Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Book Review: Brewing in Cincinnati, 1885-1985: 100 Years Hudepohl Brewing Company

Lee Oberlag’s Brewing in Cincinnati, 1885-1985: 100 Years Hudepohl Brewing Company was “written and published to commemorate the Hudepohl Brewing Company’s 100th anniversary of brewing in Cincinnati” (inside back cover). While Oberlag was the advertising and PR director for Hudepohl—after all, Hudepohl published the book—this small book is chock full of interesting information regarding  Cincinnati brewing history, specifically in relation to the larger national brewing scene. The writing does at times smack of 80s advertising patter, but the wheat is in there among the chaff. For example, Christian Moerlein, a “super premium beer” produced by Hudepohl for the local market in the early 1980s “as a salute to the fine history of the brewing industry in Cincinnati” and designed “to honor a brewery that ‘died a noble death’ due to Prohibition,” was also “the first American beer to pass ‘Reinheitsgebot,’ the stringent purity law of Germany, in 1983” (16). The combination of history—honoring a former competitor by naming a beer after them—and claiming this same beer as the first American-complaint Reinheitsgebot beer is a part of U.S. beer history certainly worth knowing. Christian Moerlein mentions something similar in the history of the brewery on their website, failing, of course, to mention who actually made the beer. As to whether the second part of the story is true—that is of course another story. And no, I don’t know the answer. But it does have the ring of something that I wish were true, specifically as the desire to acknowledge a larger brewing history existing outside the United States sets Hudepohl apart from the other competing national-scale macro breweries of the period. You know the ones I mean. But let’s jump back to start at the beginning, which, I hear, is a very good place to start.

The story of Hudepohl Brewing Company begins, as do many in this country, as an immigrant story. In 1838, Ludwig and Agnes Hudepohl immigrated to Cincinnati from Malgarten, Hannover; he was one of many Germans emigrating to the United States in general, and the Ohio Valley in specific. As Oberlag’s text recounts, the increase in German population led to a boom of breweries in Cincinnati: in 1848 there were 11, and by 1860 there were 36 (1). So in other words, growth was on par with the current microbrewery boom. Ludwig II was born in 1842, and thus came of age during this period of explosive growth. By 1877, two Cincinnati breweries had become national-level producers, with “Christian Moerlein, the 13th largest brewery in the U. S., and Windisch-Mulhauser Brewing Company, the 20th largest” (1). In 1885, Ludwig II and his business partner George Kotte “bought the Koehler Brewery, which became the Buckeye Brewery because it was located on Buckeye Street near McMicken” (1). By 1890, Cincinnati “had gained world-wide recognition as the ‘beer capital of the world,” consuming 40 gallons a year per capita (the national average was 16) (2). In the 1890, Hudepohl and Kotte sold “about 40,000 barrels of draft beer, including the brands Buckeye, Muenchener, Dortmunder, and Hudepohl” (3). When George Kotte died in 1893, his wife was a partner until Ludwig II bought her out in 1900, at which point Ludwig renamed it the Hudepohl Brewing Company, enlarging and modernizing the brewery, introducing Golden Jubilee, and expanding sales to surrounding states (3). His sole ownership was short lived,
from here
however, as Ludwig II died in 1902. His family retained ownership (well, until 1986, after this book was written), with various members running the business, beginning with his wife, Mary Elizabeth, and later his son-in-law William A. Pohl. 

World War I had an adverse affect on Cincinnati’s German-American communities, as did the temperance movement, although Cincinnati “was not as affected as other areas of the country due to its tradition of beer-drinking” (5); following close on its heels however, Prohibition and the Volstead Act (January 20, 1920) finished the job. Twenty five breweries closed in Cincinnati; Hudepohl stayed open “by making ‘near beer’ (½ of one percent alcohol), vichy water, and soft drinks” (6-7), although near beer production by Hudepohl ended in 1928. After the repeal of Prohibition in December 1933, only four previous Cincinnati breweries re-opened: Hudepohl, Bruckmann’s, Foss-Schneider, and Schaller (7). I do also feel compelled to note that prior to the “official” repeal of Prohibition, “3.2% beer was declared ‘non-intoxicating’ by Congress,” and sold starting on April 7, 1933 (7). While I do laud the duplicity of the declaration, as it parched all those dry, dry throats several months early, I also mark this as the moment America officially began its dislike of session beers. Thanks, Congress.

