By the 1980s, American beer had famously become a homogeneous mass-produced Pilsner-style light lager, with little variation among the leading brands. While beer consumption at the time was at the highest rate in US history, the top ten brewers alone accounted for 93% of the total domestic beer production, leaving little room for the few that could then be classified as “craft” beer breweries. Still, a young Kalamazoo entrepreneur named Larry Bell went into the brewing business, armed only with a 15-gallon soup pot, a recipe, and a $200 birthday gift from his mom.
Today, Bell’s Brewery, Inc. is not only one of the largest craft breweries in Michigan, but ranks among the top 10 in the nation (by sales volume), employing more than 330 people with the capacity to produce more than 500,000 barrels annually. Others have since followed suit, placing Kalamazoo at the forefront of the craft brewing movement with the nation’s first higher ed program in sustainable craft brewing, an annual Kalamazoo Beer Week celebration, and significant worldwide recognition, including a nomination for “Beer City USA” in 2013. Recently, U.S. News & World Report named Kalamazoo among the eight underrated beer cities in the world.
Today’s Kalamazoo brewmasters follow a long line of local brewers and malt manufacturers that reaches back to the early nineteenth century. In fact, the art of crafting fine (and some perhaps otherwise) beers and ales can be traced to Kalamazoo’s earliest days as a frontier village.
Early Home Brewing
With a few noteworthy exceptions, much of the beer that was sold and consumed in Kalamazoo before the Civil War was almost certainly of local origin. American beers, mostly British-style ales at the time, had been brewed stateside since colonial times, but beer as a product didn’t travel well, especially in those days. A stagecoach run from Detroit to Kalamazoo in the 1830s was a multi-day journey and since these early American ales were highly susceptible to heat and motion, they tended to sour rather quickly. Before the latter half of the 19th century when the arrival of the railroads and inventions like pasteurization and refrigeration made it practical to bottle and ship the product over greater distances, “fresh” beer was essentially a local product.
“To Make Beer.— Twenty drops of the oil of spruce, twenty do, wintergreen, twenty do sassafras. Pour two quarts of boiling water upon the oils, then add eight quarts of cold water, one pint and a half of molasses, and a half pint of yeast. Let it stand two hours and then bottle.—Lady of Weathersfield, Conn.”
—Kalamazoo Gazette, 13 August 1847
In a time “when each housewife made her own ale” (Kalamazoo Telegraph), many of the first brewers in Bronson (Kalamazoo) Village were do-it-yourself and family operations. Recipes published locally during the summer of 1838 gave instructions for “cheap and agreeable table beer,” made with water, molasses and yeast. “Spruce Beer” was made by adding spruce oil or twigs and leaves to the same basic recipe. Some advocated brewing with the shells of green peas, which were said to closely resemble malt. Others added wintergreen and sassafras. A simple recipe for “very excellent sugar beer” called for water, sugar (or treacle), yeast and hops. The brew was “fit for drinking in a week,” but the writer cautioned that “this beer [would] not keep any length of time.” (Safe to say that today’s local brewers aren’t apt to resurrect that particular recipe anytime soon.)
Learn more about early home brewing with selections from the nineteenth-century domestic guide, The Housekeeper’s Guide, includes the title page and Chapter XIV: Beer, Wine, &c. (pages 387-423) featuring sections on home brewing, wine making, hot liquor drinks.
Published in London in 1838, the book contains recipes for cheap beer, carrot beer, ginger beer, currant or gooseberry wine, green gooseberry wine, orange or lemon wine, grape wine, raisin wine, metheglin or mead or honey wine, English sherry or malt wine, ginger wine, parsnip wine, cowslip or clary wine, elder wine, damson or black cherry wine, birch wine, essence of ginger, cherry brandy, raspberry brandy, ratafia, noyeau, curacoa, capiliaire, sherbet, etc. Learn more...
No matter which recipe was used or what quantities were being made, supplies were readily available for would-be home brewers in nineteenth century Kalamazoo. By 1837, barley was being grown locally, and could be purchased at Edwards’ Grocery Store on Main Street; the going rate in October 1837 was 62½¢ per bushel. Hops extract, used as an herbal medicine and in brewing, was available (wholesale & retail) at Dr. Starkey’s Medical Store on Main Street, “nearly opposite the Land Office.”
In October 1841, Francis March began offering “the highest market price” (Gazette) for barley, corn and hops. Likewise, William T. Campbell began offering “cash or goods” (Gazette) as payment for hops in October 1845. Fresh hops by the bale were available in 1849 at John Dudgeon’s warehouse near the railroad depot.
By 1850, brewer’s thermometers could be found at Samuel K. Selkrig’s new store and Jason Platt Clapham’s Drug Store on Main Street. During the 1860s, the Roberts & Hillhouse City Drug Store was selling large quantities of extracts of roots expressly for beer making. By the end of the decade, A.C. Wortley was advertising “a large and varied assortment of barometers, intended expressly for the use of brewers.”
The English Influence: Beers and Ales
Kalamazoo’s earliest non-native settlers were for the most part of predominantly English ancestry, and with them came the brewing styles and traditions of “merry ol’ England.” Popular among these British immigrants at the time were the stronger English beers (more heavily hopped to preserve and add bitterness) and “mild” lightly hopped (young) ales, which did not require extensive aging and were relatively inexpensive to produce. (Ale was brewed with malted barley, water and yeast but typically without hops, although that did change over time. Ale yeast strains (commonly regarded as top-fermenting yeasts) ferment at higher temperatures and tend to rise to the surface during fermentation, creating a rich foamy brew.) During the 19th century, a typical brewery might produce three or four styles of these “mild” beers and ales, with alcohol content ranging from 3% to 7% abv.
The First Round: Kalamazoo’s Earliest Commercial Brewers
By April 1837, Kalamazoo had within a few short years grown from a handful of log huts into a bustling frontier village, with more than a thousand inhabitants, a dozen stores, a weekly newspaper, mills, offices, shops, and at least one established commercial brewery.
The location of that first (c.1837) brewery and the identity of its proprietor remain somewhat uncertain. Kalamazoo’s first brewery could have been connected with William Thomas Clark & Son, who ran the first local distillery near the Kalamazoo River. Or, it might have been located on North Burdick Street near the (then future) MCRR depot, a spot later referred to as “Wood’s Brewery.” Years later an early pioneer recalled that Kalamazoo’s first brewery was located on Olmstead Road (Lake Street), while another claimed it was on Kalamazoo Avenue, but evidence in both instances suggests otherwise. In any case, it was most likely an early homegrown operation that escaped specific mention in the local newspapers and was made known only after its proprietors became more well established.
Although the exact source of their (most likely local) brew is unknown, merchants Foster & Fish were offering “Strong Beer” by the barrel and half-barrel, along with corn, rye, and barley at their dry goods store on Main Street in 1842, still years before the Michigan Central Railroad arrived in Kalamazoo.
