Historic Cleveland Breweries
May 2018 edition
by jim prohaska
Vintage Brewery & Brewing Equipment ads, c.1907
At the turn of the last century, there we no giant national Breweries. The likes of Miller and Anheuser Busch were still local entities, along with thousands of other neighborhood Breweries that existed here in Cleveland during the early 1900’s. The expansion of the Brewing industry and the demand for beer not only drove sales of the equipment necessary for the production of beer, it also demanded innovations within the industry to increase production and efficiencies while cutting costs. Some of these innovations are pictured here. These ads were taken from trade magazines dating from the 1907-09 era. These magazines catered to the Brewery owners and their master brewers and discussed the latest techniques in “modern” brewing techniques as well as allowing manufacturers to tout their latest products.
Historic Cleveland Breweries
April 2018 edition
by jim prohaska
Oppmann Brewing Company
Andrew W. Oppmann –
An Early Beer Baron
Great fortunes were made by some of Cleveland’s early Beer Barons. Andrew W. Oppmann was one of these greatly successful millionaire brewers. Oppmann left Bavaria for the United States in 1863 at the age of 19. He had apprenticed at a number of breweries in Bavaria and settled for a short time in St. Louis to do the same. Young, restless and adventurous, he decided to travel the (wild) West, then ended up joining the Calvary. He ended up in Los Angeles where he became a crew member of a ship that sailed the Orient. Once back in the States, he again decided to sail, this time down the West Coast to Panama, where he walked the 40 miles across the isthmus(!) to the eastern shore to board another ship heading to New York City. His wanderlust finally satisfied, he was happy to return to the U.S.
Oppmann wanted to return to his true passion, which was brewing beer. He traveled to Chicago and took employment with the Mueller Brothers Brewery there. His hope was for long-term employment. However, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed the Brewery (as well as Andrew’s possessions) and forced Oppmann to leave the city. He ultimately ended up in Cleveland, briefly working as brewmaster for Haltnorth’s Brewery on the west side. The desire to own his own brewery was strong. Thus, in 1872, he bought the financially strapped Adam Schumann Brewery at the corner of Columbus and Willey Streets.
Under Oppmann’s control, his Brewery grew from the 18th largest (out of 26) in 1874 to the 5th largest Brewery in Cleveland ten years later. He was a progressive business man with a creative mind – holding several patents on equipment that improved general brewing methods which ultimately also helped to increase the efficiency of his operation.
Oppmann did not embrace the bottling of his beer. He was an advocate for draught beer and sold the bulk of his product to various saloons throughout the city. However, a group of his employees saw a great opportunity in bottling, so they organized a bottling company to bottle and distribute Oppmann’s beer. They formed the Anhaeusser Co-Operative Bottling Company in 1889 and re-branded Oppmann’s beer as Anhaeusser Malt Tonic. Their trade was aimed primarily at the home delivery and consumption market. Their facility was located across Columbus Street from the Oppmann brew house.
The momentum of the brewery’s success was temporarily halted on July 4, 1889. The entire brewery complex was destroyed by fire, evidently caused by some errant fireworks in the neighborhood. The loss was estimated to be $30,000 to $35,000 ($780,000 to over $900,000 in today’s dollars). Oppmann quickly rebuilt, erecting an enormous and opulent new Brew House (please see photo above).
By 1891, Andrew Oppmann decided to get out of the brewing business and concentrate on real estate (particularly in the West Boulevard area of Cleveland). He sold his shares and the brewery was re-named the Phoenix Brewing Company (as it had risen from the ashes of the fire). In 1897, Phoenix produced 50,000 barrels of beer. this continued success made it ripe for acquisition by the Cleveland & Sandusky Brewing Company conglomerate which purchased it in 1898. Phoenix was the 2nd largest of the 9 Cleveland & Sandusky group of breweries. By 1908 however, the need to consolidate and streamline the multitude of Cleveland & Sandusky brewing operations forced the shutdown of the Phoenix plant – never to reopen.
Andrew Oppmann died in 1910 at the age of 66. At his passing, he was one of the wealthiest real estate owners in Cleveland. The Oppmann Brewing Company was located one block from our Forest City Brewery and is currently the site of St. Wendelin Catholic Church. There is no existing structural evidence left of the Oppmann Brewing Company. However, members of the Oppmann family visit our Forest City Brewery on occasion and help give us insight to the past and to this important saga of Cleveland brewing history.