Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Heritage Breweries

By Jay Brooks
Thursday, July 21st, 2011 at 10:18 am in On Beer.

Charlie Papazian had an interesting series of posts (See Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) a few years back that I thought was worth revisiting about what he refers to as “heritage breweries,” a term that he used to describe the few small breweries that not only survived prohibition but are still in business today, over 75 year later. According to his research, when prohibition summarily closed down thriving businesses in 1919, at a stroke 1,179 breweries were out of business, or at least no longer allowed to make their primary product: beer.

Of the ones that reopened thirteen years later, when prohibition was repealed only a handful managed to make it into the present, braving untold challenges, merger-manias, fickle consumers and ever more oppressive attacks by neo-prohibitionists unconvinced of prohibition’s massive failure. Papazian divides the heritage brewers into four types:

  1. Small, Independent and owned by the original family Heritage Brewers.
  2. Small breweries that have survived that are no longer owned by the original family, yet still independent of the large brewing companies.
  3. Breweries that have survived but are no longer owned by the original family, nor independent of a large brewing company.
  4. Small brewery that may remotely be considered a Heritage Brewery, though original family ownership and location is far removed from the current operation.

Of the first type, those still owned by the original family, only four remain.

  1. August Schell Brewing, New Ulm, Minnesota. (Founded in 1860)
  2. Matt Brewing / Saranac Brewery, Utica, New York. (Founded in 1888)
  3. Straub Brewery, St. Mary, Pennsylvania. (Founded in 1831)
  4. Yuengling Brewery, a.k.a. D. G. Yuengling and Son Inc., Pottsville, Pennsylvania. (Founded in 1829)

For the second type, breweries still considered independent but no longer owned by their original founders or their family, there are a mere six left.

  1. Anchor Brewing, San Francisco, California. (Founded in 1896)
  2. Dundee Ales & Lagers, f.k.a. J.W. Dundee, High Falls Brewing, and Genesee Brewing (prior to 2000), Rochester, New York. (Founded in 1857)
  3. Iron City Brewing, f.k.a. Pittsburgh Brewing, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Founded in 1861)
  4. Lion Brewery, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (Founded in 1905)
  5. Spoetzl Brewery (Shiner Beer), Shiner, Texas. (Founded in 1909)
  6. Stevens Point Brewing, Stevens Point, Wisconsin. (Founded in 1857)

Of the third type, breweries “no longer owned by the original family, nor independent of a large brewing company,” only one remains, and I’m not sure if it really does fit in the third group.

  1. Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing, Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. (Founded in 1867.) Bought by Miller Brewing, now MillerCoors, in 1988.

I say that because it seems to me that while MillerCoors does own the brewery outright, the family, led today by Jake Leinenkugel, does maintain a certain amount of autonomy and makes a lot of their own decisions about the business. I interviewed Jake a number of years ago for an article I wrote for American Brewer magazine, and that was certainly the impression I was left with. It may not be “owned” by the family any longer, but they do seem to control their own destiny, and that has to count for something.

The fourth, and final category, as outlined by Papazian, is one in which the “original family ownership and location is far removed from the current operation.” Of this type, there are only two remaining.

  1. Cold Springs Brewery, (Originally established as the Mississippi Brewing Company, changed to Gluek Brewing Company sold to G. Heileman, then original brewery was demolished and then restablished itself as Cold Springs in 1997, changed back to Gluek and then back again to Cold Springs Brewery again recently), Cold Springs, Minnesota. (Founded in 1857)
  2. Dixie Brewing, New Orleans, Louisiana. The beer is said to be contract brewed at other locations. (Founded in 1907)

Totaled up, there are only thirteen breweries still in existence that were in business 82 years ago, when prohibition began. Twelve, if you discount brands that are contract brewed, such as Dixie is now post-Katrina. Now that’s just small breweries, but the pictures not much rosier if you include everybody.

  1. Anheuser-Busch InBev, St. Louis, Missouri or New York City, or Leuven, Belgium. (Founded in 1852 as Bavarian Brewery, name changed to E. Anheuser & Co. in 1860, incorporated as Anheuser-Busch in 1875)
    Given the takeover by InBev in 2008 and August Busch IV no longer a member of the board, essentially that would place ABI in Type 4.
  2. MillerCoors, Chicago, Illinois.
    Whether to consider them together or separately, that it is the question.
    • Coors Brewing, Golden, Colorado (Founded in 1873)
      Merged with Molson to form MolsonCoors in 2004, merged their U.S. operations with Miller in 2008 to form MillerCoors. Despite all that mergering, Pete Coors is still involved in running at least part of the company his family founded, but it’s a bit of a crapshoot where they’d fit in Papazian’s categories.
    • Miller Brewing, Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Founded in 1855)
      Founder Frederick Miller’s granddaughter, who hated alcohol, sold the company to W.R. Grace in 1966. In 1969, Phillip Morris acquired Miller but sold it to the South African Breweries in 2002 to form SABMiller, and they also merged their U.S. operations with Coors in 2008 to form MillerCoors. That would put them, too, in category 4.
  3. Pabst Brewing, Greenwich, Connecticut or San Antonio, Texas or Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Founded in 1844)
    The Pabst family sold out back in the 1950s, if I recall correctly, and it was recently bought by Greek billionaire Dean Metropoulos. They haven’t owned an actual brewery in years, contracting all of their many brands of beer so it’s unclear, like Dixie, if they should be included at all. If so, they’re a clear Type 4.

Even pulling everybody, big or small, contract beer company or actual brewery, that’s still only 17 remaining from the original 1,179 left. That’s only 1.44% still in business after 82 years. Back out the big guys, and it’s 1.1%. I’m an inveterate pessimist, so I find that sad. I know that’s business in general, and many of the brewery mergers are the result of the cannibalistic nature of many of the big brewers (and corporate business more generally), but I’m a romantic pessimist, the worst kind. As much as I don’t really like the beers so many of the fallen breweries (and many of the remaining big ones, too) make, I still think we lose some part of our history every time yet another one closes or is bought out.

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