The tumultuous times and tribulations of the first Santa Fe breweries in the 1800s

The Terrace Bar was a popular feature of the first brewery in Santa Fe, which went through many name changes from 1868 to 1896.

As we have traveled through the distant past of New Mexico’s brewing history, from wild shootouts in Albuquerque to the growth of the biggest pre-Prohibition brewery, to the small-town brewing outposts of the 19th century, and finally to the ill-fated rebirth of local brewing in the 1930s, there is one place that we have conspicuously left off — Santa Fe.

The territorial, and later state capital was, to the best of our research, the first place where commercial brewing occurred in New Mexico. An 1849 flood reportedly wiped out a brewery, and another unnamed brewery was put up for sale in March 1855. Prior to 1863, however, the newspaper archives that have been digitized are few and far between. Even after going over everything we could find, there are still some gaps over the years.

All of that is our way of saying this is by no means a complete history of brewing in the City Different from 1863 to 1896, but it is the most information we could find, primarily from the archives of the Santa Fe New Mexican and the Santa Fe Reporter. If anyone out there wants to add to this history, please contact us via social media or at nmdarksidebrewcrew@gmail.com.

1863-68: A bumpy, confusing beginning

The first newspaper mentions of a brewery in Santa Fe were in 1863, when a “Mr. H. Rue” was said to be pursuing construction of a brewery on the north side of town. He was never again mentioned in an article, so it is fair to assume things did not pan out for Mr. Rue.

In 1864, the Pacific Brewery opened on September 16. The owner/brewer was George Shneider (also spelled Schnieder and Schneider, because back then newspapers apparently did not do a good job of asking people to spell their names). It was never mentioned in the short article where Pacific was located. Later, in 1866, the Pacific Brewery was purchased by Otto Bachman, but it said the owner by that point was a Mr. Huth. Yeah, we know, it can be confusing tracing the ownership of these 19th century breweries. After that, there was no further significant mention of this mysterious brewery.

Pacific was not alone in Santa Fe. The City Brewery opened in January 1865, then closed for an indeterminate period of time, and reopened in December. The owners were listed as Bell and Edgar (last names only). It was later said to be located on near the arroyo north of town. Apparently reporters were not very good at telling directions back then, either.

This stone house was built on the location of the Western/Fischer/Santa Fe Brewery from the 1800s.

Finally, in 1868 the Western Brewery opened. It was listed as being on Fort Union Road, which would have put it southeast of downtown. However, later information said it was on East Palace Avenue. Yeah, again, you got us as to how that all got mixed up. For our sake, we are going to believe the East Palace location, because that put it along the Santa Fe River, which makes a lot more sense then up by what is today known as Museum Hill.

The Western Brewery was owned by William Carl, and was often referred to locally as the Carl Brewery. A German immigrant, like so many of his brewing brethren in the 1800s, Carl also operated the first offsite taproom in New Mexico, a saloon just off the plaza. He and his partner, Henry Prien, eventually had a parting of ways, with Prien keeping the saloon and Carl keeping the brewery. That saloon building is still around at 139 W. San Francisco St., formerly housing the Ore House until 2011, and now home to the Herve Wine Bar.

1870-79: Rivals in futility

It appears that during the decade of the 1870s, the Western Brewery went from successful and stable to finding itself in deep trouble, while the City Brewery struggled to keep up.

Starting with the latter, an 1870 story had the City Brewery reopening with new owners after again being shut down for an unknown length of time. August Lange and M. Hess Dunand opened the joint back up in January. An 1871 article said the brewery was located on San Francisco Street, “above the probate courthouse.” We are guessing they meant north of the court, rather than a floor above it (though a courthouse brewery would be rather hilarious, or perhaps we are thinking of an old Harvey Birdman episode on Adult Swim).

In November 1871, the City Brewery was apparently sold to a William A. Bell. It was never really mentioned again, and one would assume either Bell shut down the brewing operation, or the sale failed and the brewery closed for good.

About 150 years ago, this wine bar was a brewery taproom/saloon in Santa Fe.

