The small towns of 19th century New Mexico were home to a surprising number of breweries

Mining towns like the long-since abandoned Elizabethtown were home to small breweries in the 19th century.

To kick off our series on New Mexico beer history, we have initially stuck to the tales of the breweries in Albuquerque, from wild shootouts to the creation of the biggest brewery to the short-lived efforts to restart brewing after Prohibition. This is a big state, though, so there was brewing still going on in other towns around the state.

In fact, there were a lot of little breweries that lived briefly in New Mexico, mainly around the mining boom towns in the late 19th century. Heck, there were even a couple of Army bases that had their own breweries.

The biggest of these breweries were in the towns of Deming, Las Vegas, Silver City, and Socorro. The other towns with breweries, in many cases, no longer exist. The Kleiner Brewery was located in the mining town of Bland in 1900. Never heard of Bland? Neither had we, but it was located in the Jemez Mountains, wedged into a canyon that was only about 60 feet wide. It was abandoned, with only a few remnants left on private property when a forest fire swept through the area in 2011, destroying all the remaining physical evidence of the site.

That was actually Frank Kleiner’s second small brewery in the state. He had previously operated the Kleiner Brewery in Kingston from 1888 to 1890. That mining town was located in Sierra County along what is today State Route 152, a ways east of Silver City. There is a small, unincorporated community there now centered around the Black Range Lodge.

In terms of chronology, the first four of these small town breweries sprang up in 1874.

  • The Schwenk & Will Brewery was in Elizabethtown, a small community north of present-day Eagle Nest, not far from the current Comanche Creek Brewing. The town was abandoned long ago, after the brewery closed in 1875.
  • John Copeland & Co. Brewery was based in Lincoln from 1874 to 1885. The town is, of course, still there today, and home to Bonito Valley Brewing.
  • Frank Weber Brewery was in Golondrinas from 1874 to 1882. The mining town still exists today as an unincorporated community on State Route 161 in Mora County.
  • Thomas Lahey Brewery operated at Fort Union from 1874 to 1875. This military outpost was located near present-day Watrous. You can still access the site from Interstate 25. Take Exit 366 north of Las Vegas and then head north on State Route 161.

Another military base brewery was Rufley & Co. Brewery, which was located at Fort Stanton in 1888. The fort was near Capitan on State Route 220, just south of Highway 380.

The mining town of Mogollon had its own brewery, John Croenne & Son Brewery, from 1896 to 1897. The town was located off the present-day State Route 159 in the southwestern part of the state. The area is currently home to the Silver Creek Inn.

An article about the brewery in Mogollon also mentioned that a Joseph Spoor had opened a brewery in Las Cruces in 1895, but we have found no further evidence of this establishment.

The final tiny brewery of note was located in Georgetown, a mining encampment in Grant County located along present-day State Route 152, east/northeast of the town of Bayard. Georgetown was abandoned in 1903, but not before it was home to the Deckert & Bodmer Brewery in 1882. John Deckert later left to start another brewery, while George Bodmer along was only able to keep the brewery going until 1884.

Deckert headed south to Deming to work with his brother-in-law, Carl Ehrmann, at the Deming Brewery, which had opened in 1884. Ehrmann sold his shares to John Raithel in 1886. The Deming Brewery continued to plug along until 1890, when Deckert decided it was just more cost-effective to ship in beer from elsewhere rather than make his own. That same year, in a tragic twist of fate, Ehrmann was one of four local men who were killed fighting Native Americans near Animas.

The Deming Brewery was located along the main street, not far from where Mimbres Valley Brewing operated from 2010 to 2014. A new brewery from the same owners as Mimbres, Boogie’s Brewery and Distillery, has begun operations closer to the Deming Airport, though it has not yet brewed beer, instead focusing on spirits and hand sanitizer.

