Haffenreffer Brewery Tour
Based on a tour of the complex that was once the Haffenreffer Brewery by Peter Haffenreffer on August 3, 2017 in Jamaica Plain. Peter Haffenreffer is the great-grandson of Rudolf Frederick Haffenreffer who founded the Haffenreffer Brewery.
I wanted to try to create some context around the information that I have, that I wanted to share with everyone. I am not a historian. I haven’t really researched anything about this, other than the general interest that I have in what my family has done for the last four or five generations. So, much of what I know comes from a couple of sources. When you’re going back to 1865, which is when my great-grandfather left his home in Germany, there’s not a lot of research you can do to find out – well, why did he leave? And what’s going on? What we had was the fact that he would write letters home to his parents – frequently. And that started after he left his home and continued until his parents died, which was probably ten to fifteen years after he landed here in Jamaica Plain.
Those letters were discovered by my uncle, also a Rudolf (I think he was the third Rudolf in the line. There are now five Rudolfs). He was known as Pete and the fellow who ran and owned the Narragansett Brewery. So there’s a lot of beer in the family. In my grandfather's generation (the generation following the founder), the three brothers all went into the brewing business separately. One was Haffenreffer, and that was here in Jamaica Plain, one was in Fall River (I’m missing the name of it at the moment), and then the Narragansett Brewery. Through the years, the consolidation occurred – they all kind of bought each other out – little breweries just didn’t survive in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Rudolf Frederick Haffenreffer was my great grandfather. He had twelve children with two wives. His first wife died. Five of his first ten children died before the age of one. A lot of this is recorded in his letters. So at the same time that he’s telling his parents everything that’s happening, all the good news about starting the brewery and his first sales and hiring people and building the first building and so forth, he also is telling them the sadness that’s occurring in his life at the same time. There’s sort of a frontier sense to a lot of what he talks about. I thought initially that I could just kind of do this off the top of my head, but I realized that’s not a good idea, so I’ve got notes which I will refer to frequently to make sure that I cover as much as I can. This is sort of the backstory of the family theme, if you will, and it also involves my memories as a kid.
My great-grandfather Rudolf had twelve children, seven of whom survived into adulthood. There were three boys, one of whom was Theodore, my grandfather, who took over the brewery after my great-grandfather retired, and his two brothers went into other brewing ventures. My grandfather Theodore, ran it for 40 years, from 1905-1945, through Prohibition and out the other end of Prohibition. My father and his two brothers took over the brewery in 1945 and ran it for about 20 years after that, and that was when the brewery complex was sold.
My great-grandfather was born in Heidenheim, Germany. He arrived in the United States in 1868. He left home at about age 15. (I’m going to get into that more a little later.) My great-grandfather built 21 Brookside Avenue, which is out here on the corner. The house has been changed. He sold it or handed it off to his son, Theodore. My dad lived there for the first ten years of his life. So in terms of being in the neighborhood, that’s as close as I get! My son lives in Jamaica Plain – so that’s as close!
My memories are funny because back then – this would have been when I was seven or eight to about thirteen years old (I’m now 65), which is when the brewery was sold – it was not accessible the way it is now. There was one entrance and that was down Germania Street. And this was the bottling house, and that was the executive building. My memories are really in this area.
The secretary, Barbara O’Connell was in there. My uncle was in there. My father and his brothers were upstairs in offices. My recollection is that they had a big dining-room table upstairs where they had their lunch. They had a big Lazy Susan on it, spinning things and seeing them fly off – stupid kid stuff, kid memories.
I also remember walking into the bottling plant and the place where they cleaned the bottles, more specifically, the old glass bottles. There was no recycling like we have today, but there was recycling in that you didn’t throw them out – they were brought back, and there was a big facility that did nothing but clean old Pickwick Ale brown bottles. Of course, that didn’t always work perfectly.
I recall hanging back and waiting for them to explode, which they would do with great frequency. That was great fun to see glass raining down on the floor, and someone coming in and scooping it all up. I remember walking into the big lagering vats, which were big, white, metal, huge vats, which probably held 500 barrels of beer. They got cleaned out, once they would go to bottling or canning. When they were cleaned out, you could go inside them and they were this massive echo chamber. My five brothers and sisters and I would go in there and just scream at the top of our lungs. This made a wonderful echo that would drive us all crazy! Probably the biggest memory I have is finding the place where they would throw out the rejected bottle caps. I would go and collect bottle caps. I had a huge bottle cap collection when I was a kid, which I re-discovered after 30 years of not knowing it was even around.
