John Hemrich - Brewer

portrait of John Hemrich


John was born in Uiffingen, Karlsruhe, Baden, Germany. At birth he would have been given, Johannes Andreas, and upon his arrival in the U.S. he assumed the anglizised, John Andrew, but rarely used his middle name. By trade he was a practical brewer and prior to coming to America was employed in a local brewery. He immigrated in 1848, settling first near Rochester, NY, where he worked at farming until joining Bartholomay & Co. at their new brewery in Rochester. He started a small brewery in Mt. Vernon, Ind. about 1853, but then then moved to Keokuk, Lee County, Iowa in 1854, where he married Miss Anna Katherine Koeppel, a native of Bavaria. Their first child, Emilie (Emma), was born in Keokuk on 9 Feb. 1855. The next 20 years would see 10 more children¹, however five would pre-decease them.

He had erected a brewery in Keokuk and established himself in business. However, in April 1855 the citizens of Iowa vote in favor of Prohibition. The State was to go dry on July 1st, but John opted to relocate to a more beer friendly locale, and packed up for Alma, Buffalo County, WI.

Alma was a new settlement and John established the community's first industry there. Upon arrival in the Summer of 1855 he immediately had a log brewery built on the site of the 800 block of South Main St. between present day Iron & Bluff Sts. He operated as the John Hemrich Brewing Company and named his plant the Union Brewery.

The portrait above is from a book discussing Alma, WI pioneers. The "1855" indicates the year he settled there - not the year the picture was taken.

In October of 1856, born to John & Katherine on October 1856 - their first son Andreas (later anglicized to Andrew) - after his father's middle name. In Nov. of 1859 their second son was given his father's full name - to be know as John, Jr., with his father assuming the Sr. suffix.

In 1876 he erected a brick malt house where he utilized only locally-grown barley in the malting process. In 1880 he had a stone ice house constructed in order to store beer above ground. By now he was employing five men and producing 4000 barrels of beer per year. Much of this brew was marketed in Alma although there were also delivery routes to the farming communities of Herold, Cream, and Praag.

He made at least two kinds of beer, one of which was a bock beer, dark in color and brewed in the winter for release in the spring. The intended name of the other was Alma Pride lager. But due to a batch of misprinted labels it became known as "Alma Bride".

In 1881, John and Katherine lost six year old Edmund, the youngest of their seven sons, followed the next year with the loss of their 14 year old son, George. Both were buried in the Saint Felix Cemetery, Wabasha, Minn. The two Hemrich boys would have been in Wabasha for schooling, since it was the nearest urban center to Alma.

By now their oldest son, Andrew, had been partnered with Frank Gilig in Glendale, Mont. in operating their own brewery and was preparing to move west. (see Andrew's bio.).

Two years later, in 1884, John leased the Union Brewery to his son William as he was planning to join Andrew, now in Washington State, who had established a strong brewing business there. The senior Hemrichs and their 12 year old son, Louis, relocated to Seattle where, upon arrival, John bought out Andrew's partner, John Kopp.

In 1885 their daughter Emma and son-in-law, Frederick Kirschner, also re-located to Seattle. Frederick, following John's example, bought into Andrew and John's operation. The three then began operating the firm as Hemrich & Co., which was also known as the Bay View Brewing Company.

From 1884 to 1886 William operated the Union Brewery as the Wm. Hemrich Brewing Company. Then when younger brother Alvin (see Alvin's bio.) joined the firm in 1886 it became Wm. Hemrich & Co. Then in 1887 they had a new frame building erected in the place of the old log structure, and also installed a steam engine, elevator, and other fixtures acquired from the Neumeister feed mill.

The following year, 1888, turned out to be a major year for the Hemrich family. Their second oldest son, John, Jr. was married and was still working in the family brewery; but that year also saw the death of John & Katherine's daughter, Louise, at the age of 24, wife of John Leck.

This too was the year that John sold his controlling interest in the Union Brewery to Henry Huber and his nephew Fred Hemrich, who changed the name of the firm to the Alma Brewing Co. William & Alvin then spent two years at the Philip Lorenz Brewery in Durand, WI, then followed the rest of the family west.

1891 brought more sad news with the death of John & Katherine's 29 year old daughter, Matilda, also a wife of John Leck². By this time sons, William and John, Jr. were managing the Bay View Beer Depot & Bottling Works in New Whatcom (re-named Bellingham in 1904), 90 miles north of Seattle, while son, Alvin, was manager of Victoria Brewing & Ice Co., Victoria, B.C. It was no coincidence that Alvin's older brother, Andrew, was a principal in this firm.

John, son Andrew, and son-in-law Frederick saw their fortunes grow as the Bay View Brewery flourished. Profitability was further enhanced by Bay View's merger with two other Seattle breweries, in 1893, to form the Seattle Brewing & Malting Company.

With thoughts of securing a future for his two youngest sons, John first purchased the North Pacific Brewery and found a manager until such time as Alvin could take over. Then in early July of 1896 he traveled to Aberdeen with Louis to explore plans for a brewery there, but it was not to be. Unexpectedly, John Hemrich died on August 24, 1896 of appendicitis.

 Andrew was now the the patriarch of the House of Hemrich.



¹ The 10 children: Emilie (1855-1920), Andrew (1856-1910), John (1858-1904), William (1860-1932), Matilda (1861-1890), Louise (1863-1889), George (1868-1882), Alvin (1870-1935), Louis (1873-1941), and Edmund (1875-1881). 

² The fact that John Leck married two of John Hemrich's daughters, and they both ended up dead, would be highly suspicious and suggest possible foul play. However, that was not the case. While Louisa died only 10 months after marring John, the cause of death was "childbed fever" (puerperal fever) 19 days after giving birth to a daughter on 25 June. The child then succumed to cholera on 8 August. Louisa's headstone indicates that she died on 14 July 1889 and is buried with a 44 day old infant.

In Matilda's case, she was apparently overcome with guilt over the fact that she was with her dead sister's husband, and she ended her own life.



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