life and times
hiram who
places
birth of the auto
border cities
sports heritage
archives

Brewed in Windsor
The British American Brewery: 1882-1969

Researched and compiled by William Marentette CBS #194
This article originally appeared in the Canadian Brewerianist (C.B.); other articles of Bill’s appeared in Brewed in Canada, Brewed in Detroit and Breweriana Collector (N.A.B.A.)

The British American Brewery was Windsor’s oldest continuously operating brewery when it ceased operation in 1969. It was established in Windsor on the Detroit River’s south shore in 1882 by Louis Greisinger Jr. His father, Louis Sr., was a well known Detroit architect and contractor who built many notable structures in the Detroit area, including the Bernard Stroh Brewery (1850), Voight Brewing Co. (1866-1919), Phil Kling Brewing Co. (1863-1919), and the Jacob Mann Brewing Co. (1866-1889), which later became a branch of the Goebel Brewing Co. in 1889 and was acquired by the Stroh Brewing Co. in 1936.

After attending schools in the Detroit area, Louis Greisinger Jr. took a keen interest in the brewery business. He was employed by Kling and Jacob Mann Breweries for more than five years, then moved to the Christian Moerlein Brewery Co. (1853-1937). During his seven years at the latter brewery, he worked with William Gerst, the brewery foreman who received many gold medals for his bottled and draught beer. It is said that while working for the Moerlein firm, young Greisinger learned to brew what would become his trademark product, “Cincinnati Cream Lager.”

The British American Brewery was located at 115 Sandwich Street (Riverside Drive) at the corner of Bruce Avenue, and consisted of a frame house, with a summer porch that doubled as the shipping department. Greisinger lived in a small cottage opposite the brewery on the corner of Bruce Avenue with his sister Pauline, who was the fledgling companies’ bookkeeper.


Advertisement, 1925

The Grand Trunk Railroad was located a few blocks from the brewery and the Detroit River was literally at his front door, conduits for efficiently shipping his beer to market. After operating in inadequate quarters for three years, Louis Sr. designed and built a modern, four-storey gravity fed brewery on the same location, and provided financing, paid back by his son within three years.

With the opening of the expanded brewery, National Export Lager was introduced, and in 1887, his famous ”Cincinnati Cream,” along with Dublin Porter were introduced to market.

On May 24th, 1892, Windsor was incorporated as a city with a grand celebration. In less than a year, Albert Irion became a partner in the brewery, and a $12,000, 30 x 30 foot, four-storey high brew house with cellars was erected, which increased the capacity from 18,000 barrels a year to a potential of 40,000 barrels; a new wash-house and cooper shop was also built.

Over the next four years, many more improvements were implemented, including a 35 tonne Viter ice machine. More shipping options became available as the Michigan Central Railroad and Canadian Pacific were now operating within a few blocks of the company. The company was brewing 30,000 barrels annually.

In 1898, Louis Greisinger Jr. was forced to retire due to a serious injury suffered in a fall at the plant, but the brewery continued to operate under Irion’s supervision. On October 6, 1902 BA brewery founder Louis Greisinger Jr. died at his home on Ouellette Avenue and was buried in Woodmere Cemetery in his native city of Detroit. Greisinger was survived by his wife and three children.

The Greisinger name lived on in Windsor. One of his sons, Lt. Col. William, was Director of Sales at the nearby Walkerville Brewery and later purchased the Windsor Lumber Company, and operated it for many years. He was well known in local military and political circles, serving in the Ontario Legislature for several years as the Progressive Conservative member for Sandwich West.


1897, British American Brewery advertisement that appeared in the Windsor Record.

In 1903, the British American Brewery was incorporated for $90,000 with the following officers: President Albert Irion, Vice President; Head Brew Master W. R. Bonds (Mr. Bonds married one of Louis Greisinger sisters, and was a graduate of the Chicago Brewing Academy); and treasurer Miss Pauline Greisinger (Louis Greisinger’s sister.)

The brewery continued to flourish with its Cincinnati Cream Lager and Dublin Porte,r favoured by a discriminating beer drinking public.

“Business First” was Albert Irion’s motto. Irion was a passionate horse breeder and racer, and while a resident of Windsor, he maintained the finest stable of driving horses in the city.

By 1912, Albert Irion ws in complete control of the company, and brought in his sons, Louis and Raymond, to help run the day to day operations. They employed thirty-five workmen with annual production exceeding 20,000 barrels. Due to health problems, Irion moved to California, until his illness compelled him to return to his Detroit residence on Chicago Blvd., where he died on June 19, 1917. He, too, was buried in Woodmere Cemetery.

Following his death, his widow Ida became president of the British American Brewing Company with the other officers – W.R.Bonds and Pauline Greinsinger – remaining on the board. The plant’s management was carried out by her two sons, Louis and Raymond. Ida Irion remained as president for two years until production was curtailed due to Prohibition (read about Prohibition in the March, April and May 2003 issues or on the web @ walkervilletimes.com). She then turned control over to her son Louis.

