Some know it as Motown. To some, it’ll always be Motor City. For us, it’s where it all began.
Our history in this town goes back to 1889. Pfeiffer’s Famous Beer was a staple prop in blue-collar, Midwest leisure. If you grew up in the ‘60s in Detroit, it was probably your first beer. A city known just as much for resurrections as beginnings, Detroit is a town that teaches you how to roll with the punches, then respond with a knockout right hook. We’re comeback kids from the “City of Reinvention”, and we’re bringing back Pfeiffer’s for a new generation.
Conrad Pfeiffer immigrated from Germany to America in 1871, when he was seventeen. It was less than a decade after the end of the Civil War. Industrialization was fueling a growing economy in the North and West. There was money to be made, and the labor force immigrating from beer-drinking countries like Britain, Ireland and Germany longed for their favorite liquid pastime. It was the perfect time for beer to become America’s favorite after-hour drink. The introduction of artificial refrigeration and pasteurization allowed beermakers to brew year-round, and extended shelf life for further transport.
Conrad Pfeiffer established C. Pfeiffer Brewing Company in 1889 and started brewing beer in 1892. He produced a Wurzburger beer, an export beer, and a traditional lager called Pfeiffer’s Famous Beer. It was a wage-friendly, Old World beer for the steadfast workforce building a 20th Century America. Business was good, and Conrad Pfeiffer bought a Detroit city block with a rail line running down the middle of it, ready to usher his beer to the city beyond. On the site, he built what could only be described as a blue collar castle. In it he brewed and bottled “the flavor millions favor,” as one can touted.
In the early 1900s the original brewhouse was replaced with a new brick deco building, which still stands today. In 1910, brewing became one of the leading manufacturing industries in America. The Temperance movement’s crusade culminated in industry-shaking events. The sale or manufacturing of intoxicants was banned in Michigan after January 1, 1917, and Pfeiffer was forced to stop production. America was a dry nation on January 1, 1920. A little more than a decade later, the “great experiment” soured into a great regret. By 1934, Prohibition fell off the wagon. Pfeiffer Brewing Company was resurrected under a new team of investors. They were at the top of the keg pile, as one of the leading producers of beer in Detroit alongside Schmidt’s and Stroh’s.
Pfeiffer Goes to War
Pfeiffer shipped out to war in the 1940s, supplying our Joe’s in Europe with mascot Johnny Fifer’s taste of home. The olive drab cans read, “Pfeiffer's famous beer follows you around the world in this special overseas can.” The “old time favorite” remained the nostalgic beer of choice when vets returned back to civy life after 1945. Mascot Johnny Fifer (Designed by the Walt Disney Studios) continued to be a centerpiece of Pfeiffer’s cans as well.
The Great Shakedown
Life for breweries was dog eat dog in 1947. Across the next decade, 185 breweries closed or were bought by larger companies in what was called “The Great Shakedown”. Pfeiffer Brewing Company more than survived the tough period, buying Kling Brewery of Flint and Jacob Schmidt Brewing Company. Pfeiffer was the best-selling brand of beer in Michigan during the 1950s.
Pfeiffer's Bought by Stroh
A Detroit brewery worker’s strike in 1958 began to derail Pfeiffer’s success, and out of state breweries gained an advantage in the local market. Pfeiffer decided to become a regional brewery to compete. It renamed as Associated Brewing Company, buying breweries across Indiana, Illinois, New York and Massachusetts. It became the tenth largest brewery in the United States. Acquisitions debt and the competition of heavyweight national brands like Budweiser, Miller’s, and Pabst began to take a toll on Pfeiffer. The company closed the Detroit Pfeiffer Brewery in 1966, moving brewing to Indiana to try and cut costs. In 1972 the Pfeiffer Brewing name was purchased by Heilman Brewing Company, which was then purchased by Stroh Brewing Company in 1996. The Pfeiffer name and beer legacy slipped out of mainstream and became a shadow of yesteryear.
Out of the Ashes
“Speramus meliora; resurgent cineribus.” Detroit’s city motto loosely means, “We hope for better things; it shall arise from the ashes.” As Detroiters, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re resurrecting the tradition of Conrad Pfeiffer’s German-style lagers and time-honored brewing techniques for a new generation building 21st Century America. In 2018, Joe Pfeiffer acquired the rights to the Pfeiffer’s Famous name, with plans to reintroduce the nostalgic beer brand and it’s century-old recipes in 2018. While not a direct relative to the original founder of Pfeiffer’s, Joe takes up the banner of Pfeiffer brewing in honor of his own father who drank Pfeiffer’s while watching Tiger’s games and fishing for walleye.