Posted: 8/6/2008 • Last Updated: 4/13/2009
History of Brewing in Pueblo CO: Walter Brewing Co.
- Reprinted with permission from the American Breweriana Journal.
- By Robert Collyer
European countries by no means had a monopoly on brewing, but West Europeans did bring their skill to America. And to Pueblo, Colorado. Walter's Brewery of Pueblo was by no means the first or only supplier locally. The company under the aegis of Martin, Christian and Fries Walter inherited the legacy of ". . . Pueblo Brewery (that had) changed hands at least sixteen times in thirty years before 1898." The new company eventually became as synonymous with Pueblo as the steel mills.
Brewing in Pueblo Before Statehood
At least one source states that the date of Pueblo's first brewery is unknown, but " . . . it must have been several years prior to January 21, 1868". The first known was sold to M. Beshoar by J. A. Sichler. The land was on F Street between Santa Fe and Third in the Town of Pueblo. It was 200 by 150 feet in size. An updated version listed it as in Block 3 of Moore's subdivision, the 200 block of South Santa Fe Avenue on the west, "between . . . Patti's Drive-in and the D.& R.G.W. tracks".
The local paper, six months later, touted Beshoar's Brewery as being well-known in seven counties, producing both lager and cream ale, "not excelled anywhere." The company looked forward to supplying all of southern Colorado.
The operation passed to N. Anker who had been also involved in a general store and a brick yard. Excelsior Beer was Anker's main brand name, but it was short-lived, as he sold out everything and left Colorado Territory. It had been the only brewery supplying three forts and at least four cities.
Within a year, W. H. Young leased the brewery, claiming that the quality of his beer " . . . would not be surpassed....". It must have been customary to somewhat influence advertisers on the frontier with a sampling of one's product. At least the employees at the local newspaper, The Pueblo Chieftain, received a liberal donation of the brew from Mr. Young in late 1869.
In 1870 the Washington Brewery was begun by a Charles Wurtz on lower Santa Fe. Again, the Chieftain's staff was endowed with an entire keg. Wurtz soon sold again to Captain Walters (no connection with Walter Brothers) of Cañon City who turned the brewery into a confectionery store.
Meanwhile the old Pueblo Brewery was sold to a Weiss & Co. In late 1870, the usual sample keg was given to the Chieftain. The printers said the beer was "tip-top." A repeat performance came later. A "wonderful holiday ad."
Weiss expanded by building a new brewery between the 100 Block of East 3rd and the 100 Block East 4th, utilizing the hills for new cellars. A two story adobe building was added, which boasted a bar room. A nickel bought a liberal glass of beer and two-bits was good for a quart.
In less than a year, Weiss sold out to a Chicago group, Bingel and Metzger for $5,000.00. (Two years earlier, the property's value was $1,000.00.) Following custom the Chieftain reported: "This office was wet down the other day with some foaming beer furnished by Bingel & Co. of the Pueblo Brewery, for which favor they will please accept our thanks. . . . It's a dusty quarter here, but we can stand it when Bingel & Co. are in the field."
The thanks was even more eloquent the following year. Two years later the brewery had expanded and even had built an ice house. Bingel had also installed a steam engine for a pump and the malt mill. Drilling for water, they hit an artesian well, but too much alkali came in the water, so the steam engine was sold.
In early 1874, the Pueblo Brewery was being operated by a George Miller, lauded by the Chieftain again: "The pleasant perfume of malt and hops again floats on the air." Miller shortly left the business, replaced by O. Elias Mertz, the " . . . most successful of all the owners to date." Not only did he sell beer for $3.00 a keg, but obviously being environmentally aware, he installed a sewer, greatly improving the premises. Mertz went further in expanding the ice house.
Meanwhile, back in old Pueblo Town, new competition appeared as the City Brewery had been established between Main and Santa Fe. Two gentlemen, Fritz Hanryot and Emil Brown ran the business. They apparently did not care to go big time, since their product was designed mainly for their own attached saloon.
