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 in the United States 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 went into the brewing business, armed only with a recipe, a 15-gallon soup pot, and a $200 birthday gift from his mom.
Today, Bell’s Brewery, Inc. is the largest craft brewer in Michigan and 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.
Larry Bell and Kalamazoo’s many fine brewmasters follow a long line of local brewers and maltsters 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
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 7 to 10 day journey and since these early American ales were highly susceptible to heat, light, 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, beer was for the most part a local product.
Many of the first brewers in Bronson (Kalamazoo) Village were do-it-yourself and family operations, “when each housewife made her own ale” (Kalamazoo Telegraph). 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 this 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 what recipe was used or what quantities were made, brewing supplies were readily available in nineteenth century Kalamazoo. By 1837, hops extract (wholesale & retail) could be found at Dr. Starkey’s Medical Store on Main Street, “nearly opposite the Land Office.” Barley was grown locally, and could be purchased at Edwards’ Grocery Store, also on Main Street; the going rate in October 1837 was 62½¢ per bushel. In October 1841, Francis March began offering “the highest market price” (Gazette) for barley 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 Jason Platt Clapham’s Drug Store on Main Street, and by 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 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 this first (1837) brewery and the identity of its owner are still the source of much speculation. This first brewery could have been connected with T. Clark & Son, who ran the first local distillery near the Kalamazoo River. Or, it could have been located on North Burdick Street near the (then future) MCRR depot, a spot later referred to as “Wood's Brewery.” An early pioneer later 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 cases suggests otherwise. In reality, it was most likely an early operation of John Hall, who was residing on Portage Street when he opened his “large brewery” (Gazette) west of the village in 1846, but is believed to have been in Kalamazoo as early as January 1837.
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 at their dry goods store on Main Street in 1842, along with corn, rye, and barley, still years before the Michigan Central railroad arrived in Kalamazoo.
The village continued to grow and by 1850, the local population had increased fourfold. By this time, at least two commercial breweries were operating within the corporation limits of Kalamazoo.
The English Influence: Beers and Ales
Kalamazoo’s earliest 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 “mild” (young) English beers (brewed with hops as a preservative and to add bitterness) and ales, which did not require extensive aging and were somewhat cheaper to produce. (‘Ale’ was brewed with malted barley, water and yeast but without hops, although that did change over time. In addition, 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” ales, with alcohol content ranging from 5% to 7% abv.
John Hall’s ‘Kalamazoo Brewery’
One of Kalamazoo’s first documented commercial brewers was an Englishman named John Hall (born about 1799). In November 1845, Hall was offering cash for hops at his house on Portage Street. A year later, the Kalamazoo Gazette referred to the great many improvements being made in Kalamazoo Village, including the “large brewery of Mr. Hall” which had “just gone into operation.” John Hall’s brewery was located just west of the village where “the road to Genesee Prairie” (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.
Benjamin Hall & Jason Russell
In May 1849, an English immigrant named Benjamin Hall (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.
*Some accounts refer to Jason Russell as “Rupello,” perhaps due to poor handwriting on the 1850 census.
By 1850, Hall & Russell’s operation was consuming some 2,000 bushels of barley each year with annual production reaching 14,000 gallons. 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). According to the 1860 U.S. Federal Census, John Hall remained a brewer by trade, although there is no indication that he did so commercially.
James Holmes & Jacob Harlan
Kalamazoo’s other documented pre-1850s brewery was located on Burdick Street near the Michigan Central depot. This could very well have been Kalamazoo’s first brewery as described in an April 1837 Gazette article, but details of its exact origin are open to speculation.
According to the 1850 U.S. Federal Census, there were four professional brewers in Kalamazoo at the time; Benjamin Hall and Jason Russell (both associated with the Asylum Road brewery), an English immigrant named James S. Holmes (born about 1810), and a German immigrant named Jacob Harlan (born about 1798), both of whom were presumably connected with the decidedly smaller operation on Burdick Street. The 1850 Michigan nonpopulation census tells us that Harlan led the more modest of the two breweries, consuming some 1,100 bushels of barley annually and producing just 6,000 gallons in the process.
