WHEN LAST WE heard from Hohenadel Brewery, the 19th-century East Falls landmark was wincing under the weight of a wrecking ball.
It was 1997. Just one look at the stubborn but crumbling brick structure at Conrad Street and Indian Queen Lane told you it was time to pull the plug. The brewery that once proclaimed its “Well Earned Supremacy” could only sigh as it joined the likes of Gretz and Esslinger and Erlanger in the great Philadelphia pile of brewery dust.
Indian Queen Ale . . . Rival Porter . . . Trilby Export – the brands that Hohenadel brewed till it closed in 1952 were gone and mostly forgotten.
“I doubt very many locals even know a brewery stood there,” Steve Fillmore, president of the East Falls Historical Society, said of the lot where a dozen town houses are being built, just across the street from Billy Murphy’s Irish Saloon.
Yet, in one of those lovely turn of events that spark a bit of fun in Philadelphia, old Hohenadel is making a quirky, albeit temporary, comeback.
On Saturday, the type of beer that Hohenadel would’ve brewed before Prohibition – let’s call it East Falls Lager – will be poured at an open house in the former grand villa where the brewery family once lived.
It’s part of a “thank you” celebration thrown by the East Falls Historical Society in honor of the ongoing rehabilitation of the old beer baron’s mansion at 3617 Indian Queen Lane.
Vacant for years, occupied on occasion by squatters and defaced by graffiti, the house seemed headed for the same fate as the brewery. It was saved because a family of Oklahoma transplants navigated the city’s nightmarish zoning laws and landed a loan to pay for renovations.
That family – Felicite Moorman, her husband Sean Hawley and three kids – knew nothing of the mansion’s lineage. The place had only caught Moorman’s eye because it was near her tech company’s offices in the Masons’ Building at Ridge and Midvale avenues.
“Every day, I’d walk around the neighborhood, looking for a home for my family,” Moorman said. “Then this property comes on the market, and I fell in love with it immediately. “
It took nine months to secure the loan and rezoning, Moorman said. In March, the extensive repairs began.
“There were no light fixtures, there wasn’t even a ceiling,” she said. “It was insane to even start the project. I think people still think I’m a little crazy . . . but I’d just say, ‘Look at the woodwork, look at the stained glass. ‘ “
Moorman and Hawley learned after hours of online research that the home’s most notable owner had been John Hohenadel, the son of a German immigrant who had opened the brewery in 1875. The house was probably built around 1860, she said.
Hohenadel was not unlike the dozens of other small German breweries that dotted the city in the last half of the 19th century. Well-known locally, it never reached the national scale of Schmidt’s or even Brewerytown’s famous Poth facility. At its height just before Prohibition, it reached perhaps 30,000 barrels, about the size of Yards Brewery.
Unfortunately no production records or recipes remain, only advertising memorabilia.
But when the historical society sought to re-create the brewery’s old-time lager, it found the perfect guy: local homebrewer Tom Coughlin, who specializes in historic re-creations of pre-Prohibition ales and lagers. With a bit of detective work, Coughlin, working with former Dock Street brewer Lou Farrell, determined that Hohenadel had learned the brewing trade at the side of one of the city’s most famous beer barons, Louis Bergdoll.
“We guessed that Hohenadel would’ve secured his malt from the same fields in New York where Bergdoll got his,” Coughlin said. “So that’s where we got ours. “
Importantly, their recipe includes about 30 percent cooked yellow corn, commonly used by German immigrant brewers to compensate for the poor-quality barley available in the late 1800s.
Coughlin added Cluster hops, the type that would’ve been grown in upstate New York before blight forced the American hops industry to the Pacific Northwest.
And he cooked it all in water treated with mineral salts to imitate early 20th-century Philadelphia’s notorious hard water.
The result: a crisp, very light-bodied lager that I thought mimicked today’s Coors Banquet.
“I think the beer is a good representation of Hohenadel’s first day of operation,” Coughlin said. “Over time, he would’ve figured out how to build up the beer into something better. “
No one has tasted the real thing for more than 60 years, so who’s to argue?
Raise a glass
Try it for yourself on Saturday from 6 to 8 p.m. with a “sip back” in time at the Hohenadel House. The party features a pop-up museum of regional artifacts and breweriana, period-appropriate furniture staging, live entertainment by the Big Band-era’s Harry Prime, a cocktail menu, wine, cider and complimentary glasses of Coughlin’s reproduction.
Tickets are $40, available at the Epicure Cafe (Bowman and Conrad streets) or online at EastFallsHistoricalSociety.com.