According to One Hundred Years of Brewing, supplement to
the Western Brewer, published in
1903. The Lewistown Brewing Company was "...founded in 1894 by Frank
Hass and Philip Laux. The product of the plant is lager beer." The
brewery was constructed of locally quarried sandstone by John Laux,
the founder's brother.
Lewistown brewery ca.1899
The previous citation didn't
provide much information on the Brewery, but another historian's
work certainly did. The following was written by Dan Jeziorski, and
is reprinted here (in black text) with the author's permission.
"The year was 1894 and Lewistown, Montana's agricultural economy
was booming. The recent addition of a mill to grind wheat into flour
brought promise of furthered economic prosperity. It was an exciting
time when many a folk considered new business opportunities. And it was
two men by the names of Frank Haas and Philip Laux who realized
Lewistown's great potential for a local brewery.
The men secured a piece of land about one mile south of Lewistown on
the banks of Spring Creek. It was there that John and Philip Laux
erected the Lewistown Brewing Company. This two-story stone structure was
designed to include three 70 barrel standards and six 20 barrel casks,
giving the brewery the capacity to produce ten barrels of beer a
day. The power for the building was generated in a twenty-horse boiler, which
drove a sixteen-horse power engine.
The brewery took great pride in the fact that they made their own malt
from home grown barley. In reference to this, the brewery often stated
'the experienced brewer in charge says there is no better malt
used in the great breweries of Milwaukee or St. Louis.' Initially their
products were sent out almost entirely in kegs and were consumed in Lewistown,
Gilt Edge and other nearby towns. At the time, the only local area
competition they had was from the Maiden Brewery, which also had a ten barrel a
day capacity and was owned by a gentleman named E.G. Schneider.
After two years of struggling to compete with the prices of the
national brands, Haas & Laux decided to sell the brewery in 1896¹. The business was promptly purchased by a man
by the name of Bernard McDonnell, a man known for his careful
and conservative management style. Because of McDonnell's
business reputation, the local newspaper predicted it would not
take too many years before outside breweries would find it more
difficult to compete with the home product."
13 March, 1900, edition of the Lewistown Eagle
"McDonnell successfully operated the brewery until 1904² when John C. Hogl took over as president. It was in that same year that an ad
appeared in the Polk Directory listing "Double Brew Bottled Beer" as the
brewery's brand of beer (we could find no reference to brand names or bottling
of beer prior to this listing). Hogl presided over the brewing
operations until 1912, when prominent brewmaster Gustav Hodel became president."
(see Gustav Hodel
In 1910, Gus Hodel was brewmaster and superintendent of the
Centennial Brewing Co. in Butte.
The following year, after disposing of some mining stock, he
purchased controlling interest in the Lewistown brewery from John Hogl for $65,000. Then, in June of 1912, the company
was re-organized with Gus Hodel as president; J. P. Schmidt,
vice-president; and A. C. Hodel³,
secretary & treasurer.
"With his extensive knowledge of brewing, Hodel improved the
brewery's product and continued to successfully operate the
business until Prohibition became
law in 1918⁴ and the brewery
was forced to close."
With the 1919 imposition of state-wide prohibition, rather than
closing his brewery, Gus
decided to produce near-beer.
This allowed the plant to stay open, but the demand for real beer was
stronger than ever, and Gus was willing to meet the demand.
Luckily the prohibition enforcement agents were "few and far between"
as well as being notoriously corrupt. In November of 1922, former
prohibition enforcement director, O. H. Shelly, was indicted on 12
counts of accepting bribes. He had received money from the Montana
Brewing Co. of Great Falls, and the Lewistown Brewing Co., with the
understanding that he would allow them to make and sell beer.
Other than making near-beer or illegal beer, there were no options to brewers other than to leave the
country. The obvious choice would be Canada, but
unfortunately they too were experimenting with idiocy of prohibition.
However, unlike the U. S. they wised-up much sooner. As of January 1,
1924, the Province of Alberta modified their eight year old prohibition law to the
extent that beer could again be produced.
On 31 December, 1923, Gus crossed the border
into Canada and headed to Medicine Hat, Alberta, with $2,000 in cash
from the sale of his Lewistown home. There he found local investors
and they re-opened the ten year old, Medicine Hat Brewing Co.
In November, 1926, Montanans voted to repeal
state-wide "dry" laws, which left enforcement of national
Prohibition to federal agents only. This event, coupled with mediocre
beer sale in Medicine Hat, influenced Gus to close the Alberta
brewery in June, '27.
