the KEG Summer 2016
Williamsport’s Historic Breweries
By Rich Wagner
Williamsport’s Millionaires made their fortunes primarily from lumber, giving the city the distinction of being “The Lumber Capital of the World” and having more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the world. It should be added that after they were done, the eagles weren’t the only “bald things” around Bald Eagle Mountain the landscape was completely denuded of forests as far as the eye could see. Situated along the Susquehanna River, the West Branch Canal which opened in 1834, followed by the railroads, Williamsport was well situated for commerce.
There were three breweries in Williamsport. Koch’s Excelsior Brewery started in 1850. What would become Flock’s City Brewery began briefly in 1854 before a windstorm blew the “slab cabin” brewery apart. In 1870 the Star Brewery opened at the north edge of town near the almshouse. Star did not re-open after repeal and Flock’s absorbed Koch’s as a branch, briefly, before going out of business in 1951.
The earliest production figures for 1878-79 show Flock going from 3,000 to 2,500 barrels, Koch averaging 2,500 barrels and Star with around 125 barrels.
Sanborn maps, now available online through Penn State University include Williamsport for the years 1891 and 1912 show the evolution of the Flock and Koch complexes, as well as a 1912 view of the Star Brewery.
Presumably the 1891 Sanborn map shows Koch’s the new 75,000 barrel plant designed by Otto C. Wolf, renowned brewery architect and engineer of Philadelphia. Known locally as “the little giant,” it was built by day labor, using locally sourced brick and stone. Unfortunately a portion of the plant was destroyed by fire shortly after construction was complete. The following year, Wolf was responsible for an addition to the racking room and a new wash house, complete with a 40-ton refrigerating machine; followed by a new cooperage and additional refrigeration to the storage house in 1894, all of which appear on the 1912 Sanborn map.
In 1892 Flock contracted with Wilhelm Griesser, brewery architect and engineer from Chicago for a new stock house. Seven years later, Mrs. Jacob Flock had A.C. Wagner, brewery architect and engineer from Philadelphia make plans for a new brewery structure on Flock estate lands: a 4-story, stone and brick with all modern appliances including ice machine, Baudelot, engine, pumps, etc., to be transferred from the old plant when complete.
And in 1902 plans were made for John Welker's Star Brewery for a new 4-story fireproof brewing plant comprising a brew house, mill, malt storage, stock house, racking room and wash house which is shown on the 1912 Sanborn Map.
The Western Brewer in March of 1909 stated that stories in newspapers of: Edwardsville, Pittston, Williamsport, Danville, Freeland, Sunbury and Tamaqua, on a plan to join a number of the breweries of Eastern Pennsylvania under one management were to be considered in the plans of those involved. This was during a time when syndication of breweries, such as the Pittsburgh Brewing Co., Pennsylvania Central Brewing Co., Consumers’ in both Erie and Philadelphia, as well as others throughout the country, offered business advantages.
Gazette & Bulletin July 2, 1906
Flock’s Beer: It stands on top. “There is refreshment, strength and vigor in every drop with an atom of biliousness in wood or bottles for family use.”
During prohibition the Flock Brew Co. was converted into a dairy and bottled soda.
After repeal, J.E. Velott purchased the Binder brewery in Renovo for $25,000 and put $12,000 into it. The State refused him a permit, due to his being under-capitalized and “not a proper person to hold a permit.” He appealed and received a permit but only ran the Renovo brewery for a couple of years before purchasing the Koch plant in Williamsport.
Flocks purchased the real estate and equipment of the Koch brewery from J.E. Velott in 1943. Officials announced their intention of liquidating the plant. Three years later, Graupner Brewing Co. acquired controlling shares of the Flock Brewing Co.
Expansion of the brewing industry in the post-war years put regional brewers at a distinct disadvantage, especially with respect to advertising. Brewers’ Best Associates, Inc. of New York City was formed to give smaller breweries a leg up in this regard. The company offered 52 franchises for the Brewers’ Best brand which was to be “nationally advertised, locally brewed beer.” In addition to sales and marketing, technical assistance was offered through E.A. Siebel & Co. of Chicago. There were nineteen brewers participating when Brewers’ Best Premium Beer announced a July 1, 1947 roll-out. Flock, Graupner and Esslinger were the Pennsylvania brewers listed as participating. The New Who’s Who in Brew shows thirteen breweries, none from Pennsylvania, producing this brand. Most stopped around 1950 but two produced the brand into the late sixties.
In August 1947, Kaier’s brewery of Mahanoy City hosted to the owners and officials of the Flock Brewing Co., at a picnic held at Swank’s Grove, Brandonville, to honor their long standing friendship. The crowd numbered among the guests mill owners, brewmasters and heads of many other breweries from different parts of Pennsylvania.
In July 1949 that Graupner sold their interest in the Flock brewery to a syndicate of Philadelphians that included Nathaniel Cooper, former president of Cooper Brewing Co., the old Liebert & Obert plant in Manayunk, Philadelphia as well as the Cooper Brewing Co. in York. Officers remained in place which included J. Myron Honigman, president, who was also vice-president of Graupner’s. The following month it was reported that Flock’s would be brewing Namar Beer and the Cooper brewery was becoming the American Company Distributors, from which Namar would be sold. Flock is not listed in The New Who’s Who in Brew as producing Namar Beer. They went out of business in 1951.
Photo 01 of City Directory Ad. Flock.
Photo 02 of City Directory Ad. Koch.
Photo 03 of 1891 Sanborn map of Flock Brewery.
Photo 04 of 1912 Sanborn map of Flock Brewery.
Photo 05 of new Koch plant. Don Kuhn
Photo 06 of Flock Brewery. “Uncle Ernie” Oest.
Photo 07 1912 Sanborn map of Star Brewery.
Photo 08 1974 View of Star Brewery. Tom Raub.
Photo 09 of Trademark artwork. June 1905 The Western Brewer.
Photo 10 of Brewers’ Best Premium Pilsner Beer label.
Photo 11 Ad.October 1948 American Brewer.
Addendum July 23, 2020:
John Vetter showed me the most recent version of his The New Who’s Who in Brew which does list Flock as producing both the Brewer’s Best and Namar brands.
Tom Raub has a Namar label with Williamsport listed as brewery location.
Wagner, Rich. Otto's Brewery and Restaurant Display. July 01, 2010. Captions to Banners on Display in the Restaurant.
Wagner, Rich. Breweries of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. E.C.B.A. the KEG. Winter 2018.
Flickr Album pics of bottles featured in this article.