Mertz, facing increased prosperity, decided to move and expand. As the Chieftain explained, Mertz commenced the erection of a large brewery about a mile south of the city, on the river. Possibly looking for another keg or two, the paper wished Mertz further success in the new venture. By 1881, the new brewery had been completed. "This was the beginning of what is now the plant of the Walter Brewing Company."
The new location was almost on the river bottom, an ideal setting for picnics, would-be hunters, and possibly lovers' trysts among the trees. Mertz resented the careless shooters who fired at birds so close to his domain. One stray shot had even wounded his own horse. When a couple of recalcalcitrant and mouthy hunters gave him a bad time, Mertz went for his own Winchester. They then decided to leave without further ado.
Two short-lived incidents almost changed the future of the brewery. In March of 1883, Mertz had borrowed almost $7000.00 from Fred Rohrer. The note was to be paid within ninety days. It defaulted and by December three years later a trustee sold the operation to Charles Kretchmer. In January 1884, the August Dreesz Brewing Company rented or leased the facilities. This lasted but a short time and the business closed.
A year later, a "syndicate of eastern capitalists" were interested in purchasing the brewery and all the adjoining land. The purported rationale was to erect blast furnaces for the production of pig iron. The ore allegedly was available three miles east of Pueblo at the Silver Steel Camp. It was reported that a " . . . large quantity of ore is already at the dump and a broad gauge switch will be built to connect to the Santa Fe main line." The scheme, whether or not it really had a solid foundation, faded into history.
In the meantime, yet another company entered the beer business. "Bauer & Seims made their first deliveries . . . which were well received by the public . . . many dealers said they would sell it exclusively." There was no mention as to whether the new firm oiled the wheels of advertising with a free keg or two.
Brewing was only one aspect of Pueblo's burgeoning industry. In late 1887, the Missouri Pacific Railroad made its debut here. Not to be left out of the welcoming parade of dignitaries, the Pueblo Brewing Company entered its own float with King Gambrinus and the royal court imbibing the home brew "in preference to all others".
Yet another change of ownership of the beerhouse took place two years later. Carl Roth and Henry Clodius purchased the Pueblo Brewery, later taking on Fred Koehl. Carl Roth & Company made several improvements, described later. In 1890, a fire destroyed the new structures, but left cellars and vats intact. Overall damage, however, set the business back enough that it did not recover. It was taken over by the mortgage holder, A. Magnus in 1892 who then sold to a Louis Frisch.
Troubles continued to plague the brewery until 1895 when once again Magnus took over. A new operator, William Wilhelm, leased the company under his name until July 8, 1898, at which time the Walter family finally entered the scene.
Martin Walter Arrives in Pueblo
Coming from Wisconsin, the Walters were seeking new opportunities, since their own breweries could not support a growing clan. Walter looked first at San Diego, then visited Pueblo. He found it to be a boom town with a great chance for a beermaker. He purchased the beleaguered Pueblo Brewery for $7,000.00 and kept 51% of the stock. Officers of the incorporated firm were Martin Walter, Christian Walter, and John Hrubesky.
Locationwise, Walter's Brewery was almost an orphan. In the late eighteen hundreds, ten to fifteen breweries or their representatives were located in the Grove or near Union Avenue. Intermittently, several saloons that made their own appeared on lower Santa Fe Avenue. (A few of these offered lunches along with their own home brew.) Walter's was located "n s & S F RR Tracks 2 miles s e of P O." (North side of the tracks, two miles southeast of the Post Office).
The first year of operation &endash; 1898 &endash; saw the first sales. That winter cellars were stocked with natural ice. Although an Ott Ice Machine had been purchased by one of the previous owners, it was in need of repairs. The machine seemed moody and broke down more than once. The purpose of the ice maker was to reduce considerably the temperature of a large tank of brine. This, in turn, was set to cool the ice cellars by the use of brine coils. Within a short time, an ammonia based process was utilized.
