Monday, August 26, 2013

Albany Ale: The Box at the End of the Bar (a.k.a A Tale of Two Cities)

If you follow Alan's blog (and I know you do), you may have noticed that he and his family are on a cross-New England trek. Since Albany is the gateway to New England (I just made that epithet up) we got to spend a little time with my Canadian partner-in-crime, and his brood, last weekend.

The time spent was breakfast-time, at Wolf's Biergarten, in North Albany. I've been to Wolf's quite a number of times, but never for breakfast, and boy was that a mistake. It was fantastic! It was pancakes—raspberry, German Chocolate, apple— for the kids and wives, while Alan and I both went for the Liberkase leberkäse—a sort of meatloaf meets a sausage patty, served on a kaiser roll, topped with a fried egg and potato pancakes on the side. Coffee and juice, all around as well. The b-gartens' TVs showed British Premier League soccer to all the patrons delight.—although I suppose the level of delight depended on if your team was winning, or not. The morning was highlighted by a half-liter of Weihenstephaner Fresh Hops Finest—perhaps the best beer I've had all summer—and something special, at the end of the bar.

Mid-feast, I sauntered to the bar for my 72nd cup of coffee and spied that something special. That something, specifically, was a wooden box that had most likely been ignored by the, literally, thousands of previous visitors to Wolf's. But to this beer/history geek, it was more than interesting. The greyish, wooden box, full of various and sundry of restaurant related items, sat snuggled nestled to the coffee pots. The box advertised, albeit a tad weathered, FEIGENSPAN, P.O.N, NEWARK, N.J. Of course, a Feigenspan box in Albany, that makes perfect sense!

What does Newark have to do with Albany, you may ask? You also may wonder, as usual, what any of this has to do with (and no hints from the peanut gallery, Jess Kidden) Albany Ale?

Feigenspan was a fairly successful brewery in Newark, New Jersey. In fact, P.O.N stood for "Pride Of Newark". The brewery was opened by Christian Feigenspan in 1875, and it operated at various locations in Newark. In 1907, Feigenspan's eldest son, Christian Jr., would become president of the brewery, and eventually the head of The U.S. Brewer's Association, during the lead up to, and throughout much of Prohibition. That still doesn't answer the question. So, what's the big deal about a Newark brewery box in Albany? Actually it's pretty significant, and it has everything to do with one of the three Albany breweries to survive after the repeal of prohibition in 1933—Dobler Brewery.

Dobler, a predominently lager brewery, had been opened by John S. Dobler, and operated in Albany on Myrtle Avenue between Swan and Dove Streets, since the mid 1860s. In the early 1890s Theodore Amsdell—brother to George Amsdell, of Amsdell Brothers Brewery—purchased the brewery with his partner George Hawley. Amsdell died in 1902, and the brewery never quite recovered. Just before national prohibition went into effect, Dobler was purchased by...

…Wait for it…

…That's right, the Feigenspan family.

Hey, haven't I seen you somewhere before?
Dobler continued to operate during the prohibition years as the soda and near beer making operation for the Feigenspan family. The original, and much larger operation in Newark was converted for use in ice and coal production—but would keep its sign lit throughout the entire thirteen years of prohibition, in silent, yet glowing protest. After repeal, Dobler re-commenced standard brewing, essentially making the same beer as Feigenspan in New Jersey. As a matter of fact, Dobler even produced a Dobler Pride of Newark (P.O.N.) beer. Feigenspan Jr, died in 1939 and within four years his brewery—at that point one of the largest in the country—would be purchased by its neighbor, Ballantine Brewery. Dobler, however would not be part of that purchase and would continue on in Albany, under the leadership of Edwin Feigenspan, Christian Jr.'s brother. The brewery, however would only continue to operate for a short period thereafter, closing in the late 1950s.

I think it's safe to say that had Feigenspan not purchased the Dobler brewery when it did, there most like would have only been two breweries, rather than three, that re-opened in Albany after the ratification of the 21st Amendment in 1933.

So, what should we take way from all of this?

Don't take for granted the 'junk' hanging around so many bars and pubs. At closer inspection, you might learn a little bit about your home town, or at the very least, you might learn a little about Newark, New Jersey. 

Muchas gracias, by the way, to Jess Kidden for all his research on America's second most favorite brewing city—Newark, NJ. I'm sure he'll be able to poke holes in all of what I just wrote!


  1. It's leberkäse, literally "liver cheese". (-:
    And when you say Premier League, do you mean British football? Should be Bundesliga really...
    Great spotting though!

    1. Corrected, on both counts. I believe there was a German match on, but I wasn't really paying attention to it. We were watching the 10am Arsenal match.

  2. Ha, ha... nope - looks good to me. Instead of poking holes, I'll fill a few in with some trivia...

    According to post-Repeal articles and ads from Dobler, they were a draught-only brewery in the pre-Pro and Prohibition Era (somewhat unusual for a keg-only "cereal beverage" brewery, since most near beer was bottled). Feigenspan added a bottling line at Dobler at Repeal, and then a larger one a few years later.

    Feigenspan's, as one of the largest Northeast brewers in the 1900-1920 period, marketing region extended to upstate NY even before buying Dobler in 1919 "to make 2.75% (abw) beer" went the reports at the time. (That being the limit of WWI's Lever Act's "War Beer" due to grain shortages and it was hoped by brewers it would remain so after National Prohibition was enacted).

    Even after Repeal, it appears that Feigenspan marketed both Dobler and Feigenspan beers in NY state - I've got a mid-30s ad for Dobler P.O.N. Bock that mentions that Feigenspan's P.O.N. Bock is available in Keglined cans (Dobler itself wouldn't add a canning line under after WWII in 1950). I imagine the Albany brewery acted as a distribution warehouse for Feigenspan beers as well as its own (?) in the 1933-43 period - which could explain the wooden case's origins?

    Dobler wouldn't close until the late 50s - in 1959 - the brand and brewery bought by Hampden-Harvard in MA. At first H-H claimed they would re-open the Albany brewery after needed renovations but that apparently never happened. but the sale does explain how Piels acquired the Dobler brand - HH and Piels were both once part of the national Associated Brewing Co. chain. Not sure how long Piels continued making the brand.

    I read somewhere once that Feigenspan tried to change the meaning of P.O.N. to be "Pride of a Nation" (which would have made even more sense for Dobler's P.O.N. branded beers) but I don't recall ever seeing any contemporary evidence of that.

    Thanks for the mention - my Feigenspan pages are under my Ballantine website:
    ...if anyone is interested, but not a lot of info on the Dobler subsidiary.

    1. Woo-hoo! At least I got some things right. There's a great photo from 1939, of a car—all by its lonesome—on Route 20 in the Nassau, NY area. To the right of the photo is a billboard advertising Dobler P.O.N. Jess, you should check that site out, some great Feigenspan billboards and signs from the 1930s and 40s.

      1959, you say? I thought I had seen 1953. Maybe that's when Dobler stopped brewing the P.O.N beer. Anyway, you'd know better than me! All fixed.

    2. A bunch of Krueger and Ballantine images, too.

  3. re: P.O.N. - from "Pride of Newark" to "Pride of the Nation".

    Lousy memory -should done some more digging before posting. It was even mentioned in TIME magazine in '37,,9171,758243,00.html

  4. Thanks very much for the history lesson. I wouldn't have guessed Feigenspan brewed in Albany.

    Did you buy the box from them? I'd have tried. Unless Dolores was with me, in which case I'm pretty sure it would be vetoed.