The brewery survived Prohibition by producing 2.5% beer for local consumption, and a stronger beer for the export trade. The company also advertised heavily in the local newspapers from the 1900s and continued its aggressive marketing during Prohibition; thus the “Cincinnati” brand was constantly before the public.


British American Brewery truck in front of the C.N.E in Toronto, 1945. Photo courtesy Ottawa Archives

Like many alcoholic beverage concerns, during the twenties the company was in the export business. Prohibition was a great time for the British American Brewery, as thousands of B-13 Custom Export permits were issued, especially for their Cincinnati Cream Lager, with its export label on the bottle.

Even with the introduction of the Ottawa-Washington anti-smuggling pact, which limited liquor “exports” and closed many export docks in the border cities, beer business was brisk. By 1925, with the introduction of 4.4% beer and large exports shipments still thriving, the company announced a $150,000 addition to the plant, consisting of a three-storey brick and steel building built in the yard surrounding the existing buildings, which increased the breweries’ capacity by 25 per cent. All storage rooms were built of steel and concrete and the glass-lined tanks featured storage for 25,000 barrels.

The company’s prime location on the Detroit River and the border region – one of the busiest beer and liquor export ports in Ontario – was good news for local breweries. The Bermuda Export Company Ltd., one of the many exporting companies operating during the 20s, was managed by C. F. Clapp of the British American Brewery, with the following docks listed in the 1927 telephone directory under Bermuda Export Co.: LaSalle Dock No. 1, Turkey Creek; LaSalle Dock No. 2, LaSalle; Brighton Beach Dock, McKee Road Sandwich West; all docks were located on the Detroit River within easy driving distance from the brewery.

In April 1928, “real beer” became legal in Ontario once again, and the British American Brewery obtained a permit to erect an $80,000, three-storey ale storage plant to age and store its recently introduced brands “Black Pirate Ale” and “British Ale.”

That same year, the Irions attempted to divest their holdings and established a stock company through Detroit brokers John Giesel & Company. The capital structure of the company consisted of 100,000 “Class A” shares and 100,000 “Class B” shares. The buildings and machinery had an estimated book value in excess of $600,000, a land value of $200,000, while the trademark for Cincinnati Cream was valued at $500,000. This stock offer failed and the Irions took back the company one year later.

Following the stock market collapse of October 1929, the brewery was operating at only one third of its capacity (over one million gallons a year by 1930), and beer consumption leveled off across Ontario. At this time, the Irions sought a buyer for their brewery. Edward Plunket Taylor proposed a deal between the Irions and his newly formed Brewing Corporation of Ontario.


In 1942 the brewery, located at 115 Sandwich Street (now Riverside Drive) at the corner of Bruce Avenue, expanded east along Sandwish Street and around the corner along River Street to Pitt Street on the south side, making it one square block in size. Now part of a vacant lot, the land is the site of the proposed Western Super Anchor (new arena).

The Brewing Corporation of Ontario, incorporated in March 1930 when Taylor merged the Bradings Breweries Limited of Ottawa and the Kuntz Brewery in Waterloo, offered the Irions $200,000 cash and a controlling interest in the company, with the outstanding shares owned by the general public. Mr. Walsh of the firm Walsh Advertising, acting on behalf of the Brewing Corporation of Ontario, bought up enough shares to give the corporation absolute control of the British American Brewing Co. Minority shareholders could exchange their BA shares for shares of Brewing Corporation of Ontario.

With the Irions no longer associated with the company, the board appointed new directors, Charles King, president; Cecil Clapp, vice-president (General Manager); and W. Chester Butler. During Prohibition Mr. Clapp was manager of the Bermuda Export Co., which operated five export docks along the Detroit River. The Bermuda Export Co was founded by eleven Ontario brewers to control the price and export of beer south of the border. Mr. Taylor was elected vice-president the following year.

When the British American Brewing Company changed owners, the company was brewing Cincinnati Cream along with a Heavy Munchener beer, and a line of ale and stout sold in government stores or at the brewery for $3.20 for two dozen small bottles. By 1934, beverage rooms were finally legalized in hotels, further boosting demqnd for the local breweries’ products.

The next year, the Brewing Corporation of Ontario purchased all securities and collateral of the Riverside Brewing Corporation (located on the east side of Windsor, and a competitor of British American) held by a local bank and immediately sold all its assets and closed the plant. The majority of Riverside’s business was picked up by the British American Brewery. On April 21, 1937, the Brewing Corporation of Ontario changed its name to Canadian Breweries Limited.

