Eblings Breweries in the Bronx. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
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.
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!
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.
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.