Jacob Harlan’s Burdick Street Brewery
While still open to speculation, Kalamazoo’s first brewery—as mentioned in an April 1837 Kalamazoo Gazette article —was most likely established by an early German resident named Jacob Harlan (born 1798). Harlan’s brewery was located on the east side of Burdick Street just north of Kalamazoo Avenue.
According to passenger records, Jacob Harlan emigrated from Germany and arrived in New York in 1832. After the birth of their son about 1836, the Harlans (Jacob, wife Celia, and infant son Frank) left New York and made their way to Kalamazoo. By October 1838 Harlan—a known brewer—was receiving mail at the Kalamazoo post office and is listed on the 1840 U.S. Federal Census as a Kalamazoo resident engaging in agriculture (most likely brewing). A second son, Theadore, was born in Kalamazoo that same year, further confirming Harlan’s residence in Kalamazoo by that time.
Harlan & Holmes
By October 1847, an Englishman named James S. Holmes (born about 1810) was in town as well, and working with Harlan as a brewer. The 1850 Michigan nonpopulation census tells us that Harlan’s brewery had 1,600 bushels of barley on hand that year and was producing about 60,000 gallons (1,935 barrels) of beer annually.
Holmes & Hall Brewery & Saloon (Wood’s Brewery)
By 1853, Harlan was out of the brewing trade and James Holmes was in partnership with another established local brewer, an Englishman named Benjamin Hall (born about 1802), when they opened their “new and spacious dining saloon” at the Burdick Street brewery next to John Dudgeon’s warehouse. Within a few months, Hall & Holmes were offering market price in cash for up to 5,000 bushels of barley for their brewery. An 1853 Kalamazoo Gazette article describes the location as “Wood’s Brewery,” which indicates it might have been somehow connected with William Wood (probably William A. Wood, born 1828), who took over Hiram Arnold’s nearby flour mill in 1855, though further details of Wood’s involvement in that property have yet to be located.
Hall died in February 1859, leaving Holmes as the sole proprietor with 1,000 bushels of malt and 500 pounds of hops on hand, and producing about 350 barrels (roughly 11,000 gallons) annually. An 1861 map indicates that J.S. Holmes still operated a saloon and brewery at that time, but by 1862, he had evidently given up the brewing trade and by 1867, his saloon had also ceased operation.
John Hall’s ‘Kalamazoo Brewery’
The village of Kalamazoo continued to grow and by 1850, the local population had increased fourfold to about 4,000. By that time, at least two commercial breweries were operating within the corporation limits of Kalamazoo.
U.S. Federal Census records show there were four professional brewers in Kalamazoo by that time. In addition to Jacob Harlan and James Holmes who were operating the brewery on Burdick Street, a second local brewery had come on line by then at the far west end of the village.
This second documented pre-1850s brewery was established by an Englishman named John Hall (born about 1804). While Hall is believed to have been in Kalamazoo as early as January 1837, it is uncertain whether he was associated with Jacob Harlan and/or the first (1837) village brewery—most likely not. We do know, however, that by November 1845 Mr. Hall was offering cash for hops at his home on Portage Street, a clear indication that he had something brewing by that time.
In December 1846, the Kalamazoo Gazette referred to the great many improvements being made in Kalamazoo Village at that time, including the “large brewery of Mr. Hall” which had “just gone into operation.” John Hall’s brewery was located west of the village where the “Genesee Prairie Road” (later called Asylum Road, today’s Oakland Drive) met the “Paw Paw Road” (now Michigan Avenue) next to Arcadia Creek, about where the WMU Physical Plant near Waldo Stadium is located today.
Benjamin Hall & Jason Russell
In May 1849, an Englishman named Benjamin Hall (no apparent relation, born about 1802) formed a partnership with native New Yorker Jason Russell* (born about 1813) under the name of Hall & Russell and took over John Hall’s brewery operation on the Arcadia. According to U.S. Federal Census records, John Hall remained in Kalamazoo for at least another decade and claimed to be a brewer, although there is no indication that he did so actively.
*Some accounts refer to Jason Russell as “Rupello,” perhaps due to poor handwriting on the 1850 census.
In 1850, Hall & Russell’s operation was producing roughly 14,000 gallons (450 barrels) each year. But for reasons yet unknown, Hall & Russell gave up the brewery on Arcadia Creek and in April 1852, real estate agent Ansel K. Post put the “celebrated Kalamazoo Brewery” up for sale, describing it as “one of the best and most convenient establishments of the kind in the state” (Gazette).
On the “light” end of the brewing spectrum, John Williams began advertising his Small Beer (low alcohol) Manufactory in May 1852, located on Main Street between Rose and Park streets, opposite the court house. Soda water, lemon pop, and “Dr. Cronks compound Sarsaparilla Beer” were Williams’ specialties. While primarily a soft drink manufacturer, Williams and his successors are included in this discussion because their names are often listed among other local “strong beer” brewers.
City Bottling Works
Myron W. Seymour (born 1840) eventually took over John Williams’ operation and by 1860 and was manufacturing Cronk Beer, sassafras and lemon pop at the old Main Street location. By 1867, however, the operation had moved to the 200 block of North Church Street, a block north of the original Main Street storefront, and was by then known as the City Bottling Works. J.W. Rose was the proprietor until about 1876, when it was taken over by a local root beer maker named William H. Russell. Russell remained in charge for some seventeen years until he was succeeded by Henry F. Schoenheit in 1893.
Henry F. Schoenheit
Henry Schoenheit was no newcomer to the bottling business. He had been “engaged in this line of business in cities all over the United States” (Gazette) since about 1870. In 1883 he was partnering with Charles South DeWitt at their Mineral Water Bottling Works in the 300 block of East Main Street. That business had ceased by the end of the decade, but Schoenheit reemerged soon after as a manufacturer of soda and mineral waters when he purchased the City Bottling Works on North Church Street.
In 1905, Schoenheit built a new building and moved the City Bottling Works to Portage Street. He expanded his business to include a line of quality bar glassware, which was sold in many states, along with carbonated and mineral waters, orange cider, lemon sour, cream ale, sherbet, birch beer, root beer, strawberry and cream soda, and other soft drinks. Schoenheit’s own brand of ginger ale was a local and regional favorite, while Schoenheit himself became an industry advocate, helping to organize the Michigan State Bottlers’ Protective Association in 1912 with bottlers from all parts of the state, including Detroit, Grand Rapids, Bay City, Traverse City and Lansing. Henry Schoenheit passed away in May 1918; the City Bottling Works was taken over by the Michigan Coca-Cola Bottling Company the following year.
Michigan’s First Round of Prohibition
“The Temperance Pledge: ‘We, the undersigned, do pledge ourselves’ to each other, as gentlemen, that we will not, hereafter, drink any spirituous liquors, wine, malt or cider, unless in sickness, and under the prescription of a physician.’”
