Cincinnati's rise and fall as a brewery town Part 1: From porkopolis to beeropolis, how it...

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Cincinnati's rise and fall as a brewery town Part 1: From porkopolis
to beeropolis, how it all began
Sep 3, 2013 3 hours ago

This story is part of a three-part series on the rise and fall of
Cincinnati's prominent beer-driven economy. The series is part of
WCPO's beer month celebrating the Queen City's beer heritage and
bright future as a booming brewery town.

CINCINNATI -- Back in 1902, when Carrie Nation was busting up saloons
with the swings of her ax during the temperance crusade, she arrived
in Cincinnati determined to leave her mark in splintered bar tops and
broken windows.

But Carrie glanced up and down Vine Street, started counting the 136
saloons on that one street alone, and fled in retreat without taking
one swing. She later confessed that she “would have dropped from
exhaustion” in the first block.

That was the golden era of beer and breweries in Cincinnati and
Northern Kentucky. For decades before and after the turn of the 20th
century, Cincinnati was one of the beer-drinkingest, beer-brewingest
cities in America.

In 1893, the average beer consumption here was 40 gallons for every
man, woman and child – 2 1/2 times the national average. And
Cincinnati drank mostly what Cincinnati brewed.

In the 19th century,  a large immigration of German brewers and beer
drinkers created a new industry, a new social culture centered in
hundreds of saloons and a thriving new community in Over-the-Rhine.

As the beer boom marked a new era of growth for the Queen City, it
gave rise to giants of industry, huge and statuesque breweries that
became city landmarks and popular brands like Christian Moerlein, John
Hauck, Lion and Hudepohl in Cincinnati, Wiedemann in Newport and
Bavarian in Covington.

Big local breweries established a rich, proud heritage – only to meet
their demise in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

How did that happen?

To use a baseball analogy, think of it as the Cardinals and Brewers
spending so much on player salaries that the Reds couldn't compete.
The brewing giants – notably St. Louis’ Anheuser-Busch, Milwaukee’s
Miller and others - out-spent, out-produced and out-marketed
Cincinnati’s breweries and eventually overcame local brand loyalty.

Local breweries didn’t help themselves with bad decisions. To save
money, Burger stopped using city water and drew from an artesian
spring under the brewery. Loyal customers hated it.

Except for Schoenling and Hudepohl, which had a unique and popular
international award-winner when it revived Christian Moerlein
Cincinnati Select Beer in 1981, local breweries failed or were late to
create new niche products or adapt to customers’ changing tastes and
demands. Although Hudepohl had a successful light beer (Hudy Delight)
that became the brewery’s biggest seller, it didn’t hit the market
until three years after Miller Lite took the country by storm in 1975.

By then, Burger had already stopped production in 1973. Hudepohl
bought Burger’s assets, but Hudepohl didn’t introduce Burger Light
until 1980.

In Northern Kentucky, Bavarian (1966) and Wiedemann (1983) surrendered
ownership to out-of-state interests and eventually succumbed because
of outdated facilities and market forces.

Of the big Cincinnati breweries, only Schoenling is still in operation
on Central Avenue, and it was bought out by Boston Beer in 1996. Large
shells of the Hudepohl and Bavarian buildings remain, but Burger is
gone except for an annex now used by the Cincinnati Ballet, and the
once-elegant Wiedemann was demolished for a new Campbell County jail
and retail stores. The castle-shaped Bavarian brewhouse lived an
after-life as a microbrewery, restaurant and entertainment center from
1996 to 2006.

Steve Hampton and other preservationists are trying to maintain the
brewery buildings in OTR and draw attention to them and the tunnels
with markers and tours. Hampton formed the Over-the-Rhine Brewery
District Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation in an effort to
find uses for those buildings and contribute to the total
revitalization of the neighborhood.

And Greg Hardman and a new generation of brewers are doing their best
to revive the city’s proud brewing history with microbrews and craft
beers. Hardman built the Moerlein Lager House at The Banks and revived
the best-known Cincinnati brands - Christian Moerlein, Hudepohl,
Burger and Little Kings - as a well as 63 others. In 2013, he
restarted brewing operations at 1621 Moore St. in  Over-the-Rhine at
the former site of the historic Kauffman Brewery.

But long before Hardman's and others' efforts, there was a reputation
about this town.

How It All Began

While Cincinnati had established itself as Porkopolis and the gateway
of commerce to the West in the early 1800s, the whiskey trade became
popular and more profitable by 1881. Ten years later, the export value
of whiskey and beer together topped $39 million – almost twice as much
as livestock.

Historians say that Davis Embree, an Englishman, opened Cincinnati’s
first brewery near the riverfront in 1812 – more than 200 years ago –
and that another 250 breweries opened and closed since.

According to local historian Robert J. Wimberg, the first German
brewery in Cincinnati opened in 1829 at roughly the corner of McMicken
Avenue and Elm Street. The site eventually became home to the Jackson
Brewery in the 1850s and operated nearly 70 years until Prohibition.

The wave of immigration from Germany started in the 1830s when
persecution ramped up in Deutschland and civil liberties were under

Spurred by Germans who brought their love of beer and brewing
know-how, about three dozen breweries were operating in the area as
early as 1856.

With the introduction of better-tasting lager beer in the 1850s, beer
drinkers increased their demand.  Lager became the beer of choice and
the brewery industry grew three fold in a decade.

John Kauffman’s Vine Street Brewery opened in 1860 and became the
city’s fourth largest.  After Kaufmann’s closed during Prohibition, it
became the Husman Potato Chip factory.

