Raise a glass tonight to Henry A. Ortlieb, friendly scion of Philadelphia’s beloved but defunct Ortlieb Brewing Co. The 56-year-old heir, who always dreamed of rebuilding his family’s famed Northern Liberties brewery, died suddenly over the Fourth of July holiday while deep-sea fishing off the coast of Costa Rica.
“He was a ball of energy who was always full of ideas,” said his wife, Susan. “Beer was in his blood. “
Ortlieb’s great-grandfather, Trupert, founded the brewery in 1869, and over the next century it grew into one of America’s biggest beer-makers, churning out a half-million barrels of suds a year.
As a child, Ortlieb worked with his father, capping bottles, pushing carts, loading kegs. The youngster even appeared in newspaper advertisements for the beer locals referred to as “Or’lips. “
Unable to compete against national brands like Budweiser and Miller, the giant brewery on North 3rd Street closed in the early ’80s. But a decade later, Ortlieb – who called himself “a frustrated brewmaster” – opened a trendy brew-pub called Poor Henry’s inside the brewery’s former bottling facility.
Though it was well-outfitted with state-of-the-art brewing equipment, the brew-pub was short-lived. Crowds never flocked to its obscure location amid abandoned warehouses in the city’s decayed industrial section.
More recently, though, Ortlieb made a comeback in the suburbs, reviving his brand at Ortlieb’s Brewery & Grill in Pottstown.
“Henry was always so tickled when people recognized the Ortlieb’s name,” his wife said. “It meant a lot to him. “
Indeed, though the original brewery is long gone, Philadelphians still remember the quirky radio commercials featuring Joe Ortlieb – Henry’s father’s cousin- who ran the brewery in its final years.
In addition to malt beverages, Ortlieb had a fondness for boats and planes. He was a licensed pilot, and he could frequently be found with a fishing line in his hand, especially in the vicinity of his home in Ocean City, N.J.
“He died a happy man, fishing, which he enjoyed,” said his wife.
An autopsy is pending, but the family said a heart attack is suspected.
He is survived by two sons, Trupert and Payne.
A memorial service will be held at 11:30 tomorrow morning at St. Thomas Church, Bethlehem Pike and Camp Hill Road, Fort Washington.