Today is the birthday of Francis Straub (September 7, 1877-?). He was the eldest son of Peter Straub, who founded the Straub Brewery in St. Mary’s, Pennsylvania in 1872. Francis was trained as a brewer and took over the duties of brewmaster at the family brewery after his father died in 1913. The brewery is still owned and operated today by the Straub family.
Francis, usually known as Frank, with his wife and family in the early 1900s.
The Straub family had been brewing a local beer for generations. As expected Peter learned a trade important to the brewing art. He became a Cooper, a craftsman who makes wooden barrels. Peter aspired to be a brewer and at the age of 19 in 1869 immigrated to the United States for a better and more prosperous life. Upon his arrival in the United States he found employment at the Eberhardt and Ober Brewing Company in Pennsylvania. Peter admired his employers’ pledge to forfeit $1,000 if any adulteration was found in their beer, and as he honed his brewing skills to a sharp edge, he adhered faithfully to this promise. Eventually he tired of city life and moved north to Brookville, where he perfected his brewing process while working in the Christ and Algeir Brewery.
Peter later moved to Benzinger (St. Marys), where he met and married Sabina Sorg of Benzinger. The couple settled in Benzinger and had ten children: Francis X., Joseph A., Anthony A., Anna M., Jacob M., Peter M. (who died at two years of age), Peter P., Gerald B., Mary C., and Alphons J.
Peter’s employment in Benzinger was with the Joseph Windfelder Brewery and he worked there until he purchased the Benzinger Spring Brewery (founded by Captain Charles C. Volk in 1855) from his father-in-law, Francis Xavier Sorg. It was then that Straub Beer and the Straub Brewery was born.
Early on, Peter introduced his sons to the world of brewing. Straub used wooden kegs for his beer. He always placed a red band around his barrels to ensure that people would know they were drinking his beer and so that he would get them back. As a lasting trademark tribute to Peter, the brewery continues to place a bright red band around each of its barrels. Red has become a trademark color for the brewery.
Following Peter’s death on December 17, 1913, his sons assumed control of the brewery, renaming it the Peter Straub Sons Brewery. During this time, the brewery produced Straub Beer as well as other beer, such as the pilsner-style Straub Fine Beer and Straub Bock Beer. In 1920, the Straub Brothers Brewery purchased one half of the St. Marys Beverage Company, also called the St. Marys Brewery, where St. Marys Beer was produced. During Prohibition, which lasted from January 29, 1920, until December 5, 1933, the brewery produced nonalcoholic near-beer. On July 19, 1940 they purchased the remaining common stock and outstanding bonds of the St. Marys Beverage Company.
And this account is by Erin L. Gavlock, from 2009, at the Pennsylvania Center for the Book at Penn State:
Straub owned and operated the Benzinger Spring Brewery until he died in 1912 and left the company to his son, Anthony. Anthony Straub changed the name of the brewery to “Peter Straub Sons’ Brewery,” the only alteration he would make to his father’s business. From there, Peter Straub’s beer would become a Pennsylvania legend.
The Bavarian Man, a long-time image of the Straub Brewery that recalls its German roots.
Fast-forward over a hundred years from Straub’s humble beginnings to today and one will find the Straub Brewing pledge remains unchanged. The company still serves only unadulterated beer to its customers, proclaiming to be “The Natural Choice.” “Our all grain beer is brewed from Pennsylvania Mountain Spring water and we don’t add any sugar, salt, or preservatives to our recipes,” brew master Tom Straub told St. Marys’ Daily Press. “You can say our beer is a fresher, healthier choice than many of the selections in the marketplace.” Although time and technology have forced a transformation in brewing techniques and standards, the taste, ingredients, and the location of Straub have remained constant. Still located in St. Marys, the brewery depends upon the same mountain water from the Laurel Run Reservoir to blend with all-natural ingredients of cornflakes (used to produce fermentable sugars), barley and hops. “Our brewing process is virtually unchanged since our great, great, grandfather, Peter Straub, perfected it in 1872,” Straub’s promises. The reason behind sticking to the fresh taste of the original recipe is simple: people like it. Through the century, Straub has grown a dedicated patronage in western Pennsylvania with its traditional flavor. “Our style of brewing has pretty much stayed the same over the years, but what is interesting is that our popularity has grown and the reputation of our hand-crafted beer has increased,” Straub CEO Bill Brock said. “It is nice to know that we are becoming increasingly popular not for something we’ve changed, but rather for something we’ve always done well.”
