Buckle up, this is a long one. TL;DR at the bottom.
In 1962, after over 100 years of success, Haberle Congress Brewing Company shut its doors for good. Syracuse hasn’t seen a Congress Beer on shelves for over 50 years. Earlier this year, a Congress Beer was announced. A modernized classic would be in the hands of Syracusans once again. “Drink the beer your grandfather drank.” Rightfully so, this is an exciting time for the city. However, this was not very exciting news for the Haberle family. But why? They’ve had over 50 years to get back in business. What have they been wasting their time on? Well-- raising families, working full time jobs, and last but not least: brewing beer.
Benedict F. Haberle III, Haberle’s last president, closed the brewery for several reasons. He did not close a money printing machine. In short, the market was not being kind to smaller local breweries, there were internal conflicts, and lastly-- he did not feel Congress Beer was what it used to be. In 1958, the recipe was changed by the new brewmaster and proved to be a devastating mistake, as sales plummeted. With everything considered, Haberle opted to close.
Haberle III closed the brewery when his children were well… children. The first time in 100 years of business that a descendant could not take over the brewery for his father. In his remaining time with the family, there was absolutely no question, Haberle Congress remains closed. After a heart attack in the 1970s, Haberle and family could not bare to enter back into such a contested industry. In 1987, B.F. Haberle III passed away at his home in Oakton, VA after a long battle with cancer.
Over the next 13 years, the Haberles all raised families of their own and they worked full time jobs to support their families. In 2000, the brewing itch came back. With micro breweries popping up, the Haberle family saw potential in brewing beer again- as their father had. At this point, the family began their research, their homebrewing, and their testing. A local bar even made Haberle beer available for free tasting.
In 2002, the family visited family and friends in Syracuse. They met with the gentlemen of the BCCA Congress Chapter and they met with a really incredible group called the Onondaga Historical Association. The family was absolutely amazed at the large Congress collection and truly moved by the way the family’s history had been remembered. With all the artifacts in OHA’s possession, the Haberles thought it only appropriate to ask if the association had a recipe in their possession. The answer, was an unfortunate, “No.”
This venture got as far as label creation, but came to an immediate halt in 2005 with the realization that starting a business in another state, with young children, while working full time jobs, and without an original recipe of the beer that made the brand so famous, was going to take a lot of startup capital and would in all probability not succeed. So as anybody who is human could understand, life happened. This reduced all brewing efforts to a hobby for quite some time.
In 2015, with children fully grown and families of their own, the Haberle’s began brewing again in earnest. The intent was to create a recipe under the Haberle name and brew and distribute in Northern Virginia to test the reception, before returning to Syracuse, NY. The family has been working on recipes since this time. There was absolutely no rush in this business venture. Why on earth should there be one?
This question was answered in early 2018. Benedict F. “Brett” Haberle IV and Alison Haberle Hunt were shared an article “History in a glass: Syracuse’s Iconic Congress Beer to Make a Comeback” detailing the OHA’s intent to “bring back” Congress Beer. They would be using the original Congress Beer recipe that was donated in 1962. As Brett and Alison saw their heritage and future being hijacked before their eyes, the only instinct they had was to protect it at all costs. From that point forward, there was a rush on the business venture.
If it seems like this is convenient timing for the Haberle family to announce their intentions, all that can be said is-- this is an incredibly inconvenient time to have to. The beer wasn’t ready yet, the marketing wasn’t ready. The family operates on a shoestring budget and if faced with competition from an organization with such deep pockets, then it will be very hard to compete.
The Syracuse public needs to be made aware that no contact was made with the Haberle family about this venture, not even as a courtesy. The Haberle family could have shared their own intentions early on, they could have spoken of the hard family losses they have faced in recent years or they could have shared pictures of the families they raised and how they’d like to return to their roots.
So, what happens in the 50 years after 100 years of family business success and legacy? Family. It’s what matters the most in a family owned business and that is what Haberle Congress Brewing Company is, a family business. So armed with recent years of pilot batches, a solid Syracuse brewing partner and original recipe brew notes they acquired, the Haberle family will be releasing Congress Beer and it’s going to be damn good.
TL;DR The Haberle family has been brewing for years, planning a Congress Beer homecoming. The OHA announcement was made, which expedited the family's efforts to get the word out and they ran out of time. No contact was made with the family, even a courtesy. The family will be releasing Congress Beer soon.