Zymurgy Summer 1983

Lauer's Brewery in Reading, PA circa 1870s

By Rich Wagner

The following is an article I found at the Berks County Historical Society while researching the breweries of Reading.

Boston Journal of Commerce. Reading, Pa., March 19, 1874. "It was a real sharp, shrewd, cutting day when I stepped from the cars last week at Reading and became the guest of a lifelong friend. My point d'appui was the breweries of Mr. Frederick Lauer, situated at that place. This gentleman had long since expressed a wish that your correspondent should visit his establishment, but up to the time just mentioned it had been impossible for me to leave pressing duties at home. I think Mr. Frederick Lauer, of Reading, Pennsylvania, one of the most interesting gentlemen I have ever met. His fund of information upon all subjects astonished me. His personal knowledge of the political situation in Europe and America for the last thirty five years, while his historical understanding of times in all countries far anteceded, made me stand in wonder at the roundness, the completeness of the man. It seems to me that all favorable stars must have been in conjunction at his nativity. Not that he was not subjected to the ordinary trials of life, but that he should surmount them and so soon become an imperator over them, but stop; let me begin at Mr. Lauer's Birth, which took place in the province of Palatine (Rhenish, Bavaria), Europe, October 14, 1810.

"Frederick was twelve years old when his father removed his family to America, settling on the sixth day of September in the borough (now city) of Reading, Pennsylvania. The father started a small brewery near the then borough, and almost immediately placed it in the care of his son Frederick, whose habits of life at that early age were of such a nature as to warrent (sic) new responsibility. Mr. Lauer looked quaintly out of the corner of his laughing eye when he told me this, and I took the position of affairs at once, and said: "You were not like the boys of the present day, who growl bacause they have to get out of bed before nine o'clock!"

'No indeed sir,' he replied, 'when I was a boy I was always up at two o'clock, and to this day I never sleep later than four o'clock. My habits are part and parcel of my nature.

"His rest at night averaged four hours, then he arose, went to brewing for his father; at daybreak, that part of his work done, he carted his beer to the customers within a circuit of fifteen and twenty miles. At that time seven barrels of beer were the result of the day's brewing, not any more than sufficient at the present day to supply one first-class saloon. In 1835 he became the proprietor of the establishment, and at once set to work to make those improvements which has rendered his brewery one of the most perfect and extensive in the United States. His lager beer brewery is situated on North Third Street near Walnut and was erected after his own plan under the supervision of New York architect, Mr. Adolph Pfundt. The main building stands to the southward in a magnificent tree-studded green plot of ground seven acres in extent, known as Lauer's Park. The structure is seventy-one feet front by one hundred forty-five feet in depth, and presents an imposing appearance to the eye of the observer entering on the ground floor.

"Mr. Lauer himself kindly acting as my guide, we passed into two immense rooms paved with stout tiling, used as wash rooms. Great coils of hose many inches in diameter, and made of rubber, lie here and there through which water passes, the steam being directed against the barrels, kegs and other receptacles.

"Everything is of the cleanest description, and scrupulous care is taken to have even the packages in which the beer is conveyed to customers shine like a newly planed board. Facing the visitor as he passes within these enclosures stand two sets of frowning doors of great proportions, strap-hinged, mammoth locked and latched. Taking a candle with its peculiarly twisted stand, Mr. Lauer swings back the slide from a man-hole in one of the doors and says with a cheerful smile - 'All right, one on.' Once in, the slide closes with its own gravity and a reverberation howls from dome to floor and from side to side. The eye opens wide to take in nothing but darkness, chill runs over the body, and it is a minute before the rush-light of the candle throws a ghostly gleam through the long-galleried vault. There are three vaults in the building exactly like the one in which we stand; they run the entire depth from the wash room, and are seventeen feet high and twenty feet wide.

