ABC: The American Brewing Company and Beer Brewing in Rochester, 1855-1950, Part 2

What does one do when the central focus of one’s manufacturing facility and very reason for being, is declared illegal? What is a businessman to do when his product has been banned outright, and if he continues to make the product, he risks going to jail? Many brewers faced this dilemma in 1917 when the Prohibition amendment was approved by Congress and passed to the states for ratification. The amendment passed in 1919 and went into effect in January 1920.

Fortunately, the officers of these firms had warning and had time to plan for an orderly transition. Some simply acquiesced to the new law and went out of business. Some, like Budweiser, refocused on the essential ingredients of their product. Anheuser-Busch sold malt extract and yeast (both legal products), which could be used to make varieties of bread. Of course, members of the public could (and did) use both products to make their own home-brewed beer!

ABC2-cider ad

Advertisement for Rochester Food Products Corporation,
Prohibition-Era Successor to the American Brewing Company
(Democrat and Chronicle, 27 October 1920)

Other companies went into business making other legal products. Rochester’s largest pre-Prohibition brewer, Bartholomay Brewing Company, was converted into a company selling dairy products (specifically milk, cream, butter and ice cream). In the case of the American Brewing Company (ABC), they diversified their manufacturing. They changed their name to the Rochester Food Products Corporation, selling malt extract (like Anheuser-Busch), as well as apple cider, vinegar, and Rochester Special “near beer,” a legal product that contained less than ½ of 1% (0.05) alcohol. Brewing of near beer meant the brewery was ideally positioned to commence brewing beer anew when restrictions were lifted in 1933.

Officially Prohibition ended  December 5, 1933 when the 21st Amendment (repealing the 18th Amendment) was ratified, but for beer manufacturers and drinkers it ended earlier. The Volstead Act (the enabling legislation of the 18th Amendment) had defined “intoxicating liquors” as having alcohol content above ½ of 1%. The act was later amended by the Harrison-Cullen Act, which stipulated that products with an alcohol content of 3.2% and below were not intoxicating. The latter act became effective on  April 7, 1933, legalizing beer sales. In recent years, the day has been celebrated as “National Beer Day.”

ABC2-malt ad

Advertisement for Liberty Beer by ABC’s Elmira Distributor
Robert G. Jennings (Elmira Star-Gazette, 19 May 1933

As noted earlier, five Rochester brewers resurfaced after Prohibition. ABC was one of them. Among their many post-1933 brands were American Bock Beer, American Porter, Apollo Beer, Liberty Beer and Seneca Ale. Arguably their most famous label was Tam O’Shanter, under which a number of different varieties were produced, including Bock Beer, Dry Hopped, Extra Pale Ale, Stock Ale, and Porter.

For nearly two decades thereafter, the firm operated profitably; however, by 1950, their market share had declined. Two factors, coming close together, pushed them toward dissolution. The first was a decline in available bituminous and anthracite stocks due to a nationwide coal strike that reduced available supplies. The firm applied to the Emergency Fuel Office for additional allocations for production purposes, but was refused. The other factor was the decision of Rochester brewery workers (by a vote of 519 to 8) to join the International Union of Brewery, Flour, Cereal, Soft Drinks and Distillery Workers.

In June 1950, the American Brewing Company’s officers notified the board that a vote would be held to liquidate the business. Days later, the stockholders voted to liquidate the company’s assets. A skeleton crew remained thereafter to conclude the remaining business, but by the end of June 1950, the doors at 440 Hudson Avenue were closed forever on what was once the oldest brewery in Rochester.

ABC2-414 hudson

Remains of The American Brewing Company (2018)
440 Hudson Avenue.

-Christopher Brennan


For More Information:

“Brewery Bares Plan to Go Out of Business,” Democrat and Chronicle, 1 June 1950, p. 26.

“Brewery Workers Vote for Union Shop Setup,” Democrat and Chronicle, 1 April 1950, p. 12.

A History of the Brewery and Liquor Industry of Rochester, N.Y. (Rochester, New York: Kearse Publishing Company, 1907).

Skeeter McDaniels, Brewed in Rochester: A Photographic History of Beer in Rochester, New York, 1885-1975 (Rochester, New York: Mountain Air Books, 2008).

J. Gordon Meier, The Story of the Genesee Brewing Company Incorporated of Rochester, New York (Rochester, New York: Meier, 1963).

“Plant, Offices Turn Down Heat to Conserve Fuel,” Democrat and Chronicle, 2 March 1950, p. 1.

Ruth Rosenberg-Naparsteck, “A Brief History of Brewing in Rochester,” Rochester History 54, no. 2 (Spring 1992).

Ruth Rosenberg-Naparsteck, “A Brief Look at the 20th Century Through the Lens of a Camera,” Rochester History 61, nos. 3-4 (Summer-Fall 1999).

“Stockholder Vote End of Brewery,” Democrat and Chronicle, 6 June 1950, p. 21.


Published in: on November 5, 2018 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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