This series will explore the arc of American Liebotschaner beer, and similarly for the original type, Liebotschaner beer of Central Europe.
I will start with brewery executive Louis A. Wehle (1889-1964). He purchased the pre-Prohibition Genesee Brewery in 1932, which re-started production in 1933. Wehle delayed re-establishing the maltings, probably for financial reasons.
Prior to Prohibition Genesee had malted its own grain. The Industries of the City of Rochester: A Resume of her Past History, etc. (1888) mentions a seven-storey maltings, 66 x 166 ft. (not Col. Parsons’ building it later purchased at lake’s edge).
In a recent post I noted that from 1938 until the mid-1980s, Genesee Brewery again malted its own barley.
As Wehle’s c. 1960 memoir confirmed, he had worked as a brewer at both Genesee and Rochester’s Bartholomay brewery prior to National Prohibition. Evidently, he was partial to a brewery that controlled the malting phase of production.*
(Malting is a hydrating and controlled germination of the barley corn to prepare its starch content, by enzymatic action, for conversion to fermentable sugar. Such starch-sugar is simpler in polymer structure than starch. Yeast can feed on the sugar to produce alcohol. Such sugar resembles more closely the sugar already present in grapes, for wine).
Early Lagers of Genesee
In the 1890s it appears Genesee Brewery made two lagers: a stock lager and Liebotschaner beer. Many ads attest to it, e.g. this one in Illustrated Rochester: 1898-1899:
The stock beer, sometimes called standard lager, was probably well-aged for many months. It was perhaps the tawny, Vienna-style beer I discussed earlier that was a staple of early American brewing, later supplanted by the paler Bohemian style.
Approaching Prohibition, Genesee also brewed an export lager, as this 1917 advert shows.
Liebotschaner Beer’s Origins
Liebotschaner was one of a dozen or so German and Hapsburg Empire beer types with cachet in late 19th century America. You might see the name in an importer’s list with, say, Erlanger (from Erlangen), Munchener (Munich), Wiener (Vienna), Kulmbacher (Culmbach), and so on.
This ad in a Gilded Era, Metropolitan Opera program (undated, 1880s-1890s) will illustrate (via Fulton Newspapers):
A story originating in Manhattan, reprinted in the Albany Times in March 1891, noted the general increase in popularity of imported beer, which was mostly German. It stated in part:
Five years ago genuine imported beer was sold in half a dozen big places in town. Now there are at least 250 selling Wurzberger, Culmbacher, Erlanger, Thuringia, Liebotchaner, Augustiner and Pilsner, charging ten cents a glass, and selling thousands of gallons of it daily at that figure. It is draught beer, not bottled, and is brewed in Bavaria, Bohemia, or Saxony for export to America.
Even in 1881 a saloon in Albany, Engel’s saloon, regularly advertised imported draught Liebotschaner (“the most celebrated tap of Bohemian beer”).
A few American breweries started to emulate the type, mainly in the Northeast but Anheuser-Busch was an example in the Midwest. An 1885 magazine ad listed it, among others.
The style originated in Libočany, now a Czech town. In German: Liebotschan. The town enviably is situated in Saaz hop cultivation country in north Bohemia, and was formerly noted for fine lager. The tradition ended after World War I, per a brief Wikipedia account.
An image (same source, c. 1910) shows an impressive brewery in lay-out and scale:
Johann Münzberg established the brewery, a noted industrialist in the Saaz. Some bio, in English.
There seems a complete absence of historical investigation into Liebotschaner brewing, at least in English. The style is not mentioned in Wahl & Henius’s landmark Handy-book on American brewing, first issued in 1902.
The image above of the brewery is one of the few I found. I did find mentions of the brewery in the 19th century as a lager producer, in Czech or German. My investigations, for this aspect, are limited due to the languages, but what I did find may assist others to pursue investigations.
From a German-language ad of the 1870s, we learn Liebotschaner Brewery brewed Export, Lager-bier, Doppel, and Schankbier. The Doppel was likely a dark-coloured bock, and the export, stronger than the lager-bier or schank (likely unaged, bottom-fermented beer).
It seems the brewery had outposts, or tied pubs. One appeared on a postcard in Carlsfeld, skiing country in Germany to the west. What seems the same building is pictured in a leaflet, Dos Liebotschaner Bierhaus, accompanying a poem or song about the pub.
Here, on a Czech site, appears a surviving brown bottle displaying the Liebotschaner name and perhaps coat of arms. It once contained genuine beer of this formerly highly regarded brewery.
Sadly, it seems World War I did the brewery in and no beer was produced from the time the town, really more a village and domain, became subject to Czech rule.
Liebotschaner Brewing in America
Both pale and dark versions have been brewed in America. American breweries that made Liebotschaner, apart Anheuser-Busch, included Genesee, Stegmaier in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, The Lion, also in Wilkes-Barre after it purchased Stegmaier, and Eagle Brewery in Utica, New York (link is to the Utica Daily Press,1890).
Yet others included Peter Buckel in New York City. The style, as it apparently became in American hands, also surfaced in Chattanooga, Chicago, and Detroit.
