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Book: “Breweries of the Gold Country”
Authors: R. Scott Baxter and Kimberly J. Wooten
Publisher: Arcadia Publishing, 127 pages, February 2012
“Breweries of the Gold Country” by R. Scott Baxter and Kimberly J. Wooten takes the reader on a historic tour of breweries that existed along Highway 49. Along the way readers learn of numerous breweries that boomed during the Gold Rush only to bust come prohibition.
Most of these breweries that started popping up all over gold country beginning in the 1850s weren’t small operations either. They malted their own grain, used cellars and caves for fermentation and would grow to produce hundreds of thousands of gallons of beer by the end of the 19th century.
The book is mostly a collection of old photographs, advertisements and maps so it’s definitely a quick read. A picture may be worth a thousand words but it’s nice that the authors did the research to include informative captions for all of the images.
“Breweries of the Gold Country” is packed full with facts — some amusing, others intriguing. For example, did you know that brewing was part of everyday life for most settlers — especially those of German decent? Beer provided part of a day’s nutrition for the whole family — including children.
Beer was considered to be so healthy that a caption on a 1912 photograph from a mine rescue at Bunker Hill reads; “Rescue, cave-in at Bunker Hill Mine; men trapped 24 hours. Man drinking beer only one rescued.”
After traveling up Highway 49 and learning of the many gold rush towns that had their own breweries, the reader arrives in El Dorado County. This chapter was the most interesting part of “Breweries of the Gold Country” — probably because that’s where we live and relics of our rich brewing history can be found all over the county. Baxter and Wooten are also keen to make note that El Dorado County is currently home to the most breweries in Gold Country.
Back in Gold Rush days the Mud Springs Brewery, Mountain Brewery, California Brewery (Zeisz), El Dorado Brewery and Greenwood Brewery served the needs of the local population.
The California Brewery was located on what is today known as upper Main Street in Placerville where there are still ruins and a carved stone sign with name Zeisz still legible.
A 1862 advertisement for The California Brewery reads “The best quality of lager beer always on hand. Families and others supplied with any size package desired.” They may have been making great beer, but it wasn’t enough to keep the brewery owner Jacob Zeisz from leaving his wife Dorothea and their 10 children for Bavaria, never to return. Dorothea Zeisz ran the brewery without him to support her family.
Local landmark the Fausel House, that was relocated a couple of years ago, was originally built as a home for Frederick Giebenhain and family. Giebenhain became the owner of the Mountain Brewery when he purchased it from William Krahner in 1857.
A photo from the El Dorado County Historical Museum shows the Giebenhain family and employees on the porch of the brewery drinking beer and one man with a tubular beaker that was used with a hydrometer to measure alcohol content. Who knew miners and pioneers had hydometers?
We can only imagine what the beer enjoyed by early pioneers tasted like. Judging from the number of breweries that existed during the Gold Rush we can assume their product was pretty tasty.
Pick up this book and travel back in time. When you return you’ll have a bounty of historical beer knowledge to be the ultimate beer week geek.