Gus was now back in Lewistown and again
making near-beer, and with relaxed enforcement he was making stronger
beer as well. Still, he had too much exposure and was an easy target for
the feds. On Sept. 19, 1928, the Lewistown Brewery was raided, and he and one employee,
Ole Langland, were arrested. The feds destroyed 800 quarts of beer and
dumped 600 gallons from the aging tanks. They also confiscated his
Both Gus and Ole were released on $300 bond (about $3,700 today) and
were to be tried in Great Falls Federal Court on October 13th. Ole faced
the court and was sentenced to 60 days in jail, and fined $50. However,
Gus failed to appear and forfeited the $300, and was believed to have
departed for Canada to avoid what would surely have been a stiffer
sentence than his employee received.
Gus kept a low profile in
apparently the forfeiture of the bond satisfied the Feds since they
dropped the matter. He turned his brewing skills to making root-beer,
since there was literally no demand for near-beer. However, fate was to deal him another set-back, when on
October 29, 1929, the stock market crashed. What investments he had
left, including the Lewistown Brewery, were lost.
Again, he found
salvation in Canada. He traveled to North Battleford, Sask., where an old
acquaintance, Fred Wentzler, offered Gus the position of brewmaster at
Wentzler's Star Brewing Company, Ltd. Gus remained there from
January 1930 until Repeal⁵.
"With the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, many Montana breweries were
back in business. Having enjoyed his experience in Lewistown, Hodel
returned to reopen the brewery in 1934. Having spent the Prohibition
years as a brewmaster in Medicine Hat, Canada, Hodel earned the
reputation as being one of the finest brewmasters in the Northwest.
Before reopening in l934 many repairs had to be made to the brewery
building. A carpenter from Lewistown, a carpenter from Winnett, and
Philip Laux (a blacksmith) made the repairs on the building and
updated the interior with modem brewing equipment. John F. Plovanic,
a stone mason who built Lewistown's St. Joseph's Hospital, did the
stone and brick work on the brewery. And Power's Electric did the wiring.
one of the other major tasks was the painting, which was done by brewery
employee Walter Scheid. Scheid agreed to paint everything except the
smoke stack, as he didn't trust the cables that would support the stack's
painter. About that time a steeplejack bum came through town and offered to
paint the stack for $15 so the stack did get painted before opening.
When all was said and done, the Lewistown Brewing Company once again
opened its door in May of 1934.
Some of the brewery's employees in the 1930s included: Hodel's
son-in-law Roy Brookman in delivery and sales; Frank Carey as main salesman;
Jack Walters as chief engineer and machinist from the Milwaukee
roundhouse; a big man named Chris Ostad who handled barrels; Jack
Leiner as the kegger who repaired the wooden barrels (Leiner also
worked for Hodel in 1918); and Walter Scheid as cellar man and corker. As a
corker, Scheid stated that corking was easier said than done. He would
watch as the barrels were filled and and at just the right moment
he'd pound the large cork in with a hammer. He said timing was crucial
because of the high pressure behind the brew -if you weren't fast enough
you'd get a shower. In 1934 his wages were $3.00 a day but a year and
half later Scheid was making $7.20 a day. All of the employees wore
blue and white striped overalls and hats.
Although the plant had a potential capacity of 100 barrels a
day, it was planned to start off with a daily output of 25
barrels and add to it as the demand arose.
The barrels were made
of wood, lined with pitch, and contained 32 gallons (4 kegs) of brew
when full. Initially they made only kegged beer, and it
was called Silvertip. The brew was steamed in a 25 barrel copper kettle.
Silver Tip Beer label c.1936
As with most smaller post-pro breweries, the Lewistown Brewing Co.
struggled to compete with the national brewers. They began bottling
Silvertip and Lewistown Brew in 12 oz and 24 oz bottles in hopes of
turning their business around."
Additional capital was
needed and the company was successful in finding new investors. In January of 1936, the company was
re-organized as Lewistown Brewery, Inc. The president of the
company was now Arthur F. Wiedeman; with Raymond
Dockery, vice-president; and Gustav Hodel, secretary-treasurer.
"Then, amidst their struggle to survive,
the Brewer's Union in Great Falls demanded that the brewery increase
its wages paid to employees, which it simply could not afford. The
situation left Hodel with no option but to let his employees go and
close down the brewery in 1938.
Thus the era of brewing in Lewistown ended. Much of the equipment
in the brewery was made of brass or copper so during WWII, the metal
was sold for scrap. The building, which I believe still stands, had
numerous occupants over the years. In 1984 it was occupied by Foster
Apiaries, a bee and honey processing plant."
The plant was sold to to John Foster at a sheriff's
sale in 1945. It has had two owners since then and
has remained a honey processing works. It is now the Snowy Mountain Honey Ranch,
56 SW Ash St.
Due to the additions and modifications over
the years, the building bares little resemblance to the original
1894 brewery, and is not eligible for recognition as a historical