Believe it or not, the legacy of Brooklyn beers was not created by a bunch of guys with beards and flannels sitting at Kings County Brewery. Since the early 1800s, Bushwick has been one of the central locations for beer making in the New York area, at one point producing 10 percent of all America’s beer. March 24 marks the 10th anniversary of The William Ulmer house, Bushwick’s most well-known brewery, becoming a landmark.
In 1871, German immigrant William Ulmer partnered with Anton Vigelius to form the Vigelius & Ulmer Continental Lagerbier Brewery before becoming sole proprietor in 1879. The Ulmer brewery started with the main house, but soon expanded with the construction of an engine and machine house, an office, and a stable and storage building, all built by 1881 in the Romanesque Revival style. The entire complex was designed by Theobald Engelhardt, well-known Brooklyn architect at the time. The brewery is located on the corner of Belvedere and Beaver streets.
Ulmer oversaw all operations, and helped the brew house become one of Brooklyn’s largest provider of lager. Technological innovation and the increase in population in the second half of the 1800s led to a high demand for beer in the neighborhood of Bushwick. At its peak, the Ulmer house was producing over 3 million gallons annually.
During the 1850s, Germans and other Eastern Europeans immigrated to Bushwick, introducing their lager production methods, rather than using the top-down methods native to English and Dutch beers, where the yeast of lager beer ferments at the bottom of the barrel. Because the population was predominantly German, German customs were easily withheld. Lager was a significant art of the German lifestyle as it “tended to be the normal mealtime beverage, and was served all around at picnics, Sunday outings, sporting events and all the other social gatherings that characterized German-American life.”
The William Ulmer brewery complex remained open until 1920, when it shut its doors due to prohibition. The building was then used for personal family business until 1952, after they sold the property. The William Ulmer House became a landmark on March 24, 2009 and is now home to 16 artists in residency.
Cover image courtesy of the Brooklyn Historical Society.