Hudepohl’s first year success allowed them to purchase the idle Lackman Brewery, which was needed to keep up with production; until 1958, they ran two different breweries (8). Shifts in packaging also contributed to post-Prohibition production and consumption. Packaging beer in cans, which began in 1935, shifted consumption towards the home: “In 1934, 75 percent of beer sold was draft; in 1941, 48 percent was draft and 52 percent was packaged” (9). The 27% drop reflects an almost 4% drop for each of the seven years, signaling a significant transformation in the way Americans were thinking about and consuming beer; as with Prohibition, it further limited the social and cultural elements that accompanied drinking, transforming the public act into something private. Nonetheless, Hudepohl produced “almost 900,000 barrels in 1947” (8), pointing to their continued growth.

Pictures of all cans from

In the 1950s, Hudepohl pioneered the 14-K brewing process. Here’s how Master Brewer Peter Marcher describes 14-K in 1953: “Under Process 14-K, each brew is sampled and checked daily, from the beginning of the brewing operation in the mash tubs and kettle, through the thoroughly controlled and unhurried fermentation and lagering periods. The final blending of lagered beer and the filtering processes are accurately controlled and supervised by Hudepohl’s well-trained brewing technicians. The exact brewing and blending and filtering produces a uniformly fine finished product which passes the rigid requirements of 118 separate laboratory tests. Hudepohl’s master Brewers augment all the ancient skill of the Art of Brewing with modern science and a new technique, which we call Process 14-K, and gives you a golden grain treasure of drinking pleasure” (12). Golden treasure indeed. I wonder how long PR had to work with Marcher to get him to remember to include the rhyme in the last sentence?

Hudepohl continued to grow; in 1973 they were able to buy the label rights to rival Burger Brewing Company when they closed (12). However, sales were declining via the competition with large national brewers who were looking to consolidate their national markets; this was the same time that regional breweries were being purchased by the likes of Anheuser Busch and Miller. Hudepohl continued to fight the good fight; in 1978, Hudy Delight, Hudepohl’s first light beer, helped stabilize brewery sales (13). As well, Hudepohl was a long-time supporter of the Cincinnati Reds, dating back to the mid-1950s, and even producing a commemorative can for their 1975 World Series championship (see above also) (18). In 1983, they also produced Pace Pilsner Beer, “America’s first reduced-alcohol beer” (20). This history, as Oberlag concludes, means that “Hudepohl offers beer-drinkers an alternative to mass-produced domestic beers and continues to gain respect and admiration throughout the United States and European brewing industry” (20). Sadly, for both Oberlag and Hudepohl, in 1986 Hudepohl was sold to Schoenling Brewing Company; beer continued to be brewed at the Hudepohl brewery until 1987, when all production shifted to the Schoenling plant. Hudepohl-Schoenling was an independent brewer until they were bought by the Boston Beer Company in 1997. For some previous comments on Hudepohl, see our entry on Bürger Classic Beer, made by the revitalized Christian Moerlein, although under contract elsewhere.

Oh, and one last delicious anecdote regarding the 1894 ceramic Christian Moerlein bottles I hadn’t heard before: “Although the bottle was beautiful—and extremely popular—the manufacturer failed to glaze the bottom, and beer seeped through and leaked. About 5,000 unfilled ceramic bottles were discovered in a storage cellar under the K. D. Lamp Company of Elm Street, a building once owned by the Moerlein brewery” (16). While I had previously heard of these bottles, and had certainly seen them trumpeted around in the brewing histories of Cincinnati (like on the cover of Michael Morgan’s Over-The-Rhine: When Beer Was King), I always wondered why all those bottles were down there in the first place—certainly they hadn’t been forgotten, had they? As this story indicates, they weren’t forgotten, they were abandoned as useless. Problem solved.


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