Mid-Atlantic Brewing News April/May 2016

Philadelphia Brewery Tour Revisited

By Rich Wagner

Ironically, the first Philadelphia Brewery Tour was held within weeks of the closing of Schmidt’s, the last of Philadelphia’s “final four” breweries. An agonizing, slow death of an industry that got its start there in 1685: Gretz closed in 1960, Esslinger in 1964, Ortlieb’s in 1981 and finally Schmidt’s in 1987.

That tour visited about a dozen brewery buildings throughout the city standing in various states of disrepair. The bright spot was the Bergdoll Brewery Condominiums which had just been renovated, but others were just pieces of industrial detritus littering the city.

It took a little more than a year for a new brewery to sprout from those deep, entrenched roots, and, after some fits and starts, brewing is alive and well in the Quaker City. Two craft breweries are currently housed in old brewery buildings that were part of my tour, as were two others, however briefly, in the late nineties.

The bottling house of the Ortlieb brewery was home to “Poor Henry’s” for a few years. It has since been beautifully refurbished as offices for an architectural firm. The rest of the buildings have been razed, but there is a mural memorializing Ortlieb’s brewery on the wall of the old brewery saloon.

Red Bell Brewing Co. inhabited the old Poth brewery in Brewerytown. It is currently empty and awaits the wrecking ball or conversion to housing. That, and the Bergner & Engel stable across the street, are the only brewery buildings left of the dozen or so companies that gave the neighborhood its name, in a sea of condominiums.

Portions of the Weisbrod & Hess brewery complex are home to Philadelphia Brewing Co. which has been a positive force in the resuscitation of Frankford Avenue in Kensington and Fishtown. Philadelphia Mural Arts recently decorated a couple of walls, one on the back of Rowhouse Distilling. There is currently an effort to save two remaining buildings, the boiler house and shipping building which, if renovated would make another nearly complete brewery complex being preserved in the city.

St. Benjamin Brewing Co. is in the stable of the Theodore Finkenauer brewery in a neighborhood that is in transition. You can see the shell of the Gretz brewery a block away from their tasting room on the second floor. It is one of the dilapidated buildings that teeters on the brink of either being razed or adapted to reuse.

Other brewery buildings have found a new life in reuse. The Bergdoll brewery complex in Brewerytown is quite possibly the most outstanding example of brewery preservation in the country. One of Bergdoll’s mansions is just up the street.

Across town, the Class & Nachod brewery serves as housing for Temple University, visible on the right as one pulls out of the Temple University regional rail station on the way into town.

While there’s nothing left of the Schmidt brewery, Christian Schmidt’s stable building has been adapted as office and housing space by a local architect. The stable was a project by the famed Philadelphia brewery architect and engineer Otto C. Wolf who designed most of the city’s substantial breweries, as well as mansions for the brewers.

Currently there are plans for rejuvenating Heimgaertner’s Kensington brewery, aka Proto Brewing Co. It started out small, as Moritz Ruoff’s Weiss beer brewery in 1874, one of a couple dozen breweries that catered to the German immigrants’ fascination with Berliner weiss beer. When I discovered this brewery it was Arctic Cold Storage Co. The owner was the third in his family to run the plant, which they had purchased prior to prohibition. So the building was in active use. In fact, people on my tour got to see the old Frick Co. compressor in the basement, with a large leather belt spanning ten feet or so, which had only recently been replaced with modern refrigeration units.

It’s located just north of Johnny Brenda’s on the other side of Frankford Ave. The Inquirer recently reported that there were plans to build a hotel complex on lots to the north that would include the brewery building. The ironic thing is that a brewery-produced calendar shows a much larger plant which never materialized. It has only taken a century or so to have that addition made, albeit for an entirely different use.

I’ve given a couple dozen tours since 1987 and the tour has evolved to include process tours in working breweries as well as brewpubs. It has been wonderful to see so many magnificent brewery buildings given a new lease on life. Visit my website to see videos from The Philadelphia Brewery Tour and check out the Archives link for more articles.

Photo Caption. Heimgaertner’s Kensington Brewery is getting a facelift. Roland Kassis is proceeding with plans for a hotel that includes the old Proto brewery at its southern end. (not published)

Photo Caption: Early 20th century calendar lithographic view of the Proto Brewing Co.

Photo Caption: Current incarnation of the Ortlieb brewery tavern perpetuates the mistique with vintage sign.

Addresses to some of Philadelphia’s Extant Old Breweries Mentioned

Bergdoll (complex)

N. 29th & Parrish Sts.

Bergdoll mansion

NE c. N. 29th & Cambridge Sts.

Bergner & Engel (stable)

SE c. 31st & Jefferson Sts.

Class & Nachod (complex), later Poth (post prohibition)

1801/23 N. 10th St. & Montgomery

Esslinger (complex)

911/13 Callowhill & 10th St.

Finkenauer (stable)/St. Benjamin B.C.

1710 N. 5th St.

Gretz (complex)

1536/38 N. 5th St.

Heimgaertner’s Kensington Brewery (aka Proto B.C.)

1224/36 Frankford Ave.

Ortlieb (bottling house)

824/42 N. American St.

Poth (complex), later Red Bell

3101 Jefferson St. (Brewerytown)

Schmidt, Christian (residence, stable)

2005 Cambridge St.

Weisbrod & Hess (complex)/Philadelphia B.C.

2439 Amber St./2440 Frankford Ave.


July 19, 2020 Far from being developed as part of a hotel complex, the protobrewery, (Heimgaertner's) was razed recently.

Rowhouse Distilling is moving to Germantown.

The Bergner & Engel stables in Brewerytown have been converted to housing and there is a current project to do the same with the Poth building in the neighborhood.

St. Benjamin's B.C. closed and it was reported the Finkenauer stables would become housing.

Related Articles

Wagner, Rich. “Philly's Born Again Breweries.” Mid-Atlantic Brewing News. August/September 2014.

Wagner, Rich. Preserving the Legacy of Brewery Architects: A.C. Wagner of Philadelphia. American Breweriana Journal. September/October 2017.

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

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

Wagner, Rich. "Brewery Preservation: Celebrating Success Stories, Remembering the Fallen." The Keg. Spring, 2004.

Wagner, Rich. “Brewery Preservation Update.” E.C.B.A.'s the KEG. Winter 2014.

Philadelphia Brewery Tour Revisited YouTube Videos