It was surprising how many different beers they brewed. At one point, they brewed up to twenty different beers, which is almost more like a craft brewer today. Part of that was buying out little breweries and bringing their product in, and leaving the cans and bottle caps for those – Croft beer, Tadcaster – there were Pickwick ales and lagers, the Haffenreffer lager beer, the malt liquor which was later, and probably the last product they brought out. But the memory that is the strongest in my head is finding the big bales of hops and playing in the bales. Why did they let me do that? You could never get away with that today, grabbing handfuls and stuffing them in my pockets, being in the 2nd-grade classroom and having all the kids around me going “What’s that smell?”
Those are my memories. We used to come in Saturday mornings. I’m sure this was my father’s way of giving my mother some relief from five children running around the house screaming. He would just bring us in. My recollection is that we had pretty much free rein, other than when they would bring us in here for lunch or something, and we just ran around. It was great fun. And it was open; they were brewing on Saturdays.
[question from audience – “What was the land before your great-grandfather bought it?”]
So this goes back to those letters that he wrote, where we can glean some information. There was one other source of information. When my grandfather was transferring the running of the brewery to his sons – my dad’s generation – he wrote lengthy letters to his sons, bit of a pep talk, a little bit of here’s how it is, here’s some history. There’s a lot of information that is not in my great-grandfather's letters; it’s in the letters to my dad and his brother.
He had scoped out a land site in South Boston. He had gone overseas to raise the money to start the brewery. So this would be 1870ish. When he got back, he discovered that the South Boston land wasn’t going to work. Why? It just didn’t work. This was a Civil War site where they trained, and the Civil War had ended a few years before that. So it was probably just a big vacant field, relatively level. The earliest photo we have is from 1871 which shows this building and the one next door.
When they talk about brewing in Boston, they talk about the Roxbury Aquifer and they talk about Stony Brook, I think they are kind of the same thing. The aquifer would have been underground. Stony Brook which runs over here. Again, we were just talking about how they got water into the brewing process. I don’t know, I’m guessing that it was from the aquifer, you stick a pipe into the aquifer and you got water, fresh clean water bubbling up.
I want to now talk a little bit about the beginnings for my great-grandfather, to try to paint a picture of this guy. You read these letters and you just think “Who is this guy?” Some of them are just crazy – some of the things he says. So, in the 1850s, his father, Frederick Haffenreffer in Germany – Heidenheim, Germany – lost his business to bankruptcy. They had to sell their house and sell all their belongings. They were basically without anything. They moved to another town. And that was kind of the trigger, I think, for a lot of young people to say – I need to pitch in. So my great grandfather then went off to train – to apprentice. In brewing, back then you didn’t just learn how to be a brewer, you learned how to be a cooper, the guy who made the barrels.
You learned how to be a maltster because that was an integral part. Back then most malting was done in the brewery. Today they are often separate functions. Then you learned the art of brewing. If you were going to make that your business, you had better learn all three of them. Because to get a job, because, like the Patriots, you want to be versatile. You want to have everything, be able to do anything. As best we understand, that lasted two or three years. It was in France, which was a big brewing community, and in parts of France and in Germany. In 1868 he was 21. He jumped on a boat and came to this country, landed in New York City, took a packet up to Boston, found a place to live, and then, the next letter just says basically, “I got a job.” So we don’t know whether that took him a long time. It’s not clear exactly when he got the job. He doesn’t reference it; it’s just a letter. You can imagine that writing lengthy letters – not zip off an email – he really sat down and hashed it out. You couldn’t do it every day. He was writing fairly lengthy letters. It is hard to know how much time passed between getting the job and sending the letter off.
