At one point I tried to research where the East Bay’s breweries were located before prohibition. It turns out historical research is real work. It also turns out it’s hard to trace 100-year-old businesses, even with all the rad old phone books in the Oakland library history room — many street addresses have changed, moved, or no longer exist. Librarians and historical societies look at you funny, too.
Still, my intrepid photographer/beer writer friend Eric and I wanted to get a taste of where the East Bay’s brewing past once lived. He had the camera and I had the notebook. Sometimes, records had been kind and there was only one place the brewery could have been — the address lined up, we got there, we knew. Due to the aforementioned cartographic tomfoolery, sometimes we had it narrowed down to one of four corners, consulted our guts, and took a guess.
It was a cool tour of parts of the East Bay we don’t usually get to. It also made me sad. And a little angry. I put off this post for too long, partially because I’m lazy but partially because I knew I’d get worked up.
The old breweries have been replaced by a variety of other commerce and I’m not sorry it’s there. And of course, new breweries (not many and not enough) have sprung up since. But Eric and I got a little wistful pounding pavement in economically depressed/divided areas that used to create both local beer and decent jobs.
What would it be like if we could do that again? What if working at a brewery was a commonplace blue-collar job that you could raise a family on, like how our grandfathers used to put together cars and clothes? What if brewery work wasn’t dominated by middle-class white boys with a dream? Imagine an East Oakland, a West Oakland, with breweries where the “for lease” signs used to be. Hayward, Richmond, and many other cities also have more available land than the 7×7 and the potential is there.
I’m not talking about more beer bars, brewpubs, or other horsemen of the gentrifipocalypse that the residents of working-class neighborhoods can’t afford to enjoy. I’m saying imagine the scrappier parts of the Bay Area with a real live old-timey manufacturing sector like the one that grandma and grandpa bought small houses and sent our parents to college on. Manufacturing beer, if nothing else. You can make everything else in China — and god help us we probably will — but I don’t see fresh local beer going out of style.
I do see a lot of missed opportunities.
Imagine a brewery here.
Brooklyn Brewery Brewery: 18th Avenue & East 14th Street (now International Blvd)
No, not that Brooklyn Brewery — talk about a Google nightmare. This part of Oakland used to be called Brooklyn — pause for Oakland-is-the-new-Brooklyn irony break. Our Brooklyn Brewery was founded in 1872 by an A. Miller and it took up a good part of the block. It made steam beer, just like Anchor (SF) and Linden (Oakland) do today. Oakland Wiki is on the case but they seem to be having almost as much trouble as I did. Here’s what it looked like back then:
Credit: Online Archive of California. http://www.oac.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/tf738nb721/?brand=oac4
And now? As an outsider I don’t have the right to criticize, but this block has seen better days. Again, it’ll take better research skills than mine to pinpoint the exact location of the former brewery, but you’re going to get the general idea.
The side of the Turbo Tires building, either the former brewery site or adjacent to it. Photo: Eric Pietras.
another site that was either the brewery or a neighbor, Manta Products, which the Internet identifies as metal fabricators. Photo: Eric Pietras.
According to the sign on the door, they make wings for Windjammer kites. They seem nervous. Also note the old-skool sign that still calls International Blvd “14th Street.” Photo: Eric Pietras.
Depressing-looking motel near where we parked. Whole lotta videotaping going on in this neighborhood. Photo: Eric Pietras.
East Oakland Brewery: 8th Ave & East 12th Street
I can’t find much about this brewery, or even a real street address. The proprietor and the beer were both called Ringgenberg, probably German. It wasn’t open for long and seems to have been gone by 1900, probably related to Rudolph Ringgenberg dying in 1898 at age 49. It made porter and, like its neighbors at Brooklyn Brewery, steam beer. The corner in question now houses businesses catering to the local Asian population: Hang Sen Dispensary, Dung Lam Acupuncture, In & Out Auto Glass with most of the sign in what looks like Mandarin. We suspect the brewery site is now occupied by Pho Oakland #1, and shit, you really can’t argue with any of that if you enjoy diverse communities and good food. This was one of the less depressing brewery replacements on our trip for sure. I should eat there someday (on this trip we had lunch at Cam Huong instead.) There was another location of this brewery at East 10th & 27th Ave, but that’s all residential now so we didn’t creep around there.
From German beer to Vietnamese soup. Photo: Eric Pietras.
I could have lived without the anti-abortion billboard, though. Photo: Eric Pietras.
Still some booze in the area. Should have checked to see if any decent local beer was on offer. Photo: Eric Pietras.
If you know anything about any of these breweries — or any other former brewery in this area — let me know! More tomorrow.
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