American Breweriana Journal November - December 2023 

ECBA’s Tray Collector: Philadelphia Part 2: Ortlieb and Erlanger

By Larry Handy


Ortlieb B.C.


By Rich Wagner


The Henry F. Ortlieb brewery traces its origins to Trupert Ortlieb who emigrated to New York City, found a job in a brewery, then joined Private Company G of the 41st Regiment of Infantry of New York in 1861. He was wounded and mustered out in June of 1864. Four months later he joined up with a unit from New Jersey for another hitch and was discharged in July, 1865 at the age of twenty five.


According to American Breweries II, he operated a Weiss Beer brewery at 1248 Germantown Avenue and Third Street from 1866-1879 (PA 630). Then he purchased a twenty-year-old brewery at 845 N. Third Street (PA 568), the location which would grow to encompass an entire city block.


Trupert and Margaretha Ortlieb had six sons and one daughter. In 1899 the brewery was named for the eldest son, Henry F. Ortlieb, whose brothers Joseph, William, Frederick, George and Albert were all active in the brewery. Trupert retired to his farm in Lansdale, where the house still stands on Knapp Road, identified by a small stone sign near the roof’s peak which reads T. Ortlieb 1901. He died at the age of 72 in 1911.


Henry F. Ortlieb died in 1936 and his brother, Joseph T. Ortlieb became president of the company. “Uncle Joe” Ortlieb is probably the most colorful and best-known member of the Ortlieb clan and prided himself as being the hardest worker at the plant from the time he was fourteen years old until the day he died; one day before his 90th birthday in March of 1969.


It was this post prohibition period when the Ortlieb brewery established itself as a significant player in Philadelphia’s brewing industry. Prior to 1920 the brewery was producing 20 to 25 thousand barrels of beer annually. Following Repeal, Ortlieb’s quickly reached the 100,000 barrel mark, growing by leaps and bounds. Expansion after WWII gave Ortlieb’s a 500,000-barrel per-year capacity. In 1954 Ortlieb’s Beer won the Premium Quality Medal of Leadership at the Munich International Beer Competition, sponsored by the Internationale D’Allmentation of Brussels, Belgium.


In conjunction with the Cooper family (who owned the Liebert & Obert brewery in Manayunk after Repeal), the Ortlieb family had financial interests in a number of Pennsylvania breweries including the Eagle Brewery (makers of Old Dutch) in Catasauqua. In 1951 they purchased the old Barbey brewery in Reading and renamed it the Sunshine Brewing Company. In 1966 Ortlieb purchased the Fuhrmann & Schmidt brewery in Shamokin as well as the Kaier brewery in Mahanoy City. In 1974 the company was making Neuweiler’s Cream Ale.


In 1975 Henry T. Ortlieb died and George’s son Joseph W. Ortlieb, then vice president, assumed the helm. The brewery was not doing well financially but another “Joe Ortlieb” did his level best to keep the ship afloat. Having started with the company on the loading docks as a college student in 1947, he was an integral part of the company and well-known and active in the brewing fraternity.


Young Henry stayed on for awhile and developed the Bicentennial Collector’s Series of cans which helped boost the company’s sales. Can collecting was in its hey day and the series included thirteen different revolutionary era scenes. The brewery got repeat orders from as far away as Chicago and the promotion gave Ortlieb’s a foothold in the New England market. This, despite the fact that most of the brewery’s customers were “within fifty miles of the smokestack.” The Bicentennial Collector’s Series was followed by an Americana Series which featured


Philadelphia Soft Pretzel vendors and Mummers among other themes. Joe Ortlieb bought up other family members’ interests in the brewery until he owned the whole thing, “lock stock and barrel.” Henry A. Ortlieb left the company and got into real estate. Joe changed from promoting Ortlieb’s as a regional brewery and began marketing Ortlieb’s as a local beer. In fact, when the last brewery closed its doors in New York City, he even told New Yorkers that Ortlieb’s was their local beer.


By 1977 Joe Ortlieb had turned the company around and was beginning to show a profit. He was a familiar figure in Philadelphia. He too, was involved with a variety of charities and kept the pulse of how his beer was selling in the neighborhood taverns. He could often be found soliciting reactions from patrons on his beer as well as his advertising. When a focus group decided the name ‘Ortlieb’ was too hard for many people to pronounce, Joe used his persona in a series of television ads that told viewers to simply ask for “Joe’s Beer.”


In 1979 a newspaper story told how Ortlieb was bucking the trend towards lighter drinks. Ortlieb’s regular beer was 4.35% alcohol by weight, while most American beers were 3.75% to 3.85%. Not only that, Ortlieb’s was selling McSorley’s Ale, Neuweiler Cream Ale and introduced Sean O'Shaughnessy Stout. Around this time Ortlieb’s was contract brewing Olde English 800 for Blitz-Weinhard and introduced Coqui Malt Liquor, a Spanish word describing the sound a frog makes.


Despite the improvements and innovations, the brewery started losing money again, and in January of 1980 a newspaper story reported a possible buyout by Coors. In 1981 the brands were sold to C. Schmidt’s. The brewery ran extensive radio ads to assure loyal Ortlieb drinkers that the formula would not be changed. They featured Joe saying, “[my old brewery] was terrific, but it was old, so now I'm using the Schmidt's brewery to brew my Ortlieb's." Schmidt’s only lasted another six years, but the Ortlieb’s brand would continue to be made by Heileman at their Baltimore plant for an ever dwindling market. Joe was later quoted as saying that when he signed away the Ortlieb brands it

was a decision he regretted before the ink was dry.


In 1997 Henry A. Ortlieb opened Poor Henry’s Brewery and Pub in the old bottling house on American Street. Ironically, he couldn’t use the family name, since the brand was owned by Stroh’s at the time. Somehow Henry Ortlieb was able to resurrect the family name once again when he opened a second brewpub which he named Ortlieb’s Grille at Sunnybrook, the old Ballroom in Pottstown. It was a far cry from the family brewery in Northern Liberties, but Henry continued in his pursuit of being a brewer until his untimely death

in the summer of 2004.


Erlanger B.C.


By Larry Handy


The Otto Erlanger Brewing Company opened after Prohibition as the Trainer Brewing Company. Before Prohibition, the facility had gone through many ownership changes since its construction.


Anton Stroebele (1870-1888),

John Roehm (1888-1897),

Consumers Brewing Co. (1897-1909),

Henry Hess Brewing Co. (1909-1912),

Premier Brewing Co. (1913-1920).


The Trainer family had been in the liquor business prior to Prohibition, as the likelihood of national prohibition increased they invested in a brewing operation as a hedge, hoping that beer would be excluded. Following Prohibition the “north plant” of what had been the Consumers Brewing Co. conglomerate re-opened as Trainer, and the unattributed Premier tray on the right is believed to date from that period.


When Trainer Brewery Co. folded, new investors operated the brewery as Otto Erlanger Brewing Co. as a fictitious German-sounding name operation. Otto Erlanger Brewing Co. closed in 1951.


Note: ECBA's Tray Collector is a regular feature in the ABJ where Larry Handy features all known trays from different cities and states.

My synopsis is a compilation of previous articles by Rich Wagner.