After a relatively quiet weekend for beer news, we decided it was time to get back to our Beer History Series. Last time around, we focused on an actual shootout that erupted at the first Southwestern Brewery in 1884.
This time around, we wanted to take a longer look at Albuquerque’s first brewery, as well as its second, which was similarly named the Southwestern Brewery and Ice Company. These were the only sources for local beer in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, or at least as far as we could find in the archives of the Albuquerque Journal and other newspapers. Sometimes those old articles would contradict each other, and do not even get us started on how many times they differently spelled the names of the people involved.
1883: The first Southwestern is built on the east side of the train tracks, just south of what is today Lomas Boulevard. It was claimed that they could produce 50 kegs of beer a day. There was no bottling line in place. The primary owner/operator was Joseph DeMars, a man with a not-so-nice reputation. He allegedly beat up his wife in public in Montana, but no one was willing to testify against him. Later in life, while living in Tucson, he got angry at his neighbor’s horse for leaning over the fence and eating some flowers in his front yard. He shot the horse dead. The other key figures involved in Southwestern were Ferdinand Silva (also spelled as Ferdinando Selva), an Italian immigrant who was a stonecutter (!), saloon owner, and land owner. He provided the land for the brewery, and in some publications, it was initially referred to as Ferdinand Silva/Ferdinando Selva Brewing Co. Handling the brewing side of things were Oswald A. Petrie and Clement Stockbridge.
1884: Petrie and Stockbridge were fired, replaced by John Koenig, who as our previous story noted, was later shot and killed by Silva/Selva and DeMars at the brewery after Koenig had himself been fired. Though they were ultimately found to have acted in self defense, Silva/Selva and DeMars spent a lot of money on their bonds to get out of jail. That put the brewery in a major financial hole.
1885-86: DeMars and his wife basically had to mortgage everything they owned to save the brewery, but in the end even that was not enough. Local businessman George Lail purchased all of the DeMars mortgages and eventually bought the brewery and the land beneath it from Silva/Selva for $2,440. Lail let DeMars stay on as the manager of the brewery. In 1886, Lail was elected mayor of Albuquerque. DeMars and Lail added another major investor in Louis A. Tessier, a local barber (one would assume he had other financial holdings to enable him to become an investor, though the articles did not make that clear).
1887: Businessman M.M. Tompkins took over the lease for the brewery from Lail. Southwestern still struggled financially until a fire broke out, likely due to a lightning strike, that burned the brewery to the ground on June 29.
1888: Tessier initiated foreclosure proceedings against the brewery and the nearby ice-making plant, which had survived the fire. This would be the move that would bring in the people who would soon establish the second Southwestern Brewery, which was officially incorporated on April 16, 1888.
1889: Brace yourselves, because here comes the Rankin family. Thomas L. Rankin, who invented an ice-making machine for the Reading (Pa.) Iron Works, had one of his machines at the Albuquerque plant. His brother, William A. Rankin, was a salesman for the company (among other professions, the dude was one heck of an entrepreneur) and did not want the failing company in Reading to drag his brother down with it. Thus, William had already hatched a plan to take over the ice plant and build his own brewery even before the first Southwestern burned down. Now, it would be even easier, and William had his son, Don J. Rankin, officially take over the ice plant in 1889 while the brewery was being built next door. The three Rankins, plus two local investors (necessary under territorial law), would own the brewery.
Of course, to run a brewery, one needs a brewmaster, and the Rankins found theirs in St. Louis, which even then was the epicenter of brewing in the United States (though Milwaukee could also lay that claim in that era). Jacob Loeb, sometimes spelled Loebs, was originally from Nussdorf, Germany. He and his younger brother, Henry, moved to the U.S. and settled in St. Louis, where Jacob eventually rose to the post of brewery manager/head brewer at Cherokee Brewing. Interested in owning part of the brewery he worked for, Jacob accepted the Rankins’ offer to come run Southwestern.
Oh, and in a fun twist, an article described how DeMars and Jacob Loeb got into a brawl outside the fledgling brewery one day. DeMars had ingratiated himself to the Rankins and briefly worked at the brewery before Loeb literally kicked him to the curb.
