In name, the Fidelio Brewery, dates back to 1916 when the well established brewing business of H. Koehler & Co. changed their name to the Fidelio Brewing Co., Inc. The company had been brewing beer under the “Fidelio” brand name, since at least the late 1890’s and likely much earlier. The name change announcement was printed in the February 21, 1916 edition of the “Evening World.”
To-day this sixty-four-year-old business, with all its traditions and enviable reputation for ideals of quality, is launched under a new name-
Fidelio Brewing Co.
…Formerly H. Koehler & Co.
The announcement stated that Koehler & Co. was a 64 year old business but, in fact, the roots of the business dated back even further to a brewer named Alexander Gregory who was listed in Manhattan at 6 Sheriff Street in the early 1840’s.
In 1843 Gregory partnered with Phillip C. Harmon and for the next ten years their brewery business was listed as Gregory & Harmon. The Harmon family apparently bought Gregory out in 1852 (the year that coincides with the reference to the business being 64 years old) and renamed it Harmon & Company. The business was listed as Harmon & Co. up through 1862 when a notice in the May 27, edition of the New York Times indicated that both the brewery and its contents were up for sale at that time.
It was at that point the Koehler name entered the picture when three brothers, Herman, Joseph M. and David M. Koehler, bought the brewery. The 1864/65 NYC Directory listed the business as the Koehler Brothers, and it was still located at the 6 Sheriff Street address. Then sometime between 1865 and 1867 the brewery moved to First Avenue between 29th and 30th Street where it would remain until the late 1940’s or 1950.
In the early 1870’s Joseph and David Koehler were no longer associated with the brewery address and the Koehler Brothers name had been dropped from the directories. This apparently left Herman in charge of the entire operation until sometime in 1883 or 1884. At that time he partnered with Samuel Goldberger, changing the name of the business in the directory listings to Herman Koehler & Co.
Koehler and Goldberger continued to be listed as partners until Koehler’s death on April 16, 1889. The following year the 1890 Copartnership and Corporation Directory named Samuel Goldberger as the sole principal of the business and shortly afterward the name of the company was shortened to H. Koehler & Co. Goldberger, according to his June 15, 1905 obituary published in the (Long Branch N. J.) Daily Record, remained owner and president up until the time of his death, after which his son Norman S. Goldberger took over. It was Norman who changed the company name to the Fidelio Brewing Company in 1916.
It’s not clear to me exactly when their famous “Fidelio” brand name was introduced. By 1898 they were using local distributors to sell it in neighboring New Jersey so it was almost certainly available in New York prior to that. This advertisement printed in the December 23, 1898 edition of the (New Brunswick N. J.) Daily Times also mentioned Koehler’s ale and porter in addition to their Fidelio Beer.
Based on this March 22, 1905 advertisement published in the Evening World I think it’s safe to assume that they had added a bottling operation to the brewery at around that time. Introductory in nature, the advertisement made it clear that Fidelio Beer “can now be obtained directly from our brewery,”
From Brewery to Home
We have just established a delivery service for the prompt distribution of our pure FIDELIO BEER fresh to your door. Not a flat bottle in the lot, our beer is thoroughly pasteurized, is absolutely pure and can now be obtained directly from our brewery.
Shortly after the start of National Prohibition the company, now operating under the Fidelio Brewing Co. name, held a “voluntary dissolution sale.” The notice of the sale, printed in the October 10, 1920 edition of the New York Tribune, provided a good description of the brewery operation at that time.
Lot-1 Fidelio Brewing Co., Inc., plant (with all permanent fixtures), complete brewery comprising whole front on 1st Avenue, 29th to 30th Streets, and adjoining on each street, nearly 14 lots in all, together with garage, complete bottling unit, 60 ton ice making plant, etc.
Lot 2 – About 6,500 Barrels Fidelio brew, malt, hops and sundries brewing materials, also about 500 tons coal.
Lot 3 – Good will, chattel mortgages, book value $133,000; leases, bottles, cases, crowns, draught-packages, shop supplies, etc.
Lot 4 – Auto trucks, automobiles
Lot 5 – Real estate, free and clear, at 316 Oakland Street, corner Huron Street, building with lot 25 x 100 ft., Brooklyn N.Y.
The sale was held on October 13, 1920 with previous president, Norman S. Goldberger, the successful bidder. The result was printed in the October 22, 1920 edition of the New York Tribune.
