The History of Brewing in Alabama
1884: Founded by Philipp Schillinger, the Birmingham Brewery was the first to brew lager beer in Alabama. A native of Germany, Schillinger emigrated to the United States in 1851 and worked as a baker for 14 years before helping organize the Phoenix Brewery in Louisville in 1865. In 1833 he decided to relocate to the booming city of Birmingham, Alabama, which was then experiencing a population explosion. Birmingham's population went from 3,086 in 1880 to 26,178 by 1890.
1885: The first beer brewed by Schillinger's Birmingham Brewery was placed on the market on April 9, 1885. Eight thousand barrels were produced the first year. The brewery was located between Avenues D and E and Twenty-first and Twenty-second Streets.
1886: With the remarkable growth of the city and the popularity of his beer, Schillinger erected an additional 35 by 70 feet of space and he added two Arctic refrigerators. This increased the capacity of the brewery to 10,000 barrels.
1887: In May of 1887, the brewery was renamed the Philipp Schillinger Brewing Company.
1888: Schillinger died this year, but his sons continued the brewing tradition with the assumption of his brewery.
1889: Schillinger's brew was exceedingly popular, especially its "Extra Pale Beer" and the celebrated "hofbrau" brand. It also made beer expressly for family use. This beer was seen on the tables of Birmingham's households all year lomg. Indeed, the bottling department beamr one of the chief features of the industry and the department worked into the night many times to meet the great demand for the product.
1889: The Birmingham Brewing Company was incorporated on May 27, 1889 by W.I. Rushton to compete in the rapidly expanding Birmingham Market. During this period of the brewery's inception, Birmingham got the reputation of being much like a wild western mining town with a saloon and a brothel on almost every street corner in the downtown area. Construction was completed on The Birmingham Brewing Company which was locaed at South 22nd Street and Avenue D (next door to its arch rival, the Philipp Schillinger Brewing Company in an area that at the time could have been designated the Historic Brewing District.) The product was placed on the market in this year and as was common for the period as a marketing tool, the Brewery purchased or leased numerous structures and leased or sub-leased the same properties for use a saloons where only the brewery's products could be sold. In addition, the brewery loaned saloon keepers money to purchase expensive licenses.
1891: The Birmingham Brewing Company was faced with a crippling business depression this year.
1893: Along with the economic depression came a long coal miners strike in 1893. These adverse economic conditions made it impossible for the saloon owners to repay their loans for licenses, to pay rent or even to pay for the beer furnished. Although The Birmingham Brewing Company was equipped to produce eighteen thousand barrels of lager beer annually, the Brewery was only producing between 7,000 and 8,000 barrels annually by 1893. The Brewery was declared bankrupt. The firm of Morris Adler & Company was appointed receiver of the assets and the Brewery remained idle for the next four years.
1897: Isadore Newmann, Sr., a banker, and Arthur Isnard and A. Cammack, all of New Orleans, incorporated the Alabama Brewing Company with a capital investment of $60,000.00. Extensive improvements in the old plant were immediately begun, including new boilers, engines and filters, construction of a 55 by 88 foot two-story bottling house and a new 35-ton ice machine for ice sales to the public. Under the supervision of head brewmaster Valentin, the product was placed on the market in the summer of 1897. Over the next few years, the brewery was vastly improved through equipment replacement and overhauling, expansions and the construction of a cold storage and ice plant in Gadsden, Alabama.
1899: During this expansion phase of the Alabama Brewing Company, while drilling for water, a gusher of natural gas was struck. Plans were immediately made to utilize the gas in the brewery operation.
1901: The Schillinger Brewing Company registered a trademark in the U.S. Patent Office for "Beerine", a non-intoxicating temperance beverage that never caught on.
1902: The Alabama Brewing Company's annual output increased from 5,000 barrels in 1898 to over 30,000 barrels in this year. The beer of the Brewery was declared to be "without a superior for strength, purity and flavor."
1905: A 1905 Chamber of Commerce publication summarized the Alabama Brewing Company's operation as: "The brewery distributes its product in the Birmingham district and in all the territory tributary thereto. A large work force is constantly employed, and during the busy season exceeds 100 men. The work of delivery is accomplished by 20 to 25 teams. The capacity of the Brewery is 40,000 barrels of beer per annum..."
1907: The brewing business was booming. Plans were being made for expansion, when a bombshell dropped. The Alabama Legislature passed a bill on February 26, 1907, allowing counties to vote on whether or not that county should go "dry". On October 28, 1907, Jefferson County voted to go dry, effective January 1, 1908. Although the majority of the City of Birmingham voted wet, the people in the rural areas of the county cast the deciding votes. The Jefferson County decision was a major victory of the prohibitionists, for Birmingham was the only major city in Alabama to vote dry.
1908: All saloons were closed on January 1, but the breweries were given until May 28, 1908 to dispose of their stock. Unable to deplete its stock, the Alabama Brewing Company emptied 300 barrels of beer into the street on May 28, much to the dismay of the thirsty city dwellers.
1911: On August 24, Jefferson County voted wet. Despite this vote, the Alabama Brewing Company was unable to resume the production of beer. In late 1911, rumors circulated about the formation of a 100,000 barrel capacity brewery headed by J.F. Donahoo.
1915: The imposition of statewide prohibition on July 1, crushed a venture that had been in the works: The Imperial City Birmingham Brewing Company was to have $500,000.00 in capital and a 100,000 barrel capacity.
1917: The Alabama Brewing Company existed until this year in the ice manufacturing business. During this period of time, J.M. Wilzin, president of the Brewery, stayed active in the industry by serving as vice-president of the 23 member Southern Brewers Association, organised in New Orleans in 1905.
1933: The Twenty-First Amendment to the United States constitution was passed on February 21.
1937: Statewide prohibition ended with Jefferson County thereafter voting wet. Col. G.W. Pratt proposed to organize the Magic City Brewery Company but the idea failed.
1992: The Brewpub Act was passed which allows for brewpubs to operate as long as they conform to the Act's stipulations including being in an historic building in a wet county that, prior to the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919, allowed brewing for public consumption. Other criteria that must be met under the Brewpub Act include: the beer has to be consumed on the premises only (no kegs or bottling); the brewpub must have an operating restaurant with seating capacity of 80 or more; the brewpub may not brew more than 10,000 barrels a year; and the operator must pay an annual $,000.00 licensing fee.
1995: Birmingham's first brewpub since prohibition opened at 420 21st Street South in an historic warehouse first built in 1920 for Weldon Martin Rubber, to supply tires for the then emerging automobile industry. The building was home to numerous automobile related businesses through the years, most recently serving as the showroom for Tom Williams Dodge automobiles. After prohibition, this area of Birmingham was transformed from a brewing center to an urban neighborhood just south of downtown Birmingham; including homes, hardware stores, dry goods, restaurants and saloons. Following the invention of the automobile, many existing buildings in the area were converted to automobile sales and service centers. In 1991, the area was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.