The Tale of the Ale’s Reuben Gray, with the following instructions, hosts this month’s Session:
“In Session 87, I want you to give your readers a history lesson about a local brewery. That’s a physical brewery and not brewing company by the way. The brewery doesn’t need to still exist today, perhaps you had a local brewery that closed down before you were even born. Or you could pick one that has been producing beer on the same site for centuries.”
He also further stipulates the brewery be at least 20-years old and within eight hours travel.
This is my first ever Session entry. I apologize if the community frowns upon this, but I’m going to tweak the rules just a bit here. Instead of focusing on a single brewery, I’m highlighting a specific day of an entire community. In my defense, these breweries, when they existed, would have been about a 30-minute train ride. (Well, back in the day, probably a bit longer train-ferry-train ride. You get the idea.)
San Francisco, April 9, 1909
On that date, the San Francisco Call printed a special edition, “600,000 San Francisco,” ostensibly to celebrate the progress the City had made since the great earthquake nearly three years earlier.
The edition highlighted several sectors of city commerce — Financial, Construction, Food Products, and Hotels and Cafes. However, one headline, in the Food Products section, leapt out at me:
“CITY PROUD OF ITS BEERS”
In April 1909, San Francisco had 23 breweries, worth $30,000,000, employing 800 workers, with a starting salary of $23 per week (approximately $550 in today’s dollars). “Head Maltsters and Brew Masters” averaged about $30 (about $725 today) per week.
In terms of local ingredients, city breweries used 40,000,000 pounds of barley and 600,000 pounds of hops yearly, earning farmers $600,000 and $72,000 per year, respectively. The Call estimated the city spent $2,000,000 yearly for ingredients, and another $1,000,000 for equipment. Based on tax receipts, The Call estimated the city produced nearly 619,000 barrels in 1908, equating to 19,000,000 gallons consumed by local imbibers.
More stats: California was second only to Minnesota in barley production in 1907 (the most recent numbers then available), with nearly 25,500,000 bushels produced. The state had 16,000 acres in hop production. Although large-scale hop production has all but ceased in California, several breweries (and home brewers as well) have planted hop fields to harvest their own “estate” hops for use in their beers.
And Now, A Word from Our Sponsors…
More fascinating than the summation of the San Francisco brewing industry in 1909 is a review of the breweries themselves who ran ads in this special section. It is a wonderful snapshot of the more prominent companies of the time. Except for Raspiller Brewing, all breweries mentioned were located in San Francisco.
Raspiller Brewing Company
Raspiller, incorporated in 1893, was located across the bay in Berkeley. Its relationship with the city was rocky at best, as Berkeley, progressive as it may be today, was dry. As far back as the 1870s, well before Prohibition, the city established a two-mile dry zone around the UC Berkeley campus. The entire city was dry by 1909, a full 11 years before the 18th Amendment was enacted. Even after repeal, the original two-mile zone remained into the 1970s.
By 1910 Raspiller had been incorporated into the Golden West Brewing Company, and its plant officially moved to nearby Oakland in 1912. Golden West continued production in Oakland, resuming after Prohibition, until 1959.
Hagemann Brewing Company
Hagemann Brewing began its life at the Albany Brewery, founded by sugar magnate Claus Spreckels in 1858. It was incorporated as Hagemann Brewery in 1888, and continued in various locations in the city until it was closed by Prohibition in 1920.
Union Brewing & Malting Company
Union Brewing & Malting was formed in 1902 with the merger of American Railroad Brewery and Union Brewing by Frederick Paul Shuster, son of an Alsatian immigrant. Union Brewing & Malting continued until 1917, when it merged along with five other breweries to form the California Brewing Association.
This unique ad featured a forerunner to today’s box tops. “Cash checks” were attached to each bottle of their Hopsburger label (“The Golden Beer”). Collectors of enough “cash checks” could turn them in to the brewery for $100!
Unfortunately, the ad neglected to state how many were required. I would guess, however, that in order to receive today’s equivalent of about $2400, it might have been more than a few cases.
Wunder Brewing Company
Originally founded by Jacob Gundlach in 1852, his brewery operated under several iterations, but for most of its existence was known as the Bavarian or Bavaria Brewery. John C. Wunder purchased the company in 1898 and changed its name to Wunder Brewing. Wunder itself was sold to Union Malting & Brewing in 1909.
The Wunder name was revived briefly in 2007, when the Wunder Brewing brewpub opened in the Sunset district. It didn’t last a year, however, and closed in mid-2008. It’s location seemed cursed, as it hosted a revolving door of brewpubs over the years. The latest seems to have stuck, as Social Kitchen & Brewery celebrates its 4th Anniversary later this month.
Claus Wreden Brewing Company
Known alternatively as the Washington Brewery, it began operations in 1859. According to family lore, Claus Wreden, a grocer, became partner in the brewery in 1864, and was full owner along with his brother Henry, who later sold his interest to his nephew (also Henry). The Claus Wreden Brewery was incorporated in 1899. It operated until 1916, when it was one of the six breweries merged into the California Brewing Association (CBA).
National Brewing Company
The National Brewing Company operated from 1861 through 1916. It was also one of the brands incorporated into the CBA, and was one of only two facilities that remained in operation after the merger. During Prohibition, the former National plant operated as the Cereal Products Refining Corporation, the name of the reorganized California Brewing Association. It produced several malt syrups, vinegar, yeast, and ice cream.
The plant resumed brewing beer upon repeal in 1933, with National being one of the brands produced. The label was soon dropped as the reconstituted CBA focused all its marketing efforts on its highest selling brand, Acme.
This ad includes one of the unintentionally funny subheads I’ve ever read: “Sold Every Day of the Year — Somebody Must LIKE It.” I wonder if they ever found out who that was…
Enterprise Brewing Company
Enterprise Brewing was founded in 1873 in what is today the Mission District, and operated until Prohibition closed it in 1920. To be honest, I found almost nothing about the brewery in my research. The wonderful beer history site Bygone Beer featured a nice reproduction of this same ad. Bygone Beer is an amazing site, be sure to spend some time there.
Oh, and at least a portion of the old brewery survives today as an artist’s loft.
John Weiland Brwery
John Weiland purchased the existing Philadelphia Brewery and renamed it in 1856. For more on its history, see my recent post.
Gotta hand it to these guys, they’ve covered just about everything. Beer is better than cider, milk, coffee, and bread. And who can argue, really?
The Call majestically concluded its review of the 1909 San Francisco brewing scene this way:
“San Francisco is proud of its breweries and proud of the men who have been engaged in the brewing business. They have always been energetic, progressive, charitable and good masters; they have taken a large share in the civic activities of the municipality; and they have helped, by their excellent products, to spread the fame of this city all over the world as a place where beers are made that ‘go straight to the spot.’”
Their tradition continues, even if their breweries didn’t.
All newspaper images are courtesy of the California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, <http://cdnc.ucr.edu>.