Water was supplied from the Fountain River via the Goldsmith Ditch, On these same grounds for years had been two large ponds, filled by the Goldsmith Ditch. A barn belonging to the Castellar family later occupied the site. Ice from the ponds was hauled by wagon to the top of the hill back of the brewery. The ice was then shoved from the high wagon onto the floor of the top cellar. This practice lasted up until two or three years before Walter came into the area, who then built a more accessible icehouse and utilized commercial ice by the carload, and " . . . delivered this ice along with the beer. This lasted only for a few years".
Major Pre-Prohibition Expansion
The Walters, at first, rather than hiring others, undertook most of the work themselves. This included the job of brewmaster. Martin, at least, spent a week or more at a time at the plant, eating and sleeping between the needs of work. At least he seldom appeared at home. Wanting to corner the market on beer, the Walters capitalized on what had gone before they came into Pueblo. Going beyond that, one of the first brands to come off the recently acquired labeling machine was called Mountain Dew About eight years later the name was changed to Gold Label.
Continuing to build on what had gone on before, Walter's beer had good sales, prompting the addition of another &endash; a third &endash; story to the cellar. Beneath that story, the fermentation and aging took place and the finished and bottled product came from the bottom level.
The two tanks inherited by Walter's in the old cellars were wearing out and were replaced by larger, more modern tanks. For awhile supply met demands, but then demands outran the capacity of forty-five barrels even when running both day and night in the summertime. By 1902, production had increased to 170 barrels at a time, with the addition of a modern brew house, a fifty ton Dela Vergne ice machine, a washing room, malt storage facilities, and two boilers.
Construction continued five years later with four new cellars containing larger tanks and increased room for the keg filling. But new construction and demand called for more refrigeration. To accomplish this, another boiler was added in 1908 in an even larger room, along with added electric power from a small dynamo. By 1909, more machinery was needed and the old brewhouse no longer filled the needs.
To meet the future, a new three story structure was added to the building with a brand new engine room on its first floor. Another, more modern ice machine &endash; a 100 ton Vilter &endash; with a much larger capacity was installed. The older Dela Vergne icer was moved into the new facility. Together the two steam driven machines could produce about twice the power needed, so they were geared to about half that. This way, they could last longer without major maintenance. In fact, the smaller was utilized during the cold winter months; the larger one in summer. The first decade of this century saw Walter's Brewery electrified sufficiently to meet the demands of the Twentieth Century industry.
A large outdoor beer garden was established just inside the gate, much to the enjoyment of individuals and large groups. Inside facilities were made available in cold weather. Much to the disappointment of many, these were not available after 1909. Further changes in the first decade had to be made to meet even more production &endash; the brew kettle was enlarged in 1912 to a 250 barrel capacity. As with other brewhouses across the nation, a saloon had been prominent on the grounds for several years, but it also was closed at the end of the year in 1909. It then became a storage room for kegs. More buildings had to be added to accommodate other types of storage.
But on December 31, 1915, Colorado voters, in their infinite wisdom (or ignorance) chose to vote for statewide Prohibition. This action, along with similar moves of a few other states, preceded the well-intentioned but catastrophic action of the Volstead Act and the Eighteenth Amendment as they overtook the national scene. The first day of 1916 saw Old Demon Rum outlawed in Colorado. The Walter Brewing plant closed.
As with other like estabishments, the building and its equipment became prime picking for vandals as it rusted and de-cayed. Bootlegging became a local, as well as a national, pastime. "Blind Tigers,", "Wort", "Near Beer", "Bathtub Gin", "Hootch". "White Lightning", and other sobriquets replaced the older drinks of the nation.
Harking back to the beginning, 1868-1898, one source iterated the beermaking scene: "At the start, the brewery had no bottling plant.... A makeshift bottle house was rigged up in a leanto next to the side of a residence." As little as one barrel of beer was bottled in a day. The bottles were soaked in hot water, and then buckshot was placed in the bottle along with the water. The bottles were then shaken to finish the cleaning.
These were half pint bottles called "splits," unlike modern bottles. These were sealed with inch-thick rubber to fit inside the neck of the bottles. The "seal had a staple in it similar to a small chicken wire staple." This could be opened with any sharp instrument such as a nail or icepick, by inserting the opener under the staple and prying out the seal. Designed for local consumption only, the beer was not at first pasteurized.
