Once Upon a Time

Casper Ruff was first to brew lager beer

Posted: Jul. 2, 2017 12:01 am Updated: Jul. 3, 2017 2:05 pm

A group of glass plate negatives that had been taken by landscape photographer John Sanftleben were given to the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County a few years ago. Among the photos were a few images of Quincy breweries from the 1870's. One of the photos is likely an early image of the brewery located at 12th and Adams that was owned by Casper Ruff. This photo shows buildings that were not at right angles with each other and Sanborn insurance maps of the eighteen hundreds show that only the Ruff brewery consisted of buildings that were not at right angles.

Casper Ruff was born in 1806 in Weiler, Alsace, on the French-German border. There at an early age he apprenticed as a blacksmith. In 1837, he along with his father and the rest of the family migrated to America.

In July of that year, they arrived in Quincy, and soon Casper was able to find a location on the southwest corner of Sixth and State to set up a blacksmith shop and resume his profession.

Around 1840 he built a brewery across the street on the southeast corner. He named it the Washington Brewery. At first, he operated the brewery in partnership with William Gasser; later with Theodore Brinkwirth as his partner.

Business was gradual at first, but after a few years it improved to such an extent that between 1852 and 1854 he began the process of moving his brewing venture to 12th and Adams. This location he named Union Brewery. It was south of the property owned by J. Nelsch known as Union Spring Garden. They both owned their respective plots of land since the early 1850's.

They procured the land to take advantage of the cold clear water from the natural springs that the property offered. The naturally chilled water with the addition of man-made "caves" or cellars would be a perfect venue for the manufacture of a newer style of German beer called lager that was cascading over the country with the waves of German immigration.

It had been introduced In St. Louis by Adam Lemp around 1840. Lager was required to rest in a cool cellar for four to six months before being consumed, and these caves would provide the natural refrigeration necessary to complete the manufacturing process.

Brewing in Quincy was originally just a cottage industry with small primitive utensils producing small output. Before 1855, most of the early brewers like Anton Delabar and Casper Ruff, brewed ale or porter, which was fermented with the yeast from the top down. This process could be completed for consumption in about two weeks. But starting with Ruff's second brewery he and most other brewers soon thereafter started brewing lager beer. Lager was fermented with the yeast from the bottom up and required longer cold storage. This process gave the beer a smoother, more flavorful taste.

Casper began the manufacture of lager by 1855 at his new location using a primitive seven-barrel kettle. This small vessel would likely produce only a hundred barrels a year. His neighbor to the north, John Nelsch, used his property beginning as early as 1852 for a beer garden naming it Union Spring Garden. Nelsch had been a saloon-keeper on Hampshire Street for many years so he had a reputation for hospitality which along with Ruff's new lager beer, together served to make the two establishments a destination for amusement and refreshment.

On Feb. 1, 1856, Anton Delabar leased one of the three buildings in his Front Street brewery to the new railroad. At roughly the same time he entered into an agreement to become the proprietor of the Union Spring Garden. Nelsch remained the owner of record until at least 1858, but Delabar is listed as having paid the taxes so the agreement was probably a contract to purchase the property.

While Nelsch from the beginning had developed the garden as a resort of considerable size, it was Delabar who took the property to a new height of reputation. Nelsch in 1852 suffered a loss from a fire, and the value given in the newspaper was $2,000 for the building and $1,000 for furnishings and inventory. Delabar in 1859 was frequently the subject of newspaper articles about the Sunday amusements at his garden. As many as 600 to 1,000 people were reported attending one of these Sunday events to listen to brass band music while they danced and enjoyed lager from early afternoon until late evening.

Delabar had likely started producing lager at the Union Springs location by at least May of 1856 soon after Ruff began producing his lager with his small kettle.

In May 1859, a newspaper reported that a brewer had informed them that 1,000 kegs (250 barrels) of lager had been sold in the city on one of the Sunday events that took place early that month at Union Spring Garden and a few other beer gardens. By 1859, other brewers like Dick Brothers and the Bluff Brewery joined Ruff and Delabar in producing the new style of beer. Lager in Quincy that began with Ruff in 1855 producing maybe 100 barrels a year was now at 250 barrels consumed in just one day only four years later.

The Ruff Brewery prospered for many years after the introduction of lager beer. Casper retired by 1864 and his sons John and Casper Jr. took over the company. Casper Sr. died in 1873, and the management of the firm was continued by John and Casper Jr. until John's death in 1880.

Then John's son William joined his uncle Casper in operation of the firm. The brewery became a corporation in 1882 and improvements increased the capacity to 10,000 barrels a year. Casper Jr. died in 1906 and William continued operation of the company into prohibition until his death in 1925. During prohibition they made near-beer and ice cream. When prohibition ended, William's son Edgar reopened the brewery until competition forced its closure in 1948.

Dave Dulaney is a local historian and a member of several history-related organizations. He is a speaker, author and a collector of memorabilia pertaining to local history, steamboats and breweries.

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