How Beer Was Made At The Jacob Ruppert Brewery
Jacob Ruppert is mainly recognized as the man who bought Babe Ruth from the Red Sox in 1919 forever changing baseball. With that one transaction, Ruppert, the Yankees co-owner and his management team began a dynasty.
To older New Yorkers the name Ruppert also meant beer. The Ruppert Brewery was between 91st and 92nd Street from Second to Third Avenue.
Since its founding in 1867, the brewery was always expanding, eventually occupying 27 buildings from 90th to 94th Streets. The Knickerbocker beer produced by Ruppert was a well-known staple in bars and homes throughout the city. To anyone who can remember living in the Yorkville neighborhood during Ruppert’s reign, the fragrant smell of hops, barley and malt was omnipresent. The Ruppert Brewery closing on December 31, 1965 was a sad day for the Yorkville.
What was Ruppert’s Brewery like?
Hidden within the pages of old books one finds unexpected nuggets. Such is the case with Metropolis: A Study of New York by Mary Parton, (Longmans, 1939).
Metropolis is a guide book of sorts written for a youthful audience. It was not unusual for New York manufacturing companies to make there facilities available to tour groups. Why would they not? This was a time when modern mechanization was a marvel to behold and the companies were proud to show off their plants. Metropolis describes some unusual spots offering free tours including Sheffield Milk Co.; General Baking Co. and Breyers Ice Cream.
The surprise suggestion (at least for kids) is a visit to Ruppert’s Brewery. Who knew you could tour a brewery?
So here is what you would have seen in 1939 touring Ruppert’s Brewery, from Metropolis:
1639 Third Avenue
What are some of the synonyms for big? Well, there are enormous, immense, huge, colossal, tremendous, great, massive, and still others. Now add to these synonyms this one: Jacob Ruppert’s brewery.
To visit this huge plant, with almost incomprehensibly mammoth vats and hoppers and kettles, you simply call up the brewery any morning and ask for an appointment. It is cheerfully granted. A guide will be given you and, as you go about amongst overwhelming containers and mills, you will feel like Alice in Wonderland growing smaller and smaller each minute.
Your guide takes you first to the mill room. From the floor above through wide chutes the cleaned malt drops to the mill where it is ground. You see the careful process by which the ground malt becomes mash and is deposited in a huge container called a tun— big enough for the seven dwarfs to live in comfortably. Look into one of these tuns if empty. See the great Propellers and the many little jets all about the inner tin through which live steam is injected.
The next chapter in the story has to do with the corn grits, cooked in a vast pressure-cooker before being mixed with the malt. If you are a chemist you will know what happens when the two mashes ultimately meet. An invisible dance of the starch molecules that turns them into sugar. Notice the strong young men, stripped to the waist, yanking out steaming-hot cloths between the cells of the filter through which the mass is now pumped. The cells are in series, like immense organ pipes.
Now the mash extract of malt and corn grits which has gone through the filter changes its name. It becomes the “wort.” Down through pipes from the filter to another floor the wort flows to four of the hugest, most dazzling copper kettles you ever saw. They look like tents and they shine like an autumn sunset. Each kettle holds seven hundred barrels. From the balcony above you look into the kettle through a little door and see furious boiling. For two hours there is continuous whirling and bubbling and giving off of steam.
Now down from overhead come the hops into the boiling kettle. More straining, and back to the cooler, to be kept at fermenting temperature.
Yeast is added. But the yeast room is like the forbidden room in Bluebeard’s castle. No one can enter. This room must be kept absolutely sterile, for yeast is all too hospitable to germs.
This is the end, except for the storage in closed fermenters. Each fermenter holds nineteen hundred barrels. If one of these glittering, glass-lined fermenters is opened, your voice will echo back from the far end, as it would in a tunnel. There are nine floors of these glass-lined, steel fermenters.
It will be hot in one room, cold in another. You will put on your coat, and take it off, as you follow your guide through this vast industry. You will actually shiver in the storage cellars, where the temperature is kept at 32° F. There are thirteen such floors, where five hundred thousand barrels can be stored. Awesome, cold and dark, are these rooms, almost terrifying.
The guide tells you, as you follow him downstairs, that you are two floors underground now, walking right under gist Street, like a mole. Here is the finishing cellar. The final filter room. After CO2, is injected, the beer is ready to go out to tavern and restaurant and home—clear, flowing amber. You are led to the keg room. Six machines automatically fill the barrels, and bung them.
In another building, you will see how beer is bottled and canned: two hundred and twenty cans a minute flash through the canning machines. On moving belts, they whirl up, down, over, around, like blind obedient robots. They streak past an automatic weigher, past an electric eye which sees in secret, discarding any underweight can. You watch bottles and cans, hundreds, thousands, move endlessly into the jaws of a machine which packs them by two dozen in a cardboard container, seals them, and on a moving belt, hurries them on their way. Thus is beer made and bottled.
Upstairs, in the main building, there are kitchens which if they were cleaner, would vanish into soap foam, and a beautiful tap room. Its low-arched beamed ceiling, its classic murals, long polished bars, huge fireplace and mullioned windows, its massive doors, and dark tables and chairs, bring to mind the beer stubes and taprooms of old Bavaria. It only lacks the smoke stains of the decades, the voiceless association of song and gemütlichkeit.
Presiding over the bar is the figure of jolly old Gambrinus straddling a barrel, and uplifting his stein.
The brewery was demolished in 1969. On the site of the Ruppert Brewery is Ruppert Yorkville Towers, a series four of 34-story apartment buildings with a pedestrian plaza, garage and park completed in 1975.
If you visit the complex you will see no plaque or sign dedicated to Ruppert and the brewery. There was one in the adjacent park but it was taken down during renovations and has not been returned. But if close your eyes and breathe deeply, you might pick up the fragrance of beer from a few nearby bars and imagine what was once here.