American Breweriana Journal May/June 2008
Beer and Pretzels Berks County Style
By Rich Wagner
When I was invited to speak at the opening reception of the Beer and Pretzels Berks County Style exhibit at the Historical Society of Berks County, I was already well acquainted with the theme of beer and pretzels in a community that has been practically synonymous with everything that is Pennsylvania Dutch.
In 1995, when I attended the Craft Brewing Convention in Boston, I saw that JV Northwest had one of their state-of-the-art brew houses on display. “This one’s going to Pretzel City Brewing Co. in Reading, PA,” I was told. I later found out that the city was famous not only for making pretzels, but also for the manufacture of the machines used to make them!
For the Beer and Pretzels exhibit, collectors with membership in ABA, NABA and/or E.C.B.A. along with collectors not affiliated with any organization amassed an unbelievable amount of breweriana and “pretzelania” for the exhibit. “We had members and staff here at the museum bringing stuff in they had found in attics and basements,” said Josh Blay, Associate Director and Curator. I have been involved in similar exhibits in Philadelphia, Wilkes-Barre, and Allentown over the past twenty years, and the Berks exhibit surpassed anything heretofore exhibited in sheer volume of breweriana!
Scott Parzanese was the primary collector who got the local network energized to bring their stuff in to be displayed. Gerald and Chris Watt, Dave Doxie, Jim Lawley, and Jake and Darrel Reider were among the collectors who contributed to the exhibit, which included a continuous loop of old TV ads and interviews with employees of the Old Reading brewery. They can be viewed at my website.
The exhibit ran until March 15, 2008, and included just about every type of breweriana imaginable. As one entered the museum, the lobby was loaded with displays including a cardboard drum full of crowns from the Sunshine brewery that visitors could take as souvenirs. There was a main room with lots of lithos, large outdoor signs, and a mock-up tavern with neon lights in the windows and the TV continuously showing the commercials and interviews. In the auditorium there were display cases lining the walls on both sides, all filled to the brim with labels, coasters, foam scrapers, thermometers, glasses, cans, signs, trays, you name it.
During the opening reception back on December 1, I gave a PowerPoint presentation entitled “The Breweries of Reading” to a packed house following a rousing performance by the Liederkrantz Dancers. Scott Baver, founder of the Pretzel City Brewing Co., and now with Legacy Brewing Co., was on hand with the beer—a retro-packaged Reading Premium beer that he introduced last year and has been gaining quite a bit of traction with the locals, who regard it as a reunion with an old friend. Other refreshments were provided by Faller’s Pretzels, Tom Sturgis Pretzels, Reading Hard & Soft, and Unique Pretzels.
Sime B. Bertolet, director of the Historical Society of Berks County said that the turnout for the opening reception exceeded any the society had ever held. The exhibit was sponsored by Reading Baking Systems and Colonial Oaks Foundation.
Catt, Gary. “Wet Eulogy… ‘Taps’ Sounded For (Old Reading) Brewery.” Reading Times April 16, 1976.
Wagner, Rich. "Lauer's Brewery, Reading, Circa 1870s." Zymurgy. Summer, 1983.
Wagner, Rich. “Max Hassel, the 'Beer Baron' of Reading, PA.” E.C.B.A. the KEG, Winter 2019.
Wagner, Rich. “Post Prohibition Brewing in Reading.” American Breweriana Journal. May/June 2019.
Lynch, Michelle N. “Reading 'beer cave' kept 19th century brews cool, but now is mostly a safety concern. Reading Eagle. November 23, 2019.