One of the letters my grandfather, Theodore, wrote to his kids describing Rudolf included some interesting observations. So my grandfather writes, “He had served his apprenticeship in malting and brewing in Europe and knew his trade thoroughly. Moreover, he possessed in addition to his technical knowledge, energy, integrity, and ambition; the attributes of the best type of men who came to America to seek economic opportunity and religious and political freedom. He was an indefatigable worker and had an abounding faith in God, himself and the country of his adoption. These were his assets." He was writing this in the later 30s or early ‘40s. I think in part it was to say to them – this is what you need to do if you are going to take over this brewery; you need to be this way. My grandfather certainly was. He built the brewery into a brewery that was significantly large for New England. One of those questions we always had is "When did the brewery become a large entity?"
The letters home – just to quote a couple of them – the most interesting thing to me and a reflection on this guy, this 21-year-old, is a letter that he writes after he lands, describing the passage from Germany. I quote him. He writes that they had encountered “big colossal storms, with waves breaking over the ship so violently that no one could venture out on deck. However, the food was good. In the morning, we had newly baked white bread, as much as one desired and coffee, and at noon, soup, fresh beef, and potatoes. Seasickness reigned in terrible fashion on our ship. It seemed to me like a war, in which the war cry is “ulrich’" (the sounds of people throwing up, I assume). “As others became sicker, the better I felt. And the less others could eat, the better it tasted to me. The others cried out ‘woe and alas – I am in a bad way' and fed the little they still had in their stomachs to the fish with groans. At this, I lighted a cigar very cheerfully and looked out with all sorts of thoughts across the wide, wide seas.”
This is a man with, you know, obviously a large ego, absolutely sure of himself, separating himself from these other people who couldn’t handle this. There’s another place where he talks about that when people couldn’t eat their food, he just would just go over and grab their sausage or their bread. He was just having a fine old time. You can just see him sitting out on deck with his cigar thinking “oh yeah this is great” – thinking about starting a new life and building a new business. I think he is emblematic, in that era, of coming to this country to start something new. He wasn’t going to work for his dad. His dad didn’t have a business. He was going to start something on his own.
He landed in Boston and as I say, he went to work for the Burkhardt brewery. The Burkhardt and the Vienna brewery I believe, and maybe someone knows the history better than I, but I believe there are remnants of the Vienna that are still down on the corner of Parker and Tremont streets. There’s a little brick building in the east corner of the parking lot. I believe that’s the Vienna brewery, and the Burkhardt brewery was right next door. Eight dollars a week is what he was paid. There’s a lot written about his relationship with Burkhardt. He ended up marrying Burkhardt’s niece, as I recall. And Burkhardt was very good to him. There was a point at which – and some of these stories address the ego of the man – where the brewmaster had spoiled a couple of tanks of beer, and he took off – he just fled – he was so afraid. And this was a big investment. And Burkhardt came to my great-grandfather and said, “Can you fix this for me?” and he said, “I can, but if I fix it, I want to become head brewmaster and I want you to leave me alone and not tell me how to do this.” And, according to his letter, he did that. The beer was fine. He was made brewmaster. The old brewmaster came back, begging for a job. The wording is such that, it’s clear that my great-grandfather wanted nothing to do with him. He wanted not to have that competition sitting there. And again, this is somebody who was just absolutely sure of himself and knew what he wanted to do and how he wanted to do it.
This would be my great-grandfather and mother, Frederick and Catharine, I think her name was. Here he is writing in 1865 – before he came over when he was working in Europe in Nuremberg. I think this is his first letter home. He writes: “I shall now try my luck in the world with my pack, my hat, and my walking cane." A few months later he writes: “Please do not be fearful about me. And do not worry yourselves unnecessarily because it would all be useless.” A year later, before he left, he says: “Do not imagine that it will harm me if I get too many places while I am still young. There are few beer brewers which stay too long at one place if they wish to advance in their business, because we do not have the same situation, for example, as a tailor who one day makes trousers, and on another day vests, and on the third, coats. We make the same thing every day.” He’s nineteen; his parents are worried. He’s trying to reassure them that’s he’s okay.
He raised money from family initially. In 1870 he built, what we can glean, is a building that was right next to this one. It was wooden. There was a picture of it somewhere, but we didn’t reproduce it because it was really faded. That would be 1870, and 1871. It's sort of a hodge-podge, the way these buildings stick out here and there. I think that the issue was that if you have the demand and you need to make more beer, build some more storage, build another place where you can brew. They weren’t particularly concerned with aesthetics. They just did something pretty quickly. Boom – up it went.