The choice to protect and maintain the brewing customs has kept Straub a small, family owned brewery. “We’ve always thought small. We’re more about quality than quantity,” Dan Straub, former CEO, told Fredericksburg, Virginia’s Free-Lance Star. Until June 2009, Straub Beer was only distributed in glass bottles throughout Pennsylvania and Ohio. Now Straub is being brewed and distributed in aluminum cans in Rochester, New York at the High Falls Brewery. The recipe and method have not changed in the new setting and are under the careful watch of brew master Tom Straub. Despite the recent company growth, Straub still only produces about 45,000 barrels of beer per year. “We are unique; we are much larger than a micro brewery yet far, far smaller than some of the leading national brands,” said Bill Brock. In the middle ground, the brewery has managed to survive beer tycoons, economic depression, and cultural trends—a tough maneuver for a company exporting from Pennsylvania’s least populated region. “I believe the brewery has survived because of the fact that it is family owned; it is steeped in tradition and we have an absolute passion for making beer and our products,” said Brock. “From my perspective, the company and our traditions are a huge legacy and there is a clear obligation to continue these traditions.” Keeping to the family legacy has allowed Straub to persevere through the years to become the second oldest brewery in Pennsylvania after Yuengling.
Staying small and faithful to the company’s founding principles has enabled Straub to keep traditions that other larger breweries have been forced to abandon. The returnable bottle, an eco-friendly service that allows customers to send glass bottles back to the brewery for recycling, is still offered at Straub. “We stayed with the returnable bottles first of all, and I think this is really important, because we have a really strong customer base and they like the returnables,” Bill Brock said during a 2009 radio broadcast. “Over the years we maintained it while other breweries slowly fazed them out.” For Straub, a successful regional brewery, shipping bottles back to the factory is feasible, where it would create more pollution for national brands to do the same. In the future, Straub hopes to go greener and offer more returnables to customers. “We’d love for it to grow,” Brock said. “We think it is the right thing to do and if we can blend the right thing to do with making our customers happy that’s almost a perfect world.”
Another Peter Straub tradition kept to make customers happy is the Eternal Tap, an oasis for Elk County beer drinkers. The Eternal Tap, established long before any of the brewery’s current chief operators were born, is a “thank you” gesture for patrons, daily providing two mugs of complimentary, fresh cold beer to anyone of legal drinking age. “The roots of it go as far back as the brewery itself and I am sure that my great, great, grandfather, his workers and their friends would spend time at the end of the week enjoying a few pints of freshly brewed beer,” Brock said. According to Bloomington, Illinois’ Pantagraph, the Eternal Tap sprang up shortly after Peter Straub received the Benzinger Spring Brewery from his father-in-law as a way to draw beer enthusiasts to the taste of Straub. Since the marketing gimmick started in 1872, the Eternal Tap has not been turned off, giving free beer to customers in good times and bad.
Although Straub has been in operation for more than a century since its founder’s death, if Peter Straub were able to return to his brewery today, he might feel as if he still ran it. The original recipe, the customer appreciation, and the environmental concerns he founded his business upon are still principal brewing laws at Straub today. For the descendants of Peter Straub, keeping the tradition was second nature. “For me, being President/CEO, my job is to be faithful to the traditions and it is really not that difficult,” Brock said. “I have one of the best jobs in the world and I have been given the opportunity to continue an important tradition and legacy.”