American Breweriana Journal July/August 2017
Brewing in Lebanon, Pennsylvania’s Other Iron City
By Rich Wagner
Long before and subsequent to the establishment of commercial breweries there was plenty of home brewing and distilling in Lebanon City and County, what today might be termed “farm house brewing.” In his book Brewers and Breweries, A Brief History of the Brewing Industry of Lebanon County Pennsylvania (1997), Robert A. Heilman describes pioneer Pennsylvania Dutch farmers as having small brew houses or malt houses; growing barley, malting it and making beer and using the cellar of the house for fermenting and storage, all of which is detailed in Amos Long, Jr.’s The Pennsylvania German Family Farm. Stanley Baron’s Brewed in America also contains some first-hand accounts of Barnitz family breweries in the region during this time period. Their brewery in Hanover, York County, was built around 1780 and consumed around 1,000 bushels of malt, had a kiln, and sold around 400 barrels of beer at from five to seven dollars per barrel according to Census records.
Photo Caption. After repeal Iron City was re-organized as the short-lived P & H Brewing Co. which issued this cast iron ashtray with an iron “puddler” harkening back to its pre-prohibition identity. (Raub Collection)
Photo Caption. 1894 ad for Iron City Beer. John E. Hartman is descendant of Henry who started the brewery later sold to John Yost, Jr. which would end up as the Lebanon Valley brewery after repeal. (Seiders Collection)
Henry Light started the next brewery in Lebanon in 1780 which would continue for two more generations, beginning with his son “Jacob the Brewer,” for nearly a century. The late Rev. J. G. Francis wrote that the brewery was on the east side of Market Street and the malt house on the west side of Market Street, saying: "the beer was mild and renowned. It was much used in making fasnacht cakes.” A descendant claimed that the beer was not intoxicating. Of course prior to prohibition, beer was considered by many not to intoxicate, compared with ardent spirits.
George H. Uhler wrote in his “Recollections of 1845,” published in the Lebanon Courier that Lager beer had not made its appearance but that "Light's Brewery was a familiar place in those days and [Nearly every family had] a keg of Light's beer in the house for Christmas, and many kept it on tap from fall to spring. It was very mild, of rich flavor and could be tapped for a week without deterioration.” An advertisement in the city directory advertised "Superior Draught Ale, Porter, Brown Stout and Light's Beer," as well as an "eating and drinking saloon” connected with the brewery.
06_Photo Caption. View of Lauer and Yost brewery in Womelsdorf taken in 1982. The building is an example of a “pre-industrial” brewery. Notice what appears to be an arched entry to the cellar. It has since been razed.
Moses Graeff had the new brewery in town located on the northwest corner of 7th & Locust streets, next to the Lebanon Brewery. It lasted a decade then Moses and his wife Sally became proprietors of the Lebanon Brewery from 1880-1883.
In July 1892 The Western Brewer reported that the Lebanon and Iron City Breweries of Lebanon, Pa. Had consolidated with a captial of $124,000
Joseph Wolters, an experienced brewer from Philadelphia was manager. The following year George Ehrhorn was part of a group, including Wolters, who established the York Brewing Co. in nearby York, Pennsylvania.
In Will Anderson’s book From Beer to Eternity (Anderson, 1987) the story from pre-prohibition days is told about Brooklyn brewer David Liebmann having a special beer brewed to commemorate the New York Metropolitan Opera’s successful season of performing Wagner’s Das Rheingold, stipulating that it be light and gold, and he called it Rheingold. It must have been a popular name with the Teutonic demographic. But in the post-prohibition era, Liebmann was the one that “kleenexed” the brand despite being unsuccessfully sued by the Weisbrod & Hess brewers in Philadelphia who also had a Rheingold beer. In addition to the eight breweries Anderson listed as making Rheingold beers, The New Who’s Who in Brew (2015) has three more, making eleven breweries who made a Rheingold in modern times. We may never know how many Rheingold’s there were in the nineteenth century.
Heilman tells us that for many years the area of North 8th Street and Maple Street was the center of the bottling industry in Lebanon County. Adam F. Hain & Son, P. Hauer, J. A. Heilman, Himmelberger & Spangler, E. K. Hoerner, Martin's Bottling Works and Philip Miller were just some of bottlers known from this neighborhood.
There was also firm in town manufacturing beer pumps. The Lebanon Valley Standard reported on June 9, 1877 that: "Messrs. Bressler and Spangler Tuesday erected a beer pump at the Valley House similar to the one recently placed in the City Hotel. Next week another will be placed in Mrs. Eichley's saloon.
Interviewed by local feature writer Joe Byrne for “An Oral History of Lebanon County During Prohibition” in 1984, one 76-year-old woman said many people brewed their own beer and locals went for “growlers” of so-called “cold water beer.” Another old-timer explained that “cold water beer” was made by mixing spring water with malt extract, adding that it was “a neighborhood affair.” Robert Arnold, Sr. said there were dozens of large stills in the south mountains where there was an abundance of wild grapes and cold spring water.
The Reading Eagle reported in October 1922 that William L. Donmoyer sold the New Lebanon brewery to a syndicate of six Philadelphians for $150,000 who intended to make $40,000 in improvements to adapt the plant for the manufacture of beverages, extracts and food products.
One Down and One to Go
A year later the American Brewer reported that Lebanon Valley Brewing had begun installing a new $35,000 bottling plant, the completion of which would mark the culmination of a two year building program that included a new government cellar, Meyer packaging equipment, a Bowser beer meter and a new Frick refrigerating machine. The company planned to hit the market with beer by the first of June.
39_Photo Caption. Brewing returned to Lebanon City in January 2014 with the opening of Snitz Creek brewpub named for a creek running through the owner’s farm, where he started brewing before moving to a site in town.
I am indebted to lifelong Lebanon collector Al Seiders for permitting me to photograph his collection. He also provided me with lots of ads from many different sources which helped me decipher the story of Lebanon breweries which was something like unraveling an unwieldy ball of string. Heilman’s book, written twenty years ago by a local historian did a remarkable job in piecing the story together. Dr. Adam T. Bentz provided images from the Lebanon County Historical Society.
Some of Heilman’s dates and references and Seider’s ads suggest additional tweaking to how Lebanon is listed in American Breweries III Mid-Atlantic Edition. News items from trade publications like The Western Brewer and American Brewer help but there is still much unknown about this twisted tale. It is the work of local collectors combing city directories and atlases who contribute to the fine tuning of this and other local brewery histories.