Written by Lew Bryson for jbojangles.blogspot.com
A week away from my thirtieth birthday, I received an early birthday present from my dad – a package that included a card, some beer money, and three books. One of the books? The Simon and Schuster Pocket Guide To Beer, by Michael Jackson. Published in 1991, it’s an interesting read – it’s a guide to the different types of beer – which is invaluable in and of itself – as well as a tour of the beer world as it was 16 years ago. It’s interesting how things have changed.
I was paging through the “United States” section, which was divided into sections. As of this writing, there were a scant 41 brewpubs, microbreweries, and major brewers from Washington, DC to Maine. Wow. How far we have come!
Of more interest, though was the entry under “Newman.” It reads, “The first micro-brewery in the East, at Albany, New York, was ahead of its time and paid the price. Albany Amber Beer, a fruity lager/ale hybrid with some hop bitterness, is now produced under contract at F.X. Matt.”
Interesting! The first microbrewery in the East was in Albany? I wanted to know more. So, it was off to Google!
Here’s what I found out: the William S. Newman Brewing Company, named after master brewer Bill Newman, was founded in 1981. Newman apparently learned his craft in England and brought brewing to, well, downtown Albany, at 84 Chestnut Street – about a block away from Empire State Plaza. Aside from the aforementioned “Albany Amber,” he brewed a Pale Ale.
It was the first microbrewery east of Colorado, apparently. Among those working there? Jim Koch, who would later go on to found the little-known Samuel Adams in Boston. Of Newman, Jim notes:
These little microbreweries were starting up and that really got my interest. I actually worked in Bill Newman’s brewery in Albany. He was the first guy who started a microbrewery east of Boulder. I came away thinking, OK, the idea is right. I knew that it was possible to make world-class beer here in the United States.
Additionally, Newman Brewing apparently anticipated the trend of serving beer in growlers. In the early 1980s, according to this BeerAdvocate.com article, “Newman Brewing in Albany, NY used to sell soft plastic gallon containers of their beer. Apparently if you brought the empty back to the brewery, they’d replenish it with more beer.” Growlers didn’t make the scene until 1989.
Newman Brewing was pretty prominent. How so? It was profiled in this July 1983 article in Time Magazine, during which Newman claimed $130,000 in sales in 1982. Not too shabby at all. It was also profiled in Atlantic Monthly in November, 1987. (Grateful thanks to the kindred souls at A Good Beer Blog for preserving that through transcription.)
What happened to the William S. Newman Brewery? As articles like this recent one from the Albany Times-Union note, it went out of business. But when? I’m not sure.
As best as we can can figure, it departed the Albany scene around 1989-1990 or so, well before I moved up here. I’d be interested to know about the demise of the Newman Brewery, as well as what – if anything – Bill Newman is doing these days. (If you know more, use the comments section – thanks!)
At the end of the day, there’s an interesting irony at hand – that Albany, which really isn’t much of a beer town, actually played a pivotal role in the microbrewery movement. Fascinating stuff.