Mid-Atlantic Brewing News February/March 2014

Historic Brewery Set for Demolition

By Rich Wagner

The Kaier brewery in Mahanoy City was one of the first of Pennsylvania’s many abandoned brewery sites I discovered in the summer of 1980. All that remained was the carcass of a building, picked clean and with gaping holes in the walls where beer tanks had been removed, destined for another brewery or the scrap heap. In stairways there were signs identifying: Brew House or Government Cellar or Racking Room, and there were a few old pressure gages hanging by a thread on the wall of the boiler house. In the brew house, twelve-foot circular holes in the floor marked where gleaming copper kettles once churned out Kaier’s beer. It was bleak, but it also piqued my curiosity as I imagined the place bustling to supply the beer market in Pennsylvania’s southern anthracite coal fields. In stark contrast, a few blocks away, the Kaier mansion was preserved as a magnificent bed and breakfast, a lasting testimony to the family’s wealth and standing in the community.

The Kaier legacy began in the days before the Civil War when a young immigrant established the Chas. D. Kaier Co., whose primary business was in the retail liquor trade. In 1880, a brewery was added, and by 1892 the company was rectifying and selling Kaier’s Special “A” Whiskey.

Kaier survived the post prohibition and post war periods, peaking in the late 1940s with annual production of 200,000 barrels. Kaier’s Beer received the Star of Excellence Award in Brussels in 1950. The brewery briefly became part of Ortlieb’s multi-plant network (1966-68) that included Fuhrmann & Schmidt (Shamokin), Sunshine (Reading), Columbia (Shenandoah) and Old Dutch (Catasauqua) at various times during the 1950s and 60s. Ortlieb continued selling the Kaier’s brand for a number of years.

Fast forward to the summer of 2014 when there’s news that Mahanoy City has received $420,000 in state funds to demolish the old Kaier plant and make way for a park and playground called Kaier's Park. When I checked out the story, the pics of the place didn’t look any different than the ones I had taken over three decades ago! I’m the first one to advocate for reuse of brewery buildings, but in some cases the best case scenario for a site begins with demolition. I’ve published a list of known standing brewery buildings on my website. On that list there are incredible success stories, there are even more crying out for preservation, and quite a few; like Kaier, Ortlieb and even the magnificent Schlitz brew house in Milwaukee, that have to make way for something new.