Lexington Brewing Company (First)

In the fall of 1897, J. Henry Zitt of Chicago traveled to Lexington to investigate the possibility of establishing a brewery.[i]  Mr. Zitt was attracted to the area by its economic prosperity and population growth.  In November, Mr. Zitt moved to Lexington with his family and purchased an imposing residence on South Broadway and Third Streets.[ii]  He would serve as the new brewery's general manager.

On November 17, 1897 Frederick C. Lang as President, J. Henry Zitt as Secretary and Treasurer and John C. Schrain, incorporated the Lexington Brewing Company.

Lang and Zitt were brothers-in-law and were previously associated with the Independent Brewing Association of Chicago.  Frederick C. Lang as President, Charles G. Hutchinson as Vice President and J. Henry Zitt as Secretary formed the Independent Brewing Association in 1890.  The firm built a brewery during the spring of 1891 on the south side of Chicago.  The three owners sold the brewery during September 1896.  This brewery would later become part of Al Capone's empire and produced illegal beer during Prohibition.

The Articles of Incorporation for the new brewery authorized "the manufacturing, buying, selling and dealing in beer and other malt liquors."[iii]

The firm was capitalized at $200,000 divided into 2,000 shares.  Mr. Lang purchased 750 shares for $75,000, Mr. Zitt 600 shares for $60,000 and Mr. Schrain 150 shares for $15,000.  The remaining 500 shares were intended for future investors.[iv]

During October 1897, the firm acquired two tracts of land on East Main Street, across from DeWeese Street, for $13,175.  The first tract was purchased on October 11, 1897, for $4,675 from railroad baron Collis P. Huntington and consisted of fifty-five feet fronting on East Main Street.[v]  The second adjacent tract was purchased on October 22, 1897, from the Phoenix National Bank and Trust Company for $8,500 and consisted of one hundred feet fronting on East Main Street.[vi]  The Combs Lumber Company had previously occupied these properties.[vii]

The brewery engaged the Chicago architectural firm of Fred W. Wolf & Company to design the buildings and equipment.  Architect Wolf was one of the foremost brewery architects in the nation and pioneered the use of refrigeration in the brewing process.

Ground was broken for the new brewery on November 5, 1897.[viii]  Construction crews worked in the dead of winter over the next four months building the brewer’s shell.

Brewery Engraving – circa 1897 <WMA>

Mr. Wolf supervised the construction of the brewery and supplied the refrigeration equipment.  Other contractors included Govan & Dalton, of Lexington, who supplied the excavations, masonry and concrete work; R. M. Haridman, of Lexington, the brickwork; L. Schreiber & Sons Co., of Cincinnati, structural steel and ironwork; and Olsen & Tilgner, of Chicago, the millwork.  The brewhouse was furnished by the American Copper, Brass and Iron Works, of Chicago, and the tank cooperage by Thaler Brothers, of Chicago.[ix]

The main building was four stories high, with two towers of one additional story.  The building measured 85 feet by 101 feet and rose to 168 feet.  The foundation was built upon solid stone.  The exterior walls were of brick construction (25 inches thick) with Bedford cut stone trim.  The interior was built with steel frame, brick and tile arches, hollow tile and cork insulation, concrete and asphalt floors, composition roof and iron stairways.  The brewery was “fireproof.” [x]

The budget for the brewery was $150,000 and in excess of one million bricks were used in the construction.  The brewery’s annual capacity was 40,000 barrels or roughly 600,000 cases.[xi]  The new building became one of the most imposing structures in Lexington for the next forty-five years.

On January 29, 1898, the first of forty railroad cars unloaded materials and equipment at the Elizabethtown, Lexington & Big Sandy Railroad yard at the rear of the brewery's property.  These shipments included ten cars of brick, three cars of cement, 20 cars of hollow tile and two hundred tons of structural steel.

The brewery was divided in half – with brewhouse on the left and the aging cellars on the right.

The ground floor of the brewhouse contained the firm’s offices.  The second floor housed the refrigerated hop room and the heat exchanger (cooling coils) for reducing the temperature of “wort.”  The coils had the capacity to drop boiling “wort” to fifty degrees at the rate of eighty-five barrels per hour.