Buyer of Brewery Property
Deeds just recorded reveal that Norman S. Goldberger, president of the Fidelio Brewing Company, was the successful bidder at the recent auction of the company’s brewing plant on First Avenue, Twenty-Ninth and Thirtieth Streets. L. J. Phillips &Co. acted as auctioneers.
The company was listed as Fidelio Brewery, Inc. in the 1925 New York City Directory, so it appears that Goldberger incorporated the business under that name after the sale.
According to an article published in the June 27, 1932 edition of the Cincinnati Chronicle Goldberger’s brewery had been turning out near beer and malt tonic at the rate of 15,000,000 to 20,000,000 bottles annually during Prohibition. Another article published around the same time in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle mentioned that this equated to roughly 10 to 15 percent of the brewery’s capacity.
Their Prohibition brews were listed in the June 30, 1932 edition of the Hartford Courant.
Approximately 25 percent of the brewery’s present business is represented in the sale of Fidelio Purity Brand Malt Tonic, which commands higher price than any other malt tonic sold as a cereal beverage. Other brands at the company are Fidelio Old Lager, Fidelio Double Brew, Fidelio Red Label and New Yorker Brew.
This advertisement for their Purity Brand Malt Tonic and New Yorker Brew appeared in the July 9, 1931 edition of the (Bridgewater N. J.) Courier News.
The Hartford Courant story went on to say:
These products are sold in more than 20,000 stores in the Metropolitan District through chain stores and independent dealers. The largely localized character of the business is a major factor in economical distribution by the company’s own fleet of trucks.
In 1932, with the repeal of the Volstead Act looming the company reorganized again, this time inviting public investment. The June 27, 1932 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle announced the reorganization.
Fidelio Brewery To Be Reorganized
Fidelio Brewery, Inc. has been organized and incorporated under the laws of New York to take over the business heretofore conducted by Norman S. Goldberger, under the name of Fidelio Brewery…Mr. Goldberger will head the Fidelity Brewery, Inc…
The need for public investment was explained in the June 27, 1932 edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Available brewing equipment would be insufficient to quench the thirst of the millions in the metropolitan district, should beer be legalized, the announcement said, adding “Realization by the management that the legalization of the brewing and sale of beer would necessitate bringing production up to brewing capacity has influenced the decision to invite public participation in the business.
This advertisement promoting the stock offering appeared in the November 10, 1932 Long Branch (N.J.) Daily Record.
As the date ending Prohibition neared, the Fidelio Brewery was included in a March 15, 1933 New York Daily News pictorial essay entitled “Happy Days Are Here Again…Well, Almost Anyhow.” It featured a photo with the caption “Master Brewer Henry E. Kayan (left) of Fidelio Brewery superintends repair of beer kegs as brewery begins to hum.”
…and the following month this April 20, 1933 advertisement for Fidelio Beer appeared in the New York Daily News.
Nathan S. Goldberger died in March 1936 at the age of 52 at which point Goldberg’s brother in law, Frank Deitsch, assumed the presidency until the late 1930’s.
The end of the Fidelio Brewery name came on November 15,1940 when the company changed its name to the Greater New York Brewery, Inc. A November 16, 1940 Brooklyn Daily Eagle item made the announcement.
Brewery Changes Name
Edgar H. Stone, chairman of the board, announces that effective November 15 the name of the corporation was changed from Fidelio Brewery, Inc., to the Greater New York Brewery, Inc.
Around that time Lowell Birrell became involved with the business and by 1942 he was serving as president and chairman of the Greater New York Brewery. During this period the company acquired three additional breweries – Horton Pilsner, City Brewing and Lion Brewing. In December, 1944 he changed the company name to Greater New York Industries and expanded into other fields.
According to an April 24, 1964 article in the New York Times Birrell was later accused of being one of history’s great stock swindlers, accused of looting a dozen or more corporate treasuries of $40 million. The article went on to say that he had been tabbed by the Securities and Exchange Commission as “the most brilliant manipulator of corporations in modern times. He spent several years in the 1950’s and early 1960’s exiled in Cuba and Brazil until finally returning to the United States to face trial.
Needless to say, the history of the business after Birrell got involved is confusing and unclear, at least to me. What I do know is this.
