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Ebling Beer Caves-Bronx-NYC-Prohibition-56th Street and St. Ann's Avenue-2Crews come across a complex network of caves in the Melrose section of the Bronx, that used to be used to brew Ebling’s beer. (Photo via Ed Garcia Conde/Melrose)

During one of Mayor Bloomberg’s major rezoning efforts in 2009 came a quirky find in the Melrose section of the Bronx. Deep under the ground were several Prohibition-age beer caves belonging to the Ebling Brewery. First reported by the New York Times then, the find came on our radar via the Old Images of the Bronx Facebook page.

Ebling Beer Caves-Bronx-NYC-Prohibition-56th Street and St. Ann's Avenue-4
Photo via Ed Garcia Conde/Melrose

The Ebling Brewing Company, which was located on 156th Street and St. Ann’s Avenue in the Bronx, was one of the few breweries actually hit hard by Prohibition. They were shut-down for a period due to higher-than-normal alcohol content in a truckload of beers and were ultimately closed in the 1940s. The beer caves were forgotten until sixty years later, as crews were laying the groundwork for the affordable housing that currently sits on the location of the old brewery. Unfortunately, they did not find any aged beers. If the crews in Melrose had found any vintage bottles, NY Times reports that a pair of them could be worth up to $5,000!

Ebling Beer Caves-Bronx-NYC-Prohibition-56th Street and St. Ann's Avenue-3

ebling's brewery-melrose-bronx-nyc-untappedcitiesThe label on Ebling’s Special Brew beer says “Aged in Natural Rock Caves” (Image via US Beer Stuff)

Though Ebling’s beer label boasts that their lager was naturally aged in caves, this is only partially true. Edible Geography reports that “the caves were carefully constructed, some even had electricity.” They highlight Ommegang Brewery from Cooperstown, NY, who claim to be the only brewery that still cave-ages their lager:

Ommegang ages its beer in natural limestone caverns in upstate New York, where the temperature is a constant 52º, while the manmade Ebling caves apparently rest at a slightly warmer 58º. Nonetheless, Ebling’s bottle maturation would presumably also have led to a “second fermentation,” which beer experts concur “produces a notable increase in carbonation, and a softer mouthfeel,” as well as the previously mentioned increase in complexity.

allan kaprow-michael kirby-eat-melrose-ebling caves-bronx-nyc-untapped citiesAllan Kabrow’s map of his Eat installation in the Ebling caves in the Bronx. (via Michael Kirby’s description in the Tulane Drama Review: Volume 10, Number 2, Winter, 1965)

EG also reports that the network of caves had been put to another interesting use when they were discovered by performance artist Allan Kaprow in 1964. For his Eat series, the artist gave guided tours, by reservation, of the caves that followed this interesting map above. Michael Kirby described the installation for the Tulane Drama Review: 

After entering an old building that fronted low cliffs, the visitor walked through several corridors and doorways and finally came to the Environment. The rock from which the caves were carved had been somewhat incompletely covered with white paint – the place had once been used by Ebling Brewery – and age and seeping water had created a sense of decay… [Apples hung] on rough strings, if [the visitor] was not very hungry, he could merely take a bite from it and leave it dangling.

Ebling Beer Caves-Bronx-NYC-Prohibition-156th Street and St. Ann's AvenuePhoto via Ed Garcia Conde/Melrose

The caves were sealed with the completion of the affordable housing project but you can still see photographs of the site on Melrose, Edible Geography, and The New York Times.

Check out our coverage on other cool breweries from all over. See more quirky NYC facts and discoveries in our “Daily What?!” seriesSubmit your own via Twitter with the hashtag #DailyWhat.

2 Comments

  1. I was part of a team from The Bronx County Historical Society that went to The Ebling Brewery Complex. We found some of the old wooden Barrels and actual eblings beer with beer still in them! They are archived at The Bronx County Historical Society Research Center and Museum.

  2. John Benfatti says:

    Dear Mr. Chaterlain
    I saw your web site on untappedcities.com and thought you might be interested in this.
    My Father-in-Law, Otto William Richards, was born in 1921 in the Melrose section of the Bronx. His father was a brew master from Prague, Czechoslovakia. When his father immigrated from Czechoslovakia he changed his name from Richtarik (sp?) to Richards. He and his brother worked in the Ebling Brewery. My Father-in-Law told me about how his father would bring him to the caves of the Ebling Brewery.
    In the winter of 2004 my brother-in-law and I drove my father-in-law from his home in Gardiner, New York to the Bronx and we videoed our trip while interviewing Otto.

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