The third floor included the one hundred barrel copper brew kettle, lauter tun and mash tun.  The kettle had the capacity of 3,100 gallons or 1,300 cases at any one time.  On the fourth floor were the scales for measuring grains and the hot liquor (water) storage tanks.  The fifth floor contained the malt mill for grinding barley and other grains.[xii]

Extending from the basement to the fourth floor, on the right half of the building, were the cellars or storage vaults for fermenting and aging beer.  These cellars were insulated with thick brick walls, covered with cork, hollow tile and airspace.[xiii]  The fermenting cellars were kept at fifty degrees and the aging cellars at thirty-two degrees.  Each floor held twelve (12) wooden tanks holding two hundred (200) barrels (or roughly 6,200 gallons) of beer.  All combined the brewery held approximately 100,000 cases of beer at one time.

Aging Cellar <WMA>

Aging Cellars <WMA>

At the rear of the brewhouse were the washhouse (for keg cleaning), racking house (for filling kegs), power plant and boiler room.  The power plant housed two forty-ton Linde chillers for refrigeration.  The Linde Refrigeration System was invented in Germany in 1882 and revolutionized the industry.  These chillers were operated in tandem – so that the one unit could compensate for the loss of the other.  In addition, three fifty horsepower Hamilton-Corliss engines provided the electrical power for both the machinery and illumination.  Mr. Zitt indicated that they "intended to light the building up both on the outside and inside."[xiv]

In December 1897, the brewery hired Theodore Lassig, of Chicago, as the firm's brewmaster.  Mr. Lassig was a native of Saxony Germany, where he learned the brewing trade.  After immigrating to the United States around 1892, he held several brewing positions in the Chicago area.  He would remain the Lexington Brewing Company's brewmaster for the next twenty-five years, until shortly before his death in 1923.  He was the only brewer the company employed.[xv]

During April 1898, the fires were lit under the boilers and the machinery was started for the first time.[xvi]  In early May, the first batch of beer was brewed.  Brewmaster Lassig employed the "German style" lager brewing process to manufacture the firm's beer.


Blue Grass Export:

In July 1898, the Lexington Brewing Company began marketing Blue Grass Export, Standard Lager and Extra Pale Lager in wooden kegs.  In August of that year, the brewery introduced Blue Grass Export in pint and quart bottles.  These bottles were amber brown in color and were filled and corked by hand.  The firm advertised that its beer was "brewed from the choicest malt and bohemian hops, strictly pure, unexcelled, strengthening and invigorating" and "specially adapted for family use."  The firm's telephone number was 540.[xvii]

One of the first local distributors of Blue Grass Export was the grocery firm of Shouse and Looney, composed of Leonard Shouse and James T. Looney.  Mr. Shouse indicated that the brewery's beer was "selling like hot cakes."  He continued that the "general feeling among local consumers, so far as I can ascertain, is decidedly in favor of the local beer.  The product turned out to begin with is first class in every respect.  If it keeps up that way I think it will eventually drive off most of the competition."[xviii]

In July 1898, the local newspaper ran the headline "A WAR - Between Local and Foreign Brewers Talked Of."  The Lexington Brewing Company priced its beer at $7.50 a barrel, or fifty cents less than Cincinnati brewers did.  In response, the Cincinnati brewers, who had long held a near monopoly on shipping beer into Lexington, threatened to lower their prices to $4.00 a barrel.  The "war" never materialized past threats.[xix]

The brewery employed thirty-five to forty workers with an annual payroll of $25,000.[xx]  The staff included a brewmaster, assistant brewers, maltster, drivers, stable hands, coopers, mechanics, laborers and clerks.  Brewery workers averaged twelve to fourteen hour days, six days a week starting at about twenty dollars per month.  In addition, free beer on the job was a benefit for the workers.  They were represented by the Brewer’s Union Local #12.

Bock Beer:

In March 1899, the brewery introduced its first seasonal Bock Beer.  It was advertised as the “Strongest Beer of Year.”  Bock is a traditional Bavarian beer brewed in late winter.  Before refrigeration, it was impossible to brew during the hot summer months.  Breweries produced heavily during the winter and the lagered the beer into the summer season in cellars.  This prolonged aging required a heavy malt base and resulted in full, dark bodied beer.  The Lexington Brewing Company produced Bock beer for the next nineteen years until Prohibition.  This beer became a time-honored tradition – “It’s spring and Bock Beer is on tap” – in Lexington after the last frost.