Holmes & Hall Brewery & Saloon / Wood’s Brewery
By 1853, Harlan was out of the brewing trade and James Holmes was in partnership with former “west end” brewer Benjamin Hall when they opened their “new and spacious dining saloon” next door to the Burdick Street brewery. 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 Gazette article describes the location as “Wood’s Brewery,” which indicates it was probably somehow connected with William H. Wood, who took over Hiram Arnold’s nearby flour mill in 1855, though further details of Wood’s involvement in brewing have yet to be located.
Hall died in February 1859, leaving Holmes as the sole proprietor, yet the operation was still 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.
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. The Union Sunday School Temperance Reform Army had organized three years earlier and was already working hard to further the temperance cause among village youth under the leadership of Superintendent D.O. Roberts.
Temperance supporters were against most forms of strong drink, but their primary focus (at least in the beginning) was on moderation (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 attempted to distance themselves from the distillers by portraying beer as a healthy alternative to hard liquor. They began promoting their product heavily during the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a “family beverage,” a “temperance drink,” or “liquid bread.”
A Second Round: Commercial Brewing in Kalamazoo after 1850
Distilling ceased in Kalamazoo after 1858, but Kalamazoo’s brewery business witnessed unprecedented growth during the 1860s, despite the statewide alcohol ban. As of 1856, there were still just two breweries in Kalamazoo. 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 1.) on Asylum Avenue, just west of the village; 2.) on East Main Street near the river; 3.) on North Burdick Street, two blocks north of the railroad depot; 4.) on Walnut Street, one block east of Burdick Street; 5.) on Winstead Street, near the intersection of Portage and Lovell; and 6.) on Lake Street, just east of Portage Street. Other brewers, like ‘Old Joe’ and Dorothy Burchnall, began operating during the same time period in nearby rural areas. Many were established well before the Civil War and most enjoyed modest success until the late 1870s.
John Williams’ Small Beer Manufactory
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 (albeit erroneously) among other local brewers.
City Bottling Works
William Seymour had taken over the operation by 1860 and was manufacturing Cronk Beer, sassafras and lemon pop at the same location on Main Street. 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 became 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.
By 1907, Schoenheit had moved the City Bottling Works to Portage Street and expanded it 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. The City Bottling Works remained active until 1919 when it was taken over by the Michigan Coca-Cola Bottling Company.
‘Old Joe’ & Dorothy Burchnall’s Brewery
Already a brewer by trade, Joseph Burchnall (Burchnell, Burchnal) (born about 1814) 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 couple had found their way to Kalamazoo (probably from Wisconsin) and by 1861, they had established a brewery on their nine acre farm south of the village in section 34 of Kalamazoo Township, between Portage Creek and the “Kalamazoo and Three Rivers Plank Road” (Lovers Lane), near where Milham Park is today. 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.”
But the Burchnalls’ output during the 1860s was significant, and by 1865, they had become the second largest 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 store, 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 Joseph Burchnall’s death in 1873, Ms. Burchnall continued to maintain the brewery on her own for several years; her ginger ale was a specialty.
The Burchnalls’ had one daughter, Mary Elizabeth Burchnall (b.1847), who later married a Kalamazoo man named Thomas Westnedge (b.1834). In 1872, Mary Westnedge gave birth to a son named Joseph Burchnall Westnedge in honor of the boy’s grandfather. That son grew to become Colonel Joseph B. Westnedge (“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. Walker engaged in the brewery trade on the former Burchnall property at least until 1878, 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.
George Judge’s Kalamazoo Malt House
Born in Kent, England, in 1820, George Judge settled in Kalamazoo about 1850 and soon became a successful maltster (malt maker). 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 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 from active operation about 1882. Bommerscheim later purchased the former Judge property on North Burdick Street in 1886 and moved his saloon and beer bottling operation to that location. George Judge remained in Kalamazoo until his death in 1893. John Bommerscheim’s saloon and warehouse were destroyed by a massive fire in June 1895, but the 1896 Sanborn fire insurance map shows the old malt house still standing, although vacant. According to the 1902 map the building was being used as a “Celery Shipping HQ,” but it had been replaced by Judge Court and several residential buildings by the time the 1908 map was drawn.
The German Influence: Lager
While Kalamazoo’s earliest brewers were mostly 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. Soon, the English ales were supplanted by the German style lagers, which were not only less costly to produce, but would keep longer than their British-style counterparts. Unlike ale, “Lagerbier” or lager (German for storeroom or warehouse) was made with a bottom-fermenting yeast and kept under cold storage for several weeks to produce a mild, lightly colored and stable beverage. (Lager yeast produces less surface foam and tends to settle to the bottom during fermentation.) This style of beer would dominate American brewing throughout the coming century.
