Zymurgy Spring 1984

History of Bube's Brewery

by Rich Wagner

Alois Bube emigrated from Bavaria in 1869... and went to work in Lawrence Knapp's brewery in Lancaster. By 1878, the year he received his citizenship, he was operating a small brewery in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania.

In 1889 Bube (locals pronounced the name "BOObee") received financial backing from Philip Frank, the owner of a large malting operation across the street from the brewery. The brewery was expanded by digging large vaults throughout the property, on top of which a larger brewery was erected, as was the Central Hotel. Even after the expansion the brewery was not a large one, but it employed the most modern methods and was well equipped. Bube produced Pilsener and Bavarian beer, as well as ale and soft drinks. Nine men were employed and began each day at 4 A.M. When interviewed by Lynch and Loose in 1966, Walter "Dutch" Kramer recalled in the seven years he worked there he drank only two gallons of water (the rest was beer).

According to Sam Allen, current owner of the brewery, "Alois Bube was an incredibly innovative individual. He had things down to such a science that he was running more efficiently than many larger breweries." Around the turn of the century, Bube was the first citizen in Mount Joy to acquire a generator. He used coal-fired steam to produce electricity to run the plant. "He was forward thinking, quite a businessman."

Unfortunately, after Bube's death in 1908, the brewery was not as successful. The family tried to run the business, but sold it in 1914 to a Swedish brewer named John Hallgren. Hallgren's product was much lighter than Bube's and it never caught on with local tastes. A coal shortage in 1917, impending prohibition, and poor business conditions forced Hallgren to sell the brewery. In 1920 Henry Engle, son-in-law of Alois Bube, took over the property and operated the Central Hotel. Allen explained that during prohibition the brewery was used primarily as an ice plant, although he has heard rumours about some bootlegging, "nothing big like in Columbia or Lancaster."

...Sam Allen is a 1980 graduate of Penn State with a degree in business and psychology and some experience in theatre. I asked Allen how a college graduate with no money began his career by buying an old brewery-turned-tourist attraction. He said he always has been interested in "antique architecture," old buildings, as well as caves and catacombs. In addition, he spent some time in Koln, West Germany, in an exchange program and toured the Kuppers Brewery where Kolsch beer is made.

Following graduation his father started showing him the sales end of real estate and insurance, the family business. As part of his training, Allen helped his father show Bube's Brewery to some clients. "It was love at first sight," he explained. "I was hoping they wouldn't buy it." Later, when he expressed his interest in buying his father would not hear of it, much less help finance such a venture. His father tried in vain to drum some sense into him, explaining the economic facts of life. Allen persisted however, and got a summer job as a tour guide at Bube's Brewery. The place was still up for sale when Allen made his offer to Gingrich (owner). Allen said he would manage the business in exchange for room, board, a small salary and an option to buy.

He began by giving tours and gradually made some changes. The bar in the Central Hotel was small, so Allen opened the area known as "The Bottle Shop" and constructed a bar, installed tables and sold food so that visitors could top off their tour with refreshments. He worked on the catacombs and eventually opened a restaurant there. Due to the 'cave temperatures' he installed kerosene heaters for winter diners. He reworked the museum and eventually opened a "biergarten" out back. He is in the process of expanding the patio. Bube's giant steam boiler is now surrounded by tables.

When Allen was convinced that the business had potential, he managed to get the necessary capital for a down payment with the help fo his two partners, Tony Garber and John Hornach. He was also lucky enough to have an uncle willing to sell him the property without taking a commission. Currently, Allen, his partners and a few employees live in several rooms on the third floor of the Central Hotel. The second floor is operated as a banquet room and the first floor still has a small bar and restaurant facilities.

...Right now Allen's primary objective is to increase business in the new "Bottle Shop Bar." Tourism lasts only a few months, and he would like to see the local trade increase in order to keep the business going. On the average, ten to twenty tourists arrive daily during the summer months, but with good local backing the business could be successful in the long run.

...After our discussion I offered Sam a homebrew. We talked about how beer is made. He has entertained thoughts of once again producing beer at Bube's Brewery, even if only to show tourists how the brewery was operated. He already has spoken with two Pennsylvania legislators about the possibility. They thought he might get the necessary variance since the brewery is a registered National Historic Site. As we talked, I could see that Sam Allen hadn't run out of ideas and could only hope to see the day when I could visit an "historic brewpub" in Mount Joy.

Authors note. After this article was published I brewed a batch of homebrew at Bube's Brewery, Halloween night, October, 1984. This was the first time since before prohibition that beer was brewed at the brewery. This was followed by a costume party in the catacombs that evening. Several months later, we sampled the homebrew out in the bier garten. Sam has never given up on the idea and would like to turn Bube's Brewery into a brewpub. Alot has happened since 1984. After the law was changed to permit brewpubs, Sam didn't want to give up his liquor license and only sell his own beer. The law was changed again January 1, 1997 to permit brewpubs to obtain a liquor license so it would seem that the major obstacle has been removed. Let's hope the next time we visit Bube's Brewery we are sampling craft beer brewed on premises!