—Kalamazoo Gazette, 15 April 1842
Today, we tend to associate Prohibition with the gangsters and speakeasies of the 1920s, but the truth of the matter is, the movement against the consumption of alcohol (known as temperance) began in the United States nearly a century beforehand, during the 1820s. While many temperance supporters advocated moderation rather than total abstinence, the movement to ban the sale and consumption of alcohol grew stronger, especially during the 1840s. Maine passed one of the nation’s first liquor laws in 1851, which prohibited the sale of all alcoholic beverages “except for medicinal, mechanical, scientific and sacramental purposes” (Gazette). In 1853, Michigan passed a similar law banning the sale of alcohol.
“Pledge of the Kalamazoo Cold Water Army.
A Pledge we make, no wine to take;
Nor brandy red, that turns the head;
Nor whisky hot, that makes the sot;
Nor fiery rum, to ruin home;
Nor will we sin, by drinking gin;
Hard cider too, will never do;
Nor sparkling ale, the face to pale;
Nor brewer’s beer, the heart to cheer;
To quench our thirst,
we’ll always bring
Cold Water from the well or Spring;
So here we pledge, perpetual hate
To ALL that can INTOXICATE.”
—Michigan Telegraph, 10 April 1846
Some parts of Michigan took immediate action to enforce this new “dry” mandate, but the law lacked broad support and many judges refused to enforce it, including Kalamazoo judge Abner Pratt. Defiance became so widespread that by 1875 the law was dissolved and replaced with a statewide liquor tax program. Although efforts to re-enact the prohibition law in 1877 and 1879 both failed, the movement continued to gain momentum.
Kalamazoo Temperance Reform
New Hampshire temperance evangelist and “eloquent temperance lecturer” (Kalamazoo Telegraph) Francis Murphy held a series of lectures in Kalamazoo in June 1875, which prompted local supporters to organize the Kalamazoo Temperance Reform Association with George M. Buck as president. Three years before that, the Union Sunday School Temperance Reform Army was organized and was already working hard to further the temperance cause among village youth under the leadership of Superintendent D.O. Roberts.
Temperance supporters typically opposed most forms of strong drink, but their primary focus (at least in the beginning) was on moderation rather than abstention (hence the term “temperance”). Early followers rallied strongly against the excessive consumption of hard spirits (rum, whiskey, etc.), but many stopped short of total abstinence when it came to beer. The brewers soon used this trend to their advantage and sought to distance themselves from the distillers by portraying beer as a healthy alternative to hard liquor. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, brewers began promoting their product as a “family beverage,” a “temperance drink,” even “liquid bread.”
A Second Round: Commercial Brewing in Kalamazoo after 1850
Commercial distilling ceased in Kalamazoo after 1858, but Kalamazoo’s brewery business witnessed unprecedented growth during the late 1850s and 1860s, despite the statewide alcohol ban. In 1856, there were still just two known “strong beer” breweries in Kalamazoo County: Sebastian Syke (successor to Hall & Russell) on Arcadia Creek at the west end of the village and Holmes & Hall on Burdick Street.
By the end of the Civil War, however, there were at least six commercial breweries operating within the confines of the “Big Village.” The largest of these breweries were located on...
- Asylum Avenue, just west of the village
- East Main Street near the river
- North Burdick Street, two blocks north of the railroad depot
- Walnut Street, one block east of Burdick Street
- Winstead Street, near the intersection of Portage and Lovell
- Lake Street, just east of Portage Street.
At least two others sprang up during the same time period in nearby rural areas outside the village limits. Many of these were established well before the Civil War and most enjoyed modest success until the late 1870s.
‘Old Joe’ & Dorothy Burchnall
One of Kalamazoo’s most popular early breweries was actually an out-of-town operation located south of the village limits on Portage Creek along the “Kalamazoo and Three Rivers Plank Road” (Lovers Lane), near where Milham Park is today.
Already a brewer by trade, Joseph Burchnall (Burchnell, Burchnal) (born about 1811) and his wife Dorothy (born about 1827) left Liverpool aboard the passenger ship John R Skiddy and arrived in New York on the 3rd of May, 1849. By 1858, the Burchnalls had found their way to Kalamazoo (probably from Wisconsin) and soon after established a brewery on their nine acre farm south of the village in section 34 of Kalamazoo Township.
According to the Kalamazoo Gazette, “This establishment was not a large one, in fact, it was a rather enlarged ‘home brew’ outfit, but the excellence of its product was scattered by all who loved beers and ales made in the real old English way.”
“Old Joe’s XX”
But the Burchnalls’ output during the 1860s was indeed significant and by 1865, the couple had become the second largest beer producer (by taxable value) in Kalamazoo, averaging up to sixty barrels or more each month. Burchnall’s “Home Brewed Ale” (known famously around the area as “Old Joe’s XX”) was available by special arrangement at Joseph Moore’s Portage Street Grocery, and was “always on draught” at the Messmer & Seiler Billiard Saloon on South Burdick Street. (‘XX’ indicated the strength of the product, which commonly ranged from ‘X’ (the weakest) to ‘XXXX’ (the strongest).)
By 1867, Dorothy Burchnall had become superintendent and was overseeing the day-to-day operation of the brewery. Even after Joe Burchnall’s death in 1873, Ms. Burchnall continued to maintain the brewery on her own for several years. Dorothy’s ginger ale was a specialty.
Joseph Burchnall Westnedge
As an interesting footnote in Kalamazoo history, the Burchnalls’ daughter, Mary Elizabeth Burchnall (b.1847), later married a Kalamazoo man named Thomas Westnedge (b.1834). In 1872, Mary Westnedge gave birth to a son they duly named Joseph Burchnall Westnedge in honor of the boy’s grandfather. That son grew to become Colonel Joseph B. Westnedge, otherwise known as “Colonel Joe,” Kalamazoo’s famous WWI hero.
Robert Walker’s Plank Road Brewery
But the Burchnall story doesn’t quite end there. In 1876, three years after her husband’s death, Dorothy Burchnall married Robert Walker, a Kalamazoo farmer and English immigrant. The Walkers engaged in the brewery trade on the former Burchnall property at least until 1878. Mrs. Dorothy Walker paid $52.79 in taxes to the township in 1877 for the “manufacture of malt liquors” (Gazette), though the operation apparently didn’t last long after that. Little else is known about Robert Walker or his “Plank Road Brewery.”
When the census taker came around in June 1880, Robert and Dorothy Walker were identified as married and living in Kalamazoo Township; he was a farmer and she was “keeping house.” No mention is made thereafter of a brewery operation on the Burchnall property. By 1881, Dorothy Walker was listed as a lone resident on her farm, perhaps widowed once again. Dorothy Burchnall (Walker) passed away a widow in April 1892; an accidental fire claimed the old brewery barn and house later that same year.
