Mid-Atlantic Brewing News June/July 2001

Another One Bites the Dust

by Rich Wagner

There are at least two dozen standing brewery buildings in Philadelphia, maybe thirty. Up until a month ago, the twelve-acre Schmidt's site was the only complete complex of brewery buildings left in the city. All but two of the buildings have been demolished and the land has been cleared. The old and new brew houses on Girard Avenue are all that remain.

In 1859 Schmidts produced 500 barrels of ale and porter. In 1986 capacity was in excess of 3,000,000 barrels. Schmidt's operated for over one hundred and twenty five years in this neighborhood sometimes referred to as "Old Brewerytown." Schmidts emerged successfully from Prohibition, survived rationing and turbulent economic times during WWII and the Korean War, and somehow survived the Beer Wars of the sixties managed to become Philadelphia's last surviving brewery.

When Schmidts closed in 1987 it was the first time the city had been without a brewery in over 300 years. In the sixties and seventies Schmidts operated three breweries; in Philadelphia, Norristown and Cleveland. Their product was distributed in fourteen states. Schmidts was Pennsylvania's biggest brewery and will long be remembered for its leadership and technological innovation in the industry.

The interior of the old brew house dates to the turn of the century and looked like an opera house with its mezzanine, decorative plaster moldings and tiled walls. The new brew house was built after World War II in order to supply a growing market.

In the forties and fifties Schmidt's was famous for Tiger Head Ale, a brand acquired from the Robert Smith Ale Brewery. Two others were Prior Double Dark and Rams Head Ale which came along with the Scheidt brewery in Norristown. Towards the end Schmidt's made a plethora of "price beer" brands from other defunct regionals such as Ortlieb's, Old Reading, Kaiers (Mahanoy City), Koehler (Erie), Duke (Pittsburgh), Rheingold and Rupert's Knickerbocker brand from New York City.

The brewery will probably be remembered most for its flagship beer, "Schmidt's of Philadelphia"- "Beer as Beer Should Be", "Schmidt's- One Beautiful Beer."

For Further Reading:

Harris, Linda K. "A Race Against the Wrecking Ball to Save Schmidt's Brew House." Philadelphia Inquirer. February 17, 2001.

Russell, Don. "Save the Sign." Philadelphia Daily News. January 28, 2000.

Salfron, Inga. "Let's Not Strip-Maul a Promising Loft District." Philadelphia Inquirer. January 26, 2001.