NOTE: Due to the current COVID19 pandemic, bars are considered non-essential businesses and are thus temporarily closed. Residents of California are currently urged to stay home except when absolutely necessary. We are also currently advised not to even buy groceries unless absolutely necessary. Please check the WHO, CDC, and LAC DHP sites for the latest information.
As someone who loves a good holiday, I tend to ignore most of the dumb ones. You know the ones — the dumb daily dumb food-related days created by grocery store trade publications (e.g. National Shrimp Day, National Shrimp Scampi Day, and National Fried Shrimp Day) or those “wacky” ones presumably invented by and for college students (e.g. International Talk Like a Pirate Day, Day of the Ninja, or National White Trash Day). National Beer Day could easily fall into either column… and yet I nevertheless reckon it’s one worth raising a glass to.
National Beer Day is observed on 7 April. 6 April, then, is “New Beer’s Eve.” A couple of weeks earlier in 1933, on 22 March, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Cullen–Harrison Act. The president, then just eighteen days into his inaugural term, said on that occasion, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.” This, despite his being more of a wine and martini man. The Cullen–Harrison Act was enacted on 7 April — thus, Beer Day.
National Beer Day, if you’re wondering, was created in 2009 by Justin Smith. Soon after, a beer-drinking app created a badge for the holiday. Governors and congressmen have since recognized the holiday, which continues to grow in popularity. None of that much matters, I suppose, to most beer-lovers, barflies, and boozehounds, for whom every day is beer day and every hour beer o’clock. I say three cheers to beer anyway. Do drink responsibly — and commute responsibly as well — meaning walk or take mass transit.
It’s exceedingly unlikely that any readers of Swinging Doors don’t know what beer is. They might not, however, really know that much about it. For example, it’s a little known fact that only water and tea are consumed in greater quantity. It’s brewed from cereal grains, the most common being malted barley. Wheat, maize, and rice are also used, however. Most modern beer is brewed with hops — the flowers of the hop plant — which impart bitterness, flavor, and also acts as a preservative and stabilizer. Sometimes hops are replaced with other herbs, fruits, or, historically, gruit — a mixture which might contain a combination of several herbs including anise seed, cinnamon, ground ivy, heather, horehound, juniper berries, mint, mugwort, nutmeg, sweet gale, yarrow, &c
Beer is an ancient drink and was enjoyed by the ancient inhabitants of the Levant. It spread to Europe by 3000 BCE. Beer varied much more greatly then than it does now. It was in 1516 that William IV, Duke of Bavaria, decreed that beer must only contain water, malted barley, and hops.
Historically, various Native Americans of the southwestern US and northern Mexico are known to have made alcoholic drinks from a variety of sources including saguaro, locoweed, maguey, maize, mountain laurel, and prickly pear. How they compared to beer, I cannot say, as unfortunately I, like most, have never had the pleasure of sampling any. The Spanish, though, introduced wine. In 1778, the first wine produced in California was made at Mission San Juan Capistrano. The tradition of wine-making was continued by French and Italian immigrants to Los Angeles and by the mid-19th Century, Southern California was the nation’s primary wine producer.
Across the continent, in the British colonies, cider was the beverage of choice for most of the 16th and 17th centuries. It’s a little known fact that screw from a cider press was used to keep the Mayflower afloat after it was damaged in a storm. Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman (1774 – 1845) wasn’t actually an apple-loving lunatic who wore a pot for a hat — he was a savvy land speculator who recognized that planting crab apple orchards for cider-making added value to his properties.
Beer overtook cider in popularity as the population urbanized and more German immigrants arrived. For one, barley and hops — the ingredients for beer making — store and transport better than cider apples. Cider was popular in regions of Germany — notably Hessia and Swabia — but many of the Germans who immigrated in the mid-1800s came from beer-loving Bavaria. Today, many of the beer styles most popular in America developed in Germany. Several breweries opened in Southern California in the 19th Century. There were at least four in Anaheim, three in San Diego, and two in Santa Ana — many employed and were operated by German immigrants.
NEW YORK BREWERY
In 1854, Chris Henne and Henry Kuhn founded Los Angeles’s first brewery, New York Brewery, in Downtown Los Angeles, at 219 South Main Street. Henne died in the 1860s at which point his brewery was taken over by Philip Lauth, who had a series of business partners. In 1874, one of his partners, Louis Schwarz, left and formed a partnership with Henry Lemmert, proprietor of the Henry Lemmert Brewery in Anaheim and a nearby upstart rival, Philadelphia Brewery. In 1881, Lauth partnered with Frederick Stecker and from 1882 – 1884, the two operated as Lauth & Stecker Brewery.
