Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Albany Ale: Going Dutch

Alan warned you. This post is downright Cornellian in length.

Last week, you may have seen Alan’s post about the 1890’s Sanborn insurance maps, of the city of Albany, that I came across. The maps are fantastic, detailing every home, business, and yes brewery in the city at the tuen-of-the-20th-century. While Alan pondered the odorific effects of the eleven breweries in Albany at the time, I was intrigued at the “brewing zones” that seem to have been established over the cities beery time line—four zones to be exact. The first was in the South End along the River; the second was further west, near what is now Lincoln Park; the third was located in the Center Square; and the fourth was on upper Broadway, near the entrance to the Erie Canal. Seeing this pattern led me to a question.

Albany c1695. What looks like
north is actually west on this map. 
Did Albany always have brewing "zones?"

And, that is what I’m proposing to find out—by mapping as many breweries as I can throughout the city's past. I have known idea what I’ll find, but hopefully we’ll start to see a pattern.

If I’m going to collect this data, it makes sense to start at the beginning, and the beginning started 398 years ago along the banks of the Hudson River. Not many North American cities can boast a nearly 400-year history—let alone one filled with beer. In any case, in order for any of this to make any sense, a little background on the Dutch and New Netherlands is in order. 

In 1609, Henry Hudson first sailed the river later named for him, eventually resulting in a colonial province, established on behalf of, first the Dutch East, and then West India Company (WIC). This province dubbed Nieuw-Nederland, would eventually stretch from southern Delaware to eastern New York. The first permanent settlement in this new territory was roughly 150 miles north of the mouth of the Hudson River. This bit gets a little confusing, but here goes—Basically there were two entities around what would become Albany at this time. Both represented and supplied goods and materials to the WIC back in Amsterdam, but operated and controlled autonomously of each other. The first entity was Fort Orange, built as a small outpost and trading site in 1624. It sat just north of where the South Mall Arterial of U.S. Interstate 787 runs along the river today. The fort—and all of its 30 inhabitants—fell under the control of Petrus Stuyvesant, the WIC appointed, peg-legged Director-General of the New Netherland Colony. Surrounding the fort on all side, for 24 square miles, was the patroonship of Rennselaerwijck, of which all its inhabitants; materials and businesses fell under the authority of Kiliaen van Rennselaer. In order to facilitate the colonization of New Netherlands, the WIC drafted the Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions of 1629, which set the basis for the patroon system. Basically the Charter allowed for the purchase of land in the new world by WIC invested members. In return the investor, entitled “patroon”, would agree to establish a settlement and oversee its development through the use of indentured servants. Think of patroons as 17th-century, new-world, feudal manor lords. 

See how that may have been a problem for the Director-General?

By the 1630s van Rennselaer made good on his promise and the first large groups of Dutch settlers began arriving. The strife between Pete and Kil only increased. Both men felt they had the authority over either’s responsibility. Van Rennselaer felt the fort fell under his jurisdiction, while Stuyesant felt the same about Rennselaerwijck. By the 1640s nearly 100 “illegal” structures had popped up around the fort. Stuyesant at first threatened to destroy these little hovels. Kiliaen van Rennselaer having since died in 1643 and replaced by his son Johan living in Amsterdam, was no longer a threat to his power—instead, he decided to establish a permanent village. The center of this new settlement would lie nearly a half mile north of the fort, at the intersection of Jonkers and Haendlers Street. That village—Beverwijck—and those two streets, now State and Broadway in downtown Albany, would become the center of the North American brewing world for well over 200 years.

Now that you know how Beverwijck came to be, let’s get to the beeriness.

Click for a closer look.
The Dutch were a beer-loving folk, and since water wasn’t always the safest thing to drink, brewing became pretty important, especially in the colonies. Brewers in Europe, and now in the new world, could make quite a living and often found themselves in positions of power. Beverwijck and Rennselaerwijck were no exceptions. From the late 1640 to the 1670s, the area had between eight and fifteen breweries—and far more brewers making beer in it. These were not settlers simply making beer for personal consumption, either. These were commercial brewers selling product to taverns and individuals. The brewers were both regulated and taxed accordingly. The first individual allowed to brew legally was Jacob Albertsen Planck, who was authorized by Kiliean Van Rennselaer to "at his own expense and risk and full charge ... brew beer to be sold to the men of the Company or to the savages, or do otherwise therewith as he shall think fit" in 1634. Rennselaerwijck, in fact, had a number of breweries within its boundaries. In 1643 Van Rennselaer contracted Evert Pels to work as a public brewer for six years between 1643-1649, in the colony at what would become the colonial brewery in Greenbush. Cornelis Cornelisz and Jan Witmont , William Brouwer, and Cornelis van Nes and Jan Oothout operated across the river in Greenbush as well, while Jacob Hevick and Harmen Hermanse van Ganesvort owned breweries to the south of Beverwijck, near the Beverkill* and in what is now the town of Bethlehem. 

The area in and around Beverwijck, however had by far the greatest density of breweries—twelve originally, with eight surviving into the 1650s—I’ve mapped seven of them, so far. The black outline around the area, was the stockade boundary circa 1690s.