During the first two years of operation, the brewery produced respectively 15,000 and 20,000 barrels.[xxi]

Brewery (prior to Bottling House) – circa 1900  <TRAN>

In 1901, the company filed papers indicating that the firm's products were sold in bottles, kegs and barrels.  This filing stated that their pint and quart bottles were of amber or flint (blue-green) colors, with "Lexington Brg Co., Lexington, Ky" embossed into the shoulder and the monogram "LBC" blown into the bottom.  In addition, the brewery's wooden case boxes and kegs had "Lexington Brewing Co. Lexington, Ky" burned into their sides.[xxii]

In 1902, the firm acquired two additional tracts on East Main Street to expand the bottling plant.  These tracts were acquired from J. Henry Zitt and Charles H. Stoll for $2,475.00 and $3,136.35, respectively.[xxiii]   The next year the brewery built a two story bottling house (with refrigerated cold storage in the basement) on these two parcels.  At this time, the bottling plant was required by law to be separate from the brewing plant.  The beer was transferred from the brewery’s cellar to the bottling shop by a pipeline that had dual gauges and valves.  The brewery controlled one set, while the "Revenue" man controlled the other.

Revised Brewery Engraving – 1903  <WMA>  (Note:  Bottling House on left and second story addition on right)

The brewery also replaced its original bottling line during 1903.  They installed automated equipment, including a Henes & Keller rotary filler; Chicago Monarch filler; Crown, Cork & Seal bottle crowner; Chicago Magnus Soaker; Ruff Pasteurizer and World & Ermonld labelers.  The new bottle crowner replaced the old corker machine - where corks were compressed into the bottles, then wired into place by hand.

Bottle Filler <UK>

Bottle Washer (Feed Side)    <UK>

After the bottling was finished, the bottles were packed in wooden cases for the local market.  For more distant markets, the bottles were placed in wrappers and packed in barrels filled with sawdust.

Brewery <UK>

Enlargement of Brewery Wagon <UK>

Enlargement of Bottling Shed <UK>

Enlargement of Brewery Staff <UK>

Bottling House Staff (Note:  George W. Anderson, Foreman center top)   <WMA>  

Left side Enlargement of Bottling Staff  <WMA>

Right side Enlargement of Bottling Staff   <WMA>

John Gund Era

In July 1903 John Gund Jr., of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, purchased Mr. Lang's half interest in the Lexington Brewing Company and succeeded him as President.[xxiv]   (See Appendix B  - The Gund Brewing Family).  In January 1905, Mr. Gund acquired sole ownership of the company from Mr. Zitt.[xxv]  After the sale, Mr. Zitt[1]moved to California for health reasons.[xxvi]

Dixie Beer, 1904

In July 1904, Mr. Gund introduced Dixie Beer (a pilsner) and continued to brew Blue Grass Lager.  Dixie Beer was to become the brewery's flagship brand of beer.  The company advertised "Dixie has no equal" and "Blue Grass Lager has no superior as a family malt and hop tonic."[xxvii]  In May 1904, the company also introduced Blue Grass Bock.[xxviii]

In 1905, the brewery purchased another tract on East Main Street from Mary P. Shanklin for $4,444.45.[xxix]  The brewery erected an additional storage shed on this parcel.  This parcel extended the brewery frontage on Main Street to over three hundred feet.

Around 1905 the brewery instituted its "home delivery" service with two horse drawn wagons.  By either calling the brewery or by standing orders, these wagons would deliver daily bottled beer to customer's residences.  The beer was placed in metal cases on the front porch and iced down.  This service was discontinued during the early 1910s.

On February 7, 1906, the brewery was damaged when a fire spread from the adjoining property.  The fire destroyed several nearby commercial buildings, but the brewery suffered only light damage to its roof and dome.  The firemen encountered freezing temperatures, which caused their equipment and hoses to freeze solid.  The "fireproof" construction of the brewery prevented its total destruction and the damage was quickly repaired.[xxx]

After the fire, Mr. Gund elected to upgrade the brewery equipment while the permanent repairs were being made to the roof.  During the next four months, the plant's capacity was increased to 70,000 barrels and the boilers were converted from coal to natural gas.  In addition, the bottling equipment was upgraded with a new automatic filler and crowner.  This equipment had the capacity of 72 bottles per minute.  Mr. Gund also introduced the unique "champagne" shaped bottles of blue tinted glass at this time.  By June these improvement were completed.[xxxi]

During a 1906 interview, Mr. Gund attributed the success of the brewery to the "splendid quality of the beer .  .  . (and) .  .  . the limestone water which had proved the best for making the famous Kentucky whiskeys (bourbon) the finest on earth, is also the best to be used in brewing beers."  Mr. Gund was also quoted from "the same soil that produces the famous blue grass, so nourishing to the speedy thoroughbreds and fast trotters, comes the limestone waters from which the Dixie and Blue Grass beers are made."[xxxii]

