The Gerhard Lang Brewery was the largest pre-Prohibition brewery in the state outside New York City; it was also by far Buffalo's largest brewery to date.
It all started in 1842 with the Born Brewery, which was founded by Philip Born at 581 Genesee St.1 Several accounts state that the brewery was one of the largest in the city during the mid-1800s.2 Born ran the brewery until his death in 1848; after that, the brewery still operated under the Born name by Jacob Weppner and Born's oldest daughter, Barbara. In the early 1860's, Gerhard Lang bought out Weppner's part of the business and ran the brewery with Ms. Born. In 1862, Gerhard Lang married Ms. Born and they continued the partnership until 1876 under the name Born & Lang.
With the purchase of the old Cobb Farm located at the corner of Best and Jefferson Streets, Lang used the land to build himself a larger brewery.4 In order to learn more about what design worked best for a brewery, Lang toured other breweries across the country. What he built was dubbed "The Palace Brewery" which was the largest and most luxuriously equipped of any brewery in the country of its time (keeping with the Victorian tendency for opulent designs). The brew house and ice house were truly massive, and with a starting capacity of 300,000 barrels per year, Lang's beer would be destined to dominate the local market for many years. The brewery itself was set on a lot of 34 acres, bounded by Best, Jefferson, Berlin and Dodge Streets. For years Lang still used the old brewery at Jefferson and Genesee Streets. for a bottling works and malting house. The following account was taken from the History of Buffalo and Erie County, 1884,
By 1887 the brewery employed 110 men and had distribution in Virginia, Boston, Baltimore and Washington (via depot), and made direct shipments to Philadelphia and New York City via refrigerated rail car.5
During the Pan-American Exposition of 1901, Lang's even made a commemorative beer tray to advertise their product there; only a few of these artifacts are left today. Around 1890, Edwin G.S. Miller came into the business as a partner and general manager of the brewery and contributed greatly to the success of the business. During the 1880s William Simon was Langs brewmaster (he eventually went on to start his own successful brewing enterprise on Clinton Street).6
Before Prohibition was imposed, The Gerhard Lang Brewery, in addition to brewing beer, also owned many saloons that sold it. In fact, Lang's owned more saloons and beer gardens than anyone in Buffalo, with some eighty of them to their credit.7 Lang's beer was found in every corner bar, whether it was owned by Lang's or not. It was far and away Buffalo's most popular brand.
At the turn of the 20th century a draft of Lang's could be had for 5 cents and a pint for 15 cents. Out-of-town brands like Pabst and Schlitz were priced at 25 cents a pint.8 Some of Langs brands included: Lang's Horsehead Ale (named for one of Langs horses, Champion Don Juan), Lang's Old German, Lang's Bohemian, Lang's Tru-Keg Beer, Lang's Tru-Keg Ale, and Lang's Crown Ale.
Before the automobile came into being horses provided the power for transporting the beer across town. Sometime just before Prohibition, Miller mentioned that there were five-hundred horses stabled at Fort Erie, Canada, ready at a moments notice to distribute Langs beer.9 Horses were so much a part of society that it is little wonder that beers named after them. The horse team drawn beer wagon is still a recognizable icon of the brewing industry. Most notable of these (now only used for parades and shows) are the Budweiser Clydesdale teams.
During Prohibition, Lang's survived by producing dairy and soda products, among other things. There was Lang's Dairy & Creamery, Langs Bakery, and products like "Hyan-Dry" brand soda, and "Liberty Brew" (a malt extract beverage) were also made. After Prohibition, The Lang Brewery was one of the first to start back up again.10 However, the market had changed and all the Buffalo brewers felt the pinch. The many new regulations and taxes hindered their ability to stay competitive.
In April of 1940, Lang Brewery almost lost their license to brew beer when they were charged along with Beck Brewery and Phoenix for giving kickback to vendors. Fortunately, Langs was quickly cleared of any wrong doing, Beck and Phoenix, however, werent so lucky.11
After 109 years in the business The Gerhard Lang Brewing Company shut down its operations in January of 1949, with Jacob Lang who had run the brewery since repeal making the sad announcement. The closing of Lang's was a sign that the single-plant hometown brewery was soon to be a thing of the past.12
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