The Christian Moerlein Elm Street Brewery grew from a side business at
his blacksmith shop to the largest brewery in Ohio and the fifth
largest in the country.

  Moerlein’s was a rags-to-riches brewery story. A native of Bavaria,
he walked 300 miles to board a ship to America. He arrived nearly
penniless and had a limited understanding of English. His first job
was digging ditches.

Besides making a better beer, Moerlein was one of the first local
brewers to take advantage of pasteurization and ship his beers to
other markets. To keep his beer as fresh as possible, he shipped it in
barrels and had the beer bottled where it was to be sold.  He shipped
to such faraway cities as Boston, New Orleans, Pensacola and Omaha,
and even to Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama and the Philippines.

In 1875, Moerlein bought the first ice machine in Cincinnati, cutting
ice and labor costs and allowing faster fermentation. By 1888, every
brewery in the city had followed suit.

Moerlein’s production more than doubled in a decade from 100,000
barrels in 1880 to 225,000 in 1890.  

By 1890, Christian Moerlein and Windisch-Muhlhauser had become
industry giants, and some 20 local breweries were producing 1.1
million barrels - or nearly 36 million gallons.

Windisch-Muhlhauser brewery

Incredibly, Cincinnatians drank most of that. To German immigrants and
their descendants, beer was part of their diet, and beer was safer
than the local water in those days.

Saloons became the centers of business, politics and community – for
men only, that is. In 1889, the area was home to 1,841 saloons. In
those days, most beer was packaged in barrels and kegs and consumed in
public places – not in homes. Four hilltop resorts opened in Mount
Auburn, Clifton Heights, Mount Adams and Price Hill, and those resorts
and outdoor beer gardens catered to families.

The brewing industry, with all of its associations (hops dealers, malt
houses, barrel makers - known as coopers, grain dealers, saloons),
employed between 30,000 and 40,000 workers in Cincinnati and Northern
Kentucky at the turn of the century.

According to historian Sarah Stephens, breweries paid workers $1.50
per day for 14-16 hours’ work - plus all the free beer they could
drink. In 1879, a New York Times article said workers at one local
brewery averaged an astonishing 35 glasses a day.

That may or may not have included the women and children who worked in
non-technical areas like the bottling facility - and for less pay than

Over the Rhine: Over The Rainbow

Beer brewing gave rise to a thriving Over-the-Rhine, totally unlike
the neighborhood of poverty and crime it became in the 20th century.

Early German immigrants had settled near the river like everyone else,
but by the 1840s, new arrivals were gravitating to open land north of
the Miami-Erie Canal (where Central Parkway is now).

Most of the breweries were built near the canal, which provided water
access south to the Ohio River and north to the Great Lakes. Beer
barons with farms in Butler County could easily ship grain to their

As German-Americans filled in the area, the canal became nicknamed the
Rhine. Going over the canal into the German section was “going over
the Rhine.”

OTR provided a land of opportunity for German immigrants. They could
find work and housing from German-speaking employers (who had been
immigrants themselves), as well as schools with German-speaking
teachers, German-language newspapers and German societies that
encouraged them to retain their customs and traditions while becoming
American citizens.

Those traditions  included Gemutlichkeit, roughly translated as
“festive hospitality.” The Germans were fun-loving people – and beer
was the lifeblood of the party.

Gemutlichkeit soon spread to other parts of the city – and the
middle-class stigma against drinking disappeared. Beer consumption
rose; whiskey consumption dropped; and a political, moral and
nationalistic divide started to set in here.

Trouble In Breweryland: ‘Real Americans’ Vs. Germans

The anti-German hysteria that swept the country leading up to World
War I got a head start in Cincinnati as early as the 1850s.

As recounted by OTR historian Michael Morgan, it started with vitriol
and violence in the 1855 Election Riots and exploded again in the 1884
Courthouse Riots.

By 1855, OTR was a distinctly German society and German-Americans had
become a political force, voting Democratic in bloc and controlling
two wards. A group called the Know-Nothings (they had been a secret
organization; when asked about it, members would say they knew
nothing) were out to steal the election for mayor and other city
leaders. The Know Nothings were openly anti-immigrant, anti-alcohol
and anti-Catholic.

To Know-Nothings, Germans were not “real Americans.” The Know-Nothings
called the area below the canal “America.”

Suspecting they were going to lose the election, a mob of
Know-Nothings attacked an Irish ward and chased voters away from the
polls. Then they crossed into OTR, trampled through a peaceful crowd
and confiscated a ballot box with an estimated 900 votes. They grabbed
another ballot box from a firehouse and destroyed 400 votes, attacking
more people and causing more destruction.

More attacks came the next day, but the German-Americans had armed
themselves and barricaded and fortified the bridges over the canal.
The two sides engaged in a gun battle and the OTR residents drove the
mob off the Vine Street bridge.

When Know-Nothings returned at night, the OTR residents fired a volley
of bullets from all sides. The mob fled but random attacks on
immigrants occurred in the city overnight.

The next day, rain started and the battle stopped. By the end, as many
as a dozen people had been killed.

After days of heated arguments, votes in the two German-American wards
were recreated by logbooks. The Democrats won the mayor’s office and
other offices they would have lost without the German-American vote.

But the attacks in Cincinnati left deep wounds. They sparked similar
attacks in Louisville and some reports around the country portrayed
them in anti-German terms, as they would 30 years later with the
Courthouse Riots.

Ironically, one day after the 1855 Election Riots, the Ohio Senate
passed the nation’s first statewide prohibition bill.

Temperance: Tempest In A Teapot Or Trouble Brewing For Beermakers?