In May 1938, the BA brewery continued to expand with a two-storey addition at a cost of over $65,000, being only a fraction of ambitious construction plans. Two years later, British American added new fermentation and storage cellars with a capacity of 43,000 gallons, and new modern office quarters were built, doubling the floor space, at a cost of $100,000. A fleet of modern streamlined vans was added both for local and long distance deliveries. All BA transport drivers were competent to render help and first aid to anyone on the road in distress.

Managing Director Clapp claimed a higher rate was paid to its employees than at any other brewery in Ontario. Each employee received health and sickness benefits, and anyone reaching the age of 65 retired on a company pension, based on wages or salaries earned during their working years.

In 1942, the brewery celebrated its Diamond Jubilee. As a prominent landmark in downtown Windsor, the company had steadily expanded from humble roots as awareness of its brands widened.

The BA brewery, now five stories high, had expanded east along Sandwich Street and around the corner along River Street to Pitt Street on the south side, west to Bruce Avenue, and north to Sandwich Street, making it one giant square block in size. During the thirties, the company erected a giant electric sign spelling out its name and brands across the entire width of the building, creating an imposing neon-lit ad facing the city of Detroit; British American had become one of Ontario’s major brewing concerns.

In 1943, during WWII, beer rationing was re-introduced in Ontario and the brewery struggled yet again. The Windsor area was flooded with a huge wave of migrants who flocked to the area seeking employment in the war factories. Breweries were only able to produce a percentage of its previous year’s production. Hotels and taverns slashed hours of business due to booze shortages.

When Charles E. Henri, a BA manager with 33 years of service retired in 1945, he was succeeded by Anthony F. Fuerth, a former manager of Industrial Relations at Chrysler Corporation Windsor.

In December 1946, Louis Irion, now manager at Carling Breweries (Walkerville Division), and former president of British American Brewery, wrote a letter to the editor of “The Sheaf,” the Canadian Breweries employees’ newspaper, pertaining to the motto “Who Wants the Handsome Waiter?” which adorned all Cincinnati Cream Labels and trays for many years:

“In the year 1913, when my brother and myself had a controlling interest at British American Brewery, Raymond received a calendar from the States with a picture of the “Handsome Waiter” on same. He was very much impressed and suggested that it might be a good idea to bring out a new serving tray for the trade using the “Handsome Waiter” as a motif. We had a firm in the United States make these trays up for us and they made an instantaneous hit.

Later on when we were in the export business, we found that many people in the United States were faking Canadian labels so we decided to bring out a new label.

I decided that we would have to change the shape of our label and instructed our lithographers to put as many colours as was possible to make the label hard to duplicate, and the label used today by the British American Brewery is practically the same label that we brought out in 1921.

It is quite true that a certain party in Windsor threatened to start suit because he thought that we were using his likeness on our labels but I can assure you he was not used as model for our label as it was taken from a cut we had used on our serving trays.”

In 1950, Canadian Breweries Limited merged its British American Brewery with Bradings Brewery of Ottawa (another C.B.L. owned brewery) and changed the name to Brading’s Cincinnati Cream Brewery.

Bradings marketed the same label as British American Brewery on its Cincinnati Cream Lager and added the words “BRADINGS,” printed above the band spelling out Cincinnati Cream. British Special Ale was dropped, replaced by Brading’s Old Stock Ale.


Top: Evolving Cinci label and can designs
Bottom: local advertisement for Cincinnati Cream (1922 )
next to a more modern 1963 Cinci ad

Brading’s Cincinnati Cream Brewery undertook extensive renovations and remodelling in 1954 and 1955 at the former British American plant, doubling its capacity, including a new three-storey fermentation building, administration building and a two-storey bottling and shipping building, with an area of 54,000 square feet, at a cost of over $3,000,000. Across the street from the plant, at the corner of Bruce and Riverside Drive, a retail store was built with increased parking facilities. River Street was closed and a new bottling plant extended to Church Street on the east side.

For years, the brewery offered a full line of brewing products, but by 1955 it was devoted solely to making Brading’s Cincinnati Cream Lager, at a rate of 12,000 gallons every eight hour shift!

The previous year, Brading’s purchased the assets of Pellers Brewing Co. Ltd., Hamilton and began bottling Cincinnati Cream along with other Brading’s brands. The Cincinnati label was updated to a somewhat more modern design upon winning first prize for Canadian Lager in Paris, France in 1953. Then, Brading’s redesigned the Cincinnati label once again, replacing a detailed handsome waiter with a silhouette and the words Brading’s Cinci in large red letters; it no longer resembled the label of the twenties.


Cincinnati Cream Ale is promoted as a City of Windsor bus crosses the international border in the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel

Brading’s was truly one of Windsor’s flourishing industries, with heavy investments and construction, and with its “Cincinnati Cream,” a trade mark in the brewing industry, it appeared Canadian Breweries’ future in Windsor was secure. Quite an accomplishment for a company that had its beginnings in Windsor twenty-two years before Henry Ford founded an auto industry here!

