Living in Brooklyn, you often get the feeling that what’s old is new again: vintage clothing, farming and beekeeping, butchery, and more. And one Brooklyn tradition that many are happy to see having a new wave of popularity is seltzer delivery. Yup, getting fresh and bubbly water delivered right to your doorstep is an old-school tradition seeing new life with the Brooklyn Seltzer Boys, who run the last remaining seltzer factory in NYC.
Last week, I had a chance to meet them and learn all about what they do through a tour hosted by the New York Adventure Club. Since I started attending Adventure Club events, I had heard many other Adventure Clubbers talking about how much they enjoyed this tour, so I jumped at the chance to go check it out myself! Our tour was led by Alex Gomberg, and he started our visit with a bit of history about the factory and how the Brooklyn Seltzer Boys came to be.
Located in Canarsie, Brooklyn Seltzer Boys is located at the site of Gomberg Seltzer Works, which was opened in 1953 by Moe Gomberg. The factory has stayed in the family since the ‘50s and is now run by Moe’s grandson, grandson-in-law, and our tour guide Alex, who is Moe’s great-grandson.
Gomberg Seltzer Works still exists as an entity, and they are considered to be a “filler”, meaning they do the hand-filling of seltzer bottles. There used to be tons of seltzer deliverymen across the city back in the day, and as recently as 5 or so years ago, there were still 10. Today, though, there are only about 4, but they’re all getting their seltzer bottles filled at Gomberg Seltzer Works.
Since these existing seltzermen are in their 60s, 70s and even 80s, they will be retiring soon, too. So, when Alex joined the company in 2013, Brooklyn Seltzer Boys was created to be the new delivery side of Gomberg’s seltzer business. If they get requests for seltzer delivery within one of the territories already covered by the remaining seltzermen, they’ll pass those deliveries on to them. But if they get requests for new areas in NYC or Long Island, Brooklyn Seltzer Boys now fills that void to ensure customers, both residential and commercial, can get crisp, cold seltzer delivered right to their doorstep.
Other seltzer fillers and seltzermen across the country have all gone the way of the milkman, being replaced by plastic bottles that can be easily purchased in grocery stores (or more recently by SodaStream, which enables you to make your own seltzer at home). But again, things that are old are becoming new again, and there are a couple reasons why seltzer delivery is regaining popularity.
For one, seltzer delivery is a fairly sustainable and environmentally-friendly business since the seltzer is filled in glass bottles which can be reused for decades. People in their 20s, 30s, and 40s may not have grown up with seltzer delivery during their own childhoods, but they do tend to be a bit more aware of the impact excessive plastic use has on our environment and this is a great solution for getting a product that won’t add waste to landfills.
And second, it tastes better. I mean, a lot better! Confession time, I do drink a lot of seltzer that does come from plastic bottles or aluminum cans from the store, but having had an opportunity to taste-test Brooklyn Seltzer Boys’ seltzer, I can attest to the fact that they make a superior product. I was trying to explain to my husband Mike what I liked about it, and it was hard to describe. It’s almost like the bubbles somehow felt bigger and you could feel these giant bubbles in your mouth when you drank it. Seltzer from the store just doesn’t taste and feel the same way when you drink it.
So, why DOES their seltzer taste so much better than what you buy in the grocery store? For starters, they’re using NYC tap water as their water source, and everyone in NYC knows that our water is some of the best in the country. In fact, NYC water is so good that NYC is one of only four major cities in the country that doesn’t have to meet federal filtering standards (although, fun fact, we also learned that unfiltered NYC water does contain microscopic crustaceans, which essentially makes unfiltered tap water not kosher). But despite the fantastic quality of our tap water, Brooklyn Seltzer Boys is still triple-filtering their water through sand, charcoal, and paper to ensure it’s even more delicious (and crustacean free!)
And another reason the seltzer is delicious is that it’s delivered in glass bottles that can keep seltzer under pressure for months (and even up to a year) ensuring every pump of water you receive is nice and effervescent. Alex talked a bit about their collection of more than 20,000 bottles, which are made of very thick glass.
Most of the bottles they use were hand-blown in the 1800s in Austria and what was formerly Czechoslovakia. Because they’re so thick, they’re able to withstand the 60 pounds per square inch of pressure used to fill the bottles. And also, water from glass bottles always tastes better than water in plastic bottles, aluminum cans, or cardboard boxes.
