E.C.B.A. the KEG Fall 2009
Trupert Ortlieb’s Farm in Lansdale
by Rich Wagner
In 1994 I met Henry Ortlieb at a Malt Beverage Distributors Convention in Hershey. I asked him if there was any truth to the rumor that he was planning to open a brewery. He told me that he was, and I said that I was planning to attend brewing school in the fall. He gave me his card and told me to look him up after I graduated.
After graduation I did just that. Henry was still a long way from opening his brewery, but we did get together a number of times and would talk about the industry, past, present and future. One day he called me up and offered to show me his grandfather’s farm house in Lansdale, and I found myself driving up Knapp Road with Henry looking for the right place. “Here it is,” he exclaimed and got out of the car. We walked around to the back yard where you could see a stone marker at the peak of the roof that read “T. Ortlieb 1901.” Henry scrambled up the fire escape to get a close-up picture and I asked if he didn’t think we’d get in trouble. “It’s Ok,” he replied, “I’m a realtor!”
Henry did achieve his goal and opened a brewery/brewpub in the bottling works of his family’s brewery on American Street in Philadelphia. Unfortunately it only lasted a few years, but Henry was determined to be in the beer business and opened another brewpub at Sunnybrook Ballroom in Pottstown. He worked tirelessly but, sadly, met his untimely demise before he could turn it into a success.
Since then I’ve gotten to know Henry’s cousin Joe Ortlieb. Joe was the last family member to manage the brewery, which closed in 1981. Joe introduced a contract beer in the mid-1980s called Trupert to honor the memory of his grandfather, a Civil War veteran. In my discussions with him, he explained that like many immigrants, Trupert’s dream was to come to America and purchase a farm—starting a brewery was a means to that end. I told him about Henry showing me the family farm and offered to show him, as he had never been there.
This summer, Joe called me up and we went in search of a piece of his family history. I told him I wasn’t sure I could find it, or whether it was even still standing, but he was game. We got to a bend in the road and I saw the house but couldn’t see the fire escape, so we turned around and, on instinct, I pulled into the driveway and there it was! Not visible from the road was the fire escape and the stone marker at the peak of the roof. “Trupert had forty acres here,” Joe said, “I wonder how he ever found this property in Lansdale.” I took some pictures and even spoke to a tenant who was getting her mail. I could tell Joe enjoyed getting in touch with his roots as we adjourned to Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant for lunch and conversation on the past, present and future of the beer business.