Lauth’s rivalry with Philadelphia continued, however, and Lauth challenged the latter’s then-owner, Dietrich Mahlstedt, to a drinking contest. History doesn’t record whether there was a victor that day but Lauth grew seriously ill afterward and moved to Honolulu to recuperate. He never recovered, though, and died there in 1886. His brewery closed in 1887.
Edward A. Preuss and Henry Lemmert, founded the Philadelphia Brewery. The likely chose the name because Philadelphia was the second largest city and New York Brewery, of course, was taken. Los Angeles, then, was still quite small with a population of about 8,000 — not even enough to place it in America’s top 100 most populous cities. It was, for whatever reason, however, built on top of the site of Yaangna, the primarily village for the Tongva people. Within its courtyard, in fact, stood their sacred sycamore until it was felled for lumber during an expansion.
The partnership between Lemmert and Preuss was dissolved in 1875 and Lemmert then partnered with Lauth’s former partner at New York Brewery, Louis Schwarz. Still in 1875, however, Lemmert and Schwarz sold the brewery to Dietrich Mahlstedt and turned their focus to Lemmert’s Anaheim brewery, which then changed its name to the Lemmert & Schwarz Brewery. In 1882, Mahstedt sold the Philadelphia Brewery to Joseph Maier and George Zobelein (a former employee of New York Brewery), who renamed it Maier & Zobelein’s Brewery.
In August 1897, German American Paul Max Kuehnrich and Scottish American Edward Mathie founded Los Angeles Brewery in Lincoln Heights (then still known as East Los Angeles). After the death of Joseph Maier in 1904, George Zobelein acrimoniously split with his former partner’s heirs and purchased the brewery. Maier & Zobelein’s Brewery became Maier Brewing Company. Los Angeles Brewing began manufacturing a line of beverages with the label, “Eastside Beer.” During the Prohibition years of 1920 through 1926, it operated as Zesto Beverage Co. In 1933, when Prohibition ended, it was renamed Eastside Brewery. It was purchased by Pabst in 1948. Pabst changed the name to the Pabst Brewery in 1953 but continued simultaneously to bottle Eastside Beer, albeit under the brand “Eastside Old Tap” until the complex closed in 1979. Three years later the old facility was reborn as The Brewery Arts Complex.
Prohibition (1919 – 1933), naturally, was rough on those who made their living off of legal alcohol sales. Many vineyards ceased production. San Antonio Winery turned to manufacturing communion wine and wine bricks in order to stay in business. Some beer brewers turned to soft drinks and “near beers” (beers that had an alcohol content of .5% or less) to stay in business. Some, not surprisingly, turned to the black market and in 1932, Maier’s brewery was raided and seized by the government. A year later, Prohibition ended, but Maier wouldn’t regain control of his property until 1940. The brewery did rebound, though, in 1950 launching the locally iconic Brew 102. From 1952-1957 it was known as A.B.C. Brewing Co. It was purchased by a San Francisco businessman in 1958 and reverted to Maier Brewery until it closed in 1971. For a brief time after, it operated as General Brewing Company, before closing for good in 1974. The brewery was demolished in 1985. In 2005, a man died there, crushed by a cave-in whilst excavating bottles and cans of Brew 102.
On 8 April, one minute after the stroke of midnight, famous actress Jean Harlow dramatically smashed a bottle of beer across the prow of the first Eastside Beer truck to make a beer delivery after fourteen dry years. Although more than two-thirds wouldn’t outlast the Great Depression and several were licensed but never brewed, the post-Prohibition years of the 1930s saw roughly three dozen breweries brew beer and sake.
Although sake is still sometimes referred to in English as “Japanese rice wine,” it is, in fact, a rice beer. In Japanese, “お酒” merely means “alcohol” and there is a rice Japanese rice wine, mirin — which is only used in cooking unless you’re really desperate. For reasons that remain unclear to me, when I was growing up it was a family tradition to drink sake on New Year’s Eve (and occasionally other times) and so I was in the strange position (for an American not of Japanese ancestry, anyway) of enjoying sake more than beer growing up.