Joseph Slater at McKain’s Corners
During the 1870s a second out-of-town brewing operation appeared in rural southeastern Kalamazoo County near the village of Scotts. Joseph Andrew Slater (born 17 Jan 1840) owned a 22 acre farm near McKain’s Corners, a ghost town located at the intersection of 34th Street and ‘S’ Avenue in Pavilion Township, where he ran a small brewing and malt making operation. Also known as Pavilion, the village itself predates the village of Scotts and flourished until the 1890s with a hotel, blacksmith shop, dance hall, schoolhouse, post office, cemetery and a handful of other businesses, thanks to a stop on the Chicago, Kalamazoo & Saginaw railroad line. After the CK&S line was sold in 1910 the village all but disappeared.
Slater was a Civil War veteran who served in the Michigan 1st Cavalry Regiment, but little is known about his brewing operation other than the liquor tax assessments he paid between 1875 and 1879. Slater evidently operated a popular dance hall (“Slater’s hall”) and his tax assessments were typically somewhat less than those of his counterparts, indicating that he probably brewed just enough to supply the local taverns, his dance hall, and perhaps a nearby farmer or two. After suffering the loss of a leg Slater apparently ceased brewing about 1880. He died on 18 Sep 1885 following a long illness, and is buried in McKain Cemetery just south of where the village once stood.
George Judge’s Kalamazoo Malt House
Back in the village of Kalamazoo George Judge’s Kalamazoo Malt House went into operation during the 1850s and remained a favorite among the locals for more than three decades. Born in Kent, England about 1820, George Judge emigrated to the United States in 1850 and soon after became a successful malster (malt maker) in Kalamazoo. In 1857, Judge opened his celebrated Kalamazoo Malt House at 82 North Street in Isaac Moffatt’s former distillery building near the corner of Frank Street and Burdick (where Judge Avenue now stretches between West North and Frank streets).
Judge’s Kalamazoo Malt House was primarily a wholesale and retail supplier of malted barley and rye (used for animal feed, brewing and baking) and hops, but locals knew the establishment well for its small batches of light amber and “black as ink” dark ales, both of which were said to be very good.
By 1880, George Judge was supplying malt to the Goebel Brewing Company in Detroit and doing business with his son-in-law, John Bommerscheim, a saloon operator and proprietor of the Detroit Bottling Works on Main Street in Kalamazoo (the local bottler and distributor for Goebel).
Judge retired about 1882, leaving Joseph Steiner to run the operation until John Bommerscheim purchased the Judge property in 1886 and moved his saloon and beer bottling operation to that location. George Judge remained in Kalamazoo until his death in 1893. Bommerscheim’s saloon and warehouse were destroyed by a massive fire in June 1895 (the 1896 Sanborn fire insurance map shows the old malt house still standing, although vacant). According to the 1902 map the building (or a building at the same location) was being used as a “Celery Shipping HQ,” but by the time the 1908 map was drawn it had been replaced by Judge Court and several residential buildings.
The German Influence: Lager
While Kalamazoo’s earliest brewers were for the most part of English descent and their British-style ales dominated local brewing until the mid-19th century, German immigrants began to arrive in Kalamazoo around 1850, bringing with them a vibrant culture of hard working laborers, merchants, craftsmen, and brewers. Beer played an important role in German culture, and most Germans preferred their own style of lager over the heavier English-style ales.
“American lager beer breweries have adapted their manufacture of beer to comply with the demand of the popular taste at was formerly met by ale, and there are many thousands of gallons of strong beer or winter beer brewed each year as a substitute for ale.”
—Kalamazoo Gazette, 19 July 1904
Unlike ale, lager or “Lagerbier” (German for storeroom or warehouse) is made with a bottom-fermenting yeast, which ferments at relatively cold temperatures and tends to settle to the bottom during fermentation. The beer is then kept under cold storage for several weeks after brewing to produce a mild, lightly colored stable beverage. Lagers were relatively inexpensive to produce and would keep longer than the heavier ales, which made them less seasonal than their British-style counterparts. The overall popularity of German-style lager grew quickly, especially among the working class. Lager styles would in fact grow to dominate American brewing throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
Kalamazoo Spring Brewery
Sebastian Syke & George Foegele
Born in Barcelona, Spain of German parents in 1794, Sebastian Samuel Syke (Syikes, Zeug) arrived in Kalamazoo from Rochester, New York about 1856 and took over Hall & Russell’s old Kalamazoo Brewery on Asylum Road. Later the same year, Syke went into partnership with a young French master brewer named George Foegele (Foegle, Voegel) (born about 1828), also from Rochester. Together, they called their new operation the Kalamazoo Spring Brewery.
Frederick William Seyfferth & John Stearn
By 1860, Syke & Foegele’s Kalamazoo Spring Brewery had added two new resident brewers to its ranks; an immigrant from Württemberg, Germany named Frederick William Seyfferth (Seyferth, Syford) (born about 1829), and a young New Yorker named John Stearn (born about 1838). With the arrival of Seyfferth and Stearn, we begin to see the first evidence of German-style lager in Kalamazoo.
According to 1860 records, the Kalamazoo Spring Brewery had some 3,700 bushels of malt and 2,500 pounds of hops on hand, and was producing “a superior article of ale and lager beer” (Gazette), with annual output of approximately 1,500 barrels (roughly 48,000 gallons). An 1861 advertisement emphasized the healthful, indeed medicinal qualities of its product, promising a “pure and lively tonic beverage, unsurpassed [for] those suffering from debility, ague and chill fever.”
Foegele & Baumann; Nicholas Baumann & Co.
About 1862, Syke evidently stepped aside and Foegele was joined by another local brewer and saloon keeper of German heritage, Nicholas Baumann, who eventually took over the operation as Nicholas Baumann & Co. By 1865, Foegele & Baumann were the largest producers (according to taxable value) of the four local (licensed) brewers.
Once a soldier against Napoleon and wounded in the famous 1813 Battle of Leipzig, Sebastian Samuel Syke (Zeug) passed away in Kalamazoo on the first of January 1884, just days before his 90th birthday.
Late one night in October 1867, fire broke out at Baumann’s Asylum Road brewery. Although it was a “distance from the main part of town [and] it was sometime before the alarm was sounded” (Telegraph) the Burr-Oak fire wagon eventually responded. Firemen and bystanders managed to save the house next to the brewery and a few of the out buildings, but the large main (wooden) structure burned to the ground and was a total loss.
The following summer, Baumann employed a prominent local architect and builder named Henry W. Coddington to rebuild the brewery, and renamed his operation the “Kalamazoo Steam Brewery.” Steam brewing was a relatively new process that gained popularity around this time out of necessity due to lack of refrigeration. It employed a strain of lager yeast which fermented at higher temperatures than other lager and ale yeasts, creating a light and inexpensive lager-style brew that was especially popular among the working class.
During the brewery’s $25,000 reconstruction process, a new below ground ice-chilled lagering cellar was added. Ice cut during the wintertime from a nearby pond was stored and used to cool the 150 butts (large wooden storage tanks), each of which stored roughly 30 barrels (930 gallons) of lager. The cellar provided ideal conditions for the lagering process, which required the beer to be stored below 60 degrees for several weeks.