The bottles are beautiful and come in many different colors, which used to help seltzermen distinguish their bottles from their competitors. Over time, as seltzermen bought out other seltzermen’s routes, they would start to have a wider variety of colors in use. You can see multiple etchings, logos, and stickers on the glass and the metal heads from the various seltzer companies who have used the bottles over time, and this definitely helps to lend a bit of nostalgia and old-timeyness to the whole thing.
Alex did a short demonstration to show us how the seltzer bottles are filled on their 100+-year-old machines. Water goes through the three filters, it’s chilled to about 43 degrees, and then sent to the carbonator where it’s mixed with CO2. Next, the bottles are placed into the filler upsidedown, and the 60 psi of pressure force the valves open to fill the bottles. In most cases, one pass through the filler is sufficient for a full fill, but occasionally they’ll send bottles back through to ensure customers are getting a full bottle of seltzer in their delivery.
After, Alex mentioned that they’re often gifted old bottles by people who find them while cleaning out their parents’ or grandparents’ houses, and we learned how they strip down these old bottles, clean them, and put them back into service. The metal heads used to keep the bottles pressurized and to dispense the seltzer are pretty intricate, each including about 14 pieces. If one piece is broken, the bottle won’t work properly, so they require a bit of care and upkeep, especially since no one makes the metal heads anymore!
We also saw how their iconic seltzer delivery boxes are made in their on-site wood shop. Though they have some old-school boxes still on hand, they regularly hand-make new ones to accommodate the growing interest in their delivery service. They are using the same design, though, and each finished box will hold 10 bottles and weight about 65 pounds when filled.
And finally, because it’s NYC, we couldn’t leave the seltzer factory without sampling their product in an old-fashioned egg cream. Now, I have had egg creams at diners in NYC a few times, and I can’t say I’ve really ever understood what all the fuss was about. However, having tried one with Brooklyn Seltzer Boys delicious seltzer, I definitely get it now. They were delicious! Alex mentioned that they often host egg cream stations at weddings and bar mitzvahs, and you can also order egg cream sets on their website if you want to make them yourself at home.
We tried the seltzer on its own as well, and it really did taste special and different from any other seltzer I’ve ever had. It has a really nice bite to it, and Alex told us that their slogan is actually “Good seltzer should hurt.” And I get it. Seltzer isn’t like tap water that you can gulp down. All that carbonation needs to be enjoyed and appreciated at a much slower pace. And while you don’t need to refrigerate all the bottles from your delivery case, you should always serve seltzer that is refrigerator-cold, preferably without ice, to have the best-tasting seltzer possible.
So, if you’re into seltzer and you like the idea of drinking it in an environmentally-friendly way, I would highly recommend checking out the Brooklyn Seltzer Boys delivery service, though be warned that they do have a wait list at this time. Their service costs about $40 per 10-bottle case, with a minimum delivery of one case per month. If you don’t want delivery service but want to try it out for yourself, visit one of the restaurants that carry their product, join the next New York Adventure Club tour, or have them set up an egg cream station at your next event! No matter how you try it, be sure you do it soon!
Have you ever tried old-school seltzer or do you remember your parents or grandparents getting regular seltzer deliveries? Tell me all about it!
Plan Your Own Visit
Where to Go
- Brooklyn Seltzer Boys: 855 East 92nd Street, Brooklyn, NY 11236
When to Go
- Since this is a delivery business, the factory isn’t typically open to visitors unless you’re on a tour.
- However, if you do have working bottles you’d like to have filled, you can stop by the factory to have them do so. Just be sure to call them in advance to ensure a filler will be available on the day of your visit.
Tips for Visiting
- It was extremely cold on the day of our tour, and the factory was pretty cold, too. I would expect that in the summer, it might also be hot in the factory on warmer days, so dress accordingly depending on the time of year you visit.
- The factory isn’t super close to public transit so you may want to consider driving, if possible, or maybe take an Uber or Lyft to get you from mass transit to the factory.
- If you can’t join a tour or make it the factory, try their seltzer at one of the bars or restaurants who use their service or have Brooklyn Seltzer Boys host an egg cream station at one of your next events. You can also order an egg cream kit online if you’d prefer to make them at home on your own.