When did Cambrinus Bottling Co. operate in San Francisco?

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I found an old beer bottle under my house and it is labeled: "Camrinus Bottling Co. San Francisco Cal. This Bottle Is Not Sold" It is brown and apparently hand blown(maybe). When did Cambrinus operate a brewery in San Francisco?

-- BASNIGHT (basnight@saber.net), March 03, 2002


Do you think that bottle may actually be labeled 'Gambrinus Bottling Co.'?


-- Don Martinich (dutchm@dcn.org), March 04, 2002.

YES............upon closer inspection it IS Gambrinus

You are on the ball Don.......thanks......

-- basnight (basnight@saber.net), March 04, 2002.

I am just learning to navigate the internet in search of material on San Francisco breweries and beer bottling works. Collecting and researching this subject has been my passion for over 30 years. I have a large research collection and all of the memorabilia to go with it. My office address is 450 Sutter Su. 2028 San Francisco 94108. (415)-986-1735

The Gambrinus Bottling Company has actually two incarnations. In the 1885-1886 period Gustav Liebold and Louis Mohlfeldt teamed up at 21 Stockton Street to bottle beer. Gustav had been involved in the restaurant business at 7 Stockton Street (Bay State Oyster House) and Louis was operating a grocery on the SE corner of O'Farrell and Powell (Beehive Cash Grocery). Mohlfeldt did not immediately dispose of his interest in the grocery, he is last listed in this business in 1886 as groceries and liquor. This generally meant that there was a bar or saloon attached to the grocery with a pass-through so the owner could sell drinks in the bar and groceries in the store. This was common in San Francisco and later fueled the fires of prohibition because of the excessive sale of liquor (and drukeness). It was not unusual to find saloons on all four corners of a street crossing. The name Gambrinus Bottling Company did not appear until the 1887 directory. In 1890 the company was listed at 25 Stockton Street bottling Fredericksburg beer. This beer was brewed in San Jose but the brewery was purchased in that year by an English syndicate known as San Francisco Breweries, Ltd. They bought up much of the brewing power in San Francisco and the Bay Area purchasing the Wieland, Chicago, United States, and Willows in San Franicsco, the Hofburg in Berkeley, and the Fredericksburg in San Jose. Other English syndicates made similar purchases around this time in New Orleans, New York, and Chicago. From what I understand good investment opportunities for English capital were not available in England around this time. Your bottle probably does not date from this period since I believe they mostly used paper labels. I have a labeled quart with a metal lightning stopper from the 25 Stockton address. There is an early-looking Gambrinus pint with a mug base (sided). This could also be from this period. (For you experts this is not the one which reads "registered" (Eastern glass works)which I believe to be a turn of the century bottle). By 1893 Liebold had teamed up with the Lang Brothers to start the Fredericksburg Bottling Co. It is not clear what happened to Mohlfeldt since he was listed after this date as a "beer bottler" with a home but no business address. It looks like he worked for the Fredericksburg Bottling Co. since that is how he is listed in the 1896 directory. Also in the 1896 directory Gustav Liebold was listed as vice-president of the Fredericksburg Bottling Co. Perhaps this aparent demotion was a problem. He was listed as president again the 1897 but was out of the Fredericksburg Bottling and president of the Gambrinus Bottling Co. in 1898. Judging from the numbers of bottles found, the Gambrinus Bottling Co. was fairly successful as was the Fredericksburg Bottling Co. The success of a beer bottler in the 19th and early 20th centuries depended on a lot more than a high quality beer. It depended on how the beer was transferred to the bottles and whether or not proper sanitary techniques were used. If the hoses, stoppers, or bottles were contaminated then the beer would sour. I have an advertisement for the Fredericksburg Bottling Company from 1895 showing their exhibit at the Mechanic's Fair. In the exhibit is a modern bottle filling machine (where you line the bottles up by hand and pull the lever to fill about six bottles at once. This may sound crude but compared to some other bottlers this was top drawer. I interviewed Charlie Dechent (City Bottling Co.) many years ago who bottled beer right next to his father at the turn of the century. I asked him how he filled the bottles and he told me not to laugh. They would open the bung and push in a stick with six hoses attached. They would then suck on the hoses to get the beer flowing and syphon the beer into bottles. This method is actually described (but not recommended for sanitary reasons) in the 1906 "Beer Bottler's Handy Book". The Fredericksburg Bottling Co. seemed to do it right and Gustav Liebold either learned from that or had been the brains behind Fredericksburg in the first place. The Gambrinus Bottling Co. was located at 316-318 10th Street. I expect your bottle comes from this location. The more common types are the long taper collar in the quart, pint, and split sizes. The split also comes in clear and the quart comes in a step shoulder varient. All have the Gambrinus Bottling Co. San Francisco, Cal. around a monogram GBC. In 1905 Gambrinus Bottling Co. had relocated to 160 13th Street. Mohlfeldt may have come over to Gambrinus but it is impossible to tell. He was listed as a driver in 1898 (Fredericksburg or Gambrinus?) His widow was listed he next year.

To answer your question, Gambrinus never operated a brewery in San Francisco. The brewery supplying the beer for the Gambrinus Bottling Co. was the Gambrinus Brewing Co. in Portland , Oregon. This is one instance where the name of the company matches the name of a brewery but this was not always true. Your bottle would date from 1898 to 1906 and is probably one of the common examples. The quarts are worth about $12, pints $12, and splits $35 (unless it is clear).

After the Earthquake Liebold was just an agent for Gambrinus beer and some other imported beers. It was a trend after 1906 for breweries to bottle their own beer.

I hope this finally answers your question!

Tom Jacobs

-- Thomas A. Jacobs (tom-com@pacbell.net), April 11, 2004.

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