Family money started him off, but probably only went so far. He needed capital to expand. I think this is 1874 or 1875, he was back here. He brought in two partners. A Mr. Dolan was his first partner, who proved to be unsatisfactory, whatever that meant, and was replaced by the Messrs. Meehan and Peters. If you look on some of the old title maps, you see Meehan and Peters’ names as owning these buildings. I don’t know obviously the financial deal, but maybe they had built the buildings, maybe that was their capital.
Again these letters just go on and on. They just talk about how he makes his first batch in October. He said, “I sent my horse and wagon around with my first kegs of beer.” He was very happy about that, and he keeps talking about how “it’s a good beer and everyone tells me so.” You know, that reassurance that this is a good beer and it’s popular, that people like it. So, the first beer was Boylston beer. This was actually the Boylston brewery, named because that was the beer they made, a German pilsner, as best we can figure out. My next note is 1888, which jumps ahead a bit. Both my great-grandfather and his two partners were bought out by a group called the New England Brewing Company. They also appear on some of the later plot plans, as the owner of this. They were a British syndicate. They came in and bought up a bunch of New England breweries including the Roessle brewery. They owned probably half a dozen.
He had good success. You know, the population was growing. He talks about expansion in his letters. He talks about competing. He talks about competing with Burkhardt. He talks about Burkhardt failing because his beer wasn't any good. There’s just this constant competition, but apparently, he was doing well; succeeding and expanding. Barrelage continued to rise throughout the years until the end of the 1800s. They developed more capacity, down this way and back that way. You can see all the places that are the kettles and the lagering tanks and so forth.
That’s a little bit of a shortened version because this was a fairly extensive time period. I think he was doing this on his own. He had the opportunity to bring in partners, both as managers. He chose not to. At that point, the family had no financial interest, because it was owned by this. He worked until 1905 when he retired and turned the brewery over to one of his sons, my grandfather.
I’ll read just a couple of things quickly, and then we can move on. On September 5, 1870, he writes, “At last I can risk writing you a letter again since I fear that the war is over, thanks be to God. You know I was often very happy that they could not use me to be shot to pieces.” So this is 1870. I'm not sure which war he is referring to, but it is probably the Franco-Prussian War. A year later – “It’s my conviction that life here is much more pleasant than in formal Germany, where one must play the obedient servant before anyone who has a penny more in his pocket than someone else.”
In 1872 – “I am, thank God, really well and healthy and now, at least, having a home after wandering hither and yon.” In 1872 – “I wish I could send you a few little kegs of beer to try, I make very yellow beer, and it is altogether the best in Boston.” 1873 – “May I ask you, dear Mother, to send me a few recipes which I have never eaten here and no one knows how to make them – veal roast, fresh greens, lebkuchen, sweetbread soup and S-shaped Christmas cookies which I never got better than at home.” So again, in 1873 he’s still pretty young and probably misses some of the aspects of his home life. One of the things that set him off on his own was that Burkhardt offered to lease him an apartment, a building that he owned – and deduct the cost from his wages. But he goes on a rant about that: “I’ll never be an indentured servant. I need to leave now!” He would get very indignant over little things he thought were challenges to him. That is a kind of the consolidated history of my great-grandfather.
[question from audience] “Did the parents come to visit?”
There’s nothing in the letters that suggest they visited. The letters end when his father died. He had brothers and sisters still over in Germany.
Burkhardt was probably German. This was Burkhardt’s niece that he first married. So Burkhardt probably came to this country some years before him. Burkhardt was apparently an older fellow. When she died, he married another woman who was French – who had a French last name.
[Another audience question] “Did your family have a house up on Boylston Street – Belmore Terrace?”
The only house I know – after he retired, there was a house near the Dexter School in Brookline, and he lived up there for a while. Then he retired to Canaan, New Hampshire. n the beginning, when my great-grandfather handed the brewery down to his son, it was actually to all three sons. My grandfather ended up running it, and the other two left to start their own breweries.
[audience comment] “Handed down yet he sold it?”
