Valentine Loewer was the founder and initial proprietor of V. Loewer’s Gambrinus Brewery Co. He named the brewery after Gambrinus, who, according to the old Encyclopedia Britannica was:
“A mythical Flemish King who is credited with the first brewing of beer in 1261. His portrait had the place of honor in the Brewers Guild Hall in Brussels.”
Valentine Loewer’s obituary, in the November 1, 1904 edition of the “American Brewer’s Review,” provided some general information about him and his business.
He was born in Leiselheim, near Worms, Germany, and came to this country in 1860. In 1868 he established a weiss beer brewery in New York, which in 1879 was converted into a larger beer brewery, growing rapidly in output until the present annual production of 250,000 barrels was reached. Loewer’s sons, Jacob and George, were associated in business with him, the former being secretary and the latter treasurer of the company.
The original brewery was first listed in the 1867/1868 NYC Directory as Loewer & Josy, with an address of 605 West 51st Street in Manhattan. Loewer was listed as a partner along with Jacob Josy. Their partnership was short-lived and in 1870/1871 Loewer was listed individually as a brewer at the same location. The next year, in the 1871/1872 directory, he was listed at 529 West 41st Street, where the business remained well into the 1940’s.
It’s not clear what changes were made to the brewery in 1879 but the obituary specifically used the word “converted.” This leads me to believe that the brewery was converted to include production of the bottom fermented lager beer, which was gaining popularity in the U. S. at the time. Prior to that, the brewery was producing weiss beer, which is top fermented. This is supported, at least in my mind, by this May 16, 1915 advertisement in the (New York) Sun for their lager beer which states “Loewer’s has been in business since 1879.”
It wasn’t until 1887 or 1888 that the business began using the “V. Loewer’s Gambrinus Brewery Co.,” name in the directories. In 1889, the NYC Copartnership and Corporation Directory named Valentine Loewer, president; his son, George Loewer, secretary and Charles J. G. Hall, treasurer. By 1900 George had become treasurer and Jacob Loewer, was secretary. Throughout this entire period their address continued to be listed as 529 West 41st Street.
Around the turn of the century, the brewery apparently implemented significant upgrades and additions. An item in the May 20, 1901 edition of the “American Brewer’s Review” described the changes that were taking place.
The V. Loewer’s Gambrinus Brewing Co. of New York, has built a boiler and engine room, 50 x 30 feet; a new office 20 x 60 feet, three stories high, all brick and iron, equipped with all modern improvements. Four new boilers, 200 horse power each, and two ice machines of 215 and 70 tons respectively, have been put in. A new brew-house and a malt storage house have been contracted for. The brew-house will be 50 x 60, all brick and iron, equipped with all modern machinery and apparatus. The malt storage house will have a capacity of 20,000 bushels.
By the time the dust settled, their office, brewery and cold storage facility were all located adjacent to each other in the block from Tenth to Eleventh Avenues, between 41st and 42nd Street; the office at 528 – 532 West 42nd Street and the brewery and cold storage facility at 521-533 West 41st Street. Their bottling plant was on the other side of 41st Street at 536-538 West 41st street.
This advertisement, included in the Commemorative Book of the 11th Convention of the U. S. Brewmasters Association in 1899, appears to be a rendering that showed the future 1901 improvements in 41st Street looking west toward the Hudson River. The Brewery is on the right (north) side of 41st Street.
Later, on February 3, 1911, The brewery gained permission from the City of New York to “install, maintain and use a 15 – inch pipe “under and across” 41st Street connecting the brewery and the bottling department.
the said pipe to be used to contain a small pipe for the transmission of beer, ale and other malt liquors between the said premises for bottling purposes.
After Valentine Loewer’s death on October 10, 1904 his son George was listed in the directories as president until his death on January 30, 1915. At that point, the younger son, Jacob took over.
During Prohibition it appears that the V Loewer Gambrius Brewery Co. stayed in business making non-alcoholic beverages for which they registered a number of trademarks. Three that caught my eye, filed and published in 1919, were for a brand name called T.N.T.
Around the same time, Jacob Loewer also established a second corporation called the Loewer Cold Storage Corporation to take advantage of his refrigeration facilities. The notice of incorporation was published in the February, 1920 edition of “Ice and “Refrigeration.”
The Loewer Cold Storage Corporation, Manhattan N. Y., capital stock $30,000. Incorporators: J. Loewer, H. D. Muller and H. D. Muller, Jr.
Both the brewery and cold storage company listed their address as the brewery office address of 528 West 42nd Street during the Prohibition years.
As Prohibition ended Loewer’s was back in the business of brewing beer. An article in the March 24, 1933 edition of the (New York) “Daily News” entitled “Orders Deluge Brewers and Hundreds Get Jobs” mentioned several breweries including Loewer’s, stating:
Loewer’s Gambrinus Brewing Co., 528 W. 42nd St., has put all its men back on full time and expects to increase the force.
The optimism expressed in this article was apparently short-lived. After Prohibition was repealed the brewery continuously operated at a deficit. At the annual meeting of the company, held on March 28, 1941, it was reported that the loss for that year alone was in excess of $70,000 and the latest report of Dun Bradstreet read:
Comparative fiscal statements for a like period have reflected an unbalanced financial condition, a growing current debt and a substantial deficit.
On January 8, 1943 an involuntary petition of bankruptcy was filed against V. Loewer’s Gambrinus Brewery Co., and subsequently, on April 22, 1943, the court approved a sale of the brewery by the trustee to Brewery Management Corporation at a price of $100,000. The brewery closed five years later in 1948.
Today, there’s no sign of the brewery buildings.
I found a machine made export beer bottle embossed, “V Loewer’s Gambrinus Brewery Co. New York” in small letters around the shoulder. The bottle is similar in shape and size to this labeled example that recently appeared for sale on the Internet.
The numbers “1918” is embossed in large letters on the base of the bottle. Other examples of this bottle that I’ve seen exhibit similar numbers in the 1930’s range. This leads me to believe that it most likely indicates the year the bottle was produced.