There was a temperance movement in the U.S. almost from the day the
first brewery went into operation. In the beginning, advocates tried
to convince people to drink in moderation. Over time, they preached
that drinking was wrong for religious reasons and it was bad for
families. Later, they changed tactics and started to link alcohol to
crime, prostitution, debauchery, domestic violence, political
corruption and the need for welfare programs. They also connected it
to saloons, blaming them for moral and social decay.

Because German-Americans ran the breweries, owned the saloons and
drank there, the implication was obvious.

As the number of saloons exploded (by 1890, there was one for every 41
adult males), people started to listen. The Ohio legislature passed
tough penalties for violating the Sunday laws.

Ohio had passed a law in 1831 prohibiting Sunday liquor sales, but no
one in Cincinnati paid attention to it. Now the penalties were stiff
fines, mandatory jail time and closure unless the owner posted a
$1,000 bond. The governor wrote the mayor and encouraged him to
enforce the law.

When enforcement stepped up in August 1889, the Cincinnati Red
Stockings were in a tough spot. They had been kicked out of the
National League in 1880 for selling beer and playing on Sunday, and
they were planning to seek readmission. So they stopped playing on
Sunday for the rest of the 1889 season.

Resorts and beer gardens went out of business. Saloons that defied the
law operated at greater risk of being ticketed, and the cost of
getting the beat cop to look the other way went up.

While Carrie Nation and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union saw
saloons as the source of all evil and nation set out the destroy them
one by one with her ax, the Anti-Saloon League began to take on the
alcohol industry in Washington, rising to become a powerful political
machine that elected and defeated congressmen.

Major social and political changes were brewing - and that was going
to be bad for the alcohol industry in Cincinnati and around the

Cincinnati Moves To The Hills: The Decline Of Over-the-Rhine

By the 1880s, brewery families and other successful German-Americans
started leaving OTR and moving to the hilltops. For one thing, buses
and inclines made it easier to commute to downtown; for another, OTR
was getting overcrowded and unpleasant.

Saloons and tenements dominated the landscape; there was little indoor
plumbing; the streets were filthy and congested; factory smoke filled
the air, and the canal was becoming a stinking cesspool. It was until
1920 that the city started draining the canal to build a subway with
Central Parkway on top.

Working-class German-Americans stayed, and for a while, OTR remained
the heart of the German community. As World War I approached, the
community rallied behind the fatherland, and residents openly opposed
President Woodrow Wilson’s support for England.

In Cincinnati and elsewhere, public opinion turned against Germany and
German-Americans in May 1915 when a U-boat sunk the liner Lusitania,
loaded with passengers and munitions.

Not long after the U.S. entered the war against Germany in 1917,
Cincinnati started its own war against German-Americans.  Schools
stopped teaching German and fired teachers. The library removed all
German books, periodicals and newspapers. City Council voted to remove
German names on 13 streets. The police chief required that all German
songs or speeches at a German society celebration be made in English.

Before the Great War, people came from all over Cincinnati to partake
in Over-the-Rhine’s festivals, picnics and entertainment – to partake
in “Gemutlichkeit.”

The war ended that.

“World War I comes around, and it makes beer and it makes
‘German-ness’ dirty,” author Morgan said. “That connection between
German-ness and beer was one of the major factors that let prohibition

Prohibition: The Dry Forces Win

As the war neared, dry forces whipped up anti-German fervor in the
country, marking brewers, immigrants and even beer drinkers as the
enemy. The government started rationing grain and coal, limiting
brewery operations.

In Ohio, local option laws allowed communities to vote themselves dry.
By 1909, Warren and Clermont counties were completely dry, and
temperance forces had a stronghold in rural communities throughout the

In 1913, the Ohio Legislature limited the number of saloons in a city,
town or township. That forced hundreds of Cincinnati saloons to close.

The stage was set. In 1918, the 18th Amendment prohibiting the
manufacture, sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages sailed
through Congress with more than 80 percent support. It took less than
a year to get ratification from three-fourths of the states. The
Volstead Act created exceptions for wine, hard cider and beverages
with less than 0.5 percent alcohol. States were given one year to

By then, the war was over and The Roaring 20s were about to begin.

Bootleggers:  Remus, Wiedemann Take Their Place In Cincinnati Legend

Prohibition added two names to Greater Cincinnati legend and brewing

George Remus became one of America’s richest bootleggers, building a
$25 million per year operation out of Cincinnati, and Carl Wiedemann,
heir to the Wiedemann brewing fortune, became the fall guy in one of
the biggest federal brewery busts of the dry era.

Remus was said to have been F. Scott Fitzgerald’s model for the title
character of “The Great Gatsby.”

Remus had been a successful criminal defense lawyer in Chicago. He
decided to get in on the bootlegging action and moved to Cincinnati
because of its many breweries and distilleries.

Remus made hundreds of millions of dollars by building a distribution
network in nine states. He had 3,000 people on his payroll. He lived
lavishly with his wife, Imogene, in his Price Hill mansion, where he
spent $100,000 to build a Grecian swimming pool. He also had a tennis
court, a stable and a baseball diamond. The estate covered the area
bordered by West Eighth Street, Greenwich Avenue, St. Lawrence Avenue
and Rapid Run Road.

Remus made friends with the high and mighty – some of whom protected
his illegal operations.  He was popular for throwing parties and
giving gifts of gold, diamonds and automobiles.

He became known as “King of the Bootleggers.”

Remus used Wiedemann brewery in Newport to produce a lot of his beer.
He owned 10 distilleries, and because he was a licensed pharmacist, he
was able to buy liquor by claiming to distribute it for medicinal

After he finally got caught, Remus was sent to federal prison in 1924
and served two years. While he was behind bars, his wife had a long
affair with the federal agent who busted him.