Yeah, that story is coming up. That’s a really interesting story. I think what happened is this. He needed more capital to keep it going. He got bought out, and that was an opportunity to cash out for him. He didn’t own it, but he worked it. Part of the deal was that he continued to run it. The brewery name changed.
The next section, if you will, talks about the growth of the brewery, changes that occurred in the culture – Prohibition and the growth of Irish immigration to this country. My grandfather, Theodore, took over the brewery in 1905. He was about to be married. It was really him that was responsible for the strong growth of the brewery. This is certainly in part due to the fact that he did a good job, but also that the population was growing. They had a good name. The breweries were doing well. One of the things that my grandfather did was to recognize that the German pilsner, or as my great-grandfather called it, “a really yellow beer,” was probably not something that appealed to the English or the Irish, who would lean more to an English ale. Pickwick ale – maybe a name that some with gray hair like me would recognize – was introduced in the early 1900s as a response to the growing number of Irish not wild about German pilsner. Pickwick ale did very well – more Irish than German. So it made sense to come out with a product like that.
1920 was Prohibition and it decimated brewing in this country. A lot of breweries went out of business. Many attempted to do something called near beer which is only half of 1% alcohol content. It was legal, but not very good. People weren’t used to it. There are letters and some information about my grandfather attempting to make near beer with a process called the “Check fermentation process”, which I have no idea what that means, but I can only imagine that you stop the fermentation which creates the alcohol when it’s only half of 1%. Apparently, this was an absolute failure. Then they found a product with the great science-fiction-sounding name called the Zahm De-alcoholizer. There are letters between my grandfather and Zahm talking about how it “doesn’t work,” and “to get someone out here right away,” and “good money for nothing,” and that kind of stuff. Apparently, they got it working, and it produced a very good near beer, so good that they started selling it across the country. Because they figured out the near beer thing, they had a bigger market for it.
I found an interesting chart that showed barrelage and profit. Twenty-five years after the brewery started, this was profit [pointing to chart]. It took a while to get it going again. This doesn’t mean he’s not selling a lot of beer; it just means he’s not making a lot of money. Eventually, he figures it out, and maybe this [shows chart] is when my grandfather took over here and profits go up. Good business sense and also Pickwick Ale. I don’t know exactly what happens here, between here and here [chart]. World War I meant a lot fewer beer drinkers. World War I ends and there’s a spike. People come home and celebrate? It's hard to know. But again, this is profitability, not sales. Then 1920 and Prohibition came along. Then this is where they started making money on near beer. They made a lot of other things too. One of the great things they did during Prohibition was to introduce Pickwick Pale. You couldn’t call any product beer or ale; that was against the law. But the word "pale" was not against the law. Sounds like a great name today for a craft beer. Apparently, that did okay.
The Great Depression hit. Nobody has any money to buy beer, and we are still in the midst of Prohibition. When Prohibition ends – boom! – they started making money again. Clearly when Prohibition ended, one of the letters from my grandfather says you have to kind of guess the demand. You couldn’t store beer forever. They had to guess what the demand would be, and they were way too short. There were a lot of angry customers because they couldn’t meet the demand. That was kind of a lesson learned, he said, to keep ahead of where the demands were going to be.
The other things they made during Prohibition were malt syrup, maple syrup, and fruit juice. I heard stories going back to when I was a kid, that one of the things they did was they boarded up the windows on the bottling house, trucked in dirt, grew mushrooms, and sold them at markets as just a way to keep cash coming in. That may have been before they figured out near beer. It seems like an odd thing to do, but if you are desperate then you do anything to keep going.
During Prohibition, the breweries were run by the syndicate, and my grandfather, in his letters to his kids, says that he was having issues with the syndicate. He went over there, took a boat over there, to try to work out the business relationship. How they were going to manage things. He discovered they were interested in overly managing. He didn’t really like that. The syndicate owned a bunch of breweries. It was the middle of Prohibition, so they weren’t very happy and they were thinking about liquidating everything, just selling the property, which they would have had the right to do. My grandfather convinced them to sell to him, to take it out of their hands and buy it back completely. He does this in 1928. So this is the point where the family has no financial interest. He is a paid employee of the syndicate. He writes, “As cash payments by me were involved in the transaction, my entire resources were invested in the brewery with repeal not yet in sight.” But he had a sense. He talks about certain senators that he feels are going to vote to repeal Prohibition. He was hopeful that Al Smith would become President and would repeal Prohibition. The year 1933 – that got him through Prohibition. He had a sense that things would turn around. Coming out of Prohibition, as that chart shows, a lot of breweries went out of business. So there weren’t as many competitors. So he had a leg-up there. There were just fewer people making it. He could make a lot of beer and they ramped up.
