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.
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 listing that I can find is in the 1887 Directory. Gottfried, Michel and Piel Bros were all listed in the 1887 Directory 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.
The business was listed in the 1890 Lain’s Business Directory of Brooklyn; the 1899, 1903 and 1907 Trow Business Directory Borough of Brooklyn and in the Corporation and Copartnership Directory of the Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens 1913-1914 (Gottfried President, Michael VP and William Sec/Treas).
By the late 1800’s the brewery was part of an entire complex that was billed as a family resort. An advertisement in the September 13,1896 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle mentioned a barroom, two beer halls, restaurant and hotel. Other advertisements also mentioned a large charming summer beer garden unrivaled in beauty.
One of the beer halls was described this way in an October, 1888 notice in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that announced its opening:
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.
By 1905 the plant included facilities on all four quadrants of the Liberty/Georgia intersection and in 1911 the Beer Garden and Restaurant had to be discontinued in order to expand the Brewery to 40,000 barrels annually.
A June 21, 1921 article in the “Beverage Journal” provided a review of brewery activities (during prohibition) that stated that Piel Bros was 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. An advertisement in June of 1919 described eight different Kovar beverages:
- Piel’s Kovar (Light) – a foaming cereal beverage with the delicious tang of real Saazer hops
- Piel’s Kovar (Dark) – foaming, nutritious; rich body; dark in color
- Piel’s Kovar Ale – a rich, light creamy cereal ale, round and full in flavor
- “Piel” – a foaming amber malt beverage with the piquant Saazer hops flavor; a popular temperance beer for “wet” territories.
- “Piel Ale” – mellow and light in color with a distinctive malt flavor and a tang all it’s own; an ale type temperance beer for “wet” territories
- Piel’s Orange Kovar – a natural orange beverage; sparkling, made from oranges and pure cane sugar only.
- Piel’s Apple Kovar – possesses the original flavor of freshly pressed, hand picked apples; produced as an unfermented apple champagne.
- Piel’s Ginger Kovar – sparkling delicious; the exquisite flavor of the old Irish formula enhanced by the Kovar process.
Their license to brew beer after Prohibition was posted in a June 1933 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle but…
In May of 1933 the Hotel Huntington was already selling Piel Bros. Beer on draught.
Piel Bros bought Trommer’s Brooklyn Plant in 1951 and Rubsam and Hormann’s Staten Island Plant in 1953. They then closed them in 1955 and 1963 respectively.
- 1963 – Piels was acquired by Associated Brewing (who operated a chain of local breweries)
- 1973 – the Brooklyn plant closed
- 1970’s – Schaefer bought the rights to the Piels label
- 1980’s – Schaefer bought out by Stroh’s
Ultimately most of Stroh’s brands including Piels were sold 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.