In 1848, republican revolutions are sweeping across Europe. Twenty-four-year old Benedict F. Haberle joins the fight in his beloved homeland of present day Baden-Württemberg (southern Germany), his wife Karoline’s Oswald family are also in the thick of the politics and fighting. In July 1849, the Fortress of Rastatt is crushed by Prussian forces, Benedict, Karoline and their families escaping into France to avoid death by firing squads, the fate for the less fortunate revolutionaries. With a price on his head, Benedict can never return to his homeland and like so many ‘48ers’ seeks refuge in the USA.
By 1854, Benedict, his wife Karoline and his brothers (Jacob, Joseph and Michael) have settled in Syracuse, a small city in Upstate New York with a growing German immigrant population. In May 1854, Benedict is issued his first saloon license for the Center Hotel on North Salina Street (later to become the home of Turn (Verein) Hall, the center of German social activity in Syracuse). Where there are Germans, there must be lager beer. Syracuse already has established ale breweries, but its first lager-style beer was produced in small quantities from 1846. In 1855, the Haberle family purchases the struggling Schoen-Heitz (Lager) Brewery and turns its fortunes around by brewing a lager that Germans could be proud. The corner of North McBride and Butternut Streets had been selected because under Liberty Hill there are pristine spring-well water and cool caverns, both essential requirements for producing a quality brew at a time when some Syracuse breweries were still using canal water (Skaneateles Lake water wasn’t available until the mid-1890s). The one resource Syracuse had in great supply was ice to keep the lager cold while in storage. In 1857, Benedict builds a much larger modern lager brewery and the future of the Haberle Brewing Company was secure for more than one-hundred years, where quality, innovation and well-planned expansion become the Haberle family’s mantra. Benedict and his sons instinctively knew that “the manufacture of good beer cannot be hurried”.
Haberle’s German-style beers (lagers, stock lager, extra pale, extra dark and bock) were keenly sought throughout the Upstate New York region. From its beginning door to door delivery to saloons and homes by beer wagons and sleighs, and later trucks becomes an iconic sight in Syracuse. In 1885, Haberle Congress is released, becoming Haberle’s flagship lager for more than seventy-five years. When Benedict returns from a trip to Europe in 1879, he found the gentleman’s truce between Syracuse’s ale and lager breweries in tatters. The Greenway family operated Syracuse’s largest brewery and produced English-style ales, but decided they also wanted a major share of the lager beer market. Benedict and his sons had never run from a fight, and soon Syracuse’s Ale-Lager War was at its peak. Benedict Haberle knew that the same brewery couldn’t produce both lager and ale style beers, so he gathered a few investors and founded the Onondaga Brewery (which later became the Ryan Brewery). By the mid-1890s, Syracuse’s Ale-Lager War was over. The once all-powerful Greenway Brewing Company was financially and operationally in tatters. The Haberle families were the definite winners, taking the title of Syracuse’s largest and most influential brewing company that also controlled the Crystal Spring and National Breweries.
Unfortunately, the Prohibition Era [1920-1933] hurt the once proud brewing empire. Operations needed to be drastically downsized and brewing was restricted to low-alcohol near beers (Congo and Congress (lager-style) and Derby (ale-style)), which beer drinkers drank but didn’t necessarily like. During National Prohibition, the Haberle Brewery may have been the only former Syracuse brewery to play by the government’s rules and though raided was never charged with a Volstead Act offence. In 1926, the Haberle Brewery voluntarily ceased operations (other Syracuse breweries were closed by the Prohibition Bureau), the Haberle family concentrating on Central City Cold Storage (located on former National Brewery site).
However, as soon as Prohibition ended in 1933, the Haberle-Congress Brewing Company Inc. renovated and modernized its brewing assets, retaking it position as Syracuse’s premier brewer. But the days of regional brewers were over. Of all the reopened Syracuse breweries, the Haberle Brewery had the financial backing and understood what needed to be done to survive post-Prohibition brewing in the USA. After more than one-hundred years though, in 1962 the Haberle family sold the Haberle Brewery’s business to Rochester interests, its last advertisements appearing in 1963. In June 1964, the Haberle Brewery buildings and site were sold and demolished to make way for a shopping center (a sad sign of the times).
A quality brewer can't be kept out of the market forever. With the rise and popularity of craft brewing, the best brewers are again realizing that quality cannot be rushed, long established traditions passed down from one generation to the next do matter, and some things in life are worth waiting for. We all need to take a moment and savor the good life, like a fresh cold glass of Haberle Congress beer on a hot summer day.