(Allentown) Morning Call June 26, 1991

Events to Tap Sources of Valley's Brewing Past

By Tom Blangger

The rich history of the Lehigh Valley's brewing industry serves as the focus for several upcoming events sponsored by the Lehigh County Historical Society.

On Sunday at 3 P.M. In the Gold Courtroom of the Old Lehigh County Courthouse, which also houses the historical society, beer historian Rich Wagner, a high school science teacher from Montgomery County, will lecture on the history of brewing in the Lehigh Valley.

Wagner's lecture opens a related exhibit at the historical society featuring breweriana, or brewery artifacts, from four former Lehigh Valley breweries: Horlacher, Neuweiler, Daeufer-Lieberman and Eagle (Old Dutch).

The four breweries survived Prohibition, a period from 1920 until 1933 when the sales of beer, wine and liquor were prohibited in the United States. Thousands of other breweries, including at least a dozen in the Lehigh Valley, were forced to close permanently.

The exhibit, presented by the Eastern Coast Breweriana Association, a collectors and historical organization, continues until September 7. Lawrence F. Handy, Jr is curator.

Wagner will also lead a historical brewery tour July 6 from 9:30 to 5 P.M., featuring stops at 11 former breweries in the Valley.

At each stop he will talk about the particular brewery. There is an admission charge for the tour, which includes a lunch at B&G Station, Hamilton Street and American Parkway, Allentown.

“A lot of them (breweries on the tour) are shades of their former selves,” Wagner said last week during an interview in Allentown, where he was doing additional research on the Lehigh Valley brewing industry. “In many cases, all that is left is a wall or a pile of bricks.”

Through the exhibit and tour Wagner and Handy hope to revive memories of the Lehigh Valley's former brewing industy. The tour “puts people in the role of an historian or archaeologist” who tries to learn about a previous time using small bits of evidence, Wagner said.

Wagner has surveyed more than 400 brewery sites in Pennsylvania. Of those, 200 sites retain some indication of a brewery was operating there at one time. The remainder are often empty lots or fields.

The tour will stop at sites in Catasauqua, Northampton, Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton, Wagner said.

Wagner said he might have considered including a tour of the existing Stroh Brewing Company plant in Fogelsville, but the plant stopped offering public tours last year.

Wagner has led similar tours in Pittsburgh, Philadlephia and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area.

Like Most historians, Wagner sees the history of beer and brewing as a window into the times and the culture of people living in a particular area.

“People today don't realize what kind of tremendous brand loyalty people had for local beer,” Wagner said. “When Budweiser was first introduced in the Valley, you couldn't give it away. People wanted to drink beer that was locally brewed.”

The Valley's brewing history also is a way to look at the impact immigration had on the area. Many of the brewmasters, or people who supervised the brewing of the various beers, were immigrants. And the breweries themselves, especially Neuweiler's Brewery at 410-53 N. Front St., Allentown, were designed after breweries in Germany.

Wagner said one goal of the tour is to keep alive the memories of a brewing past where a number of small breweries produced small quantities of distinctive beer.

Wagner also wants to tie the Lehigh Valley to the larger history of beer brewing. For example, Wagner learned through research that the Pabst Brewing Company ordered 20 million yards of blue ribbon from an east Allentown firm for use on its bottles in September 1910.

By 1935 Pennsylvania had 112 breweries, more than any other state. During the same year, Pennsylvania was second in beer production, producing 6 million barrels. Only New York, with 8.5 million barrels, produced more.

After World War II, between 40 and 50 nationally produced brands of beer were introduced into the Lehigh Valley, challenging the dominance of the local brewers. The nationally distributed beer companies had more money to spend on advertising to attract new customers, Wagner said.

Over time, the smaller breweries of the Lehigh Valley – including all the breweries on the tour – closed. The local change reflected a national trend as the brewery industry consolidated, leaving a handful of large breweries dominating the industry.

For more information on the lecture, the brewery tour or the exhibit of breweriana, call the Lehigh County Historical Society at 435-4664

Photo Caption: Former Daeufer-Lieberman Brewing Co. building is included in upcoming tour of former Valley breweries. Photo courtesy of Richard Wagner.