American Breweriana Journal May/June 2008
Bergner & Engel – The Real Deal
By Rich Wagner
Among the earliest lager beer brewers in Philadelphia was Charles W. Bergner, a native of Cremmitzschau, Saxony. He started a small brewery in 1849 on North Seventh Street just below Girard Avenue. He also had a 1,000 barrel lager beer vault “out in the country.” His son Gustavus, worked along side him for three short years when his father died. At the age of 19 he found himself proprietor of the 7,000 barrel brewery. The April 29 1855 Sunday Dispatch advertised: “The New Lager Beer Hall under the Post Office lately opened by Gustav Bergner, brewer is by everybody considered the prettiest place of the kind in this city as the proprietor and manages his own beer and sells nothing but it, the public may rest assured to get at all times an excellent article. Call and see. Lunch every morning. Entrance on Dock and Carter’s Streets.”
In 1857 he completed work on a new brewery next to his beer vault in the block between 31st and 32nd along Thompson Street. The U.S. Industrial Census of 1860 lists Bergner’s capital investment at $100,000, producing 12,000 barrels of beer worth $70,000. It is said that he made continuous improvements to the plant each year including many innovative and labor saving appliances.
Centennial Exhibition 1876
In preparing for the Centennial Exposition the city expanded the boundaries of Fairmount Park and through eminent domain acquired the property of Engel & Wolf’s brewery at Fountain Green (ABJ No. 151 Jan/Feb 2008). Mr. Wolf retired from business and Charles Engel joined Gustav Bergner to form the Bergner & Engel Brewing Company. At the age of fifty-four Mr. Engel enjoyed a reputation as one of the city’s largest and most prominent brewers lent considerable weight to the partnership and certainly added to the appeal of Bergner & Engel products.
The Centennial Exhibition of 1876 was the first Worlds Fair and it is estimated that one in five Americans attended. There were many exhibits of interest to brewers, none the least of these were refrigerating machines. Brewers’ Hall actually had a working 150 barrel “Centennial Brewery” set up by Charles Stoll’s company. Opposite that was Hughes and Bergner’s malt house. In all there were 207 exhibitors of raw materials, and equipment of all kinds. In the Ice House was a tasting area with individually controlled temperature compartments for beer ale and lagers served in the “bier stube.” Bergner & Engel won two Medals and a Diploma for their Tannhaeuser Beer in glass and wood. Gustav’s brother Theodor Bergner won an award for his patented malt kiln floor. And following the Exhibition B & E purchased the Ice House part of the brewers exhibit to use for beer storage.
Two years later when Bergner & Engel won the Grand Prize in Paris they raised the esteem of the American brewing industry in the eyes of the world. And when the International Brewers' Congress met for Discussions of scientific brewing matters, Mr. Bergner was America’s representative and was elected as one of six vice presidents. A special correspondent to the Western Brewer reported that, “With regard to Mr. Bergner, I may mention that his firm’s “exhibit” at Paris has gained the unique distinction – or to be strictly correct, one in which he is only equaled I understand by Mr. Jacobsen and one Vienna brewer – of the “Grand Prix,” thus standing at the head of the remarkable triumph, viz. a “Grand Prix” and five Gold Medals, with which the United States’ brewers are credited. If this really be the case, they cannot but think that the Paris Exhibition, “modum non montes auri pollicens,” has amply fulfilled its promises. The brewery subsequently won: Grand Gold Medal & Diploma of Honor, Brussels, 1888; Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893; and Antwerp, 1894. Gustav Bergner was made consul to Belgium and entertained Prince Albert in 1898.
1880 Building Program
In November 1878, the same year they installed the Holden Ice Machine, there was a fire in the ice house that caused $150,000 in damage. In 1879 as repairs were being completed the company announced they were building a depot in Washington, D.C. And in 1880 to accommodate a growing market the company embarked on a most remarkable expansion project to replace the old brewery. Theodor Bergner was the architect and engineer and with his precision and expertise, the company was able to have plans laid out in the minutest detail, construction contracts lined up and machinery and appliances secured before demolishing the old brewery, which was “erased from the ground” in April. From then until the end of August, when construction of the new brew house was complete, three adjoining smaller breweries were pressed into service to brew B & E’s beer.
In the rear on the left are situated the two mash kettles, and in front of these the immense hop kettle, of 400 barrels capacity, with "hop-jack" directly underneath. To the right of the two mash kettles are placed two mash tubs, with a large central water tank above for the supply of both. On each side of this tank large iron receptacles or hoppers are provided, in which the charge of ground malt is kept ready for each brewing: their funnel-shaped bottoms conduct the malt directly into the fore-mashers, in which the admixture with water takes place, thereby avoiding all escape of malt dust into the premises. The mashing machines are driven from below by a novel mechanism of Mr. T. Bergner's design, and entirely noiseless in its operation.
