Brewing in Greater Cincinnati Bavarian Brewing Company, Covington Kentucky

Covington's history has always been tied to the history of Cincinnati. Beermaking played an important role in Cincinnati's history. Because of the close relationship between the two cities, by looking at Cincinnati brewing, we can better understand the history of beermaking in Covington.

The city of Cincinnati was initially founded in 1788, and, taking advantage of the Ohio River, quickly established itself as a trade center. The fledgling community grew steadily, with a population in 1810 of 2,540. The first brewery in the Cincinnati began in January 1812, begun by an immigrant from Philadelphia, David Embree. By 1813, the city boasted two breweries, a number which remained stable through the 1820s. For example, in 1826, Cincinnati had two breweries which employed 18 men. By 1836, by which time the population of Cincinnati had grown to over 25,000, the city had 10 breweries that provided employment for 70 men.

During the first half of the nineteenth century, Cincinnati continued to grow steadily, reaching a population of 46,000 in 1840. By 1860, this figure had tripled, with a total population of over 200,000 in that year. An important factor in this growth was the immigration of Germans to the Cincinnati area. In 1830, German natives represented 5 percent of Cincinnati's total population; by 1840, more than 25 percent of Cincinnatians were of German birth. The influence of the Germans impacted the brewing industry. Prior to 1850, the majority of brewers in Cincinnati were predominantly English or Scottish, with one Frenchman, who made ale, porter and stout. According to Downard, "by 1860 the Germans dominated the [brewing] industry in Cincinnati and most brewing centers of the United States. . ."

Part of the success of the German brewers was due to the introduction in the 1840s of a new type of brew known as lager beer. This type of beer was first brewed in Vienna during the 1830s. A special yeast and a different fermentation process result in a brew that is both lighter and more effervescent than English ales and stouts. Lager beer could only be brewed during cool weather, primarily in December, January and February, and then stored in cool cellars until the summer months, when the barrels were tapped. The beer derives its name from the brewing process; "lager" means "storage". This brew had some limitations, however; in addition to its limited brewing season, it was very perishable and tasted best when freshly tapped. Despite these limitations, lager beer quickly became popular with the German population in Cincinnati, and by the late nineteenth century, the majority of beer produced in the city was lager beer.

After the introduction of lager beer in Cincinnati, the number of breweries and the amount of beer produced steadily increased. In 1850, the town boasted 13 breweries with approximately 172 employees; by 1860 this number had increased to 36, employing 315 men. Cincinnati's Chamber of Commerce reported in 1859 that "the production of ale and beer had increased three times in the decade from 1849 to 1859". By this time, the brewing industry had become one of Cincinnati's most important industries.

By 1860, the Cincinnati brewers were predominantly of German birth. The most successful Cincinnati brewer of this period was Christian Morelein, who had been born in Bavarian in 1818 and immigrated to the United States in 1841. By 1842, Morelein had moved to Cincinnati. He opened a small brewery in 1853, which in 1854 produced 1,000 barrels. By 1860, the quantity had grown to 20,000 barrels. Morelein began brewing lager beer in 1856; by 1864, only lager beer was produced at his brewery.

The period 1860 to 1918 brought many changes to the brewing industry nationally, which were reflected in the organizational structure and physical plant of the majority of Cincinnati brewers. At the same time, the production of beer in Cincinnati continued to increase, from 353,776 barrels in 1870 to 558,708 barrels in 1879. Three-fifths of this beer was consumed in Cincinnati.

Although Cincinnati breweries marketed regionally and even nationally, they considered Cincinnati to be their primary market. And, indeed, it was. For example, in 1893, the annual per capita consumption of beer nationwide was 16 gallons, while in Cincinnati, the annual per capita consumption was 40 gallons. Beer was part of the social and family life for Cincinnati's large German population, who through the nineteenth century lived primarily in the Over-The-Rhine area of the city. Partly as a result of this large local consumption, Cincinnati grew to be the fourth largest brewing center int he United States, ahead of both Milwaukee and Chicago. Cincinnati brewers were responsible for over 50 percent of all beers produced in the state of Ohio. During this time period, the only Cincinnati brewer to gain national prominence was the Christian Moerlein brewery.