Later the makeshift bottle-washing operation was transferred into the basement of the office building. Here the bottles were subjected to steam from a small engine which turned a brush inserted into the bottle, said to be an improvement over the buckshot method. Whether the buckshot contained any toxic elements was not mentioned.
During the same decade, to cater to more than the local market, a bottle house was in action replete with a bottle soaker that cleaned an entire batch of sixteen bottles at one operation. A counter pressure filler and a crowning machine were added combined with large wooden tanks that allowed for pasteurization. From the original one barrel a day, production grew from sixteen to forty until the earlier mentioned capacity was reached. As production increased, more than one shift was needed.
Happy Days Return
When the most popular song of 1933, "Happy Days are Here Again," heralded the end of Prohibition, Walter's brewing facilities were in sad shape. Most of the tanks leaked. Copper used in the plant had disappeared mysteriously, along with most of the motors or engines. The old bottle house was ruined, only one of its motors was intact. Most of the remainder of the equipment was without hope. And even the old saloon building, with its many uses, was remodeled and became the office area.
But as the plant reopened in March of that year, Walter's, with Teutonic thoroughness, managed to market and sell the golden liquid by July. One boiler was completely ruined. Two others were not far behind. These two managed, with reduced pressure, to eke out the product until two new larger water tube boilers could take over two years later. These were housed in another new building, making the old boiler room available for a pitch room. This element, when heated, was used to line the inside of kegs. Construction continued in 1936 even during the Depression as another small structure was created to store corn syrup.
The years of World War II saw no letup, as fermenting capacity was increased with a new cellar. Another building housed a garage and a new pitch room. The old boiler room became a machine shop. The two old revived steam powered ice machines &endash; the Ott and the Dela Verge &endash; were honorably retired with full honors and were replaced by three electric York Ice Machines. As 1948 came around, the introduction of a canning machine brought yet another innovation. The old "Church Key" bottle opener was replaced by several versions of the snap top.
1961 and 1967 added a total of twenty steel tanks, four with capacities of 750 barrels, sixteen with 635 barrels. Other steel tanks were added elsewhere and even more were stored "for future use". An information flyer written by Edmond B. Koller from about 1951 exalts the economic impact of Walter's beer. Koller was general manager at the time.
Over the years the brewery, like any major industry, could not survive and grow without the resources, transportation and markets covering an area far beyond local boundaries.
Products from Colorado and adjacent states, New Mexico, Utah, Kansas, New Mexico, Texas and California, among other areas, were utilized. These also provided the markets, which grew and expanded from the early railroad days to the more modern trucking facilities. Further afield, grain, hops, malt and even cornflakes came from as far away as Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Omaha, Nebraska.
Operations, as of 1950, provided jobs for at least seventy-five persons with an annual payroll of around $250,000.00, not including the "ripple effect" upon which so many local economies depend. Eleven years later the payroll neared the half-million mark with 65 to 75 employees.
In the same period, the company had received the Honor Award from the American Sanitation Institute for its high achievement in sanitation practices.
The invention of the can for beer created the demand for fifty cars of cans, along with 125 cars of bottles from various distributors, plus at least five carloads of cartons for packaging, making Walter's Beer a far-reaching economic contributor.
Among the suppliers of glass bottles were the Streator Bottle and Glass Company of Streator, Illinois from 1881-1905. The Western Glass Manufacturing produced the "belt buckle" model, 1900-1909. According to the Prairie Chronicle feature of April 1990, this last was the only bottle made in Colorado. The Baltimore Loop mentioned before was used for a time. The Lightning-type closure was also used &endash; although why a lightning closure was needed on a bottle of beer is a mystery. No statistics exist, but it is no doubt rarely that a container of beer is not "finished off".
The same writer depicts at least eighteen varieties of containers &endash; glass and metal &endash; that Walter Brewery had used in more recent times. The label on each was also unique. A few of the different brand names that were shipped to at least twenty other states included Walter's Premium Beer, Gold Label, Colorado Gold Label, Sheridan, Wellington, Berghoff, Hoffman House, Pike's Peak Malt Liquor, and Wellington Stout. A far cry from the "Mountain Dew" of a century ago.