Just up the road in Silver City, there were a number of breweries that operated from 1874 to 1890. As there are no archived newspapers from this period, one can only guess as to whether this was the same brewery that kept changing owners, or if it really was five separate breweries. Our guess is the former. Here are the names:

  • Thomas Smith Brewery, 1874-77
  • John L. May & Co. Brewery, 1877-82
  • Tallant & Hauswald Brewery, 1882-84
  • Chas. Hauswald Brewery, 1884-88
  • Hauswald & Zeigt Brewery, 1888-90

One of these days, we may have to team up with the folks at Little Toad Creek Brewery and Distillery in Silver City and see if we can find out more about the 19th century breweries that probably operated not far from the current LTC taproom.

The Illinois Brewing building in Socorro before its expansion in 1886.

Down south of Albuquerque in Socorro, which was then a town that boomed due to nearby silver mines, was a small but strong little brewery that had one of the longest runs in the pre-Prohibition era. The Illinois Brewing Co. was founded by William and Gustav Hammel as the Hammel Bros. Brewery in 1883 (or 1884, depending on the source). The brewery would last all the way until Prohibition was enacted in New Mexico in 1918.

William Hammel was the driving force behind the brewery. He moved west from St. Louis, where he had been born in 1859, due to health reasons. William and Gustav began making Export Lager Beer in 1884. The brewery grew significantly in size in 1886, and was one of the more productive breweries in the state until the silver boom ended in 1893, when the price of silver plummeted and many mines were forced to close. The population of Socorro dropped from 4,000 to 1,000 residents.

The brewery continued on, even after Jakob (or Jacob) Hammel, the father of William and Gustav and a major investor, died in 1903. The brewery expanded again in 1904 and then began local manufacturing and distribution of soft drinks in 1908.

Maybe the coolest thing about the Illinois Brewing Co. is the fact that the building still stands in Socorro on Sixth Street. It is now known as the Hammel Museum, gifted to the town’s historical society by Clarence Hammel, the son of William. The museum is only open on the first Saturday of each month, though it is currently shut down completely due to the pandemic. When it reopens, the Crew will have to make a long overdue trek an hour south of Albuquerque to finally see it in person.

We would also like to point out that if there was one striking commonality with these breweries, it was that they were almost all operated by German immigrants, or at the very least employed German brewers. New Mexico was a long ways away from enjoy English-inspired pale ales and porters.

Finally, far to the north were the tales of the up-and-down brewing scene in Las Vegas. The Brewery Saloon operated as far back as 1880, though it was never clear if it actually brewed its own beer. It was located in East Las Vegas on West Side Sixth Street.

The first mention of an actual production brewery was in August 1883. The duo of G.A. Rothgate and Adolph Lininger (later spelled as Rothgeb and Leininger) opened the Las Vegas Brewery & Bottling Association, which was also known as the Leining & Rothgeb Brewery. The first advertisements appeared in the Las Vegas Optic in March 1884.

Leininger left the brewery in 1886, at which point it was known only as the G.A. Rothgeb Brewery, until he renamed it Las Vegas Brewing in 1888. It was reportedly located at the intersection of Gonzales and Delgado north of the town plaza. In the present day, that is a residential neighborhood, so if it was located there, the remnants are buried beneath someone’s house.

Unfortunately for Rothgeb, financial problems for the brewery mounted, and by 1896 things went from bad to much worse. An article in the Optic said that a “revenue man” (we are guessing IRS) forced the brewery to dump 9,000 gallons of unsold beer. The brewery was officially put up for sale in August 1897.

O.G. Schafer bought the brewery, eventually reopening it in 1899 as the Montezuma Brewery. It did not find much success, either, and officially closed on July 1, 1903. Another brewery, the A.H. Reingruber Brewing, came along in 1909. Whether it used the same location as its predecessors or a new spot is unknown, as there are no newspapers for Las Vegas archived online during that time period.

Reingruber Brewing closed a year later in 1910. It holds the distinction of being the last brewery to open in New Mexico before Prohibition.

An image of downtown Las Vegas in 1900. The local brewery was located north of there.

If anyone out there has more information about these breweries, or any that we have missed, please contact us via social media or at nmdarksidebrewcrew@gmail.com.

We will finally take that deep dive into Santa Fe’s 19th century brewing history next week.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

One Comment Add yours

  1. Enjoyed the history!

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