Ads were also placed by bottlers or distributors not indicating the source. Anheuser-Busch described its version in an 1889 company pamphlet, archived at Warshaw Collection of Business:
… another [of our] pale beer[s] … It derives its special flavor, which by many is pronounced the most delicate in the whole range of our manufactures, from a mixture of very fine California and Canada barleys, and choicest Bohemian hops.
The Eagle Brewery’s version was also extra pale, as the ad linked makes clear. Genesee’s versions were clearly pale.
Stegmaier in the 1960s issued a Liebotschaner Select in both dark and light versions, as appears from surviving ephemera including this coaster at eBay. There was a bock version, as well.
Liebotschaner, based on the Anheuser-Busch account as reinforced by the Eagle description, sounds – at least the main form – like a lighter-bodied Bohemian pilsner. Still, the “special flavor” mentioned perhaps hinted at more.
Presumably the original Bohemian Liebotschaner had enough going for it to become, as it did, a kind of appellation in America.
Genesee Brewery’s Liebotschaner, 1930s
In 1933 with Wehle at the helm, Genesee brought back the label. Throughout the 1930s Genesee billed the restored beer as Liebotschaner. Whether Wehle had brewed an all-malt Liebotschaner on the eve of WW I and Prohibition, though, is unclear.
A series of Genesee ads in 1906-1907 stated in part:
Liebotschaner is the very happy medium between pale, tasteless, cheap beer and the darker, heavier brands.
This might have meant that cheap, tasteless brands were high-adjunct while the Liebotschaner was all-malt but not full-bodied like a Munich Dunkel. The colour too of Liebotschaner would have been darker than high-adjunct lager due to absence of corn, rice, or other grain adjunct.
Genesee indicated in 2014 that when brewing was restored in 1933, Liebotschaner was launched as an all-malt beer. Dean Jones, who brews at Genesee’s Brew House in Rochester, its pilot brewery and brewpub, discussed the all-malt background to the beer.
It is interesting though that a 1935 ad for Genesee Liebotschaner, in the Niagara Falls Gazette, listed rice among the ingredients for the beer:
Either the brewery went from all-malt to adjunct (1933-1935), or perhaps the all-malt beer Genesee recalled in 2014 commenced not in 1933, but in 1936. In November that year, a news ad touts Genesee All Malt Beer along with its 12 Horse Ale. Presumably this beer was Liebotschaner, with a changed recipe, unless Genesee was marketing two lagers concurrently in 1936.
In 1938 ads start to appear for the Liebotschaner announcing the beer is all-malt. For example this ad in The Livingston Republican:
In his memoir, Wehle insists he always tried to brew the best beer possible. While not offering specifics except for his beloved Burton Pale Ale, it is not hard to conclude he favoured all-malt over adjunct beer. Many American brewers then, schooled in German tradition, shared this view although with the march of the 20th century it finally withered.
What changed in 1936? In 1938 certainly, Genesee had its own maltings, a traditional, labour-intensive floor process to boot. When one owns a maltings, it makes sense to maximize use of it. And now Wehle had a quality angle to market, at least as perceived by brewers of the old school.
Perhaps Genesee switched to all-malt late in 1936 in anticipation of having a functioning maltings in the near future, although I don’t think it was operational until 1938.
The 1938 Genesee all-malt lager bore the Liebotschaner name, as shown in this image. Presumably the 1936 all-malt beer did too although I have not been able to locate a label.
The ads I reviewed for 1933, launching the restored Genesee Liebotschaner, do not state all-malt. They do state the beer was made the same way as before Prohibition. [My Part III deals with Genesee Liebotschaner characteristics in 1884].
How long did the later 1930s, all-malt Genesee remain available? Genesee has used corn grits in its beer at least since the 1970s, as I discussed earlier, but when did adjunct brewing actually resume?
It seems in late 1939. In December that year, news ads appeared trumpeting a “new” Genesee Liebotschaner that was “dry” and “light”. These buzzwords denoted a return to adjunct brewing. This is clear since one ad stated in a corner that the all-malt version was still available, for those wanting its “matchless goodness”.
Clearly by then, but probably not for long, dual versions of a Genesee lager were in the market. This September 1941 ad touts Genesee All-Malt, so it was carried in some markets at least to that point.
So why the return in 1939 to adjunct brewing? Had sales of the 1936-1938 all-malt beer stagnated? Did cost pressures push Louis to select a less-costly grain for the bottom line?
Whatever the answers, and whatever the grist between 1933 and 1935, it seems after 1939, an all-malt Genesee lager, descendant of Liebotschaner, did not stay long in the market.
This series continues with Part II.
Note re images: source of images above and in this series is identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.
*Genesee, Bartholomay and a third brewery, Rochester Brewery, merged in 1889 under Bartholomay’s name. As part of the merger, a Parson’s-owned maltings in Rochester was acquired, so that the merged entity had three maltings, the third was Bartholomay’s. The Parson’s maltings mentioned was not the Sodus Bay maltings also owned by Parsons, but evidently another one, in Rochester on the Erie Canal, whereas Sodus Bay is some 40 miles from Rochester. For details on the merger the prospectus, reproduced in a contemporary financial review, is most helpful.