“Messrs. Baumann & Co. are honorable men, and thoroughly acquainted with the business, and intend their goods shall always be of the purest quality. Already Baumann’s ale, porter and lager have attained an enviable reputation for their agreeable flavor.”
—Kalamazoo Telegraph, 21 May 1869
By 1868, William S. Downer was Baumann’s head brewer, Matthew Carroll and Martin Carl were resident malsters. George Foegele left the operation to become a prominent local fireman and saloon keeper until his death in 1874 at the age of 47.
In May 1869 Nicholas Baumann received a patent for his improved process of using unmashed Indian corn in brewing beer. According to Baumann’s patent, “it is not a new thing to apply unmashed Indian corn in the manufacture of beer; but difficulties have arisen everywhere in endeavoring thoroughly to mix the unmashed corn with the mash, and thus to utilize the whole transforming power of the malt” (US Patent Office). The extent to which Baumann employed this process at his Kalamazoo Steam Brewery and the amount of corn he used in his local brew (if any at all) is not known.
In 1871, Nicholas Baumann sold his interest in the Kalamazoo Steam Brewery for $42,000 (roughly $750,000 today) and went on to become a successful local real estate developer and entrepreneur. He built the Baumann block on Burdick Street in 1870, two additional stores on Water Street in 1872, and a saloon, restaurant and billiard hall known as the Peninsular Building on the north side of Main Street (Michigan Avenue) in 1875. (The Olde Peninsula Brewpub draws its name from Baumann’s building, although contrary to a plaque on the side of the current building, it is not the same location.) During the 1880s, Baumann formed ‘N Baumann & Sons’ with his sons Frank and James, who became successful local saloon keepers on East Main and North Burdick streets. Nicholas Baumann passed away in 1895 at the age of 67. (More about Nicholas Baumann in the coming sections.)
In February 1871, it was announced that Charles W. Minard, a brewer and malster from Detroit, had leased the brewery on Arcadia Creek. Calling his operation the Kalamazoo Steam Brewery and Malt House, Minard solicited “orders from town and country” for his cream and stock ale, brown stout, porter and lager. Later that fall, Minard exhibited a half-barrel of porter, a keg of lager beer, and a half-barrel of ale in the twenty-third annual Exhibition of the Michigan State Agricultural Society (Michigan State Fair), which was held in Kalamazoo during September that year.
“This [Liquor Tax Law], like prohibition, is an experiment, and experience alone can demonstrate its utility or impracticability. In the execution of the law it may be found that deficits exist which can be remedied at some future time, but there is little doubt but that the people have struck upon the right method of dealing with this question. The traffic should be taxed, and then dealers ought to receive protection in their business.”
—Kalamazoo Gazette, 7 May 1875
“Three of our boys went to Long Lake Sunday. On their return home, they became very dry and stopped at the steam brewery for a glas(sic) of ice water (their emphasis). While enjoying the invigorating glass a train of cars approached, which so frightened their horse that he started for home, but had gone but a short distance before the carriage and horse were both upset. When found the horse was under and a somewhat demoralized carriage on top. The horse had none of the ice water either.”
—Kalamazoo Gazette, 29 July 1879
In 1875, the State of Michigan repealed the 1853 liquor ban and instead imposed an annual tax on beer and liquor retailers, wholesalers, distillers and brewers. For a “class B” brewer (producing less than 1,500 barrels per year), this meant a flat annual tax of $50. For a “class A” brewer (producing in excess of 1,500 barrels per year, but less than 5,000 bbls), the annual fee was $100. Manufacturers producing more than 5,000 bbls per year would be charged $200.
George Neumaier & Leo Kinast
There were five local brewers on the 1875 tax collection list for Kalamazoo County: Nicholas Baumann, Barney Locher, Dorothy Burchnall, Henry Schroder, and another recent arrival from Germany, George Neumaier. Born 27 April 1842 in Baden, Germany, George Neumaier trained as a cooper and a brewer before emigrating to the United States in 1866. After three years of work in New York City breweries and malt houses, Neumaier moved to Adrian, Michigan with his brother where he became the foreman of a brewery there. In 1872, he moved on to Kalamazoo with his wife, Valentina, and took over the old Steam Brewery on Asylum Road in partnership with fellow German Leo Kinast (born in Baden about 1842). ‘G. Neumaier & Co.’ began distributing its Bock Beer in May 1873, along with a “fine Lager for Family use” (Kalamazoo Telegraph).
George Neumaier left the Kalamazoo Steam Brewery in 1878 to begin his own brewing venture. (More about George Neumaier in a later section.) Meanwhile, Leo Kinast maintained the Steam Brewery with help from Frederick Beck (b. abt 1855) until his death in 1881. (Kinast is listed as the sole proprietor of Kalamazoo Steam Brewery in Everts & Abbott, History of Kalamazoo County, Michigan, published in 1880.) Soon after, the property fell into the hands of Robert R. Howard from Detroit, who attempted to revive the brewery in 1883 by renting it to a firm from Marshall, but his efforts were of no avail. After Kinast’s death, the brewery sat vacant for several years, save for “a number of casks and vats” (Gazette).
In June 1886 an ember from a passing Michigan Central locomotive ignited a fire at the vacant brewery property along Asylum Road, which gutted the old brewery building and destroyed a nearby ice house. Loss was valued at $12,000, roughly equivalent to $320,000 today. The growing local temperance movement celebrated the event, declaring that “it was an act of providence to do away with the nefarious business of brewing the devil’s drink” (Gazette). Nevertheless, the ruins of the burned out brewery building stood until 1890. A decade later, the land was cleared and platted for residential use.
The community’s second so-called “Kalamazoo Brewery” was established during the 1850s by “a German political refugee” (Gazette) named “Count” Lorenz Brentano. Brentano’s Kalamazoo Brewery was located along the south side of Walnut Street on a portion of the old denBleyker homestead just east of John Street, roughly where the Bronson Hospital emergency room is now located.
Born in Mannheim, Germany in 1813, Lorenz Brentano studied law at universities in Heidelberg, Freiburg and Giessen, and was widely recognized for his rhetorical skills and sharp logic as a supreme court lawyer. During the early part of his career he became a leader of Baden’s democratic left and was an outspoken critic of the moderate German government.
An active supporter and participant in the 1848 revolution against Germany’s conservative aristocracy, Brentano was elected president of the short-lived provisional republic. The revolution failed, however, and Brentano fled to Switzerland to avoid imprisonment. In 1849, he joined the nearly one million other Germans who emigrated to the United States during the following decade and settled in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania where he became a journalist and publisher of Der Leuchtturm, a German anti-slavery journal.