"These were quarried from solid rock, and are therefore as dry and chilly as one can well imagine. In this respect as well as in others, the vaults of Mr. Lauer's brewery surpass those of any other in the country, and it is the tone which the cold, dry, natural atmosphere these granite vaults give to his beer which has gained it such a national reputation. One constantly pictures Gorgons in dark places, and these tremendous stock-casks fretting either side of the gallery wrought themselves in my fancy to the shapes of trunks of old time giants, and what were two men in the hands of so many monstrous powers?

"Five-thousand barrels of beer all about us, and the merest puncture at the lower chime of any of these tanks would have emitted a thread of liquid which, under the gaseous pressure, would have projected forty-five feet before it commenced its geometric parabola.

"Suppose a head of one of these casks should fly out, and we should be in front of it? Suppose the light should go out and I should get separated from my guide? Where are the points of the compass in Cimmerian blackness? How could he tell me where he was, since every square inch of that vault would cry out as loud as he? - echoes in caves transform themselves into larynx and tongue, and mouth and lips. Why our very footfalls sounded like the tread of any army, and twice I turned around to see who they could be who were in following. The granite floor was so dry that we ignited matches on it. The iron hoops of the casks were icy in their coldness, but not a scintilla of moisture on nor about them. Think of 15,000 barrels of beer in three vaults, waiting to cheer the hours of a hot, sultry summer day and to make life more endurable when the sun throws rays that mean anything but comfort. This, the good Teutonic beer that inebriates no one, that makes the German sing, and that is rapidly becoming the national drink of America, driving whiskey and all other alcoholic stimulants from the biblable (sic) throne, alas! to long held by them.

"The second floor is reached by a stoutly built flight of stairs, near to the foot of which is the celebrated artesian well. I use the word celebrated because it is famous throughout the state of Pennsylvania for its purity of water and its remarkable frigidity. Six years were employed in its boring, reaching a depth of 2,000 feet and costing Mr. Lauer $22,000. For several hundred feet it passes through solid quartz rock, striking different veins of this adamant. This water is used in the manufacture of Lauer's Beer, and this is the prime reason why the quality is always even and always strictly pure and therefore, as a natural consequence, so greatly in demand.

"Passing the stairs the visitor is struck with the enormous size of a number of stock casks capable of containing six to seven thousand barrels. So great has become the call for Lauer's Beer that Mr. Lauer remarked it was his intention to erect new storehouses, and blast new vaults, that his supply might be commensurate with the requirements of the trade.

"Now we come into the mash and boiling rooms. The cleanliness and neatness again struck me with surprise. The floor appeared as if it had been waxed so brightly it shone. The process of beer-making was just concluding, for these men are at it bright and early, and are through before noon, unless at certain seasons of the year, when it is continued day and night, with three forces of hands. The malt in the mash tub is capable of "mashing" 170 bushels at one time, and fills the seventy-five barrels at a single run. The work is all done by steam, with the aid of a sixty-five horsepower engine, which in the busy seasons is run from Monday morning until Saturday midnight without a moment's cessation.

"The process of making beer is very interesting, but would be difficult to fully describe, it must be seen to be fully understood. I asked Mr. Lauer if he uses potato sugar or grape sugar in its facture, and he quickly replied: 'No indeed, sir; if I did that I could make my beer at one-third less cost, it is true, but I would ruin its reputation.' I said, several of the so-called leading brewers of Philadelphia use grape sugar, and it was known among Americans as "Headache Beer,' because two or three glasses almost invariably induced a violent headache. He laughingly replied, 'I suppose that is the origin of the old song, whose chorus commence, - "Take care of your head, Take care of your head, Take care of your head in the morning." ' 'No sir,' said he, 'I use nothing but the very best Canadian malt and foreign hops and pure artesian water. Just look at a glass of voertze and taste it, that will tell you.' He then called his polite foreman, who quickly ran up the stairway leading to the crown of the copper, and dipped out a glass of amber-colored syrup. It had a saccharine taste, just as if the pure and simple syrup of the pharmacist had been percolated through a strong decoction of malt. 'What does that taste like?' he asked. 'Why there is certainly starch and sugar in it,' I answered. 'Of course there is, and dextrine, to,' he laughingly said, and we must get all those out before we make a good article of beer. We don't put sugar in, we try to get it out, and that is why we could save thirty-five per cent if we used grape sugar.' The copper vat or boiler is a huge affair with a double bottom, into which bottom steam is introduced for the purpose of boiling the malt, the mash-tub stands beside it, and into this the hops are placed, and at proper temperatures the one is run right into and over the other at which time it all has to be watched with great care. Steam pumps do all this work, and the cautious eye of the foreman must be ever on the watch while this process is going on.