When he got out, Remus chased down his wife in Eden Park and shot her
dead. At his trial, he claimed he was made insane by jealousy and
rage. The jury bought it and Remus spent six months in Lima State
Hospital, then went free.  

He lived in relative obscurity until he died in 1952 at the age of 79.

The Wiedemann story was almost as sensational and dominated local
headlines for more than a year in 1927 and ’28.

Carl Wiedemann, 36, was the rich, Harvard-educated, heavy-drinking,
horse-betting, womanizing grandson of brewer founder George Wiedemann.
Carl served as brewery vice president under his father Charles.
Besides being heir to the family fortune, he got into horse breeding
and built a successful stable of 20 race horses.

Carl gained notoriety in 1921 when a woman in his company fell to her
death from a fifth-floor window of a Lexington hotel. According to a
New York Times story headlined "Kentucky Beauty Dies in Fall," Carl
said they had gone to Lexington for the races, and the woman was prone
to dizziness. He said when he stopped by her room to say good night,
she was sitting on the window ledge and fell out. An investigation
determined her death was an accident.

Carl's best horse, In Memoriam, defeated Kentucky Derby winner Zev in
a 1923 stakes race that was called one of the top 10 races of all
time. Carl put up $10,000 for a rematch and In Memoriam lost a 3-2
decision by judges.

In 1924, Carl was reported to be engaged to Allyn King, a stage and
screen actress who began in the Ziegfield Follies. But he denied that
in a statement that said, “I am neither married nor engaged." King
killed herself in 1930.

Between his drinking, gambling and mingling with Newport’s dark
underworld, Carl's life started to fall apart. When his racing luck
turned sour, Carl lost most of his money and unloaded his horses.

Author Timothy J. Holian recounted the colorful story of the brewery
bust that sent Carl Wiedemann to prison:

On Jan. 29, 1927, federal agents stopped a truck after it left the
Wiedemann brewery and found 16 half-barrels of beer.  When other
agents raided the brewery that night, they found 3,500 barrels of beer
ready to be shipped. The feds charged owner Charles Wiedemann, son
Carl, the treasurer, the office manager, the brewmaster and six others
with illegal brewing and distribution. They padlocked the brewery and
seized it, along with the company’s records, which allegedly showed
that Wiedemann had been illegally brewing 50,000 barrels of beer per

To make matters worse for Wiedemann, the IRS charged the company with
evading taxes.

Wiedemann might not have had a keg to stand on, except that bribery
allegations against federal agents and officials raised questions
about the veracity of the charges.

A brewery employee testified that two agents who seized the truck on
Jan. 29 promised to make the whole thing go away for $15,000. And a
federal grand jury indicted a prohibition administrator and three
others for allegedly offering to undermine the case for $20,000.

Two nights before the trial began on Feb. 6, 1928, Carl Wiedemann was
arrested for driving drunk and wrecking into another car. On the
second day of the trial, Wiedemann didn’t show up, and police found
him drunk in a café. The judge put him in the custody of the U.S.

That day, five defendants changed their pleas to guilty and rolled on
Carl. He got two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. No one else got
prison time. His father, who had taken ill, got a $10,000 fine, and
others were fined between $2,500 and $5,000.

At his sentencing, a repentant Carl said: “My term of confinement will
teach me a great lesson. When I am released, I hope to be the man I
was years ago and not what I am today.”

Carl got out after serving eight months but he never returned to an
active ownership position in the brewery. Terry Balcom, a relative of
founder George Wiedemann, took over as president in 1938.

The IRS eased its demands for back taxes, and the feds gave the
brewery back to Wiedemann for $15,000. When it reopened after
prohibition, the brewery operated another 50 years.

Wiedemann wasn’t the only local brewery that defied the dry laws, and
it wasn’t the only one that got caught. Federal agents also raided
Schaller’s and Mohawk Brewery.  

In fact, thousands of Cincinnatians broke the law during Prohibition.

A Beer Rebellion: Greater Cincinnati Defies Prohibition

Cincinnatians had voted overwhelming against Prohibition – not
surprisingly, because drinkers were so passionate and an entire
industry and workers’ livelihoods were at stake. When Prohibition went
into effect - on May 27, 1919 in Ohio and a month later in Kentucky -
it nearly wiped out the local brewing industry. But while many closed,
several carried on in secret. Bribing enforcement agents and police
was easy and widespread.

Drinking continued in large scale as an estimated 3,000 speakeasies
replaced saloons, operating in the open in hotels and restaurants as
well as in secret locales, selling the beer that outlaw breweries

Homebrewing became popular through ready-to-brew kits, and newspapers
contributed by publishing how-to instructions.

Prohibition was impossible to enforce, and though Cincinnati police
and enforcement agents made 4,900 arrests in 1929, that was just a
drop in the barrel.

According to one publication, Cincinnati was the third “wettest” city
in the U.S. behind New York and Chicago.

There was so much clandestine brewing going on that two local malt
companies, Red Top and Burger, kept up business despite the brewery

Cincinnati didn’t have the notorious gang wars like Chicago had, but
there was more than enough bloodshed between bootleggers. In 1929,
more than 10 killings were blamed on brewing wars.

The brewery death toll included three of the pre-Prohibition giants,
Christian Moerlein, Windisch-Muhlhauser and John Hauck.  Moerlein
closed within a week and sold off portions of its massive complex.
Some tried to stay open by producing near beer (0.5 percent alcohol or
less) and soft drinks. Hauck’s demise, in 1927, was marked by federal
agents dumping 45,000 gallons of near beer into the sewers. It popped
off the manhole covers and flooded the street.