Los Angeles once supported several sake breweries, including American Sake Brewing
Co., California Sake Brewery Co., Los Angeles Sake Brewing Co., and Central Sake Brewing Co. A man named Kinzo Yasuhara operated what was, perhaps, Los Angeles’s first sake brewery on Jackson Street in Little Tokyo from 1903 until at least 1917. Although rarely acknowledged today, it shouldn’t really be that surprising since Los Angeles was home to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan until some time after the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924, when that distinction eventually passed to São Paulo. Today, Los Angeles has the second-largest population of Japanese after Honolulu and is home to numerous beer and sake-oriented izakayas, several sake bars, and at least one sake brewery.
I can’t say it with the definitiveness of someone alive then but the 1950s are generally regarded as a decade in which conformity typified the American mainstream. If the beer scene provides any anthropological evidence, that seems to have been the case as far as people’s drinking habits went. Roma Wines was a sponsor of the popular radio thriller, Suspense, and they claimed to be “America’s largest selling wine” but what kind of name recognition does Roma have today?
From the 1930s through the 1970s, each decade introduced fewer local beers as beer drinkers seemed to pledge their loyalty to national macrobrewers. Milwaukee‘s Pabst Brewing Company had had a foothold in Los Angeles since 1948, where they remained until 1963. The then-popular Lucky Lager opened the largest brewery in the West in 1949. In 1954, St.Louis‘s Anheuser-Busch and Milwaukee’s Schlitz both opened breweries in Van Nuys. Ther former notably (or notoriously) was the birthplace of Bud Light in 1982. Yet another Milwaukee giant, Miller Brewing Company, opened a plant in Azusa’s old Lucky Lager brewery in 1966 where it remained until moving to a larger facility in Irwindale in 1981.
As the macrobrewers grew, they gobbled up the competition and merged into ever larger corporations. Pabst took over Olympia and Hamm’s in 1983. Molson and Coors merged in 2005 into Molson Coors. MolsonCoors, in turn, merged with Miller to form Miller Coors in 2008. InBev and Anheuser Bush merged in 2008 to form AB InBev. In doing so, they may’ve tested the limits of all but the most ultraconformist. What drinker, after all, professes their loyalty for TSG Consumer Partners or United Breweries Holdings Limited? What’s more, younger drinkers, unlike Baby Boomers, seem less committed to drinking the exact same thing each time, bouncing between sour beers and CBD oil-infused cocktails, bottomless mimosas and gluten-free perries, rosés and hard seltzers.
Microbrewing and craft beers began to emerge as an alternative to macrobrews in the US and UK in the 1970s. From there it spread to Australia and New Zealand. Nowadays it seems nearly every non-Islamic country has a locally grown craft beer scene — even countries like Japan, Korea, Mexico, and Taiwan, where local laws historically made microbrewing illegal. Macrobrewers, too, are increasingly keen to take a piece of the craft beer pie.
One of the first microbreweries in Los Angeles was likely Gorky’s Cafe and Russian Brewer. It was founded in as Gorky’s Cafe in November 1982 by Judith Markoff, a former high school librarian. Businessman Fred Powers bought the cafe in 1985 and added a microbrewery. It closed in 1993 but craft brewing would soon become big business. It was in 1993, too, that Lagunitas Brewery began as a microbrewer in Northern California. In 2017, after years of growth, it was purchased by Heineken and now churns out roughly a billion barrels of beer each year. In 1996, Orange County chain, Chicago Pizza was purchased and transformed into BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, a pub chain with locations in fifteen states. Golden Road Brewery was just four years old when it was purchased by the world’s largest brewer.
Los Angeles is, by American standards, a big city — and blessed with a large and diverse beer scene. I’ve been happy in bars where the only drinks are bottles of Miller Lite or Bud. I’ve also liked to explore beers exotic and unfamiliar to me — although I will never utter the word “mouthfeel.” There are bars that specialize in beer, cider, and sake; breweries big and large both with tasting rooms and without; beer halls, biergartens, brewpubs, and more — and I’ve tried to include all that I can find in my maps. Now if only I could find a proper perry…
OTHER HISTORIC BREWERIES
If you have any additions or corrections, let me know — and over time I’ll try to add some of the following historic breweries for archaeological sake:
- Henry Lemmert Brewery/Lemmert & Schwarz Brewery/Louis Schwartz Brewery (Unknown – 1879)
Henry Lemmert opened his eponymous Henry Lemmert Brewery in Anaheim at an unknown date. In 1874, he co-founded the Philadelphia Brewery in Los Angeles. In 1875, he partnered with Louis Schwarz. The two sold the Philadelphia Brewery and the Anaheim Brewery became the Lemmert & Schwarz Brewery in 1875. Around 1877, it became the Louis Schwartz Brewery, which it remained until it ceased operation in 1879.
