The following is the work of Wilhelm W. Seeger, former professor of German at Grand Valley State University. This is the third 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.
Between 1850 and 1875, according to Albert Baxter, the beer-brewing business in Grand Rapids grew to “very great proportions.” Average annual output reached 16,000 barrels in 1875, and in 1877 the total value of production was estimated at about $600,000. Capital investments amounted to approximately $400,000, and about 160 men were employed industry wide. ( 7 )
With the number of German settlers steadily increasing in Grand Rapids in the fifteen years after the Civil War, the local demand for beer continued to rise, and it comes as no surprise that new breweries, most of them German-owned and -operated, were established in the city.
The Frey brothers – Charles, Christian and Frederick – established the Coldbrook Brewery on Coldbrook Street in 1874. The following year John Adrion and Andrew Greil set up the Valley City Brewery on Page between Tile and Plainfield; a short time later the city directory listed the owners of the establishment as John Adrion and Peter Kautenberger.
On January 1, 1876, Jacob Veit and Paul Rathman founded the Eagle Brewery on the city’s west side at the corner of First and Stocking.
A year later, Adolph Goetz, former brewmaster at the Kusterer brewery, and Kossuth W. Tusch built the Cincinnati Brewery at 208 Grandville Avenue and began advertising their lager beer as “equal to Cincinnati beer!” which, according to claims made by the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, enjoyed a national reputation for high quality. ( 8 )
In January of 1879 Goetz sold his interest in the Cincinnati Brewery to Kossuth’s brother Frederick and left for Colorado where he hoped to set up his own brewing business. His stay out west was brief, however, and he returned to Grand Rapids to become Kusterer’s brewmaster once again.
All of the German brewers concentrated their efforts on the production of lager beer, a light, dry, carbonated beverage with a distinct taste of hops that is aged in storage from six weeks to six months before use. Lager beer was the favorite brew of German, Austrian and Dutch consumers. English and Irish beer drinkers, on the other hand, preferred ale and porter, malt beverages that are darker, heavier and usually more bitter than lager beer.
In 1875 and 1876 a number of non-German brewers launched operations in Grand Rapids. Aldrich J. Smith and William Draper set up shop on the corner of Oak and South Division, and David L. Stiven established a brewery on the northeast corner of Canal and Coldbrook. Both businesses were short lived, and it is perhaps these failed ventures that Albert Baxter had in mind when he wrote, “An effort was made some twelve years ago to establish the making on a large scale of ale and porter, but the measure of success was not flattering. “( 9 )
By 1879, output in the city was confined largely to lager beer. Seven breweries – all German-American enterprises – were operating at the time: the Valley City Brewery owned by brothers Mathias and John Adrion; George Brandt’s Union Brewery; the Cincinnati Brewery operated by the Tusch brothers; Christoph Kusterer’s City Brewery, the oldest in Grand Rapids; the Frey brothers’ Coldbrook Brewery; Peter Weirich’s Michigan Brewery; and Veit and Rathman’s Eagle Brewery. Another brewery joined the ranks in 1887 when Adolph Goetz established the National Brewing Company at the corner of West Leonard and Broadway.
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.