“Bavarian Lager Beer and Ale”
Brentano spent a year or so in Pennsylvania before moving to Kalamazoo County where he became a farmer and eventually a brewer. According to the Detroit Free Press, “His life in Michigan was a very quiet one.” In 1857 Brentano served as a school inspector in Portage Township, and by January 1858 he was in the village of Kalamazoo advertising that he had “the entire control” of the Kalamazoo Brewery on Walnut Street. Brentano wrote that his “excellent establishment” was by then “prepared to fill all orders for his celebrated Bavarian lager beer and ale,” which would be delivered free of charge if ordered at the brewery or at Stofel’s Lager Beer Saloon on Burdick Street. Brentano offered to pay the “highest market price” for hops and barley, and called special attention to his featured product, “a choice article of Ale and Beer, expressly for family use... (an) excellent, wholesome, healthy beverage.”
Brentano ran his Kalamazoo Brewery until 1859 when he turned his operation over to Nicholas Baumann and moved on to Chicago to practice law and resume writing.
By 1860, Brentano was in Chicago practicing law; he was eventually elected to Congress and became a prominent politician. Nicholas Baumann built a new brewery of his own on Winstead Street, while John Peter Herboldsheimer (Heirboldsheimer, Harboldsheemer) (born in Bavaria (Bayern), Germany in 1807) took over ownership of the Kalamazoo Brewery on Walnut Street. Herboldsheimer’s small two-person operation kept an inventory of 300 bushels of barley and 400 pounds of hops while producing roughly 150 barrels (nearly 4,700 gallons) of beer annually.
Born in Württemberg, Germany, in 1838, Bernhard “Barney” Locher was already a brewer by trade at the age of 19 when he boarded the steamship Ericsson in Bremerhaven on the northern coast of Germany and set sail for the United States. Locher arrived in New York on the 5th of November 1857.
By the fall of 1862, Peter Herboldsheimer had moved on and was brewing beer in Topeka, Kansas, where he died a few months after. Barney Locher was by then the proprietor of the brewery on Walnut Street, selling “good Hay and Harvest Ale and Beer” at $9 per barrel. When Locher and his resident brewers Albert Fogt and Michael Henkee took over the brewery on Walnut Street, it was the smallest of the four local breweries (in terms of taxable value). By 1865, Locher’s operation had grown to be second only to Foegele & Baumann.
Following the death of his first wife in April 1868, Locher married Theressa Sarah Robischung, daughter of the well-known local cooper and saloon keeper Joseph Robischung. The couple had seven children; William C., Adolph G., Edward L., George F., Bertha A., Louisa D., and Estella A. John Pedler (b. abt 1841 in Württemberg) lived next door at the time and was probably employed there as a brewer.
Locher became an active member of Kalamazoo’s vibrant German community. He often participated in programs put on by the German Harmonia Society, was treasurer of the German Workingmen’s Benevolent Association, and was an active member and treasurer of the local fire department’s Empire Hook and Ladder Co, No. 1.
After a decade of producing high quality lager and ale, Locher expanded his operation during the early months of 1874 by adding a new brick building, which allowed his production capacity to exceed 15,000 barrels annually, making Locher’s ‘Lager Beer Brewery’ the largest of the local breweries at the time. Michael Henky (b. abt 1834 in Bavaria) was living on John Street at the time and probably worked for Locher as a brewer.
Federal and state tax assessments show that Locher operated consistently through 1878, when he was advertising the release of his “celebrated Bock Beer.” But competition was stiff and by 1879, Locher’s luck had apparently run out. After losing one of his buildings to an accidental fire and with his 1878 state liquor tax listed as “uncollected,” Locher defaulted on a mortgage.
In October 1879, the brewery on Walnut Street and all of its contents went up for public auction. The following June, Locher opened a wholesale and retail ale house and bottling works at 73 Main Street, but his health was failing. He traveled to Petoskey in late summer for some rest, but died of consumption (tuberculosis) while there on the 8th of September, 1880, 17 days after his 42nd birthday. He was buried at Riverside Cemetery.
Sarah Locher continued to operate the brewery for a brief time, but eventually the land was sold and platted for residential use. Portions the old Kalamazoo Brewery buildings survived as an apartment building known as the Bostwick flat until 1968, when the last remaining brick walls were town down to make way for a Bronson Hospital expansion project.
In 1856, Beckham “Richard” Frank (born Baden, Germany about 1828) arrived in Kalamazoo and by 1860 had established a small “class B” brewery at 77 Kalamazoo Avenue, near the intersection of Main Street (Michigan Avenue) and Kalamazoo Avenue, just west of the Kalamazoo River bridge. Frank’s operation started small and remained consistent, averaging between 10 and 30 barrels each month. By comparison, Frank’s Brewery produced in 1865 roughly one quarter (in terms of taxable value) that of Foegele & Baumann’s outfit.
Richard Frank passed away in April 1865 and by December, Frank’s Brewery—by far the smallest operation in the village—had been taken over by Henry Schroder (born about 1834), an immigrant from Prussia, who soon thereafter married Frank’s widow, Caroline. Joseph and John Frank, two of Richard Frank’s sons, both worked in the brewery around that time. George Foegele of the former Kalamazoo Spring Brewery later joined Schroder’s operation, as did brewer William Koehler.
Henry Schroder was a true craftsman, a “manufacturer of superior ale, lager and porter” who took great pride in his small operation. Schroder himself was a lively character, too, who often decorated his brewery wagon and took part in local holiday parades. Schroder was seen more than once in front of a judge for selling beer on Sunday.
Village tax rolls indicate $50 was collected from Schroder (as a Class ‘B’ brewer) for 1877 and 1878, and $65 for 1881, but at some point, evidence suggests that Schroder’s tax payment schedule went awry. “Many thousands of gallons of brew went into the placid Kalamazoo,” recalled the Gazette, “when revenue officers breached the barrels and sent their contents into the ditch when this place went out of business.” In November 1884, the remainder of the Schroder Brewery was sold to Albert Frank (the original owner’s son) for $3,400. The 1887 Sanborn fire insurance map identifies the building at that location as “1 Fr. Malt Ho.” (one frame malt house) but offers no further details. In 1913, the site was purchased by the Chicago, Grand Rapids & Indiana (G.R.& I.) railway company to make way for a new interurban line. The old brewery building, considered a local landmark, was torn down at that time.
“The brewery ceased business because the great concerns in Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis shipped in their products much cheaper than the home product could be sold for,” explained a Kalamazoo Gazette writer in 1920. “Other breweries here ceased operations for the same reason.”
The Portage Brewery was yet another small brewery that sprang into operation during the 1850s. Built by Nicholas Baumann (Bauman) in 1856 along the west side of Winsted Street (since absorbed by a parking lot), the brewery was located near the outskirts of town at what was then known as the “lower end of Portage Street” near the intersection of Portage and Lovell.
