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Historic Beer Birthday: Frederick Ries

Today is the birthday of Frederick Ries (October 5, 1857-July 29, 1899). He was born in Germany, where he trained as a brewer and emigrated to the U.S. when he was 24, in 1880. He worked for several breweries before eventually becoming the brewmaster for the Leisy Brewing Co. of Cleveland, Ohio, which had been founded in 1873 by Isaac Leisy.

Here is a short obituary of Ries from the American Brewers Review.

There’s not any additional information I could find our about Ries, but here is some history of the last brewery he worked for. This is a short history from Cleveland magazine.

Established in 1873 by German-born Isaac Leisy and his two brothers, the Leisy Brewing Co. was arguably the largest independently owned brewing company in Cleveland. In 1882, Leisy expanded into a plant along eight acres on Vega Avenue that included a blacksmith’s shop and stables for 250 horses. Leisy upped production from 12,000 barrels in 1873 to more than 565,000 in 1918. After Prohibition, Leisy continued its brewing tradition until closing in 1959. This month, Gypsy Brewery begins brewing in the renovated 90,000-square-foot Leisy bottling plant.

And this longer history of the Leisy Brewery is from Cleveland Historical, by Michael Rotman.

In 1873, Isaac Leisy and his two brothers (all originally from Bavaria in Germany) left their small brewery in rural Iowa and came to Cleveland after purchasing Frederick Haltnorth’s brewery on Vega Avenue for $120,000. Haltnorth (who was also the proprietor of Haltnorth’s Gardens — a beer garden at East 55th Street and Woodland Avenue) had purchased the brewery in 1864 from Jacob Mueller, who originally opened it in 1858. Only weeks before purchasing Haltnorth’s brewery, Isaac Leissy had been in Cleveland to attend the annual Brewer’s Congress. Leisy must have been impressed with the opportunities for growth and prosperity in Cleveland, which was quickly becoming an industrial metropolis, as compared to those that existed in rural Iowa.

In the mid-1880s, Isaac Leisy (having bought out his brothers) renovated the old brewery and expanded its operations, constructing a multi-building, 8-acre campus along Vega Avenue and increasing beer production eightfold. The Leisy Brewery aimed to be as self-sufficient as possible, and to this end the brewery’s grounds contained, for example, a bottling plant, stables for its fleet of horse-drawn delivery carriages, a cooperage, a blacksmith shop, and two 80-foot silos that held barley prior to its on-site malting. Self-sufficiency was important since competition among breweries in Cleveland at the time was fierce, with nearly twenty breweries operating in the city in 1890. To make matters more difficult for Leisy, in 1898 10 small Cleveland brewers joined the new Cleveland & Sandusky Brewing Co., a massive combination that signaled the brewing industry’s turn towards consolidation. Isaac’s son Otto took control of the company after his father’s death in 1892 and promptly vowed to remain independent of the new combination. He wrote to the Plain Dealer in 1898, emphatically stating that “My firm has existed in Cleveland for over a quarter of a century; has prospered by honorable methods of trade, thereby obtaining, possessing and enjoying the confidence of the same. By its former methods my company proposes to preserve and maintain its trade, and in a fair way compete with its opponent, the huge beer trust.”

Indeed, Leisy Brewing remained an independent, family-owned brewery throughout its entire history. It thrived in the decades before Prohibition, steadily increasing its sales and production. When Prohibition took effect in 1920 and brewing beer became illegal, the company made a short-lived attempt to produce non-alcoholic beverages. This proved to be unprofitable, and Leisy Brewing closed in 1923. Unlike some of Cleveland’s other breweries which had also been forced to shut down during Prohibition, Leisy returned after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. That year, Otto’s son Herbert Leisy reopened the brewery, reequipping it with new machinery to replace the equipment that had been sold off during Prohibition. Industry consolidation, however, continued to chip away at Cleveland’s small, independent breweries in the decades after Prohibition. Leisy Brewing finally closed in 1958, and its plant on Vega Avenue was demolished in the mid-1970s.

The Ohio Breweriana website has an excerpt from the book, Breweries of Cleveland, by Carl H. Miller, that’s all about the Leisy Brewery. Also, the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History has an entry on the brewery plus there’s a book all about the Leisy’s entitled Brewing Beer In The Forest City: Volume I, The Leisy Story that’s available directly from the publisher.

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