Beer Cans & Brewery Collectables Aug./Sept. 2010
Philadelphia Brewery Tour
By Rich Wagner
With a neighborhood known as “Brewerytown” it may come as no surprise that throughout its history Philadelphia has been one big Brewerytown! To can collectors who recognize names like Schmidt’s, Ortlieb’s, Esslinger’s and Gretz, it may be surprising to find out how many of these old breweries remain standing. Of Philadelphia’s “Final Four,” all but Schmidt’s remain and are included on the tour. Gretz and Ortlieb’s are “diamonds in the rough” awaiting some TLC to bring them back to their former glory.
Across from Ortlieb’s is a State Historic Marker that commemorates “America’s First Lager” which was brewed by John Wagner in 1840.
Seventeen of the city’s breweries returned to business after repeal and a dozen produced beer in cans. Of these, six are still standing. The Class & Nachod brewery was home to Poth from 1936-41 and has been beautifully renovated as a Temple University dormitory.
We will tour today’s Philadelphia Brewing Company which is located in the old Weisbrod & Hess brewery. Our stop for lunch is at Philadelphia’s oldest surviving craft brewery, Yards Brewing Company where we will also get a process tour.
There will be stops at several prohibition casualties, including Brewerytown’s Poth, and Bergner & Engel. About half the Poth complex remains and was home to Red Bell Brewing Company for about five years. Across the street we will see Bergner & Engel’s stable which was capable of housing 200 horses. Nearby, most of the Bergdoll brewery complex has been converted to condominiums and is the city’s finest example of brewery preservation.
Most of the Scheidt brewery in Norristown has been converted into an office campus and is another success story of brewery preservation in the Keystone State.
The Philadelphia Brewery Tour gives participants a glimpse of the distant past as well as a taste of the fine craft beers being brewed today.
Philadelphia Cans with BCCA ID# and Date of Closure
Class & Nachod 49-30 (1936)
Class & Nachod resumed production for three years after repeal and produced over 67,000 barrels in 1934. The company became famous for its Black Eagle brand owing to the name recognition it enjoyed when it was produced by the city’s largest pre-prohibition brewery, Bergner & Engel of Brewerytown.
Erlanger 161-8 (1951)
The Trainer Brewing Company was formed after repeal and consisted of two breweries, one of which closed after a year. In 1937 the company became the Otto Erlanger Brewing Co. which introduced Perone (said to be the first Italian-style beer brewed in America) and Erlanger Pilsener. In 1950 they produced a television commercial with a night club comic showing a beer being delivered by a stork.
Esslinger 60-37 Plant 1 (1964) and Plant 2 (1937-1947)
Esslinger was the first Philadelphia brewery to introduced canned beer and the first to call their brand a “Premium Beer.” Famous for their “Little Man” and “Parti-Quiz Cans, the company relied heavily on radio and television advertising. Esslinger operated two plants when they moved into the only brewery built after repeal where they produced ale and porter from 1937-1947.
Gretz 167-29 (1961)
Gretz advertised that their beer was naturally carbonated through kraeusening and emphasized the “old fashioned” theme with a derby-clad gent with a handle-bar moustache on a big wheel bike which was featured in a giant animated neon sign on Broad Street. Production peaked at just over 200,000 barrels in the early 1950s.
Hohenadel 169-2 (1953)
Hohenadel Beer produced only draught beer after repeal until 1939. An extensive building program included a modern packaging plant capable of handling wooden cases and cartons of pint and quart steinie bottles as well as quart and pint cans. In 1945 sales peaked at just over 300,000 barrels. The company employed local celebrities in their extensive print, radio and television advertising campaigns.
Hornung 83-31 (1953)
Hornung sales peaked in 1945 at just over 135,000 barrels. The brewery sponsored a show featuring the “Hornung Television Beauty Parade.” Winners were selected by viewers who mailed in their votes. Known as “The Tastiest Beer in Town,” Hornung redesigned their label and had gold cuff links done up in their famous Hunter’s Horn design for their 75th Anniversary planned for 1954. Unfortunately Hornung went out of business just prior to the celebration.
Liebert & Obert 192-30 (1948)
Liebert & Obert became the Cooper Brewing Co. after repeal. The brewery modernized the plant in 1940 and became one of the first in the city to popularize the “No Deposit, No Return” bottle. They tapped into the “one glass” market selling their seven ounce “Namar Nips.” Sales peaked at just under 145,000 barrels in 1945, three years prior to the company’s demise.
Ortlieb 178-25 (1981)
Ortlieb came into its own following repeal with an extensive building program in the 1940s. Production peaked at just under a half million barrels in 1945. Joe Ortlieb bucked the trend towards “Lite Beer” with McSorley’s Ale and O'Shaughnessy Stout in the late 1970s and made invested heavily modernizing the plant before selling his brands to Schmidt’s in 1981.
Philadelphia Brewing 179-20 (1949)
Begun in 1864 by Gottlieb Manz, the brewery became Philadelphia Brewing Co. in 1893 but continued marketing “Manz Beer” even after repeal. Its flagship brand became Philadelphia Old Stock (P.O.S) and the company rolled out “1880 Old Stock Dry Lager” in 1947. Sales peaked in 1946 at just over 250,000 barrels.
Poth 116-23 (1941)
Poth was the only Brewerytown brewery to return to business after repeal. The plant was used as a Bevo warehouse during prohibition. The company filed for bankruptcy, reorganized and purchased the Class & Nachod brewery in 1936 where it remained in business for five years. Red Bell Brewing Co. used part of the complex from 1996-2000.
Scheidt (Norristown) 142-38 (1974)
While not a Philadelphia brewery, Scheidt was a major player in the city and region. The plant complex has been converted to an office park and is one of Pennsylvania’s premier examples of brewery preservation. Their 1930s building program included a new brew house and a modern packaging plant with amber windows to prevent beer spoilage. Famous for their Valley Forge Beer, Rams Head Ale and Prior brands, the brewery was purchased by Schmidt’s in 1954.
Schmidt's 184-30 (1987)
Schmidt’s underwent extensive construction and modernization after repeal which they illustrated in a book published in 1940. They were a leader in quart can marketing. They celebrated their centennial year in 1960 by which time they were operating three plants in Philadelphia, Norristown and Cleveland. The company was known for its many innovations, many of which were copied throughout the industry.
Rich Wagner (BCCA 33584) has been researching Pennsylvania breweries since 1980 and has visited over 400 brewery sites around the state of which about half had something left to photograph. He has conducted seventeen Philadelphia Brewery Tours since 1987. In that time new breweries have come and gone and Philadelphia is presently home to two production breweries and five brewpubs. Rich spent seven years working in Philadelphia’s craft breweries after graduating from Chicago’s Siebel Institute with a diploma in Brewing Technology in 1994. Since the turn of the century, Rich has been writing about Pennsylvania breweries and conducting colonial brewing demonstrations. Visit his website at http://pabreweryhistorians.tripod.com.