Baumann, who would become involved in several local breweries during his lifetime, was born in Bavaria about 1828 and probably arrived in New York aboard the passenger ship Hector in April 1849, before finding his way to Kalamazoo in 1855 from New York’s Allegheny Mountain region. After working in a boarding house for a brief time, Baumann built the Portage Brewery and managed the operation for about four years.
In 1859, Baumann took over Lorenz Brentano’s Kalamazoo Brewery on Walnut Street, and soon thereafter turned the operation over to John Peter Herboldsheimer, while he continued to operate the brewery on Winstead Street. During the early spring that year, an argument with Herboldsheimer ensued and as a result, Baumann was severely scalded after being doused with a bucketful of hot beer. Herboldsheimer was found guilty and sentenced to 40 days in jail for the incident, plus a $100 fine. He left town soon after. While recovering from his injuries, Baumann turned his Portage Brewery operation over to Sesemann & Co. (J. Sesemann, Lewis Leovert, John Honser, et al.) A short time later, Baumann joined Syke & Foegele’s operation at the Kalamazoo Spring Brewery (as noted earlier).
Sesemann & Co.
Like Brentano at the Walnut Street brewery, J. Sesemann (Sessaman) (born in Saxony about 1823) offered his own “celebrated ale and lager beer,” delivered promptly “free of charge.” Sesemann—like Brentano—advertised “a choice article of Ale and Beer, expressly for family use,” once again emphasizing that their product was an “excellent, wholesome, healthy beverage.”
Hughes & True, Seyfferth & Son
By the spring of 1864, William L. Hughes & Samuel True had taken over the operation at 6 Winsted Street and were calling it the Burr Oak Brewery. In the fall, Sam True opened a saloon in the basement of Fireman’s Hall on South Burdick Street while Hughes continued to operate the Burr Oak Brewery until about 1870, when Fred Seyfferth, a former brewer at the Steam Brewery, then became proprietor. Seyfferth and his son, Charles Seyfferth (born about 1855), operated the brewery until about 1873 or so.
Kalamazoo Elevator Works
Though clearly shown on the 1873 village map, the Portage Brewery did not appear on the 1876 or 1877 liquor tax assessments, and by then Seyfferth was working as a bookbinder. In September 1881, “the old brewery opposite Egleston’s” (Kalamazoo Spring and Axle Company) was purchased by W.H. Gibson for use as a machine shop at his Kalamazoo Elevator Works.
Cold Stream Brewery
Taylor, Thackwray & Co.
Reuben J. Taylor, Richard Taylor (b. 1837), and brother-in-law John Thackwray (b. abt 1848) were all Englishmen who arrived in Kalamazoo near the end of the Civil War, about 1865. Together, they formed Taylor Thackwray & Co. and established a brewery at 6 Lake Street, on the south side of Olmstead Road (Lake Street), just east of Portage Road, near a portion of what was then Merrill & McCourtie’s mill pond. The brewery, listed among five local brewers in the 1869 Kalamazoo city directory, operated until at least 1870 before closing. In February 1872, the parcel of land along Lake Street, including the brewery, was sold by the village of Kalamazoo for delinquent 1869 taxes.
In 1878, George Neumaier left the Steam Brewery on Asylum Road and took over the remains of the old Taylor Thackwray operation on Lake Street as Geo. Neumaier & Co. According to the Kalamazoo Telegraph, the old brewery building was “overhauled, renovated and enlarged” by Neumaier and was in full operation by fall.
Eventually, Neumaier’s brewery became known as the “Cold Stream Brewery” after Merrill & McCourtie’s nearby flour mills of the same name. As time went by Neumaier’s brewery earned a solid reputation and by 1884 his was the only such operation left in Kalamazoo, producing between 900 and 1,500 barrels annually. Major improvements during this time included the addition of a new ice house in 1886 with a capacity of 100 tons. during the winter months ice was cut off Merrill & McCourtie’s mill pond and stored away for use in the brewery’s lagering process. A young woman named Columbia Reister (b. abt 1854 in Baden) boarded with the Neumaiers and worked as a brewer. Uriah Wheeler (b. abt 1820 in New York) lived nearby on Jackson Street and worked as a cooper.
Kalamazoo Union Brewing Company
After a successful career that spanned more than three decades, the elder Neumaier decided to retire in the fall of 1894, and turned the brewery operation over to his son, Alfred George “Fred” Neumaier (born 1872). Fred Neumaier had worked for several years at the Finlay Brewing Company in Toledo, Ohio, a well-established and considerably larger outfit than the Kalamazoo brewery at the time. Neumaier formed a partnership with Leo Wagenman (Wagemann), a brewmaster with twenty years of experience and most recently a foreman at the same Toledo firm. Together they formed a stock company called the Kalamazoo Union Brewing Company and made significant changes within the organization. After four months of work perfecting its product, the first kegs from the new company were tapped in January 1895, and according to the local press, the firm was “turning out a fine article” (Gazette).
The 1895 brewing run was an apparent success, but in December Leo Wagenman announced that the “location near the corner of Lake and Portage streets (was) entirely too small for his growing business” (Telegraph). As such he had purchased the former Galligan & Horn Cart Company’s factory building at the northwest corner of Vine and Mill (now Mills) streets with plans to turn it into an “extensive brewery” (Telegraph). Wagenman hoped to have the new larger facility up and running by February.
City Union Brewery
As brewing began at the Mill Street location, cracks in the Neumaier-Wagenman partnership began to show. In February 1896 Fred Neumaier announced that he had severed his connection with the Kalamazoo Union Brewery (and Wagenman) and would begin a “new concern” (Telegraph) back at the old building on Lake Street with experienced Detroit brewer, Steve Zanda, a recent graduate of the Chicago Brewers Academy. By May, Neumaier was advertising that his City Union Brewery at 823 Lake Street was producing a “Fine stapletry of choice beer for family use” (Telegraph).
After more than a quarter-century of local brewing, George Neumaier and his family had become well respected members of the Kalamazoo Community. George was active for many years as an officer and trustee in the local German Workingmen’s Benevolent Association and was a strong advocate for his fellow workers. When engineer Frank Messina became disabled following an accident at the Kalamazoo Lighting Company, George Neumaier purchased an empty lot near his brewery and erected a building where Messina could reside and operate a grocery store while recovering from his injuries. Neumaier then worked with the German association to purchase stock for the store and help Messina get back on his feet.
Back on Mill Street, Wagenman went ahead and released the first batch of his own Kalamazoo Union brew during the early weeks of 1896. Although his skills as a brewmaster were highly regarded, his salesmanship and public relations abilities apparently fell short.
When Neumaier announced his split from the Kalamazoo Union Brewery, Wagenman tried to undercut Neumaier by selling his beer “bottled for less than the regular price” (Gazette). As a result the local barkeeps and shop owners retaliated by boycotting Wagenman’s product and buying Neumaier’s beer instead. Without the ability to sell his product, several hundred barrels of Wagenman’s beer sat in storage over the summer and went sour as a result.
