The following is the work of Wilhelm W. Seeger, former professor of German at Grand Valley State University. This is the second part of his essay published in the Grand River Valley Review, Volume VIII, Number 1, 1988, by the Grand Rapids Historical Society. Posted with permission.
The Kusterers and other German- American brewers stressed the health-fulness of their product and advertised it as a “family drink,” especially when compared with whiskey. Their claims may have had some merit, as early Grand Rapids historian Albert Baxter pointed out:
And just here is a coincidence. Ague and fever – the old-fashioned, boneshaking kind – prevailed very largely when those German beer makers came. In 1847 chills and shaking ague were terrors of malarially afflicted people, and sallow faces and feeble frames were familiar sights. In the eight years following came two experiences – a great growth in the habit of drinking lager beer, and the almost complete dying out of the shaking ague. It is not the province of the historian to moralize upon these facts, not to attempt an explanation, but only to chronicle the coincidence. ( 5 )
The Kusterer-Pannell partnership lasted until about 1849, when Christoph Kusterer bought out his associate and set about building a brewery on the southeast corner of East Bridge (now Michigan) and Ionia. The Kusterer family brewed lager beer at that site from 1850 until 1917. The Michigan Brewing Company took over the facility in 1935, operated it for five years and then sold it to the Peter Fox Brewing Company of Chicago in 1940; Fox brewed its Fox Deluxe Beer there until 1951.
With the buyout of Pannell in 1849, Christoph Kusterer was the only brewer in Grand Rapids, but competition wasn’t long in coming. First to challenge Kusterer’s exclusive position were the Christ brothers – Gottlieb, Gustav and Christian-German immigrants who arrived in Grand Rapids by 1849. While Gustav and Christian found work in Kusterer’s brewery, Gottlieb became the proprietor of the Bridge Street House tavern. In June 1850, just a month after the citizens of Grand Rapids voted to approve the charter that would turn their village into a city, the Common Council granted Gottlieb the City of Grand Rapids’ first tavern-keeper’s license.
Sometime later, the Christ brothers built a large brewery on Ottawa between Bridge and Hastings. According to Baxter, “Theirs was a leader among the beer making houses” until the business was wiped out by the disastrous “Great Fire” of July 13, 1873. ( 6 )
The Kusterer and Christ breweries found a ready market for their German-style lager beer among the German immigrants who settled on the west side of Grand Rapids immediately north and south of Bridge Street before the Civil War. Other brewers likewise appeared on the scene to try their hands at satisfying local thirsts, with varying degrees of success. In 1856, German immigrant Peter Weirich built the Michigan Brewery at Bridge and Indiana on the city’s west side. Three years later, one J. H. Roberts launched a short-lived brewery operation at the corner of Fountain and Ransom.
In 1862, during the Civil War, George Brandt, who had been a brewmaster for Christoph Kusterer since 1856, decided to strike out on his own. Joining forces with Christopher Killinger and Fred Mayer, he established the Union Brewery at 87 South Division (ed note: the address was originally 192 and was renumbered sometime in prior to 1874). Neither Killinger nor Mayer nor A. Maris, who was listed as a proprietor in the 1865 city directory, remained for long in the business, but George Brandt stayed on, increasing the value of the brewery’s total annual output to about $60,000 by 1887.
By the end of the Civil War, four major breweries were providing lager beer, ale and porter for Grand Rapids’ thirsty citizens: the City Brewery run by Christoph Kusterer; George Brandt’s Union Brewery; the Michigan Brewery operated by Peter Weirich; and the G. and C. Christ Brewery.
5. Albert Baxter, History of the City of Grand Rapids, Michigan (New York and Grand Rapids. Munsell and Company, 1891), p. 203.
8. William L. Downard, The Cincinnati Brewing Industry. A Social and Economic History (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1973), p. 31.
9. Baxter, History of Grand Rapids, p. 203.
10. Barron, Brewed in America p. 272.
11.Grand Rapids Evening Press, August 7, 1885.
12. Grand Rapids Press, June 30, 1917.