Quinnipiac Brewery, New Haven Connecticut

Date added: July 11, 2022 Categories: Connecticut Industrial Brewery

Beer had been an important part of the American diet since the earliest European settlements at Plymouth and in Virginia. Until the mid-19th century, the American thirst for beer had been served by the output of innumerable small breweries found throughout the country. These pre-industrial breweries were necessarily small, with neither refrigeration nor easy transportation available, they were confined to serving only local markets. Moreover, their operations were possible only in the cool months of the year, when air temperatures allowed natural cooling.

Despite their small size, the early breweries initiated design features which were carried over into later, larger plants. Because of the use of gravity to move raw materials, breweries were often multi-story buildings, sometimes with storage cellars extending several stories underground. To minimize the entry of warm air, window area was limited. The open vessels in which fermentation took place called for a large floor area, So the brewery was characterized by the juxtaposition of horizontally and vertically extended spaces.

The American brewing industry underwent rapid and fundamental change in the 19th century, impelled by the influence of German immigrants and by technological changes in transportation and food preservation. The German-Americans introduced "lager bier," a lighter, sweeter, less hop-flavored brew than the typical pre-1850 American product, which had been derived from English brewing practice. Lager quickly assumed primacy in American taste, and has comprised the greatest portion of the nation's brewery output since soon after its introduction. German-Americans also brought with them knowledge and experience in brewing. They established many of the new enterprises in the burgeoning brewing industry, as well as filling the crucial positions of brewmaster and maltster in breweries owned by others.

At the same time as Germans were bringing to America their brewing expertise, technological innovations were freeing breweries from the limited scale of local markets. Improved railroad transportation gave breweries both a wider market and better access to grain and other raw materials. Shipment to more distant markets was also aided by the development of pasteurization and related processes, which prolonged the life of the beer by eliminating all of the bacteria and other micro-organisms which caused spoilage (Pasteur's discovery was specifically addressed to the problem of beer spoilage, and first appeared in a work entitled Studies on Beer). Finally, improved understanding of the behavior of gases underpinned the experiments conducted in the mid-19th century by Lord Kelvin and John C. de laVergne, resulting in a practical method of artificial refrigeration. Brewers eagerly adopted the new refrigerating technology; in fact, the first commercial air conditioning plant in America was installed in a brewery.

As these changes took place, the physical appearance of brewery buildings began to change as well. Breweries were built larger to handle a higher rate of production and were increasingly limited to larger cities which could serve an expanded market. The common structural elements of 19th-century factories, masonry bearing walls, heavy post-and-beam framing in metal or timber, replaced the wood-framed construction of the earlier, more localized breweries. Refrigeration obviated the need for underground storage, so all floor levels of the new industrial-scale breweries extended above the ground. Expanded capacity also resulted in greater horizontal growth of the brewing plants, not only for more and larger fermentation facilities, but also to hold the refrigerated storage areas. Thus, breweries in the 1880s and 1890s assumed a massive blocky appearance, with one or more towers. Finally, breweries at the end of the 19th century gained an aesthetic component as the brewing firms, perhaps in response to the profitability of large-scale operation, hired architects to design decorative facades for their new or remodeled plants. With one exception, brewery architecture remained unchanged until Prohibition virtually eliminated the industry.

The one change was the expansion of the brewery to include a bottling plant. Improved capping techniques, along with pasteurization, allowed beer to be shipped in bottles rather than kegs, and many breweries set up subsidiary companies to bottle their beer. Bottling came under the close supervision of the Federal Treasury, which feared the evasion of excise taxes as breweries moved away from bulk shipment of beer. Consequently, Federal law forbade the construction of bottling plants on the same parcel as a brewery. Bottling plants had to be at least separated from the brewery by a bona fide public street, and the beer had to be physicaly transported in bulk form (and therefore inspected and taxed) across the street.

The history and architecture of Quinnipiac Brewery clearly illustrates all of these important trends in the history of the American brewing industry. Two German Americans, Peter Schleippman and William Spittler, started the firm in 1882, the period of greatest growth in the industry, and began production of lager, the most popular fermented malt beverage. Later they added ale and porter, but lager beer was their mainstay. The new firm's resources could not support the payroll and capital budget of such a growing enterprise, and the firm was re-organized in 1885 as Quinnipiac Brewing Company, a corporation with a capitalization of $50,000. William Northwood, an investor from Detroit, supplied most of the financing and he served as president of the company. Spittler retained responsibility for the plant's operation, but Schleippman left to manage another New Haven brewery. With new capital the firm equipped its plant in a highly competitive fashion, as indicated by the presence of two 25-ton de la Vergne refrigeration machines in the 1880s.

The organizational structure remained unchanged until 1893, when a subsidiary firm, Quinnipiac Bottling Company, was formed. The city directories list the bottling company at the same address as the brewery, but it is not known where bottling was done prior to the building of the bottling plant across East Pearl Street in 1916. Separate entities, both organizationally and physically separate from the brewery, were mandated by the Federal revenue code, and the layout of Quinnipiac Brewery reflects this requirement.

In the first decade of the 20th century, nation-wide beer production increased every year by at least 3%, while the number of breweries dropped from about 1900 in 1899 to 1500 ten years later. Clearly, the growth in the industry occurred through the expansion of already successful brewers. Quinnipiac Brewery is an example of such expansion, with substantial new improvements started in 1903. These improvements took the form of new construction, such as the large two-story addition to the brew house, and new equipment, including a 100-ton refrigeration machine and probably the second boiling vat. By this time the firm's authorized capital reached $600,000.

Expansion continued with the 1916 bottling plant and contemporary wash house, but in 1919 everything came to a halt with the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, bringing in the era of Prohibition. Fueled by the moralistic zeal of temperance crusaders as well as anti-German antipathy directed toward brewers, Prohibition put the nation's breweries out of business almost overnight. Some brewing companies turned to related processes, such as leasing refrigerated warehouse space or making cereal beverages. The Quinnipiac Brewery, which had been re-organized in 1902 as the Yale Brewing Company, sold its plant to another brewer, Christian Feigenspan, which Briefly made cereal beverages at the site. With the repeal of Prohibition a new firm, New Haven Brewing Company, acquired the plant and used it to make beer for about ten years. From the mid 1940s until 1978, warehousing operations occupied the plant, after which Quinnipiac Brewery stood vacant.