Beer built this city
Sacramento native and historian Ed Carroll helped kick off Sacramento Beer Week with a lecture about the history of brewing in Sacramento. His book, City of a Beer: Sacramento’s Breweries, has just been published and is available for purchase around town at locally owned bookstores. Three of Carroll’s passions are baseball, biking and beer, so how did he come to write a book about the latter?
What’s your most prized piece of beer memorabilia?
Besides my Buffalo bottles, it’s an Eastside sign. Instead of neon, it’s mercury. It was a beer that my Grandpa Jack drank. I bought it years ago. It’s the most I’ve ever spent on one, but it’s in perfect condition.
Describe your background as a historian.
I was always interested in history, and particularly this subject, which I came upon in the early ’90s, but I didn’t really have the training or the focus to do the research. Six years after I got my English degree, I decided to go into the public-history program at Sac State for a master’s, with pretty much the intent on learning how to do the research and the writing for this type of project with this being my ultimate goal. By sheer luck, it ended up being my thesis. Once I graduated with this degree, I became a historian in that respect.
What was the title of the thesis?
“Brewing in Sacramento 1849-1919”—pretty lackluster title, very technical.
How did you come to write this book?
I always wanted to write it, and I never thought I would, actually. Once it was done—it’s been about a year—in November, Bill Burg, he’s president of the Sac County historical society, approached me and asked if I’d be interested in publishing it as Golden Notes, which is a Sacramento County Historical Society publication. They would give [them] to their members, and I collected those and I loved them. They hadn’t done them for a while, and when [Burg] became president, he revived it. When he asked me to do one, I jumped at it. It’s going to be a lot longer than most of them are, like 150 pages. I was all for it.
Do you know some of the past topics of the Golden Notes?
I have most of the old ones. Sutter’s Slough—the old lake used to be up at Fifth and G [streets] … old landmarks, [the 1890s-era electric parade], any number of things.
What’s the quintessential historical Sacramento brewery?
People always tend to look at Buffalo, but Buffalo was really the culmination of 50 years of pioneer brewing and small breweries that moved around, changed owners and traded employees. Basically Germans—they were all kind of a really close network from what I can tell from research. It wasn’t until the end of the 1800s, when consolidation was really important because of the high cost of advertising, bottling, machinery, labor, that all the small brewers who were still around combined within Buffalo … put their money in with Buffalo. … Some had ownership histories that defied description. You’ll see in the book.
A lot of them, like Philip Scheld, who worked as a baker in the gold fields and then bought a brewery in 1851—it lasted until it was absorbed by Buffalo—he was a real exemplary figure, if wealth is deemed to be a valuable characteristic. There’s not much known about these guys, about their personal lives. So much written about them back then was always in that glowing way they wrote about “fine businessmen.”
How long did Buffalo last?
It went from the 1890s until Prohibition, and then it was a soda and malt factory during Prohibition. Maybe they made beer still, I don’t know, and then it came back at the end of Prohibition with a lot of money. All the stockholders were well-known, like Gerber—names you see everywhere all over town, very rich stockholders. They put a bunch of money into it, revamped it, renovated for the times, and it didn’t last another 10 years. They couldn’t compete. Early to mid-’40s, it went down. It was demolished in the ’50s. They ran out of steam against Anheuser-Busch and others. They’d been battling them since the 1880s.
Is Sacramento still the city of a beer?
Knowing the local drinking habits, yes, very much so! (Laughs.) As far as brewery production, I guess it’s not bad. … We’ve got quite a few now. Even in the 1860s, Sacramento only had seven or eight, so that’s about what we’ve got, give or take a few. … A lot of the town was built because of beer wealth.