Syracuse has long had a rich beer and
brewing culture. The industry started here as early as 1804, and lasted
in its first incarnation until Prohibition. During the mid-1800s as
many as 40 breweries operated within city limits. This brewing
tradition began and grew due to the large number of English, Irish and
German immigrants who settled here during these years. The Erie Canal
also played a huge role in allowing these breweries to flourish. The
ease of receiving raw materials and shipping out finished goods by way
of the canal was a major benefit. In fact, many of these early
breweries were situated on the banks of the canal.
Foam sweet foam: Tim Butler now creates the beer at Empire Brewing Company, after having done the same at Syracuse Suds Factory and Towpath Brewery. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO
One of the biggest and most successful
Syracuse breweries was the Greenway Brewery. Opened in 1858 by English
immigrant John Greenway, the brewery made English-style ales. At its
peak, the brewery stood six stories, and occupied a whole city block
along the canal west of downtown where the Niagara Mohawk building now
John Greenway was also responsible for
convincing the city to pipe its water in from the pristine Skaneateles
Lake. Since it’s among the cleanest and purest in the country,
Skaneateles Lake water is perfect for brewing great beers, and this
decision has affected Syracuse brewing for decades. Our city water
still comes from the lake, and is still used by the three local
breweries for the production of their beers.
By the late 1800s, beer was the Salt City’s second major industry, behind the production of, ahem, salt.
Prohibition ended most of the brewing
industry in Syracuse, with only two surviving by making soft drinks.
The last of the 19th-century Syracuse breweries, Haberle, closed its
doors in 1962. Haberle, opened after Prohibition, at 500 Butternut St.,
remains one of the most well-known breweries of our past.
Fast forward to 1991 when Syracuse had
not drunk local beer in more than 30 years. Then came the Syracuse Suds
Factory, 320 S. Clinton St. Norm Soine, a former Schlitz Brewing Co.
employee, began brewing craft beer in Syracuse once again. He was
followed by Empire Brewing Company, 120 Walton St., and Middle Ages
Brewing Co., 120 Wilkinson St., in 1995. Another brewery opened in
1999, the Towpath Brewery, 222 Teall Ave., but closed in 2001. Beer
production in Syracuse was back.
So what am I trying to say with all
this? Well, Syracuse possesses a brewing history that compares to no
other city of our size. It is in our blood, in our minds, in our
streets. We love beer, here.
We are also home to a number of beer
bars that, in my opinion, are some of the best in the country. The Blue
Tusk, 165 Walton St., offers more than 70 drafts and has been around
for 15 years. Clark’s Ale House, 122 W. Jefferson St., has been serving
up pints to the locals for years as well. We at Empire support these
places, all the while making a history of our own.
I have the honor of being able to say
that out of the four modern-day breweries in Syracuse, I have worked at
three. I started my career on the banks of the Erie Canal, east of downtown, at the Towpath Brewery, then Middle Ages, and
currently work at Empire Brewing Company. It is satisfying to be a part
of history, and I don’t want to brew anywhere else. This is my
hometown, and I love it here.
The next time you are at a Syracuse
brewery, or a Syracuse beer bar sipping one of your favorite local
beers, remember you are making history in your own way.
Tim Butler is director of brewing operations at Empire Brewing Co.