Friday, October 11, 2013

A Forgotten Brewery Part Three - Inventory in 1876

Perhaps it is my interest in history bumping up against my home brewing hobby but I have always been curious about early breweries.  Was the beer any good?  How did they make deliveries?  Did the various competing breweries in a town get along as fellow craftsmen or fight tooth and nail?

Much has been lost to time, so when I ran across a fairly comprehensive inventory for the F.X. Schmidmeyer Brewery of Chippewa Falls I decided it needed to be preserved for posterity. Interestingly it also comments on various bills paid over a two year span from 1876 and 1877,

The documents are to be found in the probate paperwork for Amelia Schmidmeyer.  Near as I can tell she owned it all and Francis X. just worked for her.  An odd tale that I have recounted earlier....

The brewery building was 292 feet by 200 feet and was valued at $10,000.  As to the contents of the place the big ticket items were the copper brewing boiler at $100, 300 1/8 barrel casts worth $150 in total and 32 15 barrel casks for the same amount.  I found it interesting that the rather small 1/8 barrel kegs were the most common.  Perhaps they sold for home use?  Or did beer not last as long in the days before pasteurization and chemicals?

Some items are familiar to me, others an enigma.  What was a Pick Machine?  What was meant by a "Jack Plank, 2 augers, cub.."? It sounds like something for moving grain.

Advertising in the local paper was a reasonable $10 a year.  Insurance was a bit pricey for the time, $70 a year.  But when I think of how many breweries burned down it seems fair.

Fred Schmidt got paid $38.50 for repairing casks.  Lumber for a new beer cooler ran $13.  8,000 bricks for the brewery ran $80. Two bills for labor by the brick layers ran $65 combined.

Supporting my theory that Francis Schmidmeyer was more a hireling than a proprietor I find notation for a payment to him of $400.  He claims he was getting paid $500.  Did he get a bad performance review?

Some items I would have loved to see.  " 1 Hidrolic Pump with pips" is inventoried with a value of $30.

One thing that does not appear in the inventory is any mention of bottles.  Curious, as I have seen newspaper ads that indicate the brewery was bottling in the mid 1870s.  Although this was usually a minor product line for small, early breweries - kegs served better for in town business - I would expect that an inventory comprehensive enough to list " 1 crowbar $5" would also note the considerable investment which glass or more likely clay bottles would have been.  I think the business was struggling by the late 70's and had quit bottling by that point.


Courtney Yee said...

What a cool series! What interesting points on glass bottles vs. kegs. It's weird to think how commodities have become so individualized nowadays.

I sent you an email as well, hopefully you'll see it!

abnormalist said...

Part of the reason for the 1/8th barrel is actually how beer was dispensed. Rememeber, these were hand drawn cask conditioned beers. Each time you drew a beer you introduced foreign bacteria, oxygen, and wild yeasts to it. Modern beers being dispensed by forcing co2 in from a sterile environment last much longer (up to a month or more) without issues. Most cask conditioned ales today still use 1/8th barrel kegs.

Tacitus2 said...


I have enjoyed more than my share of cask conditioned ales when in England, but never peeked under the bar to examine keg sizes.

But at one place I stayed there was a big keg corral out back for empties, so I should have known this.

I would think wood vs aluminum also is a factor in favor of larger (freudian slip, typed lager) keg sizes...