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Breweries of Latah County

We are gearing up for our Brews & BBQ event and thought we would tempt all our friends with just a little taste of Herman Ronnenberg’s scholarship in today’s blog.  If only there were a way to share beer over the internet… Below is an excerpt from Ronnenberg’s article “Juliaetta, Genesee, Moscow — The Breweries of Latah County,” originally printed in the Latah County Historical Society Quarterly no.2, v.8 (Spring 1979). 

“In the 1860s to 90s one of the prime marks of a town’s success was having its own brewery. Three Latah County towns, Juliaetta, Genesee, Moscow, enjoyed this distinction. Brewing in those days was an important local industry for many reasons. It provided a market for local barley and hops, and a source of employment for local people. The majority of brewers were German immigrants who were thus aided in entering the mainstream of American business. Breweries all had ice houses and generally were the source of the town’s summer ice supply. They stimulated progress by being early users of electricity and telephone service, also.

“Although they were never attacked as vigorously as the saloons, the brewers were opposed by temperance forces for being part of the liquor establishment. The success of those ‘dry’ forces caused the demise of the breweries.

“The material existing on the three breweries varies greatly in quantity, and the length of the treatment of each brewery is a reflection of that variation.

JULIAETTA BREWERY

“Research on the Juliaetta Brewery has not produced much information. The plant is shown on three editions of the Juliaetta City Fire Insurance map in the University of Idaho Special Collections; one advertisement for the brewery in the Moscow Mirror on January 1, 1892 (p.7, c.5) is known; and it is listed in the Register of United States Breweries which tends to have numerous errors.

“As well as can be determined, the brewery opened late in 1891 under the proprietorship of Deetson and Wartemburg and was called the Juliaetta Brewing Company. The brewery was at the corner of Water and Third Streets its entire history. In 1895 Diamond Howarth was the proprietor and it was known as the Milwaukee Brewing Company. In 1896, the owner was listed as Jacob Howarth and it was again called the Juliaetta Brewing Company.

“By 1900, the name Milwaukee Brewery was back and Nisser and McGlynn were the operators. In 1903 Albert Wisser rand the brewery and in 1904 Chris Berner is known to have been the owner. The 1909 city map lists the brewery as ‘no longer in operation.’ Apparently it was a small operation with the plant about fifty feet square and with an attached ice house. In all probability beer was not shipped further than Kendrick and such adjacent areas.

GENESEE BREWERY

“Early in 1889 Joseph Geiger and Matt Kambitch began their long association as brewers in Genesee, Idaho. The brewery on the corner of Chestnut and Tammarack Streets featured a saloon on the front of the building facing Chestnut Street. Apparently the brewery never produced large quantities of beer. The fire insurance map of Genesee for 1893 says the brewery could produce seven barrels per brew.

“The Genesee Newsof May 11, 1894 (p.5, c.1) contained a brief history of the brewery in its special issue to promote the town.

Geiger and Kambitch are the managers of the institution which is operated in a first class quite manner. The brewery was established in 1889 and has always enjoyed a good reputation. The quality of the beer made is pure, wholesome and healthy and wherever sold bears a good name. Each member of this firm has a good residence in our midst.

“Very little about the brewery appears in the Genesee newspapers of these years. In 1892 there was a story that Matt Kambitch came up smiling with an eleven pound boy, born October 22.

In 1893 the Star Saloon in Genesee was owned by Geiger and Gesellche, with Gesellche becoming the sole proprietor in a few months. The Geiger here may well have been the brewery owner but that is not certain.

“The competition between beers was always strong in Genesee. Moscow beer was sold there for years and in 1893 when the newly enlarged Moscow brewery went bankrupt, Spokane’s brewers entered the competition. A letter in the brewery archives at Washington State University says the new York Brewery of Spokane entered the marketing areas of Genesee, Vollmer and Uniontown in 1893 when the Moscow Brewery closed.

“Out-of-state brewers from St. Louis and Milwaukee also competed successfully in the Northwest in the early 1890s thanks to the new railroad networks. The Silver Safe Saloon in Genesee advertised Moscow keg beer at 75 cents per keg and St. Louis bottled beer at $10 per barrel in September of 1892. Bottled beer was sold by the barrel in those days because barrels were a convenient packaging device.

“Apparently in 1902 Joseph Geiger became the sole proprietor of the brewery. By 1908 bottled beer was being produced there. An advertisement in the Genesee News of February 21, 1908 (p.4, c.1) was for ‘Gold Drop Beer, a Genesee Product, manufactured by the Genesee Brewery.’

“As local option loomed, one Paul Rech took over the brewery and announced his intention to sell ‘maltine’ a beverage containing less than 2% alcohol. This apparently was not successful.

In the middle of April of 1909, the county liquor license for the Genesee Brewery was denied. The Latah County Commissioners had decided to make the county dry by administrative directive instead of democratic process. All liquor licenses were routinely denied in 1909.

“In July of 1909 this ad appeared in the Genesee News:

The last chance to get your harvest wet goods, threshers buy your ginger brandy now. Everything must be sold by 12 o’clock Saturday night when the town will go dry. Near beer will be the next best. All goods reduced. Next week you will find me at the old stand selling soft drinks, tobacco and cigars. – O. O’Reilly

“A week later the same paper said Genesee was ‘dry’ with the expiration of O. O’Reilly’s liquor license. Only two saloons were still in operation in Latah County (Princeton and Kendrick), with now breweries operating.

“Genesee apparently never took the dry movement very seriously. The paper contained a number of funny stories about the movement. The Genesee News (September 24, 1909, p.3, c.3) ran the following story from Grangeville which sums up their attitude:

A very ardent prohibitionist had a great deal of local option literature stored away in a barn. During his absence on a lecturing tour the herd of cows became hungry during the absence of the owner, broke into the shed and ate a lot of the literature and when the owner returned every cow he owned had gone ‘dry.’ “

To learn about Moscow’s breweries, find the rest of the article here on our website.

We hope to see you at Brews & BBQ on Saturday!


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© 2020 by the Latah County Historical Society.

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