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From the Files of the Lassen Historical Society: Joachim Kroeger and The Susanville Brewery

Thursday, June 10th, 2021

The Susanville Brewery can just be seen at the far left side of this picture of snowy Susanville in the early 1920’s

by Susan Couso

As news of the California Gold Rush surged around the globe immigration increased dramatically, and California was the place to make a fortune. The fortune-seekers soon learned that mining was difficult work, and a trip to the closest saloon was welcome relief.

Probably more money was spent on liquid refreshment than anything else. Many of these ’49ers’ had come from European countries where a good dark lager was the drink of norm. But, in California, without the usual means to cool the brew, lager could not be properly made.

Ingenuity never ceases, and from the desire to recreate the European-style lager, ‘California common’ or ‘steam’ beer was created. It was made with lager yeast and various other ingredients, whatever was available, and the process was changed so that it did not require extreme cooling.

Malted barley and wheat were used for ‘normal’ brewing, but that was not generally available to the California brewers. They substituted grits and cereals, and the other additives were adjusted to create the new beer style.

The reason for the name ‘steam’ beer is not known for sure, but some sources say that the German word for a beer made from various found ingredients was called, “dampfbier”, and these German brewers, who came to the U.S. used that term.

‘Dampf’, in German, means ‘steam.’ And so, the dark fruity steam beer became a part of the West. It is said to be the only true indigenous beer style in the United States.

Joachim Kroeger was one of these German brewers who began brewing in Susanville in 1905. Kroeger was born in Germany about 1863 and emigrated to the United States in 1882.

He had brewed in many other U.S. cities, before trying his luck in Lassen County. He is credited for brewing from New York to San Francisco’s Cliff House, learning how to brew the most perfect beer as he traveled.

Once here, he established the Susanville Brewery at the northeast corner of Main and Union Streets and began using his big copper kettles to turn hops and malt and grains into one of the best steam beers around. Three times a week, he would stir up a new batch of the dark foamy liquid and set it out for his customers.

In 1912, the brewery business was booming. Kroeger had filled a need and his business had become a success. He used his gains to build a stone beer hall just to the east of his brewery. Here, he could sell his beer to his own customers and not send it out to other establishments.

The hall was built in the true German style with large tables and big comfortable chairs and decorated as a German beer hall should be. But, of course, the best feature was the beer. It was a booming place.

The railroad reached Susanville in 1913, and brought in a new onslaught of customers, including the railroad workers themselves. Travelers, staying at the new St. Francis Hotel across Main Street, frequented the hall, locals halted there for a refreshing drink and businessmen stopped at the beer hall for lunch and stayed for ‘way too long.’ It was an extremely popular establishment.

Joachim Kroeger would have probably settled in Susanville, enjoyed his thriving business, and became a well-known name, but that darned Prohibition reared its ugly head in 1920, and set everything askew.

As the beer business faltered, the hall was used to sell ‘soft drinks’, but alas, beer was Kroeger’s game, and he moved on.

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