"On the same floor and back of this room are the fermenting apartments which are enormous in extent. The beer is introduced to these vats through a rubber hose, and here the liquid is allowed to remain until fermentation ceases. A thin scum rises to the surface, and the beer purifies itself of all sediment that may have gotten into it, in the shape of hop flowers. The beer is pumped from these into vats or is led into the vaults before referred to. The floor is laid with the very best cement that could be procured on the market, and is sustained by a combination of wrought iron pillars, costing in themselves $11,000. The different flues to lead away the foul air are constructed on the best principles, and void this air in the loft, whence it is carried to the outer atmosphere by means of ventilators. Everything, indeed, in this concern, is constructed on the latest known, and best devised plans. No money has been withheld to make it absolutely perfect so far as human ingenuity and thought has gone. In the vat room, to the north of the fermenting room, is a deep well made from solid cement, into which beer is occasionally run.

"At other times water of icy coldness, for use in that portion of the brewery on the third floor, is the refrigerator which is kept continually stocked with 1,000 tons of pure brook ice. This is one of the curiosities of the establishment. The body of ice is in a sort of square box, the sides of which are from five to nine feet thick, packed with charcoal and sawdust. Outside of this box there runs a passage-way wide enough for a man to edge himself, or walk crab-fashion. I felt a desire to go around this, and that, too, in the dark for it was so black and dark that it could almost be felt. Mr. Lauer accordingly raised the trap, and we descended to the sides of the refrigerator and went on a voyage of discovery. This was worse than the vaults, not gloomier, but I was fearful lest I should be wedged in or precipitated down a hole, a caution from which had been tenderly given. It became so cold in the chamber that I soon after suggested a return.

"The cold air works its way out through slides in the lateral portion of the refrigerator, and descends to the fermenting rooms, and without this it would be impossible to conduct the business and brewing.

"To the north of the refrigerator rooms is the cooling apparatus by means of which beer can be made with equal facility in the heat of summer as well as in the cold of winter. The great trouble with beer facture in warm weather arises from the fact of the want of its being stored cool and quickly. The machine used by Mr. Lauer for this purpose is not only economical but, thoroughly efficient. It consists of a series of pipes, similar to those used for heating a building by steam.

"If a new name were given it, I should call it a vice-versa pipe. Cold water passes through this series of pipes and the warm beer entering a trough at the top, trickles over every pipe, fully from the last as cold as the pipe itself.

"From this room we passed to the malt room, where that grain is stored and ground. Great care is taken to have every particle of impurity removed, all being performed by machinery. The stock of malt was very large, and yet when I make a remark conveying that opinion, Mr. Lauer said with his everlasting good humor, 'That is no stock at all.' I answered that I was merely comparing with breweries I had seen in other places.

"The quality of Lauer's Beer is unexcelled; indeed very few brewers attempt to compete with him. It is noted for its even qualities, its tone, body and reliability. It is always the one thing, and never varies. So much care is taken in its manufacture, and in the purchase of material, that it is impossible for a mistake to be made. he superintends with his two sons, a trade which extends from Galveston, to New York City and from Philadelphia to San Francisco, and never has he had a complaint that his beer has given no satisfaction.

"Mr. Lauer as citizen stands prominently before the people of Pennsylvania (for i would not limit his fame to the city of Reading alone) as one of her best and most honored citizens. So proudly does he fill the position of man and citizen, that he came near being elected treasurer of the State of his adoption, and but for his declination of the honor, would have been so elected.