Of the city’s 800 remaining saloons, 240 immediately closed their
doors. Of the other 560, some sold ice cream or soft drinks. Many
saloon operators turned to operating speakeasies.

Prohibition devastated Over-the-Rhine. Not only did OTR lose the
breweries, it lost all brewery-related businesses and jobs, even as
the city lost tax revenue.

And Prohibition extinguished the last breath of community and society
in OTR. The neighborhood went into drift and decline.


TOMORROW - Part 2: Cincinnati tries again to rise to the top of the
glass; how a defeated city coped in the brewing industry


Photos courtesy of Cincinnati Museum Center and Kevin Grace of the
University of Cincinnati.

This story is part of a three-part series on the rise and fall of
Cincinnati's prominent beer-driven economy. The series is part of
WCPO's beer month celebrating the Queen City's beer heritage and
bright future as a booming brewery town.

Cincinnati's rise and fall as a brewery town Part 2: Great experiment ends, breweries try a comeback
This story is the second in a three-part series on the rise and fall
of Cincinnati's prominent beer-driven culture and economy. The series
is part of WCPO's beer month celebrating the Queen City's beer
heritage and bright future as a booming brewery town.

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati's vibrant brewery culture was wiped out by
the efforts leading up to and during Prohibition. But the city's
comeback roots were seeded in the community's heritage.

Ultimately, the nation as a whole saw that Prohibition didn’t live up
to its promises. It didn’t reduce crime – if anything, it gave rise to
organized crime – and it didn’t significantly reduce drinking. Nor did
it restore the family unit - if it had been lost in the first place.

On the other hand, Prohibition wrecked local economies, cost billions
in revenues, wasted the taxpayer money governments spent to enforce it
and led to corruption.

When the stock market crashed in 1929 and The Depression set in, many
people believed making brewing legal again would create jobs and give
the economy a shot in the arm.

But the brewing industry didn’t pick up where it left off overnight.

When the 18th Amendment was repealed in 1933, only six area breweries
came back – Bruckmann, Hudepohl, Foss-Schnieder and Schaller in
Cincinnati; Wiedemann in Newport and Bavarian in Covington.

And Bruckmann, which had brewed near-beer up to the last days of
Prohibition, was the only brewery ready to produce beer.

A few new breweries opened in facilities that other breweries had
abandoned. Notably, Burger took over Windish-Muhlhauser’s Lion
brewery, Red Top replaced John Hauck, and Schoenling opened just north
of Burger.

Also, Vienna Brewing Company replaced Gambrinus Stock, Clyffside
Brewery replaced Mohawk Brewery, and Jackson Brewery replaced George
Weber’s Jackson Brewery.

In Covington, the new Heidelberg Brewery opened in 1934 but was
seriously damaged by the Great Flood of ’37. It was bought by Bavarian
in 1949.

Red Top grew to become one of the largest breweries in Ohio, but
consolidation and industry changes forced it to close in 1957.

That left five big companies to start a new era of brewing in Greater

Bavarian And Wiedemann: Kentucky Gets In On The Act

While hundreds of breweries spread across the Cincinnati landscape in
the 19th century, a few also rose in Northern Kentucky to become
leading employers, city treasures and regional landmarks.

Bavarian started in Covington in 1882.  Almost a century later, its
unique brewhouse, designed to look like a castle and painted yellow,
would catch the eye of many drivers on I-71/75. Inside, it had ornate
staircases and iron railings.

Bavarian brewery in 1960

Bavarian was the pride of Covington, and residents were loyal to
Bavarian Old Style, which the brewery promoted as “A Man’s Beer.”

But returning from Prohibition was rocky. After reopening in 1935, it
went into receivership. The pre-Prohibition management team of the
four Schott brothers regained control.

Buying its short-lived Covington neighbor, Heidelberg, in 1949, gave
Bavarian two operational breweries, and things were looking up.
Bavarian bought land to expand its Twelfth Street brewery in addition
to warehouse space in Cincinnati.

But Bavarian apparently wasn’t looking at its sales numbers. Sales had
fallen from 323,000 barrels in 1952 to 200,000 one year later.

Expansion was canceled, and the Heidelberg brewery was sold. When
sales improved only marginally, Bavarian entered a 1959 merger
agreement with Detroit-based International Breweries, Inc.

Bavarian got a boost with the opening of a $500,000 bottling plant in
1960, and it won first place at a European beer festival in 1962. But
by 1964, Bavarian reported a loss of $500,000. In 1966, International
closed the Covington brewery, putting 200 out of work.

Despite its legal setbacks during Prohibition, Newport-based Wiedemann
had more success along the way but met a similar fate.

George Wiedemann and John Butcher opened their brewery in 1870
(Butcher sold out in 1874) and by 1890 it was the largest brewery in
Kentucky, with a capacity of more than 100,000 barrels a year. After
George Wiedemann died that year, his sons took over and continued to
expand the business. The brewery filled five acres at Sixth and
Columbia streets. By the turn of the century, Wiedemann was the
largest brewery in the Southeast. The brewery included a stable of 150
horses to pull its delivery wagons.

It was Newport’s biggest employer, and town’s beer drinkers rewarded
the brewery with their loyalty. Its Bohemian Special Brew and Royal
Amber were favorites.

Its popular 1950s slogan, “It’s Registered Pure,” emphasized its
attention to quality. Wiedemann claimed that every bottle and can of
its flagship brand passed more than 83 tests.

