While the region has seen an explosion of craft breweries over the past ten years, the city of Elmira still doesn’t have a beer to call it’s own. However one Elmira native is looking to change that.
Steven Shaw, founder of SDS Enterprises in Yonkers, N.Y. is reviving a classic Elmira brand, Briggs Cream Ale.
Briggs Brewery was established in 1866 and was located on the corner of State and Second Street in the City of Elmira. The brewery produced not only a cream ale, but a porter, amber ale, and an India Pale Ale ( IPA ) which was described as “perfection”.
Briggs Brewery continued to flourish until it closed its doors due to Prohibition, which destroyed the local brewing industry.
However the building which once housed the brewery went on to gain notoriety, being raided multiple times for bootleg activity from 1925 to 1931. The ultimate raid took place in April 1933 when federal agents discovered a series of pipelines which ran to and from the building in the city sewers. The raid resulted in the largest Prohibition Era raid in New York State. ( To learn more, go to the Chemung County Historical Society’s blog. )
Shaw, a 1999 graduate of Elmira Free Academy, is no stranger to the industry. He grew up helping out at the family vineyards and retail store. He’s also worked with companies such as Jim Beam, E&J Gallo, and Four Roses Bourbon in sales and brand development.
He hadn’t given any consideration to producing a historical beer until a visit back home in Elmira inspired the idea. One night while sitting at the bar at Horigan’s, he saw a T. Briggs & Company sign. He asked the owner, Katie Boland, about the sign and she explained what it was. “That’s kinda cool,” Shaw thought to himself, and decided to look into it more. “I’ve been thinking about this for three, four, maybe five years,” he said. Shaw then visited the Chemung County Historical Society to learn more about the brewery and was captivated not only by the history of the brewery itself, but also the Prohibition Era activity right here in Elmira.
The idea of reviving a local beer, especially one once produced here in Elmira, piqued his interest. “Briggs was the longest standing beer that was produced in Elmira,” he said. “You had an industry here, in Elmira, that hasn’t really returned…until Upstate Brewing.”
Shaw added that at one time, regionally produced brands were more popular, but that brands such as Utica Club, Genessee, and others have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity.
Shaw chose Briggs’ Cream Ale because it was the one he was able to find the most information about. He said the recipe he will be using isn’t the exact recipe as he was unable to track it down. “The original recipe could be under the pavement here on Clemens Center Parkway, who knows,” he joked, standing at the site of the original brewery. Instead, his product will be a recipe inspired by and recreated in the style of a classic cream ale of the era. Cream ales were most popular among immigrants from Germany, Austria and Eastern European countries arriving in the early twentieth century.
In addition to Briggs, Shaw owns the brand rights to two other locally produced beers as well. “I wanted to lead off with Briggs because that’s the one that was here first.”
For now, Briggs won’t be brewed here in Elmira, although Shaw says that is something he would like to see eventually. The beer will be brewed and canned at Lake George/ Northway Brewing Co. in Queensbury NY. “It will be brewed in New York State, that was my priority number one,” he said. “Eventually, the game plan is to get it brewed here in Elmira.”
Still, Shaw says he believes projects like his are good for Elmira, citing other breweries and distilleries which generate revenue locally. “People from Elmira make money off of these brands,” he said. “And it goes back into this local economy.” He’s already approached several local bars who said they will carry it. “It’s a piece of Elmira history.”
“It’s a positive thing for Elmira. I want this to be a long standing brand that people are gonna want to drink,” he said.
“Whoever you are, I want you to be able to enjoy a Briggs Beer.”