Replacing the old wooden barrels (at one time steeped with pitch), and later the heavy steel containers, was the invention of the aluminum keg. Walter's was one of the first to use the more available material, making not only reduced weight, but also greater convenience and savings in handling and shipping.
To fire the boilers, about 5,000 tons of coal was consumed, the bulk coming from Colorado mines. Besides the railroads which brought in raw materials and shipped out the finished products, the trucks carrying Walter's Beer consumed at least 40,000 gallons each year. (The advent of protesting the air pollution from coal and gas was still in the future.) In 1950, together railroads and trucks carried fifteen million pounds, or the equivalent of 400 cars. Still recovering from wartime wear, the company at that time looked forward to replacing rolling stock.
Not to be left out of the economic benefits of brewing, the Great White Father looked upon each gallon of beer and ale as a wonderful source of revenue. This year he garnered over $600,000.00 in taxes. Not to be outdone except in amounts, Colorado and other states took in at least another $150,000.00. Taxes on equipment, fuel and miscellaneous items took another large chunk.
Prominent Puebloans in 1950 were on the board: Martin Walter, Jr., the son of the founder, chaired the Board comprised of Eleanor Sheldon, Marie W. Lee, Walter K. Hurd, William H. Hutchinson, Lynn Belcher and William F. Howard. The chairman rated a squib in Who's Who in Colorado, compiled by the Colorado Press Association as early as 1938. He shared the page with two other Puebloans, Norman L. Walther, chiropractor, and Dr. Lester L. Ward. Martin Jr. had assumed the presidency in 1933 with repeal. The elder Martin had passed away thirteen years before.
The Pueblo based brewery had gone through many changes since Martin Walter had, in a sense, inherited all the tradition and experience of previous Pueblo brewers. He began the company in 1898, on the heels of the Spanish American War. The company faced several small recessions during its existence of three quarters of a century. The closing of the plant during Prohibition (both state and federal) was after 1915. The demand for the golden brew during World War I obviously had to be met elsewhere. But, as the Prairie Chronicler suggests, Pueblo apparently was not too bothered by Prohibition.
Like so many parts of society elsewhere, local citizens imbibed possibly more than before. A mixture called "Wort" &endash; a non-alcoholic brew &endash; was produced by other breweries. A bartender could easily be persuaded to add a bit of grain alcohol, which "put beer drinkers back in business".
Repeal brought some prosperity. Even with the Great Depression of the thirties, it was met with changes in plant and production. The plant evidently saw some prosperity during World War II despite its shortage of war materials and shipping.
The fifties &endash; The Happy Days &endash; were harbingers of the sixties and the "all time high" in sales in 1962. Four years later the Walter Brewery embarked on a modernization program set at $250,000.00.
Onset of the seventies marked the beginning of the end. Even though awarded the "Gold Award" in 1956 and the "Excellence of Quality" award in 1972 by the Brewers Association of America, the company was to experience the same fate as other brewers around the nation. Falling on hard times for several reasons, the company slowed. From a high of 400 major brewers in the U.S. in 1949, only about 115 had survived. The demise of a major corporation within any industry can seldom be attributed to one single factor. Rather, like other economic phenomena, many causes may be found.
Some observers look at the growing rift between labor and management after World War II. The rift can probably be traced back to as early as 1903 when the plant was unionized, shown by union members who paraded in the Labor Day parade that same year. The period, covering the latter half of the nineteenth century and the first three decades of the twentieth, exhibited profound conflicts between labor and management in all parts of industrial America. Labor, as well as other increasing costs, made it unproductive to stay in business.
Control passes to Kalmanovitz
Some blame the growing tendency of giant mergers &endash; swallowing up of smaller competitors (even back then). Walters was no exception when, in the early 1960s, majority control of the company passed to John and Andy Sackman, with a large block of stock falling into the hands of Paul Kalmanovitz, of Falstaff fame. By the end of the decade, Kalmanovitz and his General Brewing Corp. owned 80% of the stock. Given the past history of breweries that fall under the control of Kalmanovitz, the future of Walters in Pueblo did not look promising.