Wiedemann took some positive steps in the ‘60s to try to keep afloat.
It bought Pepsi of Cincinnati in 1963 and took over sponsorship of
Reds radio broadcasts in 1966, hiring Joe Nuxhall for a five-year

Long before, Wiedemann’s devotion to baseball included having its own
pre-Prohibition semi-pro team, the Brewers, that played against other
traveling teams. In 1908, Wiedemann built its own 4,000-seat ballpark
– the first lighted ballpark in Greater Cincinnati (the Brewers had a
lighted park before the Reds did). Players included Reds great Noodles
Hahn and Miller Huggins, who went on to manage the Babe Ruth Yankees.

But Wiedemann ultimately ran into the same problem as Bavarian. It had
an older, inefficient facility and it didn’t have the wherewithal to
expand or compete with the big national breweries.

So even after recording  $20 million in sales in 1966, it was sold to
G. Heileman Brewing Co. of Wisconsin for $5 million in 1967. Heileman
expanded the brewery in 1970 so it could be part of a national network
of regional beer producers.

Wiedemann got a short burst of adrenaline from that, increasing sales
40 percent over 1969.

In 1971, Wiedemann had the distinction of becoming the first local
brewery to produce 1 million barrels in a year.

But Heileman ended up with a surplus of breweries at a time of
stagnant sales. Within a few years, the company acquired Pabst
breweries, and its new facility in Perry, Ga., produced 6 million
barrels in 1982 to Wiedemann’s 1.3 million.

Heileman closed Wiedemann for good in May 1983 after 113 years of
operation. It dispatched 400 workers with a 12-pack of beer and $70
for each year of service.

After a Pittsburgh brewer discontinued Wiedemann production, former
beer reporter Jon Newberry and his wife Betsy acquired the brand name
and started producing it in limited quantities in 2012. Newberry said
he hopes to return Wiedemann production to Newport by as early as

Sponsoring The Reds: That’s The Ball Game

When the Reds played in the 1972 World Series, the four remaining
local brewers produced a print ad touting the fact that Riverfront
Stadium was the only stadium in the world within one mile of four
major breweries.

The ironic thing is that baseball also sounded the death knell for
large-scale brewing in Cincinnati.

For decades, Cincinnati brewers had been major sponsors of the Reds –
and later, the Bengals and the NBA's Cincinnati Royals. Beyond the
outfield walls of Crosley Field, buildings were painted and plastered
with beer ads. More signs were placed on the left- and right-field
foul lines inside the ballpark. Breweries sponsored scorecards to
further capitalize on the Reds’ popularity.

More significantly, local breweries sponsored the Reds on radio and
TV, starting with Burger on radio in 1942.

With Waite Hoyt at the mic, announcing on the “Burger Beer
Broadcasting Network,” the brewery benefited greatly from that daily
exposure for 23 baseball seasons.

Burger also sponsored the Reds and Royals on TV and was the original
radio sponsor of the Bengals when they started playing in the American
Football League in 1968.

Meanwhile, Hudepohl became the original TV sponsor of the Reds in 1956
and maintained that association for two decades, through the Big Red
Machine’s world championships in 1975-76.

But as Burger revenues declined in the mid-60s, and the cost of
broadcasting rights rose, Burger gave up the Reds mic to Wiedemann in

Five years later, when Wiedemann’s contract ran out and it couldn’t
afford to continue, the unthinkable happened:

Stroh’s, a Detroit brewery, became the Reds radio sponsor in 1971.

If Cincinnati beer drinkers didn’t know their hometown breweries were
in trouble, they knew it then.

And it got worse. By 1977, Hudepohl couldn’t afford the Reds TV
rights, and Pabst, a Milwaukee brewery, took over. That ended three
decades of local brewery sponsorship of the Reds.

Only one thing could have been more irritating to loyal Reds and
Cincinnati beer fans, and that happened in 1980, when Anheuser-Busch,
owner of the Cardinals, bought out Stroh’s and Pabst and became the
exclusive TV and radio sponsor of the Reds.

By the late 70s, you could see the impact all over town, not just in
popular, hip bars like Sleep Out Louie’s on Second Street, Arthur’s in
Hyde Park and Zip's in Mount Lookout. National and European beers were
taking over neighborhood taverns, too, not to mention home
refrigerators all over town.

The national giants eventually took over sponsorship of Oktoberfest,
the Riverfest fireworks, and other popular hometown events like
concerts, community festivals and runs.

They were literally running the local breweries out of town.

Burger: The Secret Is In The Water

Burger started before Prohibition as a malt company, then decided to
enter the brewery business once the 18th Amendment was repealed. Led
by W.J . Huster, an office boy who became company president, Burger
leased the Lion Brewery and bought it a decade later.

It quickly became a Cincinnati favorite with its “Vas You Efer in
Zinzinnati” ad campaign, and Reds radio broadcasts, heard in eight
states, put Burger on the regional map. But by the late ‘60s, Burger
sales were falling off the charts.

In 1968, Burger made a bold/reckless decision to change from city
water to artesian spring water from a well under the brewery. When
somebody asked Schoenling, which brewed across the street, why it
didn’t use the same spring water for brewing, a brewmaster there said
they didn’t find the water suitable for anything but cleaning.

Burger hadn’t gotten the memo, and even its most loyal customers said
'Ugh.' Cincinnati sales dropped 14 percent in one year.

Burger reintroduced one of its original brands, Red Lion Ale, but that
had no positive impact.

In 1972, Burger started negotiating with Hudepohl to sell its assets.
Hudepohl didn’t want the brewery, and Burger closed its brewery
operations in 1973, giving 225 workers the pink slip while continuing
its profitable soft drink operations at four other plants.

