Lager beer was the beverage of choice for most men in the small towns and mining camps of early Idaho, especially in summer when it was hot. It was always served cold, only possible because breweries and saloons harvested ice from frozen ponds in winter and stored it packed in sawdust in ice houses until needed. (Home delivery would come later). Beer was popular because it was cheap, often selling for as little as 5 cents a glass.
The earliest ad for an Idaho brewery that we have found appeared in the Lewiston Golden Age newspaper on Oct. 24, 1863. German-born Ernst Weisgerber, the pioneer brewer of North Idaho, owned and operated the California Brewery. The Weisgerber family was in business until April 1913, when the Idaho Statesman reported their brewery’s closing, “due to the local option law which has taken from the big institution its territory. The brewery plant, as it stands today, represents an investment of approximately $75,000, and the money paid out each year for labor and barley amounted to about $30,000.”
Boise County had four breweries in 1864, all run by natives of Germany. Placerville’s, facing the plaza, was operated by Joseph Helmuth and H.C. Wielbold. Pioneer City had two breweries: The California Brewery and Bakery employed H. Imkamp, C. Boenhaeuser and A. Schlumb. The directory listing does not tell us who did the baking, but the brewery-bakery combination was common in the early West. The City Brewery’s brewer was L. Haubrich. There were also breweries in Buena Vista Bar and Centerville, and Idaho City had three.
Two Owyhee County breweries advertised in the Owyhee Avalanche: Edward Hosp’s City Brewery in Ruby City, on Aug. 26, 1865, and Grete & Williams’ Miners’ Brewery in Silver City on June 9, 1866.
German-born John Lemp, who would become known as “the Beer King of Idaho,” is first listed in the 1865 Boise City directory as a partner in the Boise Brewery, on Main Street between 3rd and 4th streets, with Felix Collins and A. Jaquinst. Their competition came from A.B. Ford’s Central Brewery & Bakery. By 1870 Lemp was one of Boise’s best-known and most popular citizens. This item from the Idaho Statesman of Jan. 6 suggests why: “Lagered — John Lemp, of the Boise Brewery, unlimbered his caisson in front of his office the other day, and stormed the boys with a keg of his best brew. The keg is now empty. John remembers his friends during the holidays, and they all hope he will brew his beer for many a day yet to come.”
In March 1870, when a local chapter of the Turnverein and Harmonia Society was formed, devoted to calisthenics, singing and good fellowship, John Lemp was chosen president. On April 21 he ran this ad in the Statesman: “Boise Brewery and Saloon, Main Street opposite Overland House. John Lemp, proprietor, keeps constantly on hand the finest and best brewed LAGER BEER! Wines, liquors and cigars. Cold Lunch, with all kinds of nice cheese, served at any hour.”
In June 1870, the Statesman reported: “We had the pleasure of visiting John Lemp’s Boise Brewery on last Tuesday, where we found our old friend Chris, the Brewer from St. Louis.” Christopher Croner is listed in the 1870 census as a 32-year-old brewer from Wurttemberg, one of the many small German states that would be united to make up the new German Empire.
News of Lemp’s building projects appeared in the Statesman regularly, including Main Street’s first three-story building. In April 1873, after becoming one of the city’s wealthiest men, Lemp indulged himself with a three-month trip to Europe, especially to visit the international exposition in Vienna.
In 1874 Lemp’s chief building project was replacing his family’s Grove Street house with a larger and finer one. He was then 36 years old, wife Kate was 24, and they had a year-old son, Emil. When the 1880 census was taken, the Lemps certainly needed that bigger house, for there were now eight Lemp children, including 5-year-old twin daughters Ada and Ida.
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.