Back when the pandemic first arrived in New Mexico, all of us in the Crew wondered if there would be many stories for us to write with breweries reduced to takeout only. As it turns out, the breweries have kept us plenty busy, but one idea for stories that we had back in late March was to take a deeper dive into our state’s history of brewing, all the way back into the 19th Century.
As some may know, I wrote a book, Albuquerque Beer: Duke City History on Tap, that was released in 2017. Since the publication, I have (of course) learned even more about the history of breweries in Albuquerque and the rest of the state. The pre-Prohibition era was filled with breweries, some as small as a homebrew setup and some that rivaled the size of the biggest modern breweries. The earliest mention of brewing in New Mexico was an advertisement in a Santa Fe newspaper of brewing equipment for sale in 1859.
My original research noted that there was a brewery in Albuquerque back in 1883, and that brewery burned down in 1887 (lightning was the culprit). The much larger Southwestern Brewery & Ice Company soon rose up on the same property in 1889, with part of the original brewery still standing on the east side of the train tracks downtown, just south of Lomas.
The short history of that first operation, called similarly the Southwestern Brewery, was still a fascinating story. It was the creation of Joseph DeMars, a businessman, and Oswald A. Petre, “a brewer of over 20 years experience in Europe and various cities of America,” as per an Albuquerque Journal article on Sept. 28, 1883. Clement Stockbridge was the No. 2 brewer on the staff, with three-to-four additional “laborers” working in the brewery. Ferdinand Silva, an Italian immigrant, actually owned the land and leased the buildings to DeMars and Petre.
The brewery was said to have a capacity of producing 50 kegs of beer per day. It would mainly be sold to the local saloons. Between the fall of 1883 and the summer of 1884, John Koenig came to be employed as a brewer, hailing from St. Louis and formerly of Anheuser-Busch (another article said he worked for Schlitz). Whether Koenig had succeeded either Petre or Stockbridge, or simply worked for them as one of those aforementioned laborers, was not made clear in a series of Journal articles in July.
Apparently, Koenig got himself fired for spoiling the beer (some said out of spite), and spent the day of July 1, 1884 drunkenly ranting on the street for all to hear about how we was cheated out of money owed by DeMars. The two men ended up confronting one another in the Mountaineer Saloon, where DeMars said he would pay $50 to Koenig as severance the next day, after Koenig sobered up. DeMars left the saloon, but as soon as he was gone, the bartender claimed Koenig pulled a gun and promised to kill DeMars and Silva. DeMars was warned, and rather than go get the authorities, he got his own gun and returned to the brewery. DeMars claimed that he tried to reason with Koenig, but the conversation disintegrated and a shootout occurred, with the brewer dying from a fatal shot through the heart.
It was later learned that Silva had also been warned about Koenig, and despite being seen as quite drunk himself, rushed to the brewery with his own gun. DeMars initially took the blame for killing Koenig, albeit in self defense, but an autopsy showed that Silva’s gun fired the fatal bullet. Silva was accused of murder the previous year, but had all charges eventually dropped due to a lack of witnesses willing to come forward and testify against him. With no other witness to the shooting besides DeMars and some loyal brewery employees, Silva successfully claimed self defense. The brewery would last another three years before the fire, after which new owners would build a much larger and more successful brewery on the same site. One that, thankfully, did not see any shootings on the property.
While there have certainly been disputes between brewery owners and brewers in the modern era, none have resulted in death, thank goodness. It was a very different era back then, as one might have guessed, but there is something so classically Old West about a shootout at a brewery in territorial New Mexico.
Stay tuned for future installments about New Mexico’s brewery history, while we also work to keep everyone up to date on what is happening in the here and now.
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