In front of these mash tubs, on the right side of the building, two immense conversion tubs (Lauterbottiche) are situated at such elevations that the wort strained through their false bottoms will run directly into the hop kettle. A large tank, placed above these conversion tubs, supplies both with the necessary water for sparging, cleaning, etc. The machinery designed for stirring the contents of these large vessels, as well as for the final removal of the grains there-from, forms one of the most interesting and ingenious features of the brewing apparatus; its automatic and entirely noiseless operation compares strikingly with the deafening rumble of gearing usually adopted in similar situations. Noisy gear wheels are entirely avoided, and although nearly all of the machinery is driven by belts, these are so disposed as to be almost entirely excluded from view and from danger to the workmen. The apparatus being so arranged that the settling and straining of one mash may be conducted in the conversion tubs, while a second brewing is commenced in the mash tubs, four brewings, of 350 barrels each, may easily be made in twenty-four hours, so that the daily capacity of the apparatus is about 1,400 bbl.
It is interesting to note that in 1878, Bergner & Engel was the third largest brewer in the nation behind George Ehret and Philip Best. However Best had two plants, making Bergner & Engel the second in production by a single brewery in the nation. Their expansion doubled capacity but with the huge growth in the industry, B & E would no longer occupy even a top ten position in the national scheme of things.
Information from The Western Brewer
In 1882 more expansion made room for a new Boyle Refrigeration machine and boiler and Theodor Bergner rebuilt a malt storage house that had been destroyed by fire along with a new malt house. Around this time Gustavus Bergner, died at the age of fifty, leaving his son C.W. to take the reigns much as his father had done with him. Theodor died five years later at the same age.
In 1884 premier Philadelphia Brewery Architect and Engineer, Otto C. Wolf executed a complete new ale brewery, one of over twenty projects in as many years spanning into the twentieth century. Six years later, B & E acquired two breweries, contiguous with their property: the Mueller (Plant #2) and Eble & Herter (Plant #3) breweries. The Mueller brewery burned down in 1890 and was completely rebuilt the same year by Otto C. Wolf. The brew house contained 250 and 130 barrel kettles; 85 open cedar tuns for fermenting; 325 barrels closed fermenters followed by 60 300-barrel “chip casks” for clarification. Four years later Otto C. Wolf completely outfitted the old Eble & Herter as B & E’s new ale and porter brewery. That year, the combined profit for all three plants was over half a million dollars.
Bergner & Engel’s production peaked around 400,000 bbl. as stated in the company issued Modern Brewing of an Ancient Beverage. Prohibition was looming on the horizon and war rationing set the stage for what would become the law of the land. At the time, Gustavus W. Bergner, grandson of Gustavus, was president of the Philadelphia Lager Brewers’ Association. Prior to prohibition he labored tirelessly on behalf of the brewers’ interests but to no avail.
Philadelphia was awash in beer during the thirteen years of that “noble experiment” much of it supplied by Bergner & Engel, which was determined to test the limits of the law. The Feds responded by making an example of them. And on at least one occasion they were raided and padlocked while their case was being tried! During prohibition the company sold off over seventy saloon properties worth $300,000. But perhaps the saddest part of the tale was when close to 300,000 barrels of what one police officer said, “was the finest beer in the city,” worth a million dollars turned to vinegar during eight-year court battle! That was in 1928 and they basically called it quits. At the start of repeal, Gus Bergner was listed as being the president of the newly formed Class & Nachod Brewing Company. That brewery, interestingly enough, was the maker of Black Eagle Beer.
07-17-2020 The B & E stables have been converted into housing. It is catty-cornered from the Poth brewery building, the last two brewery building left in the neighborhood which is now awash in a sea of condominiums. The Poth brewery is in the process of being renovated for the same purpose.
Reilly, Pamela. “100 Years After Prohibition, the Legacy of Pennsylvania's Historic Breweries Survives.” Pennsylvania Historic Preservation. Blog of the PA State Historic Preservation Office. March 11, 2020.
Wagner, Rich. "The Breweries of Brewerytown and Vicinity." The Breweriana Collector (NABA). Summer, 2004.
Wagner, Rich. “Engel & Wolf: Die Erste Lagerbier Brauerei in Amerika.” ABA Breweriana Journal. January/February 2008.
Wagner, Rich. "From the Western Brewer: Beer on the Boulevards, Intl. Exposition, Paris, 1878." The Keg, Quarterly Newsletter of the E.C.B.A. Winter, 1998.
Wagner, Rich. “One Big Brewerytown – A Look Back on the Historic Legacy of Our Philadelphia Beer Scene.” Philly Beer Scene. June/July 2011.
Wagner, Rich. “Philadelphia's Long Lost Lagers.” Ale Street News. April/May 2007.