[question about making beer during Prohibition]
My guess is that he was probably close enough to the edge of the law – being a brewer anyway, he just didn’t want to step over that line. There are stories of payments made in order to make certain changes in the way things were done. I know you really want me to say I know about this! They tried a lot of things – syrups and whatnot – because they had the ability to boil large quantities like running hundreds of thousands of gallons of beer. Figuring out the near beer was probably the thing that committed the brewery to survive the long run.
[question about August “Augie” Haffenreffer]
Gus? My uncle? Augie? So, Augie – remember I mentioned that my great-grandfather had two wives. Augie is in the lineage of the second wife. Wonderful guy and yes, he was a brewer. Augie was a chemist and Harvard-educated. There’s a little bit of a story about some of the things they did that I’ll get into later. But he was behind a lot of this because he was a super smart guy and he was looking at lots of ways to differentiate Haffenreffer from the growing Budweisers or Millers and larger breweries that were taking over.
So the last part of the story includes the changes that occurred after Prohibition, really after World War II. After World War II, my grandfather had been in the business for forty years, and he was anxious to retire and hand it off to his three sons. Then the War intervened, so that plan got delayed a little bit. My father graduated from high school (he didn’t go to college) and started training in 1939.
One of the things I found, when your various family members died and you go searching through all their stuff – I found the notebook that my dad wrote in 1939 when he was training here at the brewery. It’s a small notebook about this big, and it’s single-spaced, typed, packed in one hundred pages. So it opens with sort of an essay on leadership and then it goes right into the formula for Pickwick Ale. In the next pages, you know, he went off to look at some breweries in New England, and he critiques the breweries. Talks about the taste of the beer and then gives it a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. It is really interesting because it’s the process of him learning. The War came and this all got set aside for a while. He actually went down and worked for a boat builder in Rhode Island, and then he went to the Philippines. He wasn’t doing anything with beer at that time. In 1945, the War ends. The sons come back and that’s when the real transition occurred from my grandfather to his three sons.
What I meant to say earlier, is that one of the interesting things is to look at the number of breweries in this country through the years, and how you define “brewery.” I don’t have the definition that was used for these numbers, but breweries in the 1870s are like this or smaller or larger. Today breweries are not brewpubs.
They are separate from those but can be a lot smaller. In 1873, this brewery is three years old, and there were 4000 breweries in the United States. Twenty years later, there were 2000. So something happened between ’73 and ’93, and whether it was consolidation or just too many breweries and people couldn’t make money, I don’t know. By 1920 there were effectively zero. What I don’t know is how many stayed on to brew near beer or something else. After the repeal of Prohibition, in very short order, the number grew to five hundred. That was the peak. Then there was a slow decline throughout the early part of the 20th century. In 1960, there were two hundred.
So this is the notebook. I can assure you that in the good old days of everyone having a secretary, that my father did not type a single line. This would have been handed off. He has all sorts of chemical formulas and listings of the gravity of various beers and how lagers differentiate themselves from ales and so forth.
And that went down further to 150 in 1965 when this brewery shut down. In 1965 the rights to the brewery were sold to Narragansett brewery. It was probably a friendly transaction because Narragansett was owned and run by my father’s cousins. In 1978, there were 89 breweries in this country.
