Bayrisches Bock-Bier, North Syracuse

The Bocks From Syracuse*

As expected, the German-language Syracuse Union had a long history of carrying beer advertisements. Numerous breweries touted in its pages, both before and after Prohibition, not just Haberle Congress as discussed yesterday. Some were local heros, some from further afield, e.g., Utica Brewing.

In a 1913 issue, the Union carried a series of brewery ads, shown below in part.

Zett’s was founded, as its north Syracuse neighbour Haberle, in the 1850s. Like Haberle too, it revived after 1933 but ceased operations in 1937. (Haberle endured until 1962). Zett’s and Irish-sounding Thomas Ryan’s Consumers Brewing were advertising their bock beer for spring. Ryan proudly noted its bock was made with imported caramel malt.**

In 1937, the regional powerhouse – then and now – Utica Club of Utica, NY paid for a handsome ad which took much of a full page. The ad was in both German and English, the English part was a profile of the Baden-born founder, Francis-Xavier Matt. The patriarch was still active in the business 58 years after founding it.

The last line read, “he typifies the immigrant boy whose efforts were crowned with success”. The sub-text, as underlined too by the bio being in English, was, we know our roots and they are reflected today in this ethnic publication, but net-net we are American and a product of this land.

In the ad, Utica Club listed seven beers. Five were English or Anglo-American styles, only two clearly German-type, pilsner and wuerzburger. In general, ales endured for much longer in upstate New York than probably anywhere in America, reflecting the original pattern of settlement (British) but also the area’s relative isolation. Given some local breweries were founded by Britons who made beers in staunchly British styles, e.g. John Greenway, the German breweries weren’t going to be caught short. (It worked the other way too of course).

Genesee Cream Ale is perhaps the last survivor of this old tradition of German-founded breweries making beers with an English resonance. Utica Club’s cream ale was delisted some years ago. Of course, Utica Club, and Genesee too, make many beers today of the top-fermented type inspired by the craft beer revival. The whole thing has come full circle, and then some.

One can presume that central New York’s German ethnic community, or really, communities – they were disparate in origin and dialects spoken – liked the ales no less than older-stock Americans. Still, lager probably had the bulk of sales, after 1900 certainly. Then too most of the ales were quasi-lagers, e.g., cream ale and sparkling ale.

For the average German-speaker in Syracuse in the 1930s, when he drank a pale ale of Haberle or Utica Club, did he ever think the style originated in Britain, a country increasingly at odds with the Nazified Germany of post-1933? I would doubt this, not so much due to political insouciance, but rather to the general popular ignorance of beer and brewing technics. Beer can be part of cultural identity – already watered down in America for any ethnicity – but knowing how beer is made and what the names mean is a different story, then and now.

*Apologies to Rodgers & Hart.

**Ryan had been city mayor. Initially he was one of a joint ownership group, then bought sole control, and finally sold to one of his former partners c. 1900. Ryan’s associates in the venture were German Americans to all appearances.

Note re images: the first and third images shown were extracted from the original ads linked in the text, available via the New York newspapers historical digital archive. The second image was obtained from the website of the Onondaga Historical Association, here. The images are included for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the sources stated belongs solely to the lawful owner or authorized users. All feedback welcomed.