(Eastern Coast Breweriana Association)

the KEG Fall 2011

 Beer Barons of West Laurel Hill Cemetery

By Rich Wagner

Early on in my research of Pennsylvania breweries I was told, “If you start collecting bricks from those old breweries, you’ll know you’ve gone over the edge.”  Not long after that, someone told me about visiting brewers’ gravesites, but I figured I had taken enough pictures of their names carved in stone on brewery buildings, and that if I ever started visiting them in cemeteries, that would definitely be over the top. Well, never say never! Last summer I was contacted by Rachel Wolgemuth about doing a program on brewers buried at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd. The cemetery was trying to reach out to the community and create events that would bring people in to see it in a new light. And what more unlikely pairing for a beer event could there be but a minister with a homebrew club, a cemetery in Halloween season, and a beer tasting!

 Rachel had invited Reverend Kirk Berlenbach and his homebrewing club from Saint Timothy's Episcopal Church in Roxborough to explore the “Beer Barons of West Laurel Hill” in the fall of 2009 and wanted to expand on the event. When I went to meet with them and saw the brewers’ mausoleums, I saw the value in what they were doing and knew right off the bat that people would love it.

 To start with, right in front of the conservatory are two huge mausoleums of the Poth and Bergdoll families. A short distance up the road there are some Bergners buried, and just past that is the Hohenadel mausoleum. But the pièce d’résistance was the John F. Betz mausoleum, the largest and most magnificent one in the entire cemetery.

 We began planning the event:  Reverend Kirk would engage the help of homebrewers who would each supply a five gallon “keg” of pre-prohibition style beer to be sampled by participants at each gravesite as I told a little about each brewer and their significance in the brewing trade. After the walking tour and sampling, there would be a catered buffet with some commercially produced beer to enjoy.  While guests enjoyed the buffet, a panel of beer experts would take on the task of judging the day’s homebrews.

Rachel put together a map showing the locations of all the “Beer Barons” buried at West Laurel Hill. I helped her out with some biographical information on each one and she had some classy beer glasses made up for the event. She even got a little bit of the “breweriana bug” and started checking out EBay to find items that could be displayed. I told her I had recently set up an exhibit at the National Brewery Museum in Potosi of my embossed Philadelphia brewery bottles along with pictures of the brewers and their breweries. She rented two display cases and we combined our breweriana to create a wonderful exhibit.

 We had expected a good turnout of about 60, but over 100 people attended. When the tour wound up at the conservatory for the buffet, Don “Joe Sixpack” Russell, Reverend Kirk and I sat down to evaluate the beers while the crowd checked out the displays and some Victory beer. It turned out to be one of the most unusual and successful beer events I have ever participated in. Another similar event is planned for this October. Check out their website to see a video of last year’s event and for information on what’s “on tap” this year:

Note: This year's event before the KEG went to press. The date was October 22, 2011. The event started at West Laurel Hill's “sister cemetery” on the other side of the Schuylkill River and included William Massey, Bergner and Engel families and the Perot family plot, as well as some great homebrewed “Pumpkin Ale.” Participants re-convened at Laurel Hill Cemetery where they got to see everything described above. A catered affair followed with Dock Street Kõlsch and the homebrew which had been served was judged.

 Link to pics: October 2010, October 2011, May 2012.

 Related Articles

Wagner, Rich. “Engel & Wolf: Die Erste Lagerbier Brauerei in Amerika.” ABA Breweriana Journal. January/February 2008.

Wagner, Rich. “Bergner & Engel – The Real Deal.” American Breweriana Journal. May/June 2008.

Wagner, Rich. "The Breweries of Brewerytown and Vicinity." The Breweriana Collector (NABA). Summer, 2004.

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.