SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Ever wondered what your grandfather drank with his cronies back in his university days? Most likely it was Congress Beer.
“Congress Beer has a strong emotional connect with the people of Syracuse. It was the most popular beer in Central New York for decades in the early 20th century,” says Gregg Tripoli, executive director of Onondaga Historical Association.
Congress Beer draws on the city’s history and helps instill pride in every beer drinker, a pride that was lost since the original brewing company – Haberle Congress Brewing – shut down in 1962, Tripoli said. The company handed over the recipe to OHA who then acquired the trademark license for the beer.
And now you have the renewed Congress Beer by OHA with local craft brewers Willow Rock Brewing Co. unveiled at a grand party at Marriott Syracuse Downtown. The all new pre-prohibition style Congress Beer was launched at 4 p.m. and served to guests at the hotel’s restaurants, Eleven Waters and Shaughnessy’s Irish Pub, till 8 p.m.
“Congress Beer will now bear a new logo. It will be a Syracuse craft lager, light and crisp – at abv 4.8 percent – traditional and whole in flavour but not too bitter,” said Rockney Roberts, co-founder and brewer at Willow Rock.
They will have a release party at the brewery on Aug 18, after which the beer will be available there, along with exclusive merchandise inclusive of T-shirts, stickers and coasters, Roberts said.
The beer at the brewery will probably be in line with regular pricing, Roberts said, which could be around $5-6 for a pint.
After months of trials, Roberts and his partner Kevin Williams decided on a beer that would fit with the goal of creating a “Congress” that represents its legacy and satisfies the tastes of today’s beer drinker.
Roberts said Williams and he grew up with a shared passion for craft beers and explored the beerscapes of Syracuse before establishing Willow Rock in 2015 on Game Road, Syracuse.
Robert Searing, curator of history at OHA and close friend of Roberts and Williams, said, “This whole relaunch has been a great collaboration between OHA and Willow Rock. I came on board last year, but Gregg has worked on this for a good number of years now.”
Searing, who has curated an exhibition on Congress Beer at Shaughnessy’s, said the beer will be available at Marriott Syracuse and its restaurants after Aug 15 as well as at the New York State Fair (Aug. 22-Sep. 3).
They have also acquired the license to sell the beer in Virginia, Washington D.C. and Maryland, Tripoli said.
Tripoli added that the relaunch of Congress Beer has helped support local agricultural industries. It has also helped a young, qualified entrepreneurial company like Willow Rock to expand its business and enter new markets.
OHA is hoping to use the proceeds from the sales of the beer to further their operations in similar projects that are intrinsic to the city of Syracuse, Tripoli said. They shall continue to optimise their position as a historical association to make history more accessible to the city.
Congress Beer is certainly an integral part of Syracuse history. “It was the beer that your granddad or your dad drank,” Tripoli said.
Would you believe there were Congress Beer clubs in CNY back then. It was that popular from the 1890s to the 1960s, Tripoli said.
One can imagine what a privilege it is for OHA to be a part of bringing Congress Beer to life again. It has been a pure labour of love.
“Congress is in session again,” says the new logo. Beer lovers of Syracuse, rejoice.
An edited version of my article was published in The Daily Orange, Syracuse, N.Y. dated Aug 15, 18′.