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Lemp Brewery – Where when and how lager beer was born in America

Nikola Petrovski

“For a quart of Ale is a dish for a king,” said the famous playwright, writer, and actor, William Shakespeare. This thirsty tale begins some 230 years after this immortal writer, in a time and age when Johann Adam Lemp was born. The man that will change the very core of what humanity knows about beer.

Lemp was born in the German province of Groningen on the 25th of May, 1793, the very same year when the first hot-air balloon flight happened. As a young man, Lemp found love in the brewer’s trade and that’s what he sought out to be.

The brewery. Author: binkle_28 CC BY-SA 2.0

The brewery. Author: binkle_28 CC BY-SA 2.0

Things were such back then that leaving your own birthplace was a necessity. And so Lemp packed its begs and – as Herman Melville will write in its masterpiece “Moby-Dick” – sought to “sail about a little and see the watery part of the world”. A journey that would eventually lead him to America.

The Lemp name towering in the sky. Author: sawdust_media CC BY 2.0

The Lemp name towering in the sky. Author: sawdust_media CC BY 2.0

Upon arriving he made a home in Cincinnati. A couple of years later he packed his bags again and moved to St Louis. His profession of choice for this new home of his was a trader. And so he opened a shop there, not a big shop, but something sufficient for him to be able to sustain it alone.

A portion of the Lemp Brewery. Author: Reading Tom CC BY 2.0

A portion of the Lemp Brewery. Author: Reading Tom CC BY 2.0

Among the usual items he offered, there were two that were homemade, the home-produced vinegar and beer that made all the difference his life.

Trade was good, and Lemp went further and established a factory where he could do what he did best, produce beer and vinegar. People just plain fell in love with it every single time they went to his bar.

Inside the factory circle. Author: Chris Yunker CC BY 2.0

Inside the factory circle. Author: Chris Yunker CC BY 2.0

During the 1840s the business was running like never before. Lemp made a projection for the future of this factory, and there was no place for vinegar. His brewing factory became beer exclusive.

The type of the beer that Lemp produced was known as lager but the year in which he made this type of beer available for a wider audience is a matter of debate.

Lemp Brewery now leasing. Author: Chris Yunker CC BY 2.0

Lemp Brewery now leasing. Author: Chris Yunker CC BY 2.0

Many researchers have worked on this problem, and some of them suggest that Lemp had lager yeast with him the whole time during his journey to America. He arrived there in 1836 and produced his first lager beer in America in 1838. Now, this is important for this makes him the first brewer that ever made lager beer upon American soil.

The rest of the researchers, however, point toward a different date – 1842. If this is true, it means that John Wagner, another brewing master, is the first lager beer king. No matter the year, Lemp was still among the pioneers in this discipline and that means he holds a pretty good place in history.

Lemp Brewery silos. Author: Chris Yunker CC BY 2.0

Lemp Brewery silos. Author: Chris Yunker CC BY 2.0

This type of beer is exclusive, for among its different ingredients there is one that stands as crucial, and that is time. Time contributes to aging and that subsequently leads to better quality which means improved and unique taste for the final product. One additional advantage of lager over traditional beers is that it has longer shelf life.

The typical red brick used as a facade. Author: sawdust_media CC BY 2.0

The typical red brick used as a facade. Author: sawdust_media CC BY 2.0

With time Lemp decided that it was time for him retreat and relax. For this purpose, he needed to make a brewing master out of his son William. And so after the death of Johann Lemp, William continued in his father’s footsteps.

The brewery and its closed doors. Author: Paul Sableman CC BY 2.0

The brewery and its closed doors. Author: Paul Sableman CC BY 2.0

And as history tell us, then in the 1920s came the Prohibition Act. It hit the very existence of Lemp Brewery. The factory itself tried to produce something free from alcohol that resembled beer, but it could hardly make ends meet selling this “Cerva” as it was called.

The brewery as seen from the street. Author: sawdust_media CC BY 2.0

The brewery as seen from the street. Author: sawdust_media CC BY 2.0

With no way out of the whole mess it was closed in a hurry, literally, even the workers had no idea and came to work just like any other day. Only this time there was a big fat chain of the front door. A different brewing company purchased the brands of this factory, and its buildings used by the International Shoe Company as a warehouse.