Wednesday, 18 April 2012 19:24

When Santa Fe Made Its Own Beer

Contributed by
Rate this item
(1 Vote)
Fischer Brewery Terrace Bar, 1902 Fischer Brewery Terrace Bar, 1902


 The Santa Fe Reporter , August 6, 1986

Open Door

Charles A. Hannaford and Mike Taylor

When Santa Fe Made Its Own Beer

By 1873 there was an all-time high of 4,131 commercial beer breweries in the United States and almost every town of any consequence had its own brewery and its own beer.  And Santa Fe – even though it was just the capital of a frontier Territory and not even part of a state - was no exception.

In those days there were four main elements that usually went into a successful brewery:  a sizable German community, for making the beer; a large local population for consuming it; a good water source for brewing it; and plenty of ice for keeping it cold.  This magic combination of ingredients normally was found in the northern and central parts of the country, where most of the major breweries were established.  Arid and hot regions were seldom distinguished for the brewer’s art.

Yet although Santa Fe had a small population and could boast just two of the essential beer -making elements in abundance – water and ice - it did have a knowledgeable and influential German community, and it proved capable of holding its own in this important aspect of civilized 19th century living.  For a span of more than 30 years, from its modest beginning in the 1860s to its troubled closing in the 1890s, there was on East Palace Avenue a Santa Fe brewery which was one of the largest and finest in the Southwest.

William Carl was 28 years old when he listed beer brewer as profession on the 1870 Santa Fe census.  An immigrant from Frankfurt, Germany, Carl was the founder and proprietor of the Western Brewery, commonly known as the Carl Brewery, located less than a 10 minute walk from the Plaza, east along the Santa Fe River.

The Santa Fe River was the main water source for the brewery, which boasted in addition to the main brewery buildings, a commodious cellar for storing beer, an ice house and pond, and a comfortable residence.

An 1868 newspaper article described the beer as being kept in bottles on ice in the immense cellar, and invited citizens to “walk or drive up to that fountain of health and imbibe freely of the elixer of life.”  Beer was kept in bottles and kegs, and prices ranged from $2.50 per dozen quart bottles to $14 per keg.

Besides the main brewery complex, complete with its own tenpin alley, the brewery also maintained a saloon on the Plaza known as the Western Brewery Beer Depot, housed at the current location of the Ore House.  Sporting a portrait of George Washington and his troops on the wall, the bar served beer by the mug and gallon and paid $75 a month rent.

In 1879 William Carl lost possession of the brewery through default on various promissory notes.   The brewery property was sold at public auction on the Plaza and was acquired by Christian Frederick Adolph Fischer.  Founder and manager of the Fischer Brewing Co., and the Fischer Drug Co., Fischer was a native of Germany, as was his wife.  Earlier in his life he had established the German National Bank in Denver, and he retired from the bank to Santa Fe after some mining speculations in Colorado and New Mexico brought him financial losses.

The Fischer Brewing was incorporated on July 13, 1881 with the stated objective of “brewing, manufacturing, preparing, storing, barreling, bottling, and dealing in lager beer, ale porter, soda water, and mineral waters of all description.”

A business directory from 1884 lists the Fischer Brewery Company with a capital stock of $75,000 and specifies the addition of a state-of-the-art ice-making plant capable of producing five tons of ice per day.

Perhaps the most popular attraction at the brewery during the 1880s was the Terrace Bar.  An 1882 newspaper article describes the brewery as standing upon a bluff overlooking the river, with a terrace and verandah providing admirable views of the city.  Tables were placed along the terrace, beneath pleasant shade trees, and here “the beer drinkers find Elyseum, as they quaff the cooling beverage.”

The article went on to sketch the place of beer in the social life of the time, informing its readers that “every day happy mortals avail themselves of the luxury and upon all holidays the place is thronged.”

