Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Albany Ale: Disappointment Is My Only Friend

Remember this? It's a lie.
Have you ever been sure of something?

I mean deep-down-into-the-bowels-of-your-very-being, sure of something? The kind of sure of something, that when it falls apart you feel like a guy on America's Funniest Videos getting wham-oed in the gonads during a pinata mishap.

Tonight, the U-Haul building in Albany whamo-ed me in the gonads. Hard.

You see, I was convinced that the blocky building on the yellowed, Albany city directory advert from 1857, just had to be the same as the blocky, multi-colored building with the U-Haul truck on its roof.

J.W. Hill ruins everything.
I was so confident that I had a whole post written about it. A post that delved into my own history—a reminiscence of my childhood—of zipping down I-787 and seeing, for the first time, the brightly colored box with the truck perched on its roof, like a bumblebee about to land on a flower. I had proof, too. The Sanborn insurance maps from 1892, 1908, 34' and 51'. Each year the building was there—square and proud and true. I've also seen the John William Hill lithograph of Albany from the early 1850s that clearly shows the Taylor brewery on the far left of the print, looking just like the current building.

Wait a minute, that building doesn't look anything like the U-Haul building...


I was going to tell you that by 1850, John Taylor had been brewing in Albany for nearly 20 years. Taylor's business, like many others in the city, had boomed because of the Erie Canal. By the late 1840s it had become apparent that Taylor's Green Street brewery was not able to meet demand at 40 to 50,000 barrels per year. It was time to expand, and expand he did. In 1851 Taylor would open a new brewery at Arch Street and Broadway—John Taylor & Sons Brewery—a brewery capable of producing 200,000 barrels of beer a year—which made it the largest in the United States, at the time.

The main brewery building housed—among other brewing apparatus—365 cedar "pontoons" capable of clearing 2,600 barrels of ale (for more on that, check out Martyn's post on the Taylor pontoons.) This building—as well as a seven-story storage building, a malt house, a steam-aided cooperage, main office and a 10,000 volume library—sat on a two acre lot with direct access to the Hudson River. In fact, the brewery had elevators to move grain directly off boats moored on the pier below the brewery.

By the Civil War the brewery was using pressurized kettles capable of boiling 600 to 1000 barrels of wort—a technology that was cutting edge in the mid-1860s. The brewery employed 200 people and provided half-salaries to the families of those men under its employment who chose to enlist in the Union Army, while also promising employment upon their return. It wasn't all pleasant on the riverfront, however. In June of 1863 rioting dockworkers ransacked the building, sending brewery workers fleeing for their lives and causing thousands of dollars of damage. Then, in September of that same year, the patriarch of the brewery died. Things didn't go all that smoothly from that point on, for the newly dubbed John Taylor's Sons Brewery.

By 1870 all four of Taylor's sons—John, Edmund, Joseph and William—had also passed. In 1871 the brewery was sold to extended family members, and in 1887 the brewery would change hands again, and was renamed the Taylor Brewing and Malting Company, and operated under that name until it's closure in 1905. By 1908 the facility was no longer being used as a brewery. A number of business operated in the complex afterwards—from refrigeration and ice to a bottling facility—but the main building was held vacant by the new owners.

That's all true—and everything would have been hunky-dory had the Albany Hardware & Iron Company not come along in the early 1920s and torn down the defunct brewery, and built a new "fire-proof" building in its place. Stupid new building.

So, in the end I was wrong—and you'd think I'd be used to that, by now. But, as a matter of self-condolence, at least Alan was wrong, too.



  1. Thank the Lord I didn't do what you did. To quote me: "We think it is the building to the left in this 1850-60s advertisement." That's a ways from "is" in my book. Plus, I think you have to appreciate what is rarely or never done. What I have learned in my job and all out demolitions is that no one strips out a building down to bedrock including the foundations. You may want to go pace the thing out. I notice that the present building is seven stories like in that Hill painting. It is oriented in the same relationship to the river (which makes sense for a new building too), it is of a similar scale as the Taylor building and, most importantly, it is sited next to the Beaverkill drain in the same way. We know that this was an issue with the new building as the guy we met said the basement flooded. Why build new in the wet spot? So, it may be (note the subjunctive case again) that while there was a new building it could well be a rebuild. Could.

  2. Maybe—and I hope you're right. For now though, I think we should just concentrate on the guy getting hit in the nuts.

  3. Oh sure... whatever that might mean. Whose jewels?

    But here is an analogy. A brewing complex in Kingston re-purposed now for at least the third time in its history from 1840 to the present: http://www.tettcentre.org/about-us/history I've also crawled around a 1816 warehouse that once stored 160 barrels of Albany Ale (or was that warehouse's neighbour) which is still in use and, until 4 years ago at least, was built on foundations from the 1790s. Saving as much as possible is a major rule in construction. Saw a 1970s building with a 1930s one inside (surprise) and then (surprise) an 1870s one still in a bit of that.

  4. I was surprised and disappointed when I read this. I work in Rensselaer and drive past that building everyday. I always thought that I should share it's history with several other home brewers with whom I work.

    Well, as you might guess, on Monday afternoon as we wrapped up a meeting I filled them in great detail about the U-Haul Buildings special place in the history of brewing.

    Ugh, I feel your pain. Of course, I'll leave it to them to discover the truth lol


  5. Craig, perhaps I can provide you with a little padding to absorb the blow. After reading your post I did a little digging and discovered that the original Taylor Brewery building was completely destroyed by fire in May 1914. Apparently 10,000 people watched it burn (it's surprising that such a big spectacle left such little evidence). It even sent sparks to start some fires over in Rensselaer. Seven fire companies fought the fire and there was $250,000 loss for the building and a number of businesses using the building (although apparently no chickens were lost!). So far, not much consolation, I know.

    Apparently the building was rebuilt post 1916 and it's noted that it "will be six stories high and cover the same ground as the old building." The interesting thing is that it's also noted that the building "will be furnished with the latest improved machinery and have a capacity of 100 barrels per day." (from the Albany Evening Journal, Aug. 18, 1916. It might be 400 bbls -- the number isn't entirely clear). The owner of the building, J. P. Kernachen, was one of the directors of the brewery when it went out of business (he was also part of the New York Life Insurance and Trust Company that held the mortgage) and it seems that, perhaps, he was looking to start up again. So, in some sense it is the old Taylor brewery -- if not THE old Taylor brewery. As I said, just a little padding.

    1. I looked high and low for evidence of fire! I thought I remembered hearing that the brewery had burned, but I couldn't find a record of it!

  6. There's really not a lot out there on the fire - just a few references-- maybe because the brewery wasn't in operstion and it didn't have the prominent position it once had. I would guess that if the fire had hsppened 50 years earlier that it would have been bigger news and left more on the way of news.

    What this might mean is that the foundation (or part of it) might be original, and maybe the basement/cellars (or part of them).

    1. I don't know if it covered exactly the same ground. if you look at the footprint of the two buildings on the Sanborn Insurance maps, you see in the 1892 and 1908 maps, the building stretched between Broadway and the river—extending over what was Quay Street. In the later editions 34' and 51' maps you see that the building ends 40 feet shorter, allowing Quay Street to pass between the building and the river.