Lawrenceville: Iron City Brewery
Turn On the Spigot--Public Once 'Kicked'; Beer Was Too Strong
From The Pittsburgh Press, 19 November 1932 ...last of a series of articles by Ruth Ayers reviving memories of days when beer was made legally in Pittsburgh.
Gustav Fritz Says Real Beer Will Put Home Brew to
Turning on the spigot may mean more revenue for the government, good jobs for the idle and a better toast for the thirsty, but for one man, at least, it's going to be a new lease on life.
He is Gustav Fritz, for 28 years brewmaster at the Iron City Brewery, Thirty-fourth Street and Liberty Avenue.
On his country estate in Valencia he looks forward to the fulfillment of a dream.
"What is my hobby?" he asks. "My hobby is to go back to the brewery again; I dream about it day and night.
"It has been 11 years since I was brewmaster. But I could go into a brewery blindfolded and brew a kettle of beer. I'll be 70 this month, and I know every step of the way in the making of beer, as well as I did when I came out of the academy in Chicago, in 1892.
"No, it wouldn't be difficult for a brewmaster to recruit a new staff. With a few men who were in the business before to help, we could soon instruct the newcomers.
Much to Learn
"I won't say that the old 'braumeisters' knew everything--I was a brewer from the time I was in my 'teens and I was still learning when I left--but they know enough to brew a mighty fine kettle of beer that will put home brew to shame."
Home brew, in the opinion of this past master of the art, is healthful in one way, since it provides yeast. But because of the way it is made, without proper fermentation, it is difficult for the system to digest. Real beer, made under sanitary conditions with malt and hops of finest quality, goes through a process of fermenting that insures its being healthful.
"Gus" Fritz, as he was known to Pittsburgh's old brewmasters, has his own ideas on what the country will want for beer once the law permits it.
"I foresee a demand for light beer, not quite as high in alcoholic content, as the beer of pre-prohibition days," he said.
"A straw-colored beer, with from 3.5 to 3.7 alcoholic content by weight, will be popular, in my opinion, with the younger generation of beer drinkers.
Predicts Big Demand
"People have been making liquor out of everything, from shoe polish to radiator alcohol. Naturally, when good beer comes back, it will be in demand and will make its own popularity. If it isn't taxed to death, it will find a market."
Gustav Fritz is the maker of one of Pittsburgh's best beers, labeled "Tech Beer." Under his guidance the first Tech was brewed, and it was he who first sampled it and pronounced it worthy.
Although Tech beer was his masterpiece, the story of "Gus" Fritz goes back long before he thought of being the originator of a best seller. It goes back, in fact, to Baden-Baden, Germany, where his boyhood was spent. His father died during the Franco-Prussian War. Boys in the family were apprenticed out to trades and "Gus" chose to be a brewer. He started in a lowly capacity; he washed kegs, weighed in barrels and worked in the malthouse.
Landed in U.S. with $30
Following the process of beer making from the cellar to the brew kettle, he completed his apprenticeship in two years. Then he traveled through Germany, working in some of the largest breweries. As his eighteenth birthday neared he came to America.
He had about $30 when he landed in New York. His first job was in Brooklyn. A year later he came to Pittsburgh and was given a job in the Frauenheim-Vilsack Brewery, which since has become the Iron City Company.
He worked in every department, became one of the most promising assistants, and was sent by the company to Wahl-Henius Academy in Chicago in 1892. A few months after his return he was made brewmaster of the plant.
His scholarly work at Wahl-Henius had taught him many things of scientific nature and had given him a formula for brewing a perfect bottled beer.
Although the company had put out bottled beer, they looked to him to brew a brand by which their name could be best known.
With selected raw materials, with yeast cultured in the plant, and with the skill of his academic education "Gus" Fritz started a brew. It aged six months before it was ready for bottling, Fritz recalls. In the meantime, various names had been submitted for it, since it was the first fancy beer the company had ventured. Finally, the name "Tech," with a Scotch plaid label, was chosen as the insignia.
Somewhere in the long forgotten lanes of memory, Fritz recalls that Carnegie Tech didn't like the idea of a beer labeled "Tech" but since the word stood alone without reference to any technical school, nothing could be done about it.
Parade Introduced Beer
A gala parade with horses and wagons, a band and much fanfare, marked the introduction of "Tech" beer.
Later the formula was amended when people complained that, although it was good, they could not drink much of it because it was "too strong." Brewmaster Fritz made it to suit the public taste.
At the height of his career as brewmaster, Gustav Fritz had 400 men employed under him. He recalls the bar in the center of the plant where his workmen were given their gallon of beer a day. Of course, the whole gallon was not dispensed at once; it was served in quart measures four times a day.
The bar, with a barkeeper installed behind it, was built so workmen would not be tempted to dip in their steins at any place where there was a spigot, Fritz explained.
There was a 120,000-barrel storage at the Iron City Brewery, with an average of 60,000 to 80,000 barrels stored there all the time. Contents of the 70,000 or some odd full barrels left when prohibition turned a nation dry, were dealcoholized for the making of near-beer.
Seeks to Prevent Misuse
Much as he wants beer to return, Gustav Fritz is anxious that its distributing be right. If it isn't, he fears the same conditions will arise that prompted the Eighteenth Amendment.
"If beer is used right instead of misused, it will be perfect for the nation," Fritz said. "Saloons, I believe, should be run on the same system as banks. In a bank one transacts business at the desk and when through, leaves. A saloon should be regulated so that customers will leave after drinking, instead of lingering in back rooms to sample additional glasses."
Gustav Fritz's home in Valencia, set in spacious acres, provides activity for him in his leisure years. He has a hive of bees and a kitchen garden that even this late in the year is thriving with greens. He has a cow, too. Frequently, Mrs. Fritz churns butter, so that the family of two, the braumeister and herself, have products from their own small farm for the table.
Yet, no matter how pleasant this country life may be, Fritz is impatient to be back at a brewery.
"It's like this," he said. "After a wagon has been in a rut a long time, it it is jerked from the rut abruptly, it overturns. Perhaps the same applies to me. I was in the business as brewmaster so long that I'll never be content at anything else. I hope I may go back into it."