It was sad news for its loyal drinkers and especially for Hoyt, who
made Cincinnati his home even after his Reds broadcasting days were

The Cincinnati Post sent a reporter to Hoyt’s apartment in Hyde Park
with the bad news about Burger.

“It’s a sad thing – it’s a sad, sad thing. You become attached to an
operation like this, and now it’s gone,” Hoyt told the reporter.

“I used to drink Burger,” Hoyt said, “but I haven’t had a drink in 27

Back in the 40s, Hoyt publicly confessed that he had an alcohol
problem. But Burger kept him as its Reds broadcaster and pitchman, and
Hoyt was forever grateful.

When Burger dropped the Reds broadcasts after the ’65 season, it gave
Hoyt a 20-year contract as public relations director.

“Just the other night, I was told the contract will be honored right
through, no matter what,” Hoyt said.  “I don’t know how they would do
it. I have nothing but the highest praise for these people. They’ve
been letter-perfect with me.”

Even Hudepohl execs lamented the demise of their rival. Hudepohl
agreed to brew Burger, but it didn’t market it to any large degree.

Ideas for turning the Burger brewery, on Liberty Street near Central
Parkway, into a shopping mall didn’t take off, and it was sold for
manufacturing, though it was never used for that. The brewhouse and
iconic smokestack were torn down, and the Romanesque Revival façade
was finally leveled in 1993.

Ironically, the office building at the corner survived to become the
headquarters of what became known as “Cincinnati's Brewery” after the
two last-standing breweries merged.

Schoenling: The Tiny Brewery That Could

Schoenling made other breweries green with envy.

By size and outward appearance, its modest buildings didn’t begin to
measure up to its neighbor, Burger, across West Liberty Street, or
Hudepohl or its bigger rivals in Northern Kentucky, but Schoenling was
memorable for the large picture windows on Central Parkway that let
passersby look in and see the bottles move along the line.

Most of all, Schoenling was memorable for those funky little green
bottles of Little Kings Cream Ale and the brew that was a real
Cincinnati success story.

When Prohibition ended, Edward Schoenling decided to change the family
business from ice and fuel. What Schoenling lacked in size, it made up
for in persistence and innovation.

While other breweries through the years basically made the same pale
lager, Schoenling modified a largely-forgotten brewing process in 1958
and created a rich, creamy ale.

The 7-ounce green bottles happened by accident.

According to Holian, “Ribs King” Ted Gregory’s tap system broke down
and “workers who wanted a shot and a beer balked at paying more for
standard 12-ounce bottles.” So Gregory asked Schoenling to make a
smaller bottle for use at his restaurant. Years later, the brewery
gave Gregory a plaque acknowledging that it was his idea.

The success of Little Kings transformed Schoenling into a regional
brewery. It spent money on marketing and expansion.  By 1982, Little
Kings accounted for 85 percent of Schoenling sales. Ultimately, Little
Kings spread into 44 states. Schoenling introduced a light beer in
1986 – just one year after Miller Lite started the craze – and wasn’t
afraid to diversify. In the same year, it developed a wine cooler and
produced them in four flavors.

For the time being, Schoenling management stayed in family hands.
Despite the threat from the national brewing giants, and in contrast
to its failed neighbor, the grass looked greener on Schoenling’s side
of the street.

Hudepohl: Rise And Fall Of A Giant

Hudepohl became the standard bearer for Cincinnati beer and produced
some of its signature brews, notably Hudepohl 14K, Hudepohl Gold and
Hudy Delight. It made a hit with Christian Moerlein Cincinnati Select,
the first American beer to meet the German purity standard of
Rhineheitsgebot, which permitted only barley malt, hops, water and
yeast. It went into the low-calorie beer market with Pace Pilsner.

It did almost everything right, and if any local beer was going to
survive the onslaught of the national giants, you would have expected
it to be Hudepohl.

Co-founder Louis Hudepohl was Cincinnati’s first American-born beer
baron. He enjoyed singing in one of the city’s social groups and
fraternizing with his workers. The company sponsored regular picnics
and outings for workers and their families.

Born Ludwig Hudepohl II, this son of German immigrants packaged liquor
and wine and ran a real estate office out of a storefront on Main
Street. In 1885, he and partner George Kotte bought the Buckeye
Brewery on McMillan Avenue. After Kotte died, Hudepohl bought out his
widow and changed the name.

The brewery was an instant success. In 1890, Hudepohl sold 40,000

Although Hudepohl died in 1902, the brewery continued to operate as a
family business for 100 years. After Prohibition, it bought out the
Lackman Brewery on Sixth Street at Gest and operated from two
locations until consolidating on Sixth Street in 1958.

By 1947, Hudephl was producing almost 900,000 barrels. By 1949, it was
selling beer in 14 states. 14K, introduced in 1953, became the
best-selling beer in Cincinnati.

Hudepohl sponsored the Reds on TV and the Bengals on radio and  -
almost as significant in one of the country’s biggest bowling towns -
25 years of King of TV Bowling.

It marketed special beer cans for the Reds world championship teams of
1975-76 and the Bengals' Super Bowl seasons of 1981 and 1988. It
sponsored the Riverfest fireworks, Octoberfest, Bockfest, the Stone
Valley Bluegrass Festival and a 14K Brewery run.

Hudepohl management was on the ball. They expanded and modernized
through the 1960s, and seemed to be fortressing themselves to survive
the rapid decline of regional breweries.  