Kalamazoo Spring Brewery
Sebastian Syke & George Foegele
Born in Spain of German parents about 1795, Sebastian Syke (Syikes, Zeug) arrived in Kalamazoo from Rochester, New York, about 1856 and took over Hall’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 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) (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 consumed some 3,700 bushels of malt and 2,500 pounds of hops each year, and produced “a superior article of ale and lager beer” (Gazette), with annual output of approximately 1,500 barrels (nearly 46,000 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 and Foegele were 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, Syke, Foegele & Baumann were the largest producers (according to taxable value) of the four local (licensed) brewers. Sebastian Syke, once a soldier against Napoleon and wounded in the famous 1813 Battle of Leipzig, retired from the operation about 1868 while well into his seventies. Syke lived to see his 90th birthday before his death in 1884.
In October 1867, a devastating fire broke out at Baumann’s Asylum Road brewery. The house next to the brewery and a few of the out buildings were spared, but the large main (wooden) structure burned to the ground.
The following summer, Baumann had his brewery rebuilt by Henry W. Coddington, a prominent local architect and builder, and he 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 thirty barrels (900+ 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. George Foegele left the operation to become a prominent local fireman and saloon keeper until his death in 1874 at the age of 47. Nicholas Baumann received a patent in May 1869 for his process for using unmashed Indian corn in brewing beer, but there is no further evidence that the process was ever employed. In 1871, Baumann sold his interest in the brewery for $42,000 (roughly $750,000 today) and went on to become a successful local real estate developer. He built the Baumann block on Burdick Street in 1870, two 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.) Baumann’s son, Frank, later became a successful local saloon keeper. Nicholas Baumann passed away in 1895 at the age of 67.
In February 1871, it was announced that C.W. Minard of 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.
“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 500 barrels per year), this meant a flat annual tax of $50. For a “class A” brewer (producing in excess of 500 barrels per year), the annual fee was $100.
George Neumaier & Leo Kinast
Four local brewers were on the 1875 list for tax collection, including another new arrival of German descent, George Neumaier. Born 27 April 1842 in Baden, Germany, George Neumaier and his wife, Valentina, arrived in Kalamazoo from New York in 1872. George immediately went to work at the old Steam Brewery on Asylum Road, and by the following spring had become its proprietor, in partnership with fellow German Leo Kinast (born in Baden about 1841). 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 about 1878 to begin his own brewing venture. Kinast maintained the Steam Brewery on his own until his death about 1880. (George Kinast is listed as the sole proprietor of Kalamazoo Steam Brewery in Everts & Abbott, History of Kalamazoo County, Michigan (1880).) Thereafter, the property was owned by 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 remained vacant for several years, save for “a number of casks and vats” (Gazette).
A $12,000 fire, probably caused by a passing Michigan Central locomotive, gutted the old brewery building and destroyed a nearby ice house in June 1886. 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 after that, 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.
In 1858, Brentano advertised that he had “the entire control” of this “excellent establishment” and his “celebrated Bavarian lager beer and ale” would be delivered free of charge if ordered at the brewery or at Stofel’s Lager Beer Saloon on Burdick Street. Brentano offered the “highest market price” for hops and barley, and called special attention to his product, “a choice article of Ale and Beer, expressly for family use... (an) excellent, wholesome, healthy beverage.” Brentano ran his brewery for a year or so, then sold the operation to Nicholas Baumann.
By 1860, Brentano was in Chicago (where he eventually became a prominent politician), Baumann had built a new brewery of his own on Winstead Street, and Peter Heirboldsheimer (born in Bavaria about 1807) had taken over ownership of the Kalamazoo Brewery on Walnut Street. Heirboldsheimer’s small two-person operation consumed approximately 300 bushels of barley and 400 pounds of hops annually, and produced roughly 150 barrels (nearly 4,700 gallons) of beer each year.
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 Heirboldsheimer was brewing beer in Topeka, Kansas, and Locher was 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 the point where it was 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.
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 his the largest of the local breweries at the time. 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, Richard (Beckham) Frank established a small “class B” brewery at 77 East Main Street (a.k.a. 69 Kalamazoo Avenue), near the corner 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 ten and thirty 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.