The Company discontinued producing Blue Grass Lager around 1906.  Dixie Beer continued as its flagship brand.  In the spring of 1906 and 1907, Old Times Bock was brewed.  During 1908, the brewery introduced the Alt Heidelberg brand of beer.  This beer was brewed according to the traditional "alt" or "old" German formulas and used ale yeast for a fuller taste.[xxxiii]  Two non-intoxicating beverages Malt Mead and Maltina were introduced at the same time and advertised as "New Era Drinks."[xxxiv]  Both of these products apparently were produced until around 1914.[xxxv]

During 1912, Dixie Beer was renamed Gund's Dixie Beer and was distributed in cardboard cartons, with three bottles and gift coupons inside.  Eight cartons made a case.  These gift premiums included silverware, glassware, pocket mirrors and other household items.  This program was inaugurated at the Blue Grass Fair in July 1912 at the "Made in Lexington" exhibit at Flora Hall.[xxxvi]   During this period, the trademark champagne bottles were discontinued for the more traditional shaped beer bottles, due to the high cost of the former bottles.


During 1914, the Lexington Brewing Company advertised that "If you don't drink - Dixie and Alt Heidelberg - you don't drink THE BEST - That's all."[xxxvii]  In 1915, the company changed the name of Gund's Dixie Beer back to Dixie Beer and Alt Heidelberg to Old Heidelberg.  These new trade names were both used until Prohibition.

In 1917, the brewery introduced the wartime Dixie Beer label - indicating "Non-Intoxicating Alcohol 2 3/4% by Weight."  By 1919, the Dixie label was revised to "Does Not Contain 1/2 of 1% Alcohol by Volume."  The label was revised again to Dixie Beverage when Prohibition regulations banned the word beer.

Prohibition Era

During March 1919 John Kloecker, John J. Galvin, Thomas C. Bradley, James T. Looney and James P. Kearns acquired the Lexington Brewing Company from John Gund.[xxxviii]  Mr. Kloecker was the brewing company's Secretary and Treasurer and Mr. Galvin was a local beer distributor.  Mr. Bradley was the Mayor of Lexington in the 1920s and was involved with the Kentucky Association Racetrack, Phoenix Hotel and Guaranty Bank & Trust Company.  Mr. Looney was one of the city's larger grocers and Mr. Kearns was the City's Assessor.

During December 1919, the brewery began selling Pure Apple Juice for $4.50 per case of pint bottles.  The company also began producing Dixie Beverage, a near beer, and Bone Dry Beverage, a root beer.  Both had less than the legally prescribed alcohol content of 1/2 of 1 percent.  They advertised them to be "faultless, stimulating, snappy non-intoxicating beverages."[xxxix]  Later, the firm also produced Bourbonola (a cola).[xl]

Officially, after 1919 the Lexington Brewing Company was only producing legal beverages with a low alcohol content.

On June 2, 1922, prohibition agents again raided the Lexington Brewing Company after one of its trucks, loaded with "high proof" beer, was seized.  Agent B. F. Unthank testified later that he had received a "tip" that beer was being delivered from the brewery on certain dates.  From a rented room across the street in the Lynx Hotel, Agent Unthank observed a truck loaded with barrels leaving the brewery and then followed the truck to a soft drink stand owned by John Furlong on North Limestone.  The barrels were observed being unloaded from the brewery's truck and taken inside the store.

During the next month, newspaper headlines were full of details of the largest Prohibition seizure in Kentucky.  These headlines included "5,000 Bottles of Beer Taken in Raid,” "Collins Cite Lexington Brewing Co As A Result of Beer Seizure," "Contents of Over 5,000 Bottles of Beer Poured Into Sewer" and "U. S. Jury Returns True Bill Result of Big Beer Seizure."

After the seizures, the beer was stored in the basement vault at the U. S. Post Office building.  During the next few days, several hundred bottles mysteriously disappeared from the federal vault.  After the discovery of this liberation, Agent Collins ordered the remaining beer destroyed by pouring the contents into the city drains.

On July 27, 1936, John C. Bruckmann of Cincinnati acquired the Lexington Brewing Company.[xli]  Mr. Bruckmann, who operated the Bruckmann Brewery of Cincinnati, began to brew and distribute Brucks Dixie from his Cincinnati brewery.

