Clean, crisp, fizzy and refreshing, sparkling water, or club soda, is a real thirst quencher, especially during the warm and hot summer months. Originally known as seltzer, this bubbly elixir was particularly popular among East European Jewish immigrants and their descendants in New York City during the first half of the 20th century.
A multitude of bottling plants satisfied their taste for this bracing and iconic mineral water drink in instantly recognizable antique siphon bottles, most of which were manufactured in Czechoslovakia and Austria.
With the passage of time, the aficionados of seltzer passed on and it lost much of its customer base, resulting in the closure of virtually all the factories that produced it.
Gomberg Seltzer Works, the last remaining seltzer plant in the Big Apple, is the subject of Jessica Edwards’ nostalgic short documentary, Seltzer Works, which is currently being screened online free of charge by the Toronto Jewish Film Foundation.
Founded by Moe Gomberg and his son Pacey in 1953, Gomberg Seltzer Works is run by its third-generation owner, Kenny Gomberg, and his partner, Irv Resnick, who married into the family. A few years ago, they changed the brand name to Brooklyn Seltzer Boys.
Business is not what it used to be during seltzer’s heyday, but Gomberg and Resnick have every intention of keeping their company fizzing. They deliver their labor-intensive product to homes, restaurants, bars and offices in ten-bottle cases that weigh 60 pounds and cost $50 today.
The delivery business has declined for at least two reasons. Many women have joined the work force and are not at home to accept deliveries. A lot of their customers spend the winter months in Florida.
The seltzer is made in a facility in Brooklyn, and the main ingredient is city tap water. It is then triple filtered and carbonated through layers of sand, charcoal and paper. The bottles are filled by a century-old siphon filler machine manufactured by Barnett & Foster in London. According to Edwards, only one employee helps Gomberg manage this noisy contraption.
Good quality seltzer should be savored and not gulped down and should tickle or hurt the back of your throat, says Gomberg, a maven who should know.
There are no shortage of companies in the United States that make effervescent mineral water beverages, some of which contain salt and small quantities of sodium, calcium and magnesium carbonates.
But seltzer is a unique and much beloved product, a throwback to the past, and only Gomberg Seltzer Works/Brooklyn Seltzer Boys makes it, as Seltzer Works points out.