From 1880 to 1918, the number of breweries in Cincinnati remained stable, with an average of 23 breweries listed in city directories. The Bavarian Brewery in Covington and the Wiedemann Brewery in Newport are considered to be contributors to Cincinnati's success as a brewing center during this same time period. The production of these breweries continued to increase, with over 1.5 million barrels produced in 1890. The increased production reflects an increased demand for the product, which was due at least to part in the continued growth of Cincinnati's population, which continued to steadily increase. By 1880, the population had grown to over 225,000; by 1900, the population totaled more than 325,000, an increase of more than 40 percent. At the same time, annual per capita consumption of beer in Cincinnati continued to grow, in 1895, the figure was 50 gallons, which had increased to 65 gallons by 1910.

In addition to increased demand, Cincinnati brewers were able to continue to produce greater quantities of beer due to improving technology, including improvements in processing, refrigeration, and bottling. According to Downard, the 1880s marked a turning point where "technical improvements and business innovations . . . made brewing an efficient and perhaps 'modern' industry"). As a result of these changes, fewer breweries were able to produce greater quantities of beer. The total number of breweries nationwide peaked in 1880, at over 2,200; by 1900 the number of brewers in the United States was down to 1,800. At the same time, average annual production of beer nationally increased from 5,600 barrels in 1880 to over 22,000 barrels in 1900.

An improvement was pasteurization, which consisted of exposing the freshly brewed beer to high temperatures to destroy bacteria that spoiled the beer. As a result of pasteurization, beer kept much longer, and could be distributed further from its point of manufacture. Improved bottles and the introduction of the crown bottle cap in 1892 also made it more feasible to distribute beer to a wider market. As a result of tax laws in effect at the time, bottling plants were usually separate legal and physical entities from the breweries. The first bottling plant in Cincinnati was open in 1874; by 1882, there were eight beer bottlers listed in business directories. By the 1890s, it was more common for the brewers to own and operate their own bottling departments.

These technological changes required physical changes to the structures in which the breweries were housed. As a result, it was not uncommon for area brewers to spend considerable sums to built new, much larger buildings that both modernized the brewing process and provided the brewers with an image of substance. In fact, according to Downard, there was an emphasis on monumental buildings, with attention paid to the aesthetics for industrial buildings nationwide following the Civil War; this trend was reflected by the buildings built for Cincinnati brewers during this period.

In the 1910s, public sentiment began to grow in favor of prohibition. Beer making actually ceased on December 1, 1918. This was due to an order of President Wilson which prohibited brewing, partly because of a combination of crop failures and a shortage of labor. The prohibition continued with the passage of the Volstead Act in 1919. Prohibition, of course, had a devastating affect on breweries in Cincinnati and elsewhere. Many breweries tried to survived by making "near beer", which was not popular, and soft drinks. Others closed their plants and liquidated their assets. Of 20 breweries in Cincinnati that were in operation in 1918, only one reopened when Prohibition was repealed in 1933. It was supplemented by two Northern Kentucky breweries that had operated period to 1918, Bavarian and Weidemann.

Following Prohibition, many new breweries opened in Cincinnati, frequently located in the buildings built by the nineteenth century brewers. These new breweries quickly returned to the 1918 capacity, with 800,000 barrels produced in 1933, and 1,114,000 barrels made in 1934. A major change beginning in the 1930s was the increased emphasis on packaged beer, either bottled or, beginning in 1937, canned. Advantages to canned and bottled beer were that the beer could be more widely distributed, resulting in greater profits and less waste. At the same time, increased use of home refrigeration made it possible for consumers to store beer at home. In 1934, only 25 percent of the beer made was bottled; by 1941, this figure had grown to over 50 percent. This emphasis on packaged beer contributed to the national trend for bigger breweries with greater production capacity.

This trend affected the number of breweries in Cincinnati. By the mid-1940s, Cincinnati boasted 9 breweries (including Bavarian and Weidemann) which together employed more than 3,500 and produced 2.3 million barrels of beer each year. In 1966, when the Bavarian Brewery closed, the number of local breweries was down to 4; together, they made 2 million barrels of beer a year. Nationally, the number of breweries decline from 250 in 1950 to 110 in 1969. The 1980s and 1990s have seen a resurgence of brewing, with the emphasis once again on small, local breweries with modest capacity, usually serving the beer in the same building in which it is brewed.