So homebrewing didn’t constitute being a brewery. So those numbers didn’t start changing. It has a lot to do with history, obviously, in what’s being permitted and what’s not being permitted. Consolidation. So as we moved into the late 1950s and 1960s, as you can tell from the number, 89 breweries in 1978, there was a lot of consolidation. Big breweries were buying up little breweries. As I said at the beginning, I am not a historian. But I can make some guesses that with the advent of television and people wandering into their living room after dinner instead of down to the pub, that tastes change. Also, how we got information changed. All of a sudden, we were listening to Ed McMahon tell us about Budweiser. We weren’t wandering down to the local pub and having a pint of Pickwick Ale anymore. I think that pushed people in a certain direction to go national with advertising and marketing. Haffenreffer was not capitalized that way at all, being owned by a single guy. There wasn’t a lot of money, at that point, that could be spent on becoming a national brewery. I think it was inevitable that the small regionals and the local breweries were all getting snapped up.
I will say this – they didn’t go without a fight. One of the interesting things to me, was the innovation that occurred in those final years; let’s say the final ten years. I just want to mention a few of them. One was something called draft beer in bottles and cans. To recreate the sensation of a draft beer (which is what we like – we prefer to have a draft beer), bottled beer has to be pasteurized. You have to heat it up, and that also changes the taste of it. One of my father’s cousins, Augie Haffenreffer, was a chemist, the chemist for the brewery. He figured out a process which could take out the things that got boiled to death when you pasteurized beer. So they could legitimately bottle that beer and can it without worrying. So there was a marketing campaign around draft beer in bottles and cans. Apparently not as successful as it should have been, but that was one of the things I thought was so interesting. That’s a new take; appealing to people to try to recreate the sensation of a draft beer?
A second innovation, which is one of my favorites, was they had (and I meant to bring when I came – I have a couple of them) six-pack carriers. The motto, the tagline, was “keeps cold beer cold – 6 hours or more.” The idea was you put a six-pack in the refrigerator, take it out and put it in this carrier. It just carries one six-pack. It is made from corrugated cardboard, sandwiched between aluminum foil. It was insulated. A cold six-pack you could bring to the beach. This was before Styrofoam coolers. We don’t think anything about grabbing a Styrofoam cooler and throwing in some beer, but they didn’t have that back then. That’s just a bucket with some ice. So this was a six-pack, and it is silvery colored, which is also the color of the Haffenreffer Lager beer – silver and blue. Innovations – to try to distinguish themselves from these monsters that were taking over everything.
The final innovation that everyone remembers was the puzzles on the inside of the caps of the malt liquor. My brother is a Lutheran minister – I’ve never seen anyone as a child who could figure these out. The Green Death, which was a malt liquor and which was a lager with a little bit higher alcohol content. It was designed initially also by Augie. The story is that my dad and he were trying to design 6% alcohol, which back then a regular lager beer was 4.5 %. They were trying to appeal to women, another demographic. You make it stronger and that permits you to pour it over ice in a cocktail glass. So, if you can imagine, you are drinking a malt liquor in a cocktail glass with ice in it. The idea was to appeal to women who weren’t going to throw back a can of beer back in the 1960s. It was called Haffenreffer Private Stock Malt Liquor. When the company was sold, that kind of went out the window. The nature of marketing changed. But the tagline on the malt liquor was “with the imported taste.” I joke with my craft beer friends that you know, anything that’s imported now has been sitting around so long, that it's stale? Malt liquor, no big secret there – that it also tastes kind of skunky. In fact, they were replicating the imported European taste, not quite what they wanted. But it became very popular.
This brewery was at its height doing maybe four hundred thousand barrels nationwide. Malt liquor alone, probably ten years after my family got out of the business, was doing four hundred thousand barrels nationwide. It was sold to Narragansett. Within a year they sold it to Falstaff. A decade later, it was sold to Pabst who continued to market and sell it until 2009. Once it went to Falstaff, they licensed it, so they received a royalty on the barrels.
Narragansett was the same way. My father’s cousins got out of the business. After that, there was no family connection. For those of you, just to know that the family has stayed in the business, my cousin and I were toying around with malt liquor, trying to see if we could make a go of it. We didn’t. Didn’t work, but he devised a product called “spiked seltzer.” If anyone, mostly younger, knows spiked seltzer – that is born out of Haffenreffer. So that’s where brewing continues in yet another generation, although it’s not beer.
In 1965, the brewery closed up. It was the last local New England brewery that was started in the 19th century.
Production and editorial assistance provided by Kathy Griffin, Mary Maresca, and Cleda Clarke.