While we’re sure most of you just happened to be tuned in to PBS on Tuesday at 11:20pm, those few of you who weren’t missed Jessica Edwards’ great short film on the last of Brooklyn’s (and New York City’s … and pretty much the whole country’s!) old-school Seltzer bottlers, Gomberg Seltzer Works in Canarsie. Don’t worry, you can still watch ‘Seltzer Works’ online here.
While seltzer bottlers and delivery men were once part of the fabric of the city’s food world, only one bottler and ten delivery men remain today. Like most of our other food and drink options these days, the only seltzer available to most of us is now bottled in giant factories by huge companies that ship it all over the world.
Gomberg Soda Works still bottles their Seltzer using a century-old Barnett and Foster Siphon Machine. According to Imbibe Magazine, they filter good-old NYC tap water from the Catskills’ reservoirs “through sand, charcoal and paper to remove particles, odors and tastes, and the machine uses rotating paddles to infuse carbon dioxide into the water. Cradling the siphon bottle, the apparatus forces the water through the nozzle under pressure so tiny bubbles are trapped, ensuring it won’t go flat like store-bought screw-top liters.”
The seltzer bottles that are still used today are antique “26-ounce vintage siphon bottles, hand-blown in the former Czechoslovakia. The dazzling, translucent blue and green gems bear the names of defunct water companies, acid-etched into the half-inch thick glass: Louis Werber Bronx, Kossack & Schliefkin Brooklyn, American Bottling Co. Bridgeport … The valves are engraved with the names of obsolete outfits such as Whoopee Beverages and Zarrow Bottle Works, and still release the perfect amount of gas for the refreshing, classic New York beverage.”
Amazingly, no one makes these bottles anymore. When a seltzer bottle breaks, there’s no way to replace it with a new one.
Seltzer represents a classic chapter of the Brooklyn food world that’s teetering on the brink of extinction. But we’re not too worried: We’ve recently seen the resurrection of spirits distilleries in Brooklyn, the return of the classic egg cream, and a resurgence in urban agriculture, craft beer brewing, and all kinds of artisanal food production. Don’t you think it’s time for a Seltzer renaissance too? Come on Brooklyn – who’s going to step up here? We know there’s someone out there ready to tackle this one!