Mid-Atlantic Brewing News February/March 2008

The Philadelphia Brewing Company - A Well Traveled Name

By Rich Wagner

I admired the breweriana on display in the tasting room after my tour of Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco in 1986. I particularly enjoyed the fact that many of the items were from Pennsylvania. But I did a double-take when I saw a tray from John Wieland’s “Philadelphia Brewing Company” in San Francisco. I reasoned that he must have selected the name to honor the city with a centuries-old brewing reputation and possibly give his product a perceived “quality through association” that he could use in advertising.

That sterling reputation goes back to the days before the Revolutionary War when Philadelphia brewers produced more beer than the rest of the colonies combined. In the early nineteenth century brewers in places like Boston and New York City used the term “Philadelphia Porter” to add value to their product. Later the name raised the respectability of countless lagers brewed throughout the nation. In Dale Van Wieren’s book American Breweries II there are no fewer than six different companies with Philadelphia in the name, including one in St. Louis of all places!

Today, the city is home to yet another “Philadelphia Brewing Company.” Bill and Nancy Barton formed the company and they didn’t even have to move! They are retooling the old Yards brewery and should be up and running any time now. And to add a little historical flavor to the mix, they’ve invited me do a presentation entitled “Philadelphia Brewing Company Now and Then” on Saturday March 22 at 2 PM. Here’s a preview of some of that history, which I will illustrate with factory scenes, ads and breweriana as I have with previous presentations there.

Gottlieb Manz started a small brewery on Frankford Ave. in 1864. About five years later he established the “Bavaria Brewery” at Sixth and Clearfield Streets. He retired in 1893 and the name was changed to Philadelphia Brewing Company. The company was one of nineteen breweries in the city to survive prohibition and remained in business until 1949, leaving the city with just seven breweries.

The U.S. Manufacturing Census in 1870 listed 46 brewing companies with a total capital of $3.4M producing a quarter million barrels of beer. Manz had $32,000 capital invested and was producing 1,600 barrels of beer worth $24,000 with five employees. The average output for a brewery in the city at that time was just over 5,000 bbl.

In 1878 he built a new brewery with a 75 barrel kettle and a new ice house. A 20-horsepower engine provided power and there were fifteen hands. Fifteen years later there were 60 employees, two steam engines with a combined output of 80-horsepower, and two ice machines capable of producing 100 tons of ice per day. Celebrated brewery architect and engineer Otto Wolf completed a half-dozen projects for the company, including a new brew house with a 135-barrel kettle in 1901.

Philadelphia’s reputation as a brewing center continued even after prohibition became the law of the land in 1920, and the Philadelphia Brewing Company did its part to keep the city supplied with high-powered beer. They were raided by the police, fined, taken to court, and even counter-sued the government saying the police were liable for the value of the beer they impounded and destroyed!

When beer came back in 1933, the nineteen or so Philadelphia brewers that started back up faced enormous challenges, none the least of which was a high tax on beer. The fact that Philadelphia Brewing Co. had a relatively modern facility could have given them an advantage over some of the local competition. Improvements in brewing technology meant shorter aging periods for beer, making it possible to increase production. Packaging became ever more important, especially with the introduction of the beer can in 1935.

To advertise its product the Philadelphia Brewing Company had a mustachioed-Teuton named “Fritz” who proclaimed, among other things that, “Real Manz Beer ist Dry, not Sveet!” The company had to change it’s tack as the country entered World War II with their Philadelphia Old Stock (P.O.S.) brands. With the war effort came rationing which presented brewers with even more challenges. Food production took precedence over alcoholic beverages. Brewers found it difficult or impossible to buy equipment, coal, gasoline, tires, cans, even crowns for their bottles!

Rationing continued beyond World War II with efforts to feed and rebuild Europe, and then continuing with the Korean War. During this time the Evening Bulletin published an analysis of the local beer market which showed Philadelphia Brewing Co. with 2% share of the city’s draft beer and 4% of the bottled beer sold, Schmidt’s and Ortlieb’s were first and second place holders with a combined 36% share of both draft and bottled beer. In 1947 Philadelphia Brewing introduced an all-malt beer made with imported Czechoslovakian hops called “Premium 1880 Old Stock Dry Lager” which helped keep the company afloat for another two years.

Let's support the latest incarnation of the Philadelphia Brewing Company and help them make history again!

On that beginning note re: John Wieland's Philadelphia Brewery in San Francisco, check out this article I wrote on the San Francisco Earthquake and Steam Beer.

Related Articles

Wagner, Rich. “Breweries Reincarnated as Breweries.” American Breweriana Journal. Nov./Dec. 2014.

Wagner, Rich. “A Stroll Through Brewing History: The Past Preserved in Philadelphia.” Mid-Atlantic Brewing News. Apr./May 2005.

Wagner, Rich. "Yards Brewery - Kensington's Brewing Tradition Continues." Mid-Atlantic Brewing News. April/May, 2003.

Wagner, Rich. “Philadelphia's Long Lost Lagers.” Ale Street News. April/May 2007.

Wagner, Rich. “Philadelphia Breweries After Repeal... And Then There Were None (With Apologies to Agatha Christie).” American Breweriana Journal. Sept./Oct. 2006.