- Anaheim Brewery/S. Goldstein Brewery/Theo. Reiser Brewery (1870 – 1880)
Solomon Goldstein, a Jewish immigrant from Poland, and Samuel Davis founded the first of several breweries known as Anaheim Brewery (there’s one in operation today). Advertisements for its opening appeared in the local newspaper in 1870. In 1874, the brewery became the S. Goldstein Brewery. In 1875, Goldstein’s health declined so he moved to Los Angeles to recover. The brewery then became the Theo. Reiser Brewery. Goldstein died the following year. The Theo. Reiser Brewery ended operation in 1880.
- Fritz & Diesing Brewery (1874 – 1875)
Perhaps the “Diesing” of this brewery was Otto Diesing, a pioneering German brewer who earlier operated a brewery in Santa Cruz.
- U. S. Brewery (1878 – 1880)
An obscure, shortlived Los Angeles brewery. Nevertheless, in 1879 the Los Angeles Herald noted that the brewery donated a keg of beer to the Los Angeles Guards for their target shooting demonstration.
- International Brewery (1880 – 1884)
An obscure Anaheim Brewery. In 1883, ownership was transferred from Thomas Peekin Hinde to Mary Hinde.
- Fred Binder Brewery (1882 – 1884)
And obscure, short-lived brewery that is supposed to have had a Downtown Los Angeles address on Banning Street. In 1882, Henry Anderson was charged with battering Binder’s wife, whose name was given as “Mrs. Fred Binder.” Specifically, he was reported to have cut her head. In 1887, Fred was granted a license to open a saloon around the corner at 44 North Alameda Street.
- Reuter & Goldkaefer Brewery/Jos. Fox Brewery (1884 – 1886)
Reuter & Goldkaefer Brewery was established in Santa Ana in 1884. In 1886, it re-opened as the Jos. Fox Brewery. That brewery, too, was shortlived, ceasing operation the same year.
- Wm. Westerhagen & Co. Brewery (c. 1890 – unknown)
Obscure Los Angeles brewery. In 1890, William Westerhagen applied for and received a license to operate a saloon at 330 North Main Street.
- Ernst Hubler Brewery (1893 – 1893)
In 1891, Ernst Hubler and Lawrentz Waechter dissolved their partnership. The two had, until then, been co-proprietors of the St. Louis Brewery in San Francisco. It seems likely that Los Angeles’s short-lived Ernst Hubler Brewery was connected to him.
- Tischhauser-Braun Brewing Co. (1897 – 1897)
Yet another short-lived, obscure Los Angeles brewery. In 1892, the Los Angeles Times reported that a Mrs. Tischhauser attacked her neighbor, Professor Hebler, with a hatchet and rock just a week after being tested for her sanity. Professor Hebler fired his gun into the air to scare her off and his wife was thrown into hysterics. Whether or not this is connected in any way to the brewery, I can’t say — but it’s a colorful incident.
- James Larquier Brewery (1898 – 1898)
James Larquier Brewery was operated by Frenchman, James Larquier. Larquier was the husband of Constance Larquier (née Gassagne) and father of a ten year old daughter, Alice Victorine, when he opened the short-lived brewery. For roughly ten years, Larquier acted as the confidential agent, advisor, and business manager of French sea captain, landowner, investor, baker, and vintner, Jose Mascarel. Mascarel was also the mayor of Los Angeles from 1865 – 1866. When he died in 1899, his will revealed that his considerable fortune would be left not to his children but to Larquier. Legal action from the children ensued, who claimed that their father was not of sound mind when he made the will and that Larquier had convinced the dying man that his children were trying to poison him. Seems like an interesting guy.
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LA, Amoeblog, Boom: A Journal of California, diaCRITICS, Hidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft Contemporary, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, the book Sidewalking, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, CurbedLA, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA?, at Emerson College, and the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Ameba, Duolingo, Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, Mubi, and Twitter.