Don Heinrich Tolzmann was involved the new documentary The Cincinnati Beer Story and also is the author of the new book Christian Moerlein: The Man and His Brewery. He retired as curator of the German-Americana Collection and director of the German-American Studies Program at the University of Cincinnati, and is considered an expert in German-American studies.
Question: You’ve just released a new biography on Christian Moerlein. What don’t people know about the man behind one of Cincinnati’s most famous beer brands?
Answer: Christian Moerlein (1818-97) was one of the major brewers of the pre-Prohibition era – the Moerlein Brewing Co. in Cincinnati was the largest in the state of Ohio and one of the largest in the U.S. Like many of the brewers of the 19th century, he came from Bavaria, which is well known for its brewing heritage. Although he arrived with only a few dollars in his pockets, he was rich in terms of what he had learned by means of the German apprenticeship system, having studied both the blacksmithing and brewing trades. In Cincinnati, he first established a successful blacksmith business, but then switched over to brewing, shrewdly sensing the market possibilities for lager beer in Cincinnati with its ever increasing German immigrant population. His company’s involvement in the 1876 U.S. Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia made Moerlein’s beer nationally known. He helped make lager beer the beer of choice in the U.S. He was by no means immodest in advertising his brew as: “Exhilarating, stimulating, rejuvenating, wholesome, delicious, & pure.” Almost sounds like medicine, doesn’t it? My new book, Christian Moerlein: The Man and His Brewery (2012) tells how this self-made man rose from “rags to riches” and attained success. It reads like a success guidebook. For information about it, go to: www.littlemiamibooks.com
Q: You also participated in the new documentary The Cincinnati Beer Story, which details the brewing history of the community. What did you learn through the film?
A: The brewers in Cincinnati were like many elsewhere – they were not only German-born or of German stock, but predominantly Bavarian. Most of them had either studied brewing by means of the apprenticeship system, or had some experience in the trade by working in family breweries before they came to America and if not then acquired first-hand experience upon arrival in America. Also, they all strongly believed in “the American Dream” and the idea you could achieve success by means of hard work, persistence and thrift. They also were very public relations oriented in terms of advertising and embellished their image as ever popular beer barons, something new on the American scene in the 19th century. The Cincinnati Beer Story tells this amazing story, providing a close-up picture of the brewing industry in the area. For information, go to: www.thecincinnatibeerstory.com.
Q: What sets the brewing history of Cincinnati apart from other communities?
A: What sets Cincinnati apart from other areas was the high concentration of German immigration – there are only two other places like it – Milwaukee and St. Louis. Together these three cities formed what became known as the “German Triangle.” All three cities have much in common. For Cincinnati, also its central location on the Ohio River positioned it well for marketing throughout the region.
Q: What do you think of the current brewery renaissance happening in Cincinnati and do you think it can ever rival those days before Prohibition?
A: Before there were many small breweries along with the major ones and the current renaissance seems to be following along the same lines – many small brewpubs opening up alongside large companies. Craft brewing contributed to the demand for quality beer and the renaissance is growing out of this demand. Also, the renaissance is also growing out of its roots like with the emergence of the new Christian Moerlein Brewing Co. and now Wiedemann beer, which used to be brewed in Newport, Ky., across the river from Cincinnati, is again available. And when Hofbräuhaus located its first American branch in Newport, it definitely kicked it up a notch here in terms of interest in quality beer. Also having a Samuel Adams Brewery in Cincinnati (its owner Jim Koch comes from Cincinnati) helps out as well! His brewery is located in the old Schoenling Brewery.
Q: Which beer – any beer in the world – do you wish that you created/invented/brewed and why?
A: I wish I could have invented lager beer and had the genius of discovering how this can be brewed. What a magnificent contribution this has been for humankind! How great it would be to be known as the “father of lager beer.” Everyone drinks lager today, not realizing the brilliant process that is involved in making this golden beverage!