1890-99: Southwestern grew slowly but steadily, eventually building the brick brewhouse tower that still remains to this day. The five-story building was the tallest in Albuquerque at the time of is construction. In terms of seasonal beers, German-style bocks were big hits, leading to “bock parties” where the brewery would empty the barrels used for aging and throw a giant festival for the locals. In 1898, however, a group of U.S. Army soldiers traveling from Fort Stanton to catch a train in Albuquerque to Fort Riley, Kansas (likely in preparation for the upcoming Spanish-American War), came through and took most of the bock bottles for themselves, while also draining a good number of casks. The soldiers were later reported to be quite popular with the denizens of Fort Riley.
1901: Henry Rankin, William’s other son, and also an investor in the brewery, soon grew tired of the Loebs’ management style. He and another investor, H.L. Lamy of Denver, tried to wrest control of the brewery. The legal battle went all the way to the New Mexico Supreme Court before the final ruling went in favor of the Loebs. Most modern brewery owners can tell you why it’s not a good idea to have too many investors. It was just one of many feuds between the Germans and others in town. The local Anheuser-Busch sales manager accused Southwestern employees of stealing beer shipments, peeling off the labels, and replacing them with Southwestern labels. It is unknown if there was ever a formal investigation.
1905: Southwestern reaches its peak production of 30,000 barrels per year. Most of its beers were German-style lagers. As the saying goes, “Brew ales for sales because lagers take longer.” Or something like that, but the basic point is that the brewing process for lagers does take longer, and yet this pre-World War I brewery was churning out more beer than every New Mexico brewery except Santa Fe Brewing makes now. To get its beer safely to customers in the far-flung regions of New Mexico, and even to states and territories beyond, a series of ice houses are built along the train tracks in towns like Las Vegas and Gallup. The beer was unloaded when the ice on the train melted, cooled off again, and then put back on the train with more ice that would last until the next stop. If anyone has ever wondered what would be the future key to Anheuser-Busch and Miller conquering the beer world, it was refrigerated box cars, which they could afford when those were first built.
1907: Tragedy strikes the brewery as Jacob Loeb dies of acute liver failure, though the newspaper was quick to say it was due to a hereditary condition and not specifically from drinking. His wife would die a few months later of a different illness, and their children were sent off to a boarding school in Chicago. Brother Henry, now Southwestern’s treasurer, and the Rankins put aside their differences and hired Otto Dieckmann, another German immigrant, to run the brewery.
That same year, a group led by Henry G. Droppleman, Ben Droppleman, and Joseph Schmitt incorporate a rival Albuquerque Brewing and Ice Company on November 19. However, nothing further was ever written about this operation, which likely never even got off the ground. A Santa Fe newspaper had mentioned a potential Albuquerque brewery back in 1868, but no evidence was ever found of that existing, either. It would have been hard to set anything up then as the railroad did not reach Albuquerque until 1880.
1908: The Secret Service comes to town and discovers a scheme by brewery employees Charles Webb and R.A. Miller, who were stealing kegs of beer and reselling them at a deep discount to local saloons. Both men were fired, fined, and sent to jail. No word on any saloon owners suffering the same fate. Just imagine that happening in the modern era.
1913: Dieckmann also dies, prompting the remaining investors to start the process of selling the brewery. A group of local Albuquerque businessmen buy the brewery, with the sale becoming official in 1915. It is briefly rebranded as the Western Brewery and Ice Company.
1917-18 and beyond: New Mexico passes Prohibition before the rest of the country. It is likely that in early 1918, all commercial brewing ceased. The ice company remained open, and later the brewing side was converted to bottling sodas and mineral water. After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, no attempt was ever made to restart brewing at Southwestern. The ice plant finally shut down in the 1970s. A wind-aided fire swept through part of downtown Albuquerque in the late 1990s, burning down most of the long-abandoned packaging/storage hall, though the brewing tower survived. The Maloof family, who owned the property, finally sold it to the Garcia family (of the ubiquitous car dealerships around town). Will there ever be brewing on the property again? We will have to wait and see.
Next time around, we will take a look at the only post-Prohibition brewery to rise up in Albuquerque in the 1930s, before stretching our legs and heading out to other parts of the state to see about the breweries beyond the ABQ city metro area.
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