The Greater New York Brewery survived and apparently moved their operation to Brooklyn where they remained operative or at least maintained facilities up through 1950 or 1951. In 1942 the company listed their office on First Avenue in Manhattan but their plant was now listed at the previously acquired City Brewing plant address of 912 Cypress Avenue in Brooklyn. The First Avenue office listing was dropped the following year but the Brooklyn plant address remained listed in the NYC Telephone Book through 1951. This November 13, 1947 Brooklyn Daily Eagle advertisement confirmed that they were still brewing beer at that time.
The plant in Manhattan was apparently acquired by another NYC brewer named Louis Hertzberg who renamed it the Metropolis Brewery. Hertzberg at one time or another was also connected with the Old Dutch Brewery and North American Brewery in Brooklyn and the Pilser Brewery in the Bronx. He also ran the Metropolis Brewery of Trenton New Jersey.
The Metropolis Brewery of New York was listed at the old Fidelio address of 501 First Avenue in the 1945 Manhattan Telephone Book where it remained through the early 1950’s. An advertisement from the November 1, 1948 edition of the New York Daily News showed at that time he was brewing his Pilser brand at the Metropolis Brewery. He also brewed Champale Malt Liquor during this period.
By 1953, the brewery had been converted into a warehouse and much of its equipment had been shipped half-way around the world to Israel. The surprising story was told in the July 20, 1953 edition of the Berkshire Eagle.
Transplanted N. Y. Brewery Lick’s Israel’s Beer Shortage
All Israel languished over the weekend in searing heat ranging from 90 degrees in Haifa to 115 in Elath. All except Louis Hertzberg, 65, a brewer of Trenton N.J. who has just transported to the Holy Land the old Fidelio Brewery from First Avenue between 29th and 30th Streets, opposite Bellvue Hospital in New York…
To set up the brewery here cost about $2,300,000, of which Mr. Hertzberg put up most and two United States and three Israeli associates smaller sums. In addition to parts of the First Avenue brewery, he brought over equipment from three other New York properties he formerly operated – the Old Dutch Brewery in Flatbush, the North American Brewery on Green Avenue in Brooklyn and Pilser Brewery of 161st Street. Not to mention 2,000,000 amber bottles to supplement Israeli production.
The story went on to say that they intended to continue making the old Fidelio brew under a new name.
New Yorkers who wonder what happened to the familiar landmark of First Avenue – now a warehouse – may be interested to know that as the result of the brewery’s removal, the Israelis, who are accustomed to being short on nearly everything, need never be short on beer again.
Nor need Manhattanites despair of ever again drinking the old Fidelio brew. For under the name of Abir (meaning Knight in Hebrew), beer from the National Brewing Company of Israel will be exported to the United States. Mr. Hertzberg thinks the novelty of beer from Israel will make it easy to sell enough Abir through the distribution network of his Metropolis Brewery of New Jersey to cover his new enterprise’s needs in foreign exchange.
A little over a year later, in August of 1954, Abir was being imported to the United States where I found it listed for sale under the heading “Something New” at a local liquor store in Asbury Park, New Jersey.
This labeled Abir bottle was recently offered for sale on the Internet. Amber, it certainly could have been one of the 2,000,000 bottles that Hertzberg brought with him from the United States during the start-up of the Israeli operation.
The Fidelio bottle I found is 12 ounce, export style, machine made and embossed “Fidelio Brewery, New York.” The business specifically included “Fidelio” in the company name from 1916 up through 1940, so the bottle almost certainly dates somewhere within that period.
I couldn’t end this post without mentioning Fidelio’s bond with McSorley’s Ale House. Established in 1854, McSorley’s is one of the oldest and most famous saloons in New York City. An April 14, 1940 story in the New Yorker Magazine explained their relationship with Fidelio.
Except during prohibition, the rich, wax-colored ale sold in McSorley’s always has come from the Fidelio Brewery on First Avenue; the brewery was founded two years before the saloon. In 1934, Bill (McSorley) sold the brewery the right to call its ale McSorley’s Cream Stock and gave it permission to use Old John’s (McSorley) picture on the label; around the picture is the legend “As brewed for McSorley’s Old Ale House.”
Advertisements for McSorley’s Cream Stock Ale were plentiful in 1937 and 1938 editions of the New York Daily News.
According to the McSorley’s web site they continued to use the company’s brew after the name change to Greater New York Brewery and did so until the business went into receivership. This likely happened in the late 1940’s or 1950. PABST now services McSorley’s.