The Indianapolis Brewing Company was a merger of 3 breweries, all started by German Americans. The story of this brewery and others like it across the country was tied to the rise of German immigration in the mid 1800s, the temperance movement’s opposition to hard liquor and the social ills it caused, and the shifting political winds that put temperance men and beer lovers together in opposition to slavery.
According to the Indiana State Library, “founded in 1887, the Indianapolis Brewing Company, owned by an “English Syndicate”, was the merger of three local businesses, the P. Lieber Brewing Company City Brewery, the Casper Maus Brewery, and the C.F. Schmidt Brewing Company. The company won medals for its Duesseldorfer beer at the Paris Exposition of 1900, the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, and at Liege, Belgium in 1906. The company billed itself as a modern brewery, ranking among the largest and best in the world.”
It should come as no surprise that all of the three breweries that merged to become the Indianapolis Brewing Company were started by individuals with German names. Germans were coming into the United States in astonishing numbers during the middle of the 19th century, many of them skilled tradesmen and craftsmen. According to Maureen Ogle, in her enjoyable book Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer, 1.7 million immigrants came in the 1840s and another 2.6 million came in the 1850s, 75% of them German or Irish, who brought with them a cultural fondness for sociable alcohol consumption.
Prior to the wave of German emigration, most drinking Americans drank whiskey made from surplus grain. Ogle notes that “By the early 19th century, 14,000 distillers were producing some 25 million gallons of whiskey each year, or in more digestible terms, some 7 or 8 gallons per adult per capita. Compared to the seduction of a tot of whiskey, beer had all the allure of an aging maiden aunt. A mere two hundred or so breweries were producing English-style ale.”
In the 1820s the temperance movement began to gain momentum in America, bent on eliminating alcohol and its perceived social ills.
The effort largely worked, as Ogle notes, “between 1820 and 1850, millions of American pledged to abstain from drink, and among people age 15 or older, alcohol consumption fell from 7 gallons per capita in 1830 to 3 gallons in 1840.” Between 1850 and 1855, prohibition laws passed in 2 territories and 11 of the 31 states.
The temperance movement and prohibition laws caused resentment among Americans and the German and Irish immigrant communities. Ogle observes, “the casual embrace of alcohol by German and Irish immigrants clashed with the American disdain for drink and drink-makers.”
According to Ogle, violent clashes occurred in other cities, and made many Americans question if prohibition was a lost cause. “But in the 1850s, the most contentious issue facing the nation involved not drink, but slavery.” With westward expansion the question of slavery divided the nation. Southerns wanted slavery to expand into the west, but Northerners were ardently opposed for moral and economic reasons.
The fate of the Indianapolis Brewing Company was likely affected by these national trends. While it was founded in the 1880s, the 3 original breweries began in the 1850s and 1860s when these issues were still fraught with controversy.
The following are detailed company histories from Bob Ostrander and Derrick Morris, authors of Hoosier Beer: Tapping Into Indiana Brewing History.
Yeah, you read that right: Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is Peter Lieber’s maternal great grandson. Neat, huh?