1) Beginning in 1647, Jan Labatie operated a small brewery with Fort Orange. There is no record of Labatie brewing past the mid-1650s.

2) The brewery on Broadway between what is now Hudson and Division had a rather long life span. Operated first by Pieter Bronck in 1645, then by Jacob Hevick and Reyndert Pietersz. Harmen Hermanse and Jan Harmenz Weendorp rented it and finally it was sold to Albertus Rijckman in 1678. It continued to operate until the 1730s.

3) The brewery off the Ruttenkill, on State Street between South Pearl and Green Streets didn’t fair so well. Opened in 1649, Rutger Jacobsz and Goosen Gerritsz operated it on Jacobsz property, but in 1657 he tears down the brewery and sells the land to Harman Vedder.

4) Franz Barensten Pastoor established the brewery on Broadway between Stueben and Maiden Lane in 1653. Jan Dirscksz van Eps also brewed there until he settled in Schenectady. Unfortunately, he was killed at the infamous 1690 massacre. The site , however, would remain a brewery until being sold in 1736, to be used as a parsonage.

5) Dean Street is a courtyard now, but it in 1654, partners Pieter Hartgers, Volkert Janse Douw and Jan Thomase built their brewery where the “Old Post Office” building sits today. Ownership would transfer to Goosen Gerritsz van Schiack, and Sybant van Schiack would eventually buy the brewery from his father. The van Schiack family would continue run the brewery well into the 18th century.

6) The brewery on Beaver Street between South Pearl and Green streets, backing up to the Ruttenkill has a tough go. Jacob Janz van Noortsrant originally purchased the land and built a brewery. Jacobsz Rutgers buys the property in 1654 and brews there until he sells off his brewing equipment and closes shop in 1662.

7) Last but not least—when the Rennsalearwijck brewer, Harman Hermanse van Ganesvort moved to Beverwijck, he initially rented the brewery on Broadway between Hudson and Division, but would purchase his own brewery at the southeast corner of Broadway and Maiden—the site of two well known Albany landmarks throughout history—first the Stanwix Hall Hotel, then Union railroad station. That brewery would continue to be run by the Ganesvoort family until the turn of the 19th century.

So what does the map show? It shows that even in 17th century Albany, there were indeed, brewing zones. It, along with the research,** show that some locations were more advantages than others. The two breweries to the west along the Ruttenkill close within a short period of time, and the brewery in the fort doesn’t fair much better. The other four breweries, on the east side of Broadway in the heart of the village, thrive for decades, and in the case of the Ganesvoort’s, for well over a century. It’s fairly easy to see why those breweries along Broadway survived—access to the river. The river provided clear, clean water year round, as well as easy transportation to and from village. The breweries along Broadway had clear access to the waterfront, while the more westerly breweries along the Ruttenkill had to move their beer across the village to access the wharf. Also, the Hudson, even in the driest years, wasn’t going to run dry, while the smaller creeks, may have. The brewery in the fort, albeit close to the river, doesn’t have the support that the village supplied. It, like the Ruttenkill breweries, fails fairly quickly.

Along with the zones, the number of breweries operating also intrigues me. Twelve breweries operate in Beverwijck, alone—twelve breweries to supply, at maximum, 1000 people. That seems a bit much, to me. Kiliaen van Rennselaer gives a clue in a letter to Johannes de Laet in, 1632. Van Rennselaer states, “As soon as there is a supply of grain on, I intend to erect a brewery to provide all New Netherland with beer…” It’s an interesting concept to think Bevewijck may have been supplying the whole of New Netherlands with beer, just as Albany would for the rest of the country, 200 years later. No evidence of that, but interesting anyhow.

So there you go—brewing zones in 17th Century Dutch New York. The next installment is British-colonial Albany brewing.  For now though, lets just give a big ol’ whew this post is done!

*Kill is the Dutch word for creek.

**I can’t take the credit for digging a lot of this info up, most of the information came from Janney Venema’s amazing book Beverwijck: A Dutch Village on the American Frontier, 1652-1664 (2010), cross-referenced with volume 4 of Joel Munsell’s Collections on the history of Albany: from its discovery to the present time; with notices of its public institutions, and biographical sketches of citizens deceased (1865).


  1. Craig this is fascinating. You should give historical walking tours at lunch. It would be fun to walk it and wed how close they all were. - Adrienne

  2. I'd be happy to do a tour some day around lunch! While the Beverwijck era breweries are gone, there are still a few 19th-century brewery buildings still standing.

  3. Ships' manifests! Manifest destiny can have many meanings and if we can get the right manifests it should show that the beers were being placed on ships. Because that is what the Dutch did at home in the mid-1600s. Why would they not?

    1. I found an account and invoice of the ship de Witte Kloodt from 1671, on which it appears that Gerret Noppen has paid f204 for 12 brandy casks, with 34 barrels of ship's beer and 4 kegs of good beer, with the casks and hoops. The de Witte Kloodt left Amsterdam in 1671 for New York, with what appears to be some beer on board.

      This account come from Kiliean van Rennsealer II, the fifth patroon of Rennselaerwijck, grandson of Kiliean van Rennsealer.

  4. I like your thinkin' McLeod. That's the way to use your melon!