The History of Beer in NYC

Most of us are at least obscurely familiar with the concept that beer is old as hell and prohibition was a wild time in history. The revolution of beer and its delivery in NYC is a labor of social, political, and economical development. Marked by both freedom and oppression; by both pleasure and necessity.

Yet there is a lesser known progression and underbelly to beer in NYC that sometimes tends to fall away, only to be anonymously recalled in drunken taproom discussions and sordid barroom tales. Stories of underground bootleggers and the hundreds of deaths caused by shoddy attempts at beer making…

We think these are stories that need to be told.

The Early Scene

Historians may argue, and of course they do, about many of the exact distinctions of beer history and its unfolding in NYC. In the forefront of discussion, some evidence supports breweries fermenting a mean drink all the way back to 1612. The governor of New York at the time, Otto Van Twiller, owned a large portion of the beer industry - and was also known to be his own best customer.

Hundreds of years later, from the 1840’s well into the 1880’s, New York was the largest hop producer in the United States. Some will even argue that the US beer industry owes much of its momentum to the state of New York.

As immigration began to be commonplace throughout our boroughs, beer wasn’t just something brewed for pleasure. Beer was, in reality, a nutritional staple and a significant source of tax revenue for the state. Supplementary to this facet, beer was oftentimes safer to drink than the water.

Prohibition Drops Its Hammer

Prohibition was a movement strongly backed by religious organizations who believed alcohol to be responsible for crimes, “dirty” health conditions, spousal abuse, and a lack of piety amongst New Yorkers. Amazingly, this outlandish push would stick for 13 long and dry years.

From January 1920 to December 1933, alcohol was banned, but it wasn’t exactly illegal to DRINK beer altogether like it has been largely portrayed. The newly ratified 18th amendment forbade the manufacture, transport, or sale of alcohol within the United States. Those already possessing libations in their homes were allowed to drink at home.

Of course, social class played into prohibition significantly. Those of wealthier descent were more likely to have an abundance of alcohol in their homes, whereas the working class and the poor usually would not have any kind of back stock to speak of.

Things Go Underground

Many will argue that the 13-year prohibition period was the ultimate “social experiment” run by the government and that really, it was just a covert excuse for citizens to run wild. Instead of being subdued, New Yorkers of all backgrounds took to their homes, subverting strict laws by the thousands, secretly bootlegging homemade booze, and finding new ways to indulge (and supplement their incomes as a result).

Illegal operations called speakeasies or “blind pigs” were rampant. These private clubs often maintained a business front, serving “lunch” to its patrons, when in reality they were selling booze…lots and lots of booze. It’s inestimable how many speakeasies were in operation back then, but some evidence easily shows 20,000-100,000 establishments just in New York City at the time.

It Gets Even Dirtier

With so many people unofficially becoming their own brewmasters, many of these drinks were actually quite disgusting and overly sweet in an attempt to mask the frightening ingredients used in their production. This would include the likes of benzene, gasoline, chloroform, creosote, and acetone. Deaths in 1927 soared to over 700, and thousands more were sickened or even blinded as a result.

NYC mobsters were known to capitalize on the speakeasy movement and spent extravagant amounts of money on illegal parties full of prostitution, gambling, and buckets spilling over with bootlegged booze. Famed Al Capone himself, hailing from immigrant parents in Brooklyn, was a ringleader during this time.

Even supposed “godly” rabbis in synagogues were regularly partaking in the circumvention of the prohibition era. Those of Jewish faith held a religious exemption which allowed them to drink wine during specific type of worships, and many were found to be illegally selling duplicated permits.

Prohibition Is Finally Repealed

On December 5th, 1933, President Franklin D. Rosevelt signed the 21st amendment into law, officially repealing the 18th amendment, and returning power to the state to regulate itself. The 18th amendment is the only amendment to be repealed in US history and for good reason.

Prohibition was a huge failure, only gassing the issues that it was meant to resolve. When it was lifted, state and federal governments enacted laws and regulations that promoted a transparent and economically beneficial system.

The Beverage Control Laws of 1934

In the wake of the end of prohibition, New York enacted Chapter 478, a.k.a the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law.

In order to support these new regulations, the state founded two entities. The State Liquor Authority and the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The ultimate goal of these new entities, New York claimed, was “the protection, health, welfare, and safety of the people of the state”.

Today, as it pertains to beer delivery in NYC and all other alcohol delivery related transactions, these divisions operate to:

Oversee all incoming applications. Routinely inspect the premises where alcohol is being made, served, distributed, or sold. Investigate violations in conjunction with local law enforcement and ABC Laws. Issue licenses and permits for the sale, distribution, manufacturing, or serving of alcohol. Regulate practices related to the sale and distribution of alcohol.

Triboro’s Longstanding Role in the Community

Triboro Beverage is no stranger to the rich history of New York during those times. The stories told above are only a small snippet of the trials and victories that shaped the beverage industry into what it is today.

We started serving the humble areas of Queens and Manhattan way back in 1936, in the wake of both the Great Depression and Prohibition combined. In those pre-refrigeration days, everyone in the neighborhood needed ice to keep things cold, and Triboro was there to deliver.

Started by great-grandfather of the family, Michael Caraccia, Triboro was distributing ice and R&H beer, selling to local bars, restaurants, and the general public. Eventually, Michael would own 12 beer delivery trucks in NYC and basically be “the guy” of his industry.

By the 50’s, a newly diversified inventory of beer and soda allowed Triboro to gain even more traction and over the next 3 decades, the business would be handed down from father to son, to son, to son, as it continued to prosper and make a definitive mark in the history of beer delivery and distribution in NYC.

Today, Triboro sits passionately in the hands of Michael’s great-grandson Carlo Caraccia Jr., who enjoys honoring his family’s longstanding traditions while remaining vigilant in order to guide Triboro in whichever direction the industry may one day go.

One thing cannot be argued in all of this - the streets of New York City tell a deep history with indisputable soul. Beer, the history of it, its prohibition and subsequent repeal, the underground, the laws that shaped everything, they are just some of the many pieces that fit into the history of this great city.

We are so damn glad that beer is the piece we’re a part of.