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Gerhard Lang Brewery

Lang’s was Buffalo’s largest single plant brewer ever, at one time producine nearly 300,000 barrels of beer per year...

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-1800’s.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.

BUFFALO TIMES-1926: Fire Destroyed Born's Brewery-.

It used to be said, in jest of course, that the city firemen "loved to run to brewery fires," and I possess a comic picture of a fanciful scene at a brewery fire,- certainly as jolly as an old-fashioned husking bee or barn-raising.

The "remains" of the old Born Brewery at the southwest corner of Genesee and Jefferson were recently razed and removed.

I remember going out there in the early' 80's with Alex W.Bohne, to see good old Nicholas Bohne and his lamented son Sig (both long since dead), in the then newly-installed bottling works of the Lang Brewery, for Mrs. Philip Born was then dead and Gerhard Lang, her son-in-law, was then running the brewery. That was before the big brewing plant at Jefferson and High Streets was started. As a matter of fact I was an occasional visitor there. and the handsome and athletic young book keeper was Edwin G.S. Miller. who shortly married one of Mr. Lang's worthy daughters and later became the very popular and successful head of the greatly enlarged brewing plant.

At the time, I was greatly interested in the daily feat of the heavyweight collector employed there and I wrote a story about him in the Sunday TIMES, of which I was then city editor. This old time collector weighed 300 pounds and boasted that he consumed a one-eighth keg of beer every day. This was confirmed by the brewery attaches and Mr. Miller laughed when he told of the man's folly. It was apparent too, that the collector was "as sober as a judge" and I never saw him "under the influence of any intoxicating beverage." But one day, not long after my introduction to this brewery freak, the unfortunate man dropped dead. The doctors said it was from fatty degeneration of the heart.

Now, let me give you a bit of history. When Philip Born was running it, 'way back in 1858, there were many incendiary fires here, and on the morning of January 13, 1858, Born's Brewery was destroyed by fire and it communicated to a large copper shop adjoining, which made a fierce and dangerous fire. The loss was over $30,000 and the firemen had to get their water at Spring Street, for there were no water service pipes beyond Spring Street at that time.

It was stated that a firebug started the fire and Mayor Timothy T. Lockwood, M.D., offered a reward of $250 for the arrest and conviction of the firebug, but the reward was never claimed. The brewery was rebuilt.

Gerhard Lang became one of our foremost citizens. In 1878, when Solomon Scheu was mayor, Mr. Lang was a 6th ward alderman, his ward colleague being August Baetzhold, the veteran distiller of Michigan and Cypress streets. Later he became chairman of the Erie County Democratic general committee and a mighty fine and popular leader he proved to be. It was at that time that he bought and occupied the splendid Brayley mansion at the southwest corner of Main and Tupper streets, and that immensely valuable property is still owned by the Lang estate. Without a doubt the property is worth ten times what Mr. Lang paid the James Brayley estate for it.

Long before James Brayley built that mansion (now looking a bit weather-beaten) Judge Samuel Tupper, in the first decade of the 19th century, bought the lot at the southeast corner of Main and Tupper streets for $5 an acre. Tupper Street is named in honor of the pioneer judge.3

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,

" Learning that the brewery was located on the corner of Jefferson and Best Streets, we wended our way thither, but on arriving discovered an immense structure on a hill, with an elegant sloping lawn in front, bordered with trees and shrubbery, and a fountain in the center. The approach to the building is by a long semi-circular drive, kept in most perfect order. Thinking to have lost our way, we stopped in this (what seemed to us a public institution) to inquire, and great was our astonishment to find that we had actually entered the brewery sought for. On entering the building we found ourselves in a lofty lobby or hall, with a flight of polished stairs on either side leading to broad galleries, above where Lang’s renown beer is made. Everything is orderly and clean, the very vats or tanks being covered with black walnut and ash, bound with wide hoops of polished brass. The machinery moved noiselessly, every man seemed to know his special duty, and did it. After viewing the surroundings, we entered the spacious and handsomely furnished office, and there met the proprietor of all this splendor and order. We found Mr. Lang to be one of the most affable and genial gentlemen it has ever been our pleasure to meet, and though he cannot but be aware that his is the most elegantly appointed brewery in the world, he modestly disclaimed the great credit due him. We have therefor named Mr. Lang’s as the "Palace Brewery."

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 1880’s William Simon was Lang’s 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 Lang’s brands included: Lang's Horsehead Ale (named for one of Lang’s 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 moment’s notice to distribute Lang’s 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, Lang’s 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, Lang’s was quickly cleared of any wrong doing, Beck and Phoenix, however, weren’t 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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All material contained in this document is copyright 1997 all rights reserved by Stephen R. Powell. This may not be reprinted or reproduced by any means electronic or otherwise without permission from the author. To request that permission click HERE.