Do you feel the buzz…in the air?
Paducah is practically tipsy with the prospect of two new breweries coming to town – Paducah Beer Werks, to be located in the old Greyhound Bus Station, and Dry Ground Brewing Company in the old Coke Plant. And it’s a relief, for in the area of brewing, our town has gone through quite a dry spell. Other than Jeremiah’s Froghead Brewery, which was making “in-house” brews in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s like Two Rivers Stout, Wildcat Wheat and Chief Paduke Red Arrow Ale, Paducah hasn’t had its own brewery (that we know of) since the ratification of the Twenty-First Amendment on January 17, 1920.
Even before that though, before Prohibition, there really was only one local brewery. There were bottlers, of course, who distributed such new-fangled beers as Budweiser, and other local brewers may have come and gone, but only one brewery planted its brewing roots here, rooted a brewing plant here, and called itself Paducah’s Brewery…literally. In 1901, Paducah’s first brewery, and biggest brewery to the present date, was christened the Paducah Brewing Company.
With their grand, sparkling new factory at 10th and Monroe, the Hoerber Brothers’ Paducah Brewing Company celebrated its grand opening on April 18, 1901 by inviting the public to tour the facilities, advertising in bold letters in the Paducah Sun, “Come and Bring Your Family. It Will Be Pleasant,” “The Ladies are Also Invited to Be Present, Especially,” and “Our Plant is a Model of Neatness. Assistants Polite.”
The Hoerber Brothers were relatively new to Paducah but quickly established themselves as “men about town,” partly because they were so genial. As the Paducah Sun said of them, “The Messrs. Hoerber are very popular young men and have made a host of friends during their brief residence here.” You also have to think that at least part of their popularity was due to the fact that they were bringing a brewery to town. It looks to be the reason they came to Paducah in the first place. After all, there were “several attempts in the past to establish a brewery in Paducah as it has been an evident fact that the city is a fine location for a plant, but nothing ever came of those attempts further than the plans on paper” (Paducah Sun, 4/17/01).
By all the accounts, the grand opening of the Paducah Brewing Company went off without a hitch. Hundreds thronged the factory for music, refreshment, and visitors were given tours through “one of the largest and most perfect brewery plants to be found anywhere” (Paducah Sun, 4/18/01). The paper claimed that Hoerber brothers would doubtlessly be very “successful in a business.”
And they were…at first.
Just two days later, PBC beers were available in restaurants and saloons throughout Paducah. Their first brew to carry a branded name was “Belvedere,” which looked to have been a sort of light-colored lager or pilsner. Other flavors followed: a seasonal Christmas pilsner, a bock, and “Paduka” beer which was advertised to be “as nutritious as it is delicious and easily the pure food drink.”
While enjoying success in its early years, a fledgling company like PBC was ultimately doomed to fail, that is with Prohibition looming in the near future. By 1901, temperance rallies were already being held in Paducah, and the Paducah chapter of Kentucky’s Anti-Saloon League increasingly held regular meetings. The national trend was to shun the alcoholic beverage, and Paducah was in step. On the day of ratification, The Sun announced, “This morning dawned on a liquorless United States, with a Paducah eminently suited to the hibernation of camels.” And maybe it was ‘eminently suited’ because in 1919, about one year before the nationwide ratification of Prohibition, the Paducah Brewing Company had already closed its doors….doors which stayed closed until about a century later…we think.
There may have been others in the meantime that we simply haven’t been able to track down yet. If you know of a beer produced locally and for public consumption between the times of Paducah Brewing Company and Jeremiah’s Froghead Brewery, please let us know.
And for more information about sudsy mugs, visit us at the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library. We can cure what ales you!