By 1974 output had slipped to 60,000 barrels a year, while the number of brands being packaged increased dramatically with the addition of many private labels and brands acquired by Kalmanovitz from other brewery purchases. The names of other breweries started to appear on labels and cans from the Pueblo plant.
Long Road to Success; Short Trip to Failure
Again, price cutting, or "price wars" of the major breweries, "cut out the little guy". There are, no doubt, other circumstances, but at any rate, the Walter Brewing Company closed its doors for the last time on January 3, 1975. This in spite of the fact that as recently as 1971, plans had been made to increase production. When the doors finally closed, the work force had dropped to only 26.
Why did the brewery fail? Those close to the scene give a variety of reasons. Jack Miller, then president of General Brewing in San Francisco, in a Denver Post interview, blamed tax overcharges by the City of Pueblo, high union wages, and an unfriendly community attitude. Joe Marino, the union counselor at the time of closure, cited poor advertising and lack of on-site management. "We never had any president of the company," he told the Denver Post in February 1975. "The general superintendent was replaced a year before we closed by a brewmaster who didn't know anything about brewing."
Another suggested factor in the closing was obsolete machinery, or at least the overhead costs of operating in obsolescence. Even the rapid cost of war materials was responsible. The closing can not be laid at the door of a single cause.
After the closing, everything was up for sale. The Lemel Corporation of Salt Lake City acquired the rights to oversee the sales. Lemel apparently purchased the plant and equipment in 1976 from Paul Kalmanovitz. A former official at Walter's, Frank Russ, verified that Kalmanovitz had been the owner. Russ was shocked and disappointed that everything had to go. He had been hoping that someone would reopen the brewery.
Patterson and Campbell of Lemel set up shop at the old site, hoping, in lieu possibly of selling everything, that someone might come up with ideas as to how the equipment could be adapted for some other kind of industrial processes.
The old plant's giant kettle was destined to become a display for "The Brewery Mall" in Salt Lake City. Other items, such as the thousands of unused bottle caps, redwood tanks holding 240 barrels each, battery powered forklifts, and a smokestack 111 feet high were placed on the block.
Some mention was made of the disposition of leftover liquid still in the plant at closing. Sam Q. Pullaro, bottlehouse superintendent, set the figure at about 2,900,000 gallons. Someone reported that it might be "dumped underceremoniously into a sewer." Pullaro stated that in any case no beer can be disposed of without notifying federal agents and, as of January 4, 1975, no such notification had been given. A few rumors still exist about the final fate of the beer.
Almost as if the old plant refused to die on its own, a fire "of mysterious origin" broke out on July 30, 1976 and gutted the main brewery building. Only three years before, another fire had caused severe damage. Other parts of the plant were wide open for vandals and souvenir seekers. The remaining structures at 1300 Hickory Street lasted for another eleven months before being considered a public hazard and nuisance and were torn down "thus . . . bringing an end to Pueblo's brewing history."
For a short while after the closing, some effort was made to attract Anheuser-Busch to Pueblo to replace the Walter Brewing Company. Such efforts came to naught, and Fort Collins won the new brewery.
The final ownership of the property reverted to the S. & P. Corporation of Corte Madera,California. Contracting for the final razing was Bayless and Bayless of Pueblo.
Besides the questioned disposition of the leftover beer, other questions have been mulled over: the grave, or graves, somewhere on the old property. The only thing standing today, in mute testimony to the beer-laden past of Pueblo, are two brick gateposts at the old entrance to the brewery.
SOURCES: Prairie Chronicle (pub. by So. Colo. Antique Bottle Collectors), April 1990. "Walter Brewing Co., Gone but not Forgotten" by Frank Baxter. Pueblo City Directories 1897-1899. Pueblo Chieftain &/or Star-Journal: Jan. 4, 1975 to Mar. 1, 1992. Pueblo Chieftain, Oct. 21, 1990, article by Betty Carnes. Undated information by Art McQuade and Harriet Koller Steed.