Hudepohl produced successful specialty beers that gave it a leg up on
the other local brewers and, seemingly, more staying power. In a bold
and ingenious move, it took on Michelob and the Europeans in the
super-premium market with Moerlein Select, a dark, rich and malty
lager. It became the first American beer to win the international
Chicago Beer Society competition and led to a variety of Moerlein

One of its off-beat products was the draft Beer Ball, which held more
than five gallons and was packaged in an insulated box. Just put ice
in the box and throw a party. Not surprisingly, Hudepohl first
marketed the Beer Ball around college campuses.

When 14K sales sagged, Hudepohl marched out a new flagship brand
called Gold and later revived its namesake brand.

Better late than never, Hudy Delight was a big local success and
claimed 40 percent of the local packaged light beer market by 1982.
The bad news was Miller Lite had 55 percent.

Hudepohl was still selling most of its beer within 150 miles of
Cincinnati, and the market was being overwhelmed by national giants.

In the end, numbers don’t lie, and the bottom line was this:

In 1976, Hudepohl produced just more than 400,000 barrels – less than
half what it produced it in 1947. Spurred by Moerlein and Hudy
Delight, Hudepohl’s arrow rose for four years in the early ‘80s, but
1984 production fell off 13 percent to 324,000 barrels.

The end was near.

One year after Hudepohl celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1985,
there were rumors it would be sold to Stroh’s. Late in 1986, Hudepohl
and Schoenling agreed to combine into one operation, with production
at Schoenling.

The Hudepohl brewery closed after 130 years, going back to its days as
Lackman Brewery. Schoenling absorbed some Hudepohl workers, but about
50 lost their jobs. To this day, most of the brewery is still standing
vacant and in decay.

Cincinnati’s big brewing industry was on its last keg.

Cincinnati’s Brewery: Tea For Two

The Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewing Company took the nickname
“Cincinnati’s Brewery” and revived 14K. It integrated Moerlein into
the almost nationwide Little Kings network and achieved a coup with
its first order from West Germany, followed by forays into Canada and

At the same time, the brewery picked up significant contract business
from other regional brewers. It even made several Blue Moon ales for

And it filled small orders: It made Ribs King Red Ale for exclusive
sale at the Montgomery Inn. One loyal customer, entertainment legend
Bob Hope, bought 150 cases.

It was so far, so good. “Cincinnati’s Brewery” made a record 515,000
barrels of beer in 1990, brewing and packaging seven days a week, even
though a lot of it wasn’t Cincinnati beer.

It created a subsidiary, Royal Class Import/Export, and acquired and
distributed European beers. It began producing Snakes Eyes Alcohol
Fruit Drinks, and then Tradewinds teas, lemonade and fruit drinks.

Tradewinds products were such a hit that the brewery went into
seven-day production.

But while the tea party went on, local beer sales pooped out.
Hudepohl-Schoenling tried one last gimmick, launching Hudy Bold with
the promise that it was radically different than 14K or Gold. But Bold
never made a statement with local drinkers.

The end of Cincinnati’s big brewing era came in December 1996 when
Hudepohl-Schoenling sold its brewery and assets to Boston Beer, maker
of Samuel Adams Boston Lager. There was some bittersweetness to that,
since Boston Beer founder Jim Koch’s dad worked at Hudepohl in 1946 as
an apprentice brewer.

Hudepohl-Schoenling wasn’t done yet, though.

While Boston Beer brewed its namesake beers, along with Samuel Adams,
Hudepohl-Schoenling built a microbrewery in the facility to brew
limited quantities of specialty beers for draft-only sales in

In 1999, the Cincinnati owners sold out to Cleveland-based Crooked
River Brewing Company, whose owner, David Snyder, was a Little Kings
drinker in college.

An Overwhelmed Market

At the end, as local breweries went out of business, the loyal
customers they had left must have had a bad taste in their mouths -
like taking the last warm sip from a can or bottle that had been
ignored too long.

Cincinnati's big breweries had survived Carrie Nation and temperance,
an anti-German backlash and Prohibition, but they could not survive an
invasion from St. Louis and Milwaukee.

By 1992, Hudepohl-Schoenling had little more than 9 percent of the
Cincinnati beer market; Anheuser-Busch had 43 percent.

The numbers for Ohio, where Hudepohl and Schoenling once had
significant inroads, were even more lopsided. In 1991, Anheuser-Busch
sold 3.7 million barrels in Ohio to less than 175,000 for

By the time Hudepohl-Schoenling went out of business, Anheuser-Busch
was selling 150 times as much beer as “Cincinnati’s Brewery.” (The
market share is changing now. Read Dan Monk's report on the economic
state of Cincinnati's local breweries at

For a town that measures civic pride by its institutions, the
frustration and hopelessness of losing its big breweries must have
felt worse than losing 13-3 and 15-2 to the Cardinals on the same

Fortunately, Hampton, Hardman and a new generation of craft brewers
are on their way to preserving the big-brewing heritage and reviving
the art of beer-making in Cincinnati.

“We talk so much about pigs, and everybody knows ‘Porkopolis,’” author
Morgan said. “It’s time we celebrate what the real history of this
city is.”

To read about Cincinnati's rebounding modern brew culture, go to

Read part 1 of Cincinnati's rise and fall as a brewery town before
Prohibition struck a blow to the culture at


Photos courtesy of Cincinnati Museum Center, Kevin Grace of the
University of Cincinnati, the Hamilton County Public Library and the
Kenton County Public Library.

This story is the second in a three-part series on the rise and fall
of Cincinnati's prominent beer-driven culture and economy. The series
is part of WCPO's beer month celebrating the Queen City's beer
heritage and bright future as a booming brewery town.

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