Brading’s fleet of 65 specially-designed trucks and vans moved its finished products to domestic markets, while large shipments quantities were exported overseas and to the United States.

After only six years producing the Brading’s brands, on September 13, 1956, Canadian Breweries Limited announced a consolidation its subsidiary companies. Carling Breweries Limited purchased the plant and equipment of Brading’s Breweries Limited Windsor. Brading’s company in Ottawa became an O’Keefe plant. Two other Canadian Breweries plants in the Windsor area were affected with by this announcement: O’Keefe’s Old Vienna Brewery’s line (the former Walkerville Brewery) was moved to Toronto; and the Carling Brewery (the former Old Comrades Brewery), in nearby Tecumseh was absorbed by the Brading’s Windsor plant, operating under the name of Carling Breweries Limited.

Production at the Carling (Tecumseh) plant in 1956 was 50,000 barrels annually, while the Brading’s Windsor plant produced 250,000 barrels; the integrated Windsor Carling facility operated at a top capacity of 300,000 barrels annually. Carling continued to market the Brading labels and Cincinnati Cream became Carlings Cinci, with the full name “Cincinnati Cream” spelled out on the neck band.

Many employees affected by the plant closures and were absorbed into Carlings’ Windsor plant; a severance package was offered to those who didn’t transfer.

By 1957, the Windsor plant was shipping Carling’s products to five American states and to the West Indies. The plant had 220 employees working two shifts year-round, except for a two-week maintenance shut down, with a payroll of over $80,000 per month.

With the introduction of the compact amber bottle, or the “stubby” in 1962, the bottling line at the Windsor plant was moved to a huge new Canadian Breweries plant near the 401 Freeway in Toronto.

In 1968, the shares of Canadian Breweries Limited, held by the Argus Corporation Limited were sold to Rothmans/Pall Mall for $28.8 million.

In 1969, the new owners announced the closure of the Windsor brewery; after eighty-seven years of brewing at the same location, the taps were turned off. Employees were offered transfers to other Canadian Breweries plants or retirement, while others found employment elsewhere.

Still, the old brewery was not quite ready to give up the ghost; Frank Wansborough, Windsor’s mayor in 1973, proposed converting the old brewery into a new home for Windsor’s Art Gallery.

At that time, the art gallery was located in Willistead Manor, the estate home of whisky baron Hiram Walker’s son E. Chandler Walker. After lengthy negotiations with Carlings, the city’s offer of $350,000 was accepted.

The breweries’ warehouse and shipping buildings were deemed ideal for an art gallery, as they had few windows, were solid, secure structures of reinforced concrete and steel, and less than twenty years old. All buildings but these two sections were demolished in 1974 and the Art Gallery of Windsor moved into the 56,000 square foot site in late 1975.

In 1994, the old brewery found a new tenant when the Art Gallery of Windsor leased its building to the Ontario Casino Corporation for use as Casino Windsor; the Art Gallery of Windsor moved into Devonshire Mall. “From brewing suds to slot machines,” noted Frank Wansborough at the time.

Casino Windsor opened its doors in the old brewery on May 14, 1994, while a high-rise condominium rose in the parking lot adjacent to the historic site– where one hundred and twelve years earlier Louis Greisinger founded his small brewery, and built his home in 1882.

And what became our cities’ famous Cincinnati Cream? After relocating to Toronto, Carling Breweries Ltd. changed its name to Carling O’Keefe Breweries and redesigned a new label using the abbreviated form “CINCI” and the slogan “Enjoyed by Canadians Since 1882.”During the seventies, Carling O’Keefe adopted a new marketing scheme, introducing new brands including Carlsberg, Trilight, etc., and dropped the “Cinci” brand.

In 1985, the O’Keefe Brewery in British Columbia relaunched “Cincinnati Cream” to Americans, employing a label somewhat like the original with the “Handsome Waiter” motto and “Original Since 1882” on the label.

Ironically, Windsor residents were unable to purchase this favoured local brand in beer stores due to Provincial barriers in place at that time; it was, however, available in the Detroit market. Savvy Windsor consumers could buy their favourite oldtime drink in Detroit taverns and stores, but not in local bars or retail outlets. The “new” Cinci’s relaunch was unsuccessful, as it was only on the market for a short time before it was dropped. Apparently, it was popular in the Michigan area but in other markets, it was not recognized as an old time beer.

Perhaps, if it’s ever reintroduced, someone should try returning the famous “Cincinnati Cream” to its place of origin, Windsor, Ontario.

Bill Marentette wrote about the origins of The Walkerville Brewing Company in Issue #11 (November 2000). Click here to read this facsinating story!

Click here to go back to the home page.


 

 

©1999-2014— Walkerville Publishing — All Rights Reserved