When revenue agents came around to collect taxes in mid-November, Wagenman was not about to pay the $1 per barrel tax on his unsaleable stock so all 465 barrels of it (14,400+ gallons valued at more than $1,000* at the time) “was turned out of the barrels and ran down Portage creek into the Kalamazoo river” (Gazette). Wagenman appeared in court the following spring for violating the liquor law, but the charges were ultimately dismissed. Wagenman ceased his brewing operation thereafter and returned to Toledo.
*In today’s market, 14,400 gallons (115,200 pints @ $5 per pint) would amount to roughly $576,000 retail.
Neumaier made “extensive improvements” (Kalamazoo Evening News) in the Lake Street building during February 1899, including the installation of a new 80-horsepower boiler by the Clark Engine & Boiler Company. By April, Neumaier’s City Union Brewery was producing roughly 140 barrels per day.
“The City Union Brewery, of Kalamazoo, owned by Alfred G. Neumaier, has just completed a new three-story brick brew house and a 75-barrel outfit complete, put in by the Huetteman & Cramer Co., of Detroit. A 20-ton ice machine and a new cellar have also been put in.” —American Brewers’ Review (Chicago), 20 January 1901
In October 1900, Neumaier announced that he planned to make another $30,000 in additional improvements. The brewery was to be rebuilt and made a full story higher in order to accommodate new machinery and equipment. Production at the Kalamazoo brewery was expected to double.
Kalamazoo Brewing Company
In October 1904, the City Union Brewery was converted to a new stock company, and incorporated as the Kalamazoo Brewing Company on January 1, 1905 with capital stock of $75,000. Albert Doll, a prominent local saloon owner and future president of the Kalamazoo Liquor Dealers Association, was elected company president; Carl Schanz, vice president; Henry Buechner, secretary; and Fred Neumaier, general manager; while William Farley, Frank Flaits and William Pendleton rounded out the board of directors.
“HENRY W. BUECHNER: A great many people who have beer in their ice box make the mistake of keeping it too cold. Some even pack it in ice before serving; this freezing kills the life of the beer and it falls flat. At the brewing company we keep our beer at the uniform temperature of 42 degrees. A man who appreciates good beer often drink in copper goblets, steaming same before drinking. Don’t drink your beer too cold.”
—Kalamazoo Gazette, 15 January 1909
George Neumaier, who remained active in the company for years after his retirement, passed away in August 1907. Herbert Davis, Vern Yost, Bernard Schwarze, Bamhart Schwarze, Anthony Schwarze, Clinton Gembering, Edward Kem, Leonard Kochler, Phoebe Buchner, and Augustus Stevens all worked in the brewery around that time.
“The Kalamazoo Brewing Co. aims to supply the better class of trade—those who appreciate quality and the value of a first class, healthful refreshing beverage.”
— Kalamazoo Gazette, 17 January 1909
Facing formidable competition from much larger firms in Detroit, St. Louis and Milwaukee, along with the ever growing opposition to alcoholic beverages, the Kalamazoo Brewing Company made every attempt to appeal to a mass audience by positioning its product as a healthful “temperance” drink, a suitable alternative to hard liquor. Brewers both locally and nationally tried to downplay the alcohol content while emphasizing food value.
“You know what is in it...”
Kalamazoo Brewing made additional attempts to promote its product as a “safe” alternative to the highly competitive national brands by implying that unlike locally made beer, those out-of-town products could be contaminated with unknown or “cheap” ingredients. Labels on the local product clearly stated that Kalamazoo beer was made “pure and without drugs or poison.” A 1911 article cited an “unsolicited recommendation” by the United States Health Bulletin, commending the Kalamazoo product for its “high degree of perfection from its care in preparation, its freedom from adulteration, purity of water used in its manufacture, and the sanitary and hygienic methods employed in the handling of it during both its production and delivery” (Gazette). Other advertisements boldly claimed that the “Famous Brew of Kalamazoo” was “highly recommended by physicians for its purity and quality” (Telegraph).
By 1909, a major advertising campaign was underway in hopes of attracting “the better class of trade—those who appreciate quality and the value of a first class, healthful refreshing beverage” (Gazette). Ads attempted to emphasize the advantages of Kalamazoo beer by promoting it as a clean and well-made local product crafted by brewers like Leonard Kochler (b. abt 1851 in Germany) and Charles Grothen (b. abt 1865 in Ohio), “brewers who ‘know how’” (Gazette). Recent renovations were cited that called attention to “the most up-to-date” equipment, including a new filter, which was installed “at enormous cost,” and a “Deckenbach cooler of the latest design” (Gazette).
“In manufacturing the ‘Brew from Kalamazoo’ we use hops and malt,” stated Henry Buechner, “and extend all a cordial invitation to pay us a visit so that we may show just how good pure beer is made” (Gazette). Advertisements urged the locals to “enjoy the best beer brewed,” and “continue to build up your hometown and patronize home industry by calling for The Brew from Kalamazoo” (Gazette).
In April 1915, Kalamazoo County voters elected to outlaw the production and sale of alcoholic beverages—still five years ahead of the nationwide Eighteenth Amendment. On May 1st, 1915, sixty five business establishments across Kalamazoo County closed their doors, including thirty four saloons within the city of Kalamazoo, plus the Kalamazoo Brewery, the only remaining alcohol manufacturing facility in Kalamazoo County.
After the brewery equipment was dismantled and sold, Alfred Neumaier retired. He passed away in January 1937 at the age of 64, just four years after the sale of beer in Kalamazoo was once again legalized. (The sale of liquor by-the-glass was banned in Kalamazoo until 1964; Sunday by-the-glass sales were prohibited until 1970.) The building remained vacant until May 1917 when the Kalamazoo Creamery Company bought the former brewery and converted it into a pasteurization plant. The Kalamazoo Creamery went into operation in the new location in 1919.
After nearly eighty years of use, the creamery was closed in 1997 and the remaining building complex gradually fell into a state of disrepair. The old brewery building was finally razed in November 2011 to make way for a new mixed-used development. As of this writing, the lot remains vacant.
Just as a forest sees fresh new growth after a devastating wildfire, some 70 years would pass between the closing of the old Kalamazoo Brewery and the time when a new “Brew from Kalamazoo” would bring one of the local community’s earliest industries back to life. A lot has changed since local brewers like Barney Locher, Nicholas Baumann, Dorothy Burchnall and George Neumaier walked the streets of Kalamazoo, but thanks to careful craftsmanship and basic ingredients like water, malt, hops and yeast, things somehow remain the same. Cheers!
Like many of our Local History essays, this article is by no means a definitive study; rather it is a continuing work-in-progress. If you have new information, corrections, photos, or items you’d like to share, please contact the author or the Local History Room.
An adaptation of this article appeared in the Autumn 2015 issue (Number 163, ISSN 0267 6753, pp. 66-75) of Brewery History, Journal of the Brewery History Society (Surrey, Great Britain). www.breweryhistory.com