SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Congress beer, last brewed in Syracuse 56 years ago, returned to Central New York, as Willow Rock Brewing Company released an updated version of the historic lager at a special ceremony at the Syracuse Marriott Downtown on August 15, 2018. Willow Rock developed the updated version of Congress in a collaboration with the Onondaga Historical Association (OHA), who secured a copy of the original recipe when the Congress plant closed in 1962.
The new Congress beer was available for the first time at a special launch party on Wednesday, August 15 at. at the Eleven Waters Patio at the Marriott Syracuse Downtown. Formerly the Hotel Syracuse, the hotel was one of the last locations to have the original Congress on tap in 1962. The new version of Congress was delivered to the hotel by a horse-drawn wagon.
Since early 2018, Willow Rock has been experimenting with various approaches to developing a modern version of Congress in “pilot” batches. The OHA recipe, which was more of a procedure than a recipe, according to Willow Rock co-founder, Rockney Roberts, was used as a guide in the brewing process. The new version of Congress beer is a crisp, light-bodied lager with an ABV of 4.8% and an IBU of 34.
“Our goal from the outset was to create a beer that respects Congress’ legacy and satisfies the taste of today’s beer drinkers. We’re confident that the new Congress properly honors the history, while delivering an approachable craft beer experience,” Roberts said.
The original Congress recipe was donated to OHA in 1962 when the former Haberle Congress Brewing Company closed. Since that time, OHA secured the rights to manufacture and sell merchandise with the Congress beer logos. Congress-branded shirts, glasses, trays and drink coasters are among the most OHA’s most popular memorabilia. OHA also obtained the rights to the trademark “Congress” for the purpose of making beer, and has sub-licensed those rights, logos, and recipe to Willow Rock Brewing Company.
According to OHA Executive Director, Gregg Tripoli, after obtaining the rights to manufacture a beer under the name “Congress,” he began looking for a local brewer to bring the Congress legacy back to life. Willow Rock, he explained, was chosen by for several reasons. “The Willow Rock team pays a lot of attention to quality, they are local people who are dedicated to their craft, and they have an appreciation for the historical significance of the Congress brand in Syracuse.”
Syracuse has a rich brewing history dating back to the 1800’s. In 1890, 12 different breweries in Syracuse employed over 400 people and produced 300,000 barrels of beer and ale annually. From 1892 – 1962, with a brief break thanks to prohibition, Congress was the most popular beer in Syracuse. For Willow Rock, bringing Congress back to life required striking a careful balance between historic integrity and beer quality, according to Willow Rock co-founder, Kevin Williams.
“Creating Congress has been an interesting journey, and it’s made us better brewers. Understanding the history of the beer and its significance to Syracuse added a little pressure, for sure, but that makes the end results that much more satisfying. We can’t wait for people in Syracuse to try it,” Williams noted.
Willow Rock will have Congress on tap at its 115 Game Rd. brewery and tasting room beginning Saturday, August 18. In early September, Congress will also be available in 32 oz. “crowler” cans at Willow Rock. Congress will be available at Syracuse-area pubs and restaurants in September, some as permanent placements and others in “guest tap” arrangements. Distribution thereafter will be based on supply and demand, according to Roberts.
Retail distribution is not planned for 2018 but may be added in 2019. “Based on the feedback we get between now and the end of the year and the demand for Congress, we will have the opportunity to potentially expand into a line of retail cans in 2019,” Roberts explained.
About Willow Rock Brewing Company
Willow Rock Brewing Company is an award-winning brewer of American-style craft beers established in 2015. The brewery and tasting room are located at 115 Game Rd, Syracuse, NY. www.willowrockbrew.com.