Among the happy mortals frequenting the Terrace Bar were the noted Southwest researcher Adolph Bandelier and the Southwest photographer Charles Lummis. Bandelier and his wife became close friends with the Fischers, and they were in and out of each others’ households almost daily.  Another friend of both families was John Schumann, an officer in the brewing company and Bandelier s landlord.

Bandelier’s Southwest journals were begun in the 1880s, and document his observations and thought on a more-or-less-daily basis for more than a decade.  His regular journal entries referring to visits to the brewery are so numerous that the editors of the journals made no attempt to index them.

The daily journal entries provide insight into Bandelier’s socializing at the brewery, from his routine nearly weekly visits to his special holiday celebrations such as Christmas, New Years and birthdays.  The frequent mention of German surnames, including Gerdes, Koch, Gaertner, Spiegelberg and others, suggests that the brewery was a socializing center for Santa Fe’s German speaking community.

In a journal entry from the year 1891, Bandelier records a business meeting between Thomas Catron, the notorious Territorial lawyer, Fischer, and himself concerning the bad financial state of the brewery.  This is the first indication that Bandelier and Catron were actually involved in business aspects of the company and that the brewery was in difficulty.

The source of the financial difficulty was Fischers decision to erect an $8,000 ice plant during the early 1890s, with the thought of producing enough ice to store lager beer year-round and supplying the surrounding community with ice.  Unfortunately, Fischer proved unable to meet his financial obligations to the Nelson Manufacturing Co., a St Louis firm contracted to construct the ice plant.  Nelson sued and the court ordered the Fischer Brewery property to be auctioned off in front of the Santa Fe courthouse on Aug. 1, 1892.  The brewery was reincorporated on Sept. 17, 1892 under the name of the Santa Fe Brewing Co.  This company was the only remaining brewery in Santa Fe’s history, and struggled for another four years before its final closure in 1896.  Thus ended more than three decades of commercial beer brewing in Santa Fe.

Today all that remains of Santa Fe’s once-thriving beer-brewing industry are remnants of the original complex off East Palace Avenue, near the current La Vereda compound.  The main building of the old brewery has been greatly renovated into an unusual stone house.  A portion of an old beer cellar has been made into someone’s wading pool.  And a large stonewalled bottle dump still holds an extensive collection of bottles broken during manufacture and storage.

The bottle dump is of unquestioned historical value yet it now is threatened by urban development in this desirable residential section of the city.  Concern for this imperiled cultural resource has touched off ar and historical investigations by the Santa Fe Historical Society, and as this work proceeds, it almost surely will uncover more details of the fascinating and almost-forgotten time when Santa Fe made its own beer.

Charles A Hannaford works in the Research Section of the Laboratory of Anthropology of the state museum system. Mike Taylor is on the New Mexico State Monuments staff.  This article was gathered by local consultant Frances Levine, who is seeking other manuscripts on local archaeological projects.  She can be reached at 983-2645

Notes from Mike Lord

1. The stone house mentioned was not a remodeled part of the brewery, as it sits behind and uphill from the site of the brewery.  It does not exist on any of the Sanborn maps showing the brewery.  I grew up in the stone house and I believe it was built in the late teens – early 1920s.

2. The main cellar shown on the Sanborn maps was used by my great-grandfather and grandfather for storage until after WWII, when my grandfather had it sealed with a stone wall.  That wall still exists.

3. The bowling alley does not appear on the Sanborn maps until 1890.


Read 4886 times Last modified on Thursday, 06 March 2014 01:43
Mike Lord

4th generation Santa Fe Gringo.

1 comment

  • Comment Link William Mee Wednesday, 18 April 2012 22:14 posted by William Mee

    Was talking to Paige Grant on April 17th, 2012 and her and her husband have a farm up in Taos County on the Rio Santa Barbara. They are growing hops that is used in brewing. These were cuttings from the "lost Amalia Hops" or a wild hops growing along the Rio Grande at 8,000 altitude with subzero temperature that normal hops cannot endure. They were found in the 1960's and the Benedictine Monastery has some. They may have escaped from Spanish hops.

Login to post comments

Additional information