Brooklyn's Brewing History Featured in New Film

By Meredith Hoffman on January 15, 2013 7:24am 

WILLIAMSBURG — With more than 200 years of sipping, Brooklyn's beer history is quite a tale.

The boom, crash and rebirth of the borough's beer scene have been examined by scholars, celebrities and brewers for a documentary,  "Brewed in Brooklyn."

And, after two years of conducting interviews, director John Weber is ready to tell the story.

"There were close to 90 breweries at the turn of the 19th century," he said.

"Brooklyn was known as the beer capital of the world... and it went from 90 to zero in the 1970s.

"As things have turned around in Brooklyn it's the beer industry that's helping to lead the renaissance."

Weber — a New Jersey native who decided to make the documentary along with Kim Bjorheim and Bennett Aube after a Brooklyn beer tour — said he was shocked the "fascinating story" had not yet been filmed.

Weber's team interviewed Columbia University historian Ken Jackson, Brooklyn Brewery founder Stephen Hindy and local homebrewers as he sought to understand the dramatic evolution of beer in the area.

He even spoke with a former "Miss Rheingold," the title given to the winners of Rheingold Beer's bygone beauty pageant used to select a model who would appear on its cans.

"The Miss Rheingold contest could take a girl from the sticks and make her into a superstar," said Celeste Yarnall, the 1964 winner who acted with Elvis Presley after her victory in the pageant.

"More people voted for Miss Rheingold than for the presidential elections in the New York area," said Weber of its popularity.

But within a few years of the pageant's end, the entire beer industry disappeared in Brooklyn, Weber said.

"National breweries had gotten into the New York market, and New York and Brooklyn became an expensive place to do business," he said. The decline also coincided with a rise of crime and decay in the borough.

"It struck us as a story that needed to be told," Weber said of the history, and noted that the film also includes interviews with Williamsburg beer hall owner Joshua Richholdt, Coney Island Shmaltz Brewing Company staff, and local tour guides.

Not only does Weber's film recount the trade's dynamic past, but it includes prophecies about the future of brewing in Brooklyn.

"The stars are aligned... You're going to see more breweries, more brew pubs and more interesting beer throughout Brooklyn because Brooklyn is such an artisanal community," Weber said.

"I guess that's not that surprising."

More details about "Brewed in Brooklyn" can be found on the film's Kickstarter page.

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