In March 1941, plywood barricades were erected along the sidewalk in front of the brewery, as the wrecking firms of Thurman Wrecking Company and Wides & Baker began demolition of the old brewery.  The main building had been vacant for the past few years and had become a place for tramps to live.    

Front Gate – circa 1930s  <WMA>

Smoke Stack – circa 1940  <WMA>

Brewery Wrecking – 1941  <TRAN>

Enlargement of Olde Towne Ale Sign – 1941  <TRAN>


[1] J. Henry Zitt moved to Los Angles and established another brewery.  In October 1907, he and George Stadler founded the San Diego Consolidated Brewing Company (now known as the Mission Point Brewery).  After George Stadler’s death in 1909, the Zitt family moved in 1911 to San Diego and managed the company.  He built a mansion on historic Point Loma (near the Stadler Mansion).  The brewery closed in 1920 during Prohibition.


[i].  One Hundred Years of Brewing, H. S. Rich & Co., Chicago, 1903, page 503.

[ii].  Herald, July 17, 1923, page 1, column 2.

[iii].  Fayette County Clerk Office, Incorporation Book 2, page 298 - 302.

[iv].  Herald, October 6, 1897, page 5, column 4.

[v].  Fayette County Clerk Office, Deed Book 111, page 336 - 38.

[vi].  Fayette County Clerk Office, Deed Book 111, page 339 - 41.

[vii].  Herald, October 6, 1897, page 5, column 4.

[viii].  Herald, December 14, 1900, page 17 - 8.

[ix] Western Brewer, volume xxii, (11 November 1897), page 2059 and volume xxiii, 3 (March 1898), page 478 – 79.

[x].  Leader, October 27, 1897, page 7, column 4, Leader, January 2, 1898, page 8, column 1, Leader, January 29, 1898, page 1, Herald, January 29, 1898, page 1, column 4.

[xi].  Herald, December 14, 1900, page 17 - 18.

[xii].  Leader, June 4, 1906, page 8.

[xiii].  Leader, June 4, 1906, page 8.

[xiv].  Leader, October 27, 1897, page 7, column 4.

[xv].  Herald, July 17, 1923, page 1, column 2.

[xvi].  Herald, April 13, 1898, page 5, column 5.

[xvii].  Herald, August 22, 1898

[xviii].  Leader, July 21, 1898, page 8, column 2.

[xix].  Leader, July 21, 1898, page 8, column 2, Herald, July 21, 1898, page 1, column 4 and Herald, July 22, 1898, page 5, column 6.

[xx].  Leader, October 27, 1897, page 7, column 4, Leader, January 2, 1898, page 8, column 1, Leader, January 29, 1898, page 1, Herald, January 29, 1898, page 1, column 4.

[xxi].  Herald, December 14, 1900, page 17 - 18.

[xxii].  Fayette County Clerk Office, Incorporation Book 3, page 92 - 93.

[xxiii].  Fayette County Clerk Office, Deed Book 126, page 436 and Deed Book 128, page 321 and Herald, November 2, 1902, page 2, column 6..

[xxiv].  Herald, July 12, 1903, page 2, column 5.

[xxv].  Herald, January 5, 1904, page 2, column 4.

[xxvi].  Herald, June 6, 1922, page 1, column 4 and interview with Jim Haag, Paris, Kentucky, June 20, 1994.

[xxvii].  1904 City Directory.

[xxviii].  Herald, May 3, 1904, page 4.

[xxix].  Fayette County Clerk Office, Deed Book 141, page 197.

[xxx].  Herald, February 7, 1906, page 1 and Leader, February 7, 1906, page 1.

[xxxi].  Leader, June 4, 1906, page 8, column 4.

[xxxii].  Leader, June 4, 1906, page 8, column 4.

[xxxiii].  Southern Railway Commercial and Industrial Guide to Lexington, 1908.

[xxxiv].  Blue Grass Fair Program, 1908.

[xxxv].  Haag Interview.

[xxxvi].  Herald, May 16, 1912, page 7,  Herald, May 20, 1912, page 3 and Haag Interview.

[xxxvii].  1914 City Directory

[xxxviii].  Herald, March 16, 1919, page 3, column 2.

[xxxix].  Battaile, Barton K, Lexington:  Pictorial Nostalgia, 1975, page 116.

[xl].  Haag Interview.

[xli].  Fayette County Clerk Office, Incorporation Book 13, Page 399.

William M. Ambrose, Lexington Brewing Company, Limestone Press, Lexington, 1999.

Enter your e-mail address.

Enter the password that accompanies your e-mail.