History Lesson: William S. Newman Brewing Company

A week away from my thirtieth birthday, I received an early birthday present from my dad – a package that included a card, some beer money, and three books. One of the books? The Simon and Schuster Pocket Guide To Beer, by Michael Jackson. Published in 1991, it’s an interesting read – it’s a guide to the different types of beer – which is invaluable in and of itself – as well as a tour of the beer world as it was 16 years ago. It’s interesting how things have changed.

I was paging through the “United States” section, which was divided into sections. As of this writing, there were a scant 41 brewpubs, microbreweries, and major brewers from Washington, DC to Maine. Wow. How far we have come!

Of more interest, though was the entry under “Newman.” It reads, “The first micro-brewery in the East, at Albany, New York, was ahead of its time and paid the price. Albany Amber Beer, a fruity lager/ale hybrid with some hop bitterness, is now produced under contract at F.X. Matt.”

Interesting! The first microbrewery in the East was in Albany? I wanted to know more. So, it was off to Google!

Here’s what I found out: the William S. Newman Brewing Company, named after master brewer Bill Newman, was founded in 1981. Newman apparently learned his craft in England and brought brewing to, well, downtown Albany, at 84 Chestnut Street – about a block away from Empire State Plaza. Aside from the aforementioned “Albany Amber,” he brewed a Pale Ale.

It was the first microbrewery east of Colorado, apparently. Among those working there? Jim Koch, who would later go on to found the little-known Samuel Adams in Boston. Of Newman, Jim notes:

These little microbreweries were starting up and that really got my interest. I actually worked in Bill Newman’s brewery in Albany. He was the first guy who started a microbrewery east of Boulder. I came away thinking, OK, the idea is right. I knew that it was possible to make world-class beer here in the United States.

Additionally, Newman Brewing apparently anticipated the trend of serving beer in growlers. In the early 1980s, according to this BeerAdvocate.com article, Newman Brewing in Albany, NY used to sell soft plastic gallon containers of their beer. Apparently if you brought the empty back to the brewery, they’d replenish it with more beer.” Growlers didn’t make the scene until 1989.

Newman Brewing was pretty prominent. How so? It was profiled in this July 1983 article in Time Magazine, during which Newman claimed $130,000 in sales in 1982. Not too shabby at all. It was also profiled in Atlantic Monthly in November, 1987. (Grateful thanks to the kindred souls at A Good Beer Blog for preserving that through transcription.)

What happened to the William S. Newman Brewery? As articles like this recent one from the Albany Times-Union note, it went out of business. But when? I’m not sure.

As best as we can can figure, it departed the Albany scene around 1989-1990 or so, well before I moved up here. I’d be interested to know about the demise of the Newman Brewery, as well as what – if anything – Bill Newman is doing these days. (If you know more, use the comments section – thanks!)

At the end of the day, there’s an interesting irony at hand – that Albany, which really isn’t much of a beer town, actually played a pivotal role in the microbrewery movement. Fascinating stuff.


~ by dgdunford on August 3, 2007.

6 Responses to “History Lesson: William S. Newman Brewing Company”

  1. Loved the part in 1983 Time article about Boulder Brewing having $96,000 in sales in 1982, and Mendocino Brewing being set to open the following year in Ukiah, CA.

  2. Sweet gift, book seems fascinating.

  3. I grew up across the river from Albany. We used to trek to Newman’s, oh about once a week or so for beer. He sold the beer in a plastic cube, 1 gallon and 1.5 gallon, if memory serves (I don’t think it was liters, but…). The cube was a smaller sized cube like what you could buy in camping stores to hold water. It had a spigot that you turned to let the beer out. The cube was in cardboard box with a light green Newman’s label pasted to it. You could get Albany Amber and Pale Ale and sometimes other type. The quality control was hit and miss. Generally not bad but every once in a while you got a bad batch. Some batches were better than others. If did go sour fast if you didn’t drink fast (sort of a bit in incentive). But even so it was better than the Gennessee or Utica Club. SO you would go to the brewery, walk in and track down the beer guy (guy with a big beard named Jim I think) and we would walk to the heart of the brewery and fill the cube. Quite an experience. I got a few Newman’s glasses, etc. I do have to disagree about Alabany not being a beer town. Albany and Troy had a large number of breweries (according to my Pop), one run by the local Democrat party boss. I think one was named Knickerbocker. Not sure.

  4. Newman’s was great. My informal highschool graduation party in 1983 featured a half keg of Newman’s Albany Amber. At a time when the standard for your $2 was Pabst or Genny, this crazy beer was a huge hit. I have been a microbrew fan and home brewer ever since.

  5. I have fond memories of Newman’s ales. I worked there for a few months cleaning the equipment and kegs. Employees were allowed to drink on the job! I still long for the fresh, hoppy flavor of Albany Amber Ale. Mmmmm.

  6. Newman’s opened while I was an RPI student. It was earlier than 1981, as I graduated in ’81 and was making pilgrimages to Albany in my Junior year, so was more likely 1980. You could bring almost any container, and they would fill it. Dinkelacker had mini-kegs back then, and some people would bring them to have them filled.

    One of the problems with the plastic camping water carrier in the cardboard box was that the brew didn’t stay carbonated past a day or so, so we had to finish it while it was fresh.

    They had a number of brews, and at one point Mr. Newman ran into a weird issue with, of all government agencies, the FDA. Seems his winter dark ale was called “Winter Warmer”, and some idiot at the FDA said that the name implied medicinal properties. He eventually changed the name, but I’m sure that the headache of dealing with them sapped some of his enthusiasm.

    The site where he opened his brewery had previously been a brewery, and there were a number of local brews in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area back before there were regional and national brews.

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