Over at the Western Brewery, like we said, the decade started well. An article in the New Mexican had one of our all-time favorite lines about the release of a seasonal bock beer: “We are told that a single bottle makes a man think that he swallowed a flock of mountain sheep.” Go on, John Rowley, we dare you to brew up something so crazy it produces that type of response.

Anyway, things were going pretty well for a time. The entire Western complex utilized water from the river, and there was an ice plant on site, a large cellar for beer storage, and there was even a bowling alley on site where people could have a little extra fun while enjoying the mostly German-style beers. Sorry, Red Door, you were not the first brewery to be involved with a bowling alley.

Like all good things back in those days, financial mismanagement eventually killed the fun. Carl was only 26 when he had started the brewery back in 1868, and while he seemed competent at making beer, running a business was more difficult. Carl defaulted on a series of promissory notes, and a bank took control of the brewery in 1879.

1880-89: Another German to the rescue

The process of finding a new owner went nowhere in 1880, so finally the Western Brewery was put up for auction in 1881. Christian Fischer produced the winning bid, and the Fischer Brewery was officially incorporated on July 13.

Fischer was also a German immigrant. He had previously founded the German National Bank in Denver, which he ran until some speculative mining ventures in Colorado and New Mexico forced him into early retirement. After moving to Santa Fe, Fischer seized the opportunity to start a new business on the foundation of the Western Brewery.

Of course, this being 19th century New Mexico, things were still a bit wild. In 1882, brewer Charlie Steinberger shot and killed a man named Antonio Gonzales at the brewery in June. Yes, another brewery shooting, one that predated the Albuquerque shootout in 1884. Telling someone “stay safe” at a brewery back in those days was quite a bit different than now, wasn’t it?

Blueprints of the Fischer Brewery from the 1880s.

The brewery complex was remodeled to include the Terrace Bar, which overlooked the river. It was one of the most popular places in Santa Fe in that era to have a beer or two. It was never mentioned whether or not Fischer kept the bowling alley.

Among the frequent customers of the brewery back then was Adolph Bandelier. The longtime researcher of all things Southwest wrote frequently about his days and nights at the brewery, as he became good friends with Fischer. His journals would include the first mentions that the brewery was in financial trouble at the start of the next decade.

1890-96: Hey, it won’t be that long before Santa Fe has another brewery … um, right?

By 1891, Bandelier was writing about the financial issues that were mounting for Fischer. It all stemmed from the construction of a new, $8,000 ice plant that was built on the property. What seemed like a good idea for storing beer and selling ice to the public and other businesses proved to be anything but that.

The Nelson Manufacturing Company of St. Louis had been contracted to build the ice plant. When Fischer said he could not pay NMC what he owed it, the company sued Fischer. This caused a local court to order the brewery be sold, and NMC ended up buying it in September 1892 (or April 1893, depending on which article one were to believe, and based upon that rather sizable discrepancy, we have no idea which was right).

As there was no need to keep the name of the former owner on the brewery, the operation was rebranded as the first Santa Fe Brewing Company. Very little was written about the time period where a St. Louis company ran a brewery a thousand miles away, but ultimately it proved to be an unsuccessful venture. The original SFBC closed in 1896.

The part of town that was home to the brewery is now a residential neighborhood.

Not for another 92 years would any beer be brewed commercially in Santa Fe County, until the current Santa Fe Brewing started up in Galisteo in 1988. There would be no brewing within the city limits until Russell Brewing opened in 1992 (and closed in 1996).

As it was elsewhere in New Mexico, Santa Fe’s first breweries had their moments of success, but were ultimately undone by bad financial decisions. In addition to not having any brewers shoot and kill people, or being shot and killed themselves, we have to say that the modern breweries seem to be a lot better at the business side of the, well, business.

Of course, when we say modern, we are referring to the breweries of the 21st century, and the few from the 20th century to survive. It is not like the 1980s and 1990s were exactly pictures of brewing stability. But those are stories for another day.

Until then, we hope you have enjoyed these tales of the breweries of yore.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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