Beer Making in San Jose (Part 1)

Old Joe’s Steam Beer— “It’s pure that’s sure!” Have you ever heard of this beer or this slogan?

Joe Hartman was a 49er who came to California in 1852 from Germany to make his fortune finding gold nuggets. That didn’t work out as only one in five of the gold seekers ever made expenses. So Joe came to San Jose and, in 1853, started the Eagle Brewery in a shack on South Market Street. Joe made steam beer—a brewing process that takes only a month rather than the four months that lager beer requires. Joe had a good delivery system; if a saloon needed a keg of beer, Joe put the keg in his wheelbarrow and delivered it himself. But his personal delivery service didn’t last long as there was tremendous demand for his product and the brewery expanded rapidly.

There was a real need for beer then as cholera was common and people couldn’t trust the water. (One in ten of the covered wagon pioneers died on the trail, cholera claiming most.) The Californios (Spanish settlers) who lived in San Jose had a very poor water system—the water being delivered via open ditches, or acequias, to the pueblo people. The ditches became water supply and sewer all in one, spreading disease to the pobladores who drank from them.

Joe Hartman flourished; his gold was in the golden glow of his beer. He moved to San Carlos and Market Streets and built the Eagle Brewery on the location of today’s St.
Claire Hotel. The malt tower of the Eagle Brewery had six stories, the tallest building in San Jose.

Major competition came in 1869 when a German tavern keeper, Gottfried Frederick Krahenberg, started the Fredericksburg Brewery on the corner of the Alameda and
Cinnabar Street. This brewery prospered and a huge six-story building was added that featured towers and turrets like a Germanic castle. The Fredericksburg Brewery employed mostly immigrants from the large German population then living in San Jose. (Members of this community established a German Catholic Church, Lutheran Church, Methodist Church and a German language newspaper, and owned most of the meat markets and sausage shops.)

In 1873, Philip Doerr—grandfather of Robert Doerr who became Mayor of San Jose in 1956—founded the San Jose Brewery. The Lion Brewery and Krumbs Brewery were also in existence at the time. The big breweries started driving the small ones out of business and there was only a trio of them left by 1890. In 1911, those in business were the large Eagle Brewery, the Fredericksburg Brewery, and the much smaller Garden City Brewing Co. at San Pedro and Bassett Streets, near the Market Street railroad depot. There were also the C.J. Vath Brewery (Rainier Beer) and the Santa Cruz Brewery—both located on a railroad spur on South Fourth Street—but they were actually bottling plants for beer that arrived in barrels on railroad freight cars.

The railroads were extremely important to the brewers. The barley used was grown locally, but the hops, bottles and barrels arrived by rail. Most important of all to the brewing process was a supply of good water, and the Fredericksburg Brewery was lucky to have two fine artesian wells on its property.

A new name appeared in brewery listings in 1915—the Kawaguchi and Ida Brewery. Located at 665 North Fifth Street in the area now known as Japantown, it did not brew beer but sake, catering to the growing Japanese population.

A major fire broke out at the Fredericksburg Brewery in 1902 and the great, six-story turreted tower of the malt house crashed into Cinnabar Street. The brewery was rebuilt by the time of the 1906 earthquake and survived with only minor damage.

In the meantime, a more important movement than an earthquake was taking place elsewhere in the USA. Carrie Nation, a six-foot, 175-pound woman, crusader and leader of the American Temperance movement, was using her hatchet to destroy saloons. By 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was passed, spelling death for breweries, wineries and distilleries across the U.S. Thus, beginning at 12:01 AM on January 16, 1920, it was illegal to manufacture, produce or sell any beverage with more than 1% alcohol. But this did not eliminate the public’s demand or desire for liquor—it just created a tremendous legal problem.

(This is the first of a two-part article. Part Two will appear next week.)

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