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. George Foegele of the former Kalamazoo Spring Brewery later joined Schroder’s operation.
Schroder himself was a lively character 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 for 1877 and 1878 indicate $50 was collected each year from Schroder (as a Class ‘B’ brewer), 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 remains of the Schroder Brewery were sold to Albert Frank (the original owner’s son) for $3,400. The 1887 Sanborn fire insurance map indicates the location as “1 Fr. Malt Ho.” (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.
About 1858 or so, Baumann purchased Lorenz Brentano’s Kalamazoo Brewery on Walnut Street, then soon thereafter turned that over to fellow German, Peter Heirboldsheimer and continued to operate the brewery on Winstead. During the early spring of 1859, an argument with Heirboldsheimer ensued and as a result, Baumann was severely scalded after being doused with a bucketful of hot beer. Heirboldsheimer was sentenced to 40 days in jail for the incident, while Baumann turned his Portage Brewery operation over to Sesemann & Co. as he recovered from his injuries. Soon thereafter, Baumann joined Syke & Foegele’s operation at the Kalamazoo Spring Brewery (as noted earlier).
Sesemann & Co.
Like Brentano at the Walnut Street brewery, Sesemann offered his own “celebrated ale and lager beer,” delivered promptly “free of charge.” As well, 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
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 Frederick William 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, and brother-in-law John Thackwray all 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. According to the Telegraph, the old brewery building was “overhauled, renovated and enlarged” by Neumaier and was in full operation by fall. (George Numaier(sic) is listed as the proprietor of “‘Portage Brewery,’ on Lake Street, near Portage Creek” in Everts & Abbott, History of Kalamazoo County, Michigan (1880).)
Eventually, Neumaier’s brewery became known as the “Cold Stream Brewery” after Merrill & McCourtie’s nearby flour mills of the same name. By 1884, Neumaier’s brewery was the only such operation left in Kalamazoo, and was producing about 1,500 barrels annually.
Kalamazoo Union Brewery
Nearly a decade had gone by when in the fall of 1894 Alfred G. “Fred” Neumaier took over his father’s brewing operation and formed the Kalamazoo Brewing Company with Leo Wagonman (Wagemann), an experienced brewmaster from Toledo, Ohio. The new company leased the old Lake Street facility and made significant changes within the organization. After four months spent 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).
By year’s end, management felt that the Kalamazoo Union Brewery had perhaps outgrown the existing building on Lake Street, so Wagonman purchased a former factory building at the corner of Mill and Vine streets. Plans were to have the new larger facility up and running by February.
Come February, however, plans for the new brewery (and the Neumaier-Wagonman partnership) had evidently fallen apart. Fred Neumaier announced that he had severed his connection with the Kalamazoo Union Brewery (Wagonman) and would begin a “new concern” (Telegraph) at the existing building on Lake Street, featuring a formally educated brewer from Detroit, Steve Zanda.
By May, Newmaier was advertising his City Union Brewery (823 Lake Street) with a “(f)ine stapletry of choice beer for family use” (Telegraph). “Extensive improvements” (Kalamazoo Evening News) were made in February 1899, including the installation of a new eighty-horsepower boiler by the Clark Engine & Boiler Company. By April 1899, Neumaier’s City Union Brewery was producing about 140 barrels per day. Wagonman’s brewery on Mill street never got off the ground.
In October 1900, Neumaier announced that $30,000 in new improvements would be made. The brewery was to be rebuilt and made one story higher to accommodate new machinery and equipment. Production was expected to double.
Kalamazoo Brewing Company
In October 1904, the City Union Brewery was converted to a 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.
“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, plus 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, 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) by emphasizing the advantages of Kalamazoo beer as a clean and well-made local product crafted by “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, voters in Kalamazoo County elected to outlaw the production and sale of alcoholic beverages. On May 1st, 1915—still five years ahead of the nationwide Eighteenth Amendment, sixty five business establishments across Kalamazoo County closed their doors, including thirty four saloons in the city of Kalamazoo, along with the town’s only remaining alcohol manufacturing facility, the City Union Brewery. The brewery equipment was quickly dismantled and sold, and the building remained vacant until May 1917, when the Kalamazoo Creamery Company bought the building 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 fire, exactly seventy years would pass between the closing of the City Union Brewery and the time when a new “Brew from Kalamazoo” would bring one of the local community’s earliest industries back to life. 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