Weird name,” someone said to me as we rounded the corner of the block. It had been raining earlier, and it was probably going to rain again, judging by the clouds and the smell of the air.
“Well, it’s not like that was always what was brewed here… used to be Consumer’s…”
“Shut up—I’m not prepared for another day of so-called ‘witty’ historical observations.”
My natural reaction would be to jab-in with a, “Well, it’s true!”, but I held my tongue, either out of politeness, or because we had come into sight of one of my favorite kinds of factories—a brewery. My attention was required elsewhere.
I took the silence as agreement, and nobody spoke as the host of the group smirked, turned the lock in the door, and allowed the short line of photographers and historians inside.
“Yeah, this section, anyway—apparently the other side got pretty much demolished when they scrapped the fermenting equipment.”
“Seems like an older bit, judging by the brickwork… how old is this place again?”
“This section? Probably eighty-seven,” I called through the tunnel. We moved slowly through the tunnel to the supposedly-gutted fermentation tank rooms.
“Nineteen?” a girl asked. “No,” I corrected, “Eighteen… Eighteen-eighty-seven,” rolling the year around in my mouth while I spoke it.
“This place,” my brain said back to me simply, “was old.” If there are two places I love, they’re old buildings and breweries, and this one was both—thank you, St. Louis, Missouri.
Falstaff’s History, from the Caves to the Cornices
Before there was such a thing as St. Louis, there was a cave where this brewery is today, a natural feature that naturally attracts beer brewers. The year-round cool temperature of the underground (around 47 degrees Fahrenheit) makes for a perfect lagering, or beer-aging, climate.
The first brewery to be set here was Stumpf’s in 1853.
As William Stumpf’s business flourished, partly out of a partnership with Lemp, he expanded the caves beneath—a greater asset to the company and future companies than he could imagine. Much more central to the success of this location than his Brew House above, which produced 3,000 barrels annually.
When Stumpf’s closed in 1877, the property was briefly owned first by Thamer Brewing Company, then by A. Griesedieck and Company, before becoming Miller Brothers Brewery in late 1878.
Before the Miller Brothers ran their company into bankruptcy, in 1887 they built the Brew House that stands today today. This is the only building on the site that survived the 1896 takeover of the property by the Consumers Brewing Company, who demolished most of the the Miller facilities.
A Stock House was added in 1899 and the Brew House was expanded in 1916 and 1919, bringing their brand to the top of the St. Louis market before Prohibition later that year.
Griesedieck: Supplier to Speak-Easies
During Prohibition, the brewery was allowed to brew beer on the condition they dealcoholize it before distribution, making what is called “near beer,” sometimes spelled “neer beer.” But according to a February 1924 tip to Federal agents, the brewery was abiding by the law.
The anonymous caller claimed the brewery was secretly shipping full-strength brew around the city.
Agents soon raided the brewery, detained 42 employees and arrested the owner, Raymond Griesedieck, himself.
The first trial of Raymond was thrown out, and it’s unclear what the results of his appeal was, but the brewery was certainly successful after Prohibition was repealed, as a 1949 poll showed Griesedieck’s ‘Falstaff’ brand ranked 35 out of 430 national breweries.
Though the caves were probably not used after Prohibition, during World War II they were designated as air raid and nuclear fallout shelters.
In the 1970s the Miller Brothers’ Brewery Brew House was showing its age and its operators were looking to their other locations to take up the slack in their shrinking market share.
By 1984 all activity had stopped on site, and there has not been any since, except for steel and copper scrappers’ meddling and the occasional photographer or historian’s foot treads.
There are no plans for the property.