the borough plants whose permits were issued today by the Bureau of Industrial Alcohol in Manhattan, which is handling the permits. These plants, which had been making near beer with its vitality drawn out under Prohibition ruling, now may let the stuff sizzle up to 3.2 before bottling.
In 1951 Piel Brothers bought Trommer’s Brooklyn plant. The sale was reported in the February 9, 1951 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
William Peil, chairman of the board of directors of Piel Bros., well-known brewers for almost three-quarters of a century, announced yesterday the purchase of the Brooklyn brewing properties of the John F. Trommer Co. The acquisition joins together two famous names in brewing, Piel Bros., founded in 1883, and John F. Trommer Co., founded in 1897, who have been neighbors in Brooklyn for over half a century…
Terms of the purchase will give Piel Bros. ownership of Trommer’s fixed properties, inventories and good will, including the right to brew and distribute under the Trommer label, which Piel Bros. will continue to do…
Trommer’s White Label Beer advertisements that included the Piel Bros.’ name began appearing soon after. This White Label ad appeared in the September 13, 1951 issue of theNew York Daily News.
Later that year, a December 14, 1951 Brooklyn Daily Eagle story noted that Piels annual production had topped 1,000,000 barrels fo the first time.
Henry J. Muessen, vice president and general manager of Piel Bros. announced today that the Piel breweries have produced their 1,000,000th barrel of beer for 1951.
“This event records another milestone in Piel Bros. long history of success,” said Muessen. “Beginning with a modest 850 barrels produced in 1883, 1951 represents the first year that the 1,000,000-barrel figure has been topped.”
Few companies have achieved this record. In 1950 less than 5 percent of the 386 brewers in the U.S. reached the 1,000,000 barrel mark.
Two years later, in December, 1953, Piels bought the Rubsam & Horrmann’s Staten Island brewery as well as their R&H label. The sale was reported in the December 14th edition of the (Allentown Pa.) Morning Call.
Piel Bros., one of New York’s oldest brewers has acquired Rubsam and Horrmann Brewing Co. of Staten Island. Piel plans to use new plant capacity to serve distributors in lower New Jersey.
Subsequently in 1962 Piel Bros. was acquired by Drewrys Limited U.S.A., Inc. The deal was announced in the South Bend (Indiana) Tribute.
Organization of a New York corporation to take over the assets of Piel Bros. under the name of Piel Bros., Inc., which will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Drewrys Limited U.S.A., Inc., was announced today.
Another story, this one in The (Davenport Iowa) Daily Times mentioned that prior to the sale most of the Piel Bros.’ stock/assets were still owned by members of the Piel family and their associates. The story went on to briefly describe the expanded operation which facilitated Drewerys’ expansion from the midwest into the eastern states.
Piel Bros. serve five eastern states from its New York facilities.
Drewrys’ main plant is at South bend and has two breweries at Chicago plus soft drink facilities in Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas.
Acquisition of Piel Bros. will raise Drewrys beer sales by about one million barrels to approximately 2.7 million this year…
Schaefer acquired the Piel’s label in January, 1975. According to the January 24, 1975 edition of The (Allentown, Pa.) Morning Call:
Schaefer is the one to brew Piels beer
The F & M Schaefer Brewing Co. has signed an agreement “to make and sell the entire volume of Piels and Trommer brands of beer,” a company spokesman said yesterday.
When negotiations were under way, Schaefer reported an agreement would provide for manufacture and marketing of the two brands at the Lehigh Valley Brewery of Schaefer in Fogelsville. It would almost double the present Folgelsville production and bring it close to the rated capacity of the plant here of 2.5 million barrels annually…
The trademarks, trade names and brewing formula of Piels will be preserved.
This leads me to believe that the Piels Brooklyn plant had been shut down or sold by this time.
Ultimately, Stroh’s acquired Schaefer and sold their brands, including Piels, to Pabst who discontinued making Piels in 2015.
Today, an old building on the northwest corner of Liberty Avenue and Sheffield Avenue was once the brewery’s administration building.
I’ve found three different types of Piel Bros. bottles. Two are tooled crowns (12 oz); one champagne style and colored aqua, and the other, a brown export style. They probably date back to around the later part of the beer garden era.
I’ve also found a machine made squat (probably 8 oz). It’s embossed “Kovar” on the back so it’s from the Prohibition era.