Black Hills Brewing Co. letterhead - graphic

 

Black Hills Brewery photo, c.1900
Black Hills Brewery addition ca. 1900


The Black Hills Brewery of Central City, SD (1878-1917)
and the Black Hills Products Co. (1917-1927)

To locate a brewery in the Black Hills region of the Dakota Territory was a logical choice, especially in the late 1870s. Thanks to General George Custer's expedition to this northwestern section, gold was discovered at Deadwood Gulch in the Fall of '76. The resulting gold rush in the Spring of '77 had the Black Hills area booming. The larger towns of Deadwood, Lead City, and Central City, plus the smaller settlements of Gayville, Spearfish, Galena, and Sturgis were full of prospectors and miners, all thirsty for beer. There was no shortage of entrepreneurs seeking to quench this thirst, and brewers were quick to discover that easier riches were to be had in selling their liquid gold rather than in digging for the real thing.

Deadwood

The town of Deadwood was established in 1876, as a hastily constructed assemblage of tent, frame & canvas, and wooden structures. By 1877 these temporary shelters were being replaced with brick and frame buildings. There were a number merchants and outfitters selling to the miners, but there were a greater number of ventures devoted to other needs. The 1878 Business Directory for Deadwood listed 23 drinking establishments, including: "Miss Kitty" Leroy's Mint Saloon; Hisen & Welch's Snow Flake Saloon; Ludwig & Co.'s Senate Saloon; and Rosenkranz & Company's Central Saloon.

There were also many regional breweries mentioned in newspaper accounts of the day.  Most of these were small output operations meant only to supply the saloon belonging to the brewer - similar to brew pubs of today.  In 1878 alone I found these enterprises: Lion Brewery; Star Brewery; Black Hills Brewery (owners of the Senate Saloon); Lead City Brewery; the Miners Brewery; the Parkhurst Brewery;  and the Central City Brewery (owners of the Central Saloon). The wide open town offered a "hot" time, but it would heat up even more.

In September of 1879 the "great fire" swept through the main business area leaving nothing standing in its wake. The town immediately commenced rebuilding, but this time with a decided preference for brick or stone over wooden structures. A couple of small breweries carried on into the early '80s, but the Black Hills Brewery was not among them. Its name sake would evolve from a venture started in nearby Central City by the owner of Deadwood's Central Saloon. This brewery would become the major producer of beer for the Black Hills region, and its Gold Nugget Beer would become the most popular.

Central City

In 1877 Henry Rosenkranz arrived in the boom town of Deadwood. He had heard of the riches to be gained in the Black Hills while working at a brewery in nearby Montana. With this expertise he set out to start his own brewery in Deadwood. However, with all the mining activity he didn't trust the local water supply. Instead he found a plentiful source from the Central City section of Deadwood Creek. This location was also nicely situated between Deadwood's revelry and Lead City's industry.

He and partner Dan Warner built a modest wood frame structure and began brewing. The enterprise was an immediate success. Their teams of dray horses delivered kegs of their beer to the saloons, and beer halls around the mountainous region. Then just two years after start-up they had sudden surge in business. The Deadwood fire of '79 wiped out their much of competition, giving Rosenkranz and his partner an opportunity to supply many more beer halls than just their own Central Saloon. This unexpected influx of  capital allowed Rosenkranz to buy out his partner in 1880. He then continued as a sole proprietor at the brewery, and added more saloons and beer halls to his portfolio. By 1882 he needed a larger plant to keep up with increased demand. So he purchased the nearby Phoenix Iron Works as a shell for the new brewery, adding an adjacent bottling works.

A historical account, written in 1884:

"HENRY ROSENKRANZ, proprietor of Central City brewery, began operating in 1877. The brewery has a capacity of twenty-five barrels per day. He has a malt house 22x50 feet, three stories high, capacity 400 bushels of malt per week; an engine house, 18x40 feet, twelve horse-power engine; bottling department, 20x30 feet; a patent ice house, 18x30 feet; storage cellar, 14x40 feet. He employs two teams and six men. He was born in Germany, October 14, 1846, and came to the United States in 1855. He came to the Black Hills after working in a brewery in Helena, MT."

He was now bottling his beer under the brand name of Gold Nugget Beer. For the following five years the business was good and Henry prospered. Then in 1889 the Rozenkranz family suffered two serious blows. Statewide Prohibition forced Henry to close the brewery, but the even worse was the death of his 31 year old wife, Louisa. Henry was now left to raise their seven children by himself.
 

South Dakota Prohibition (1889-1896)

Upon achieving statehood in 1889, one of the first laws to pass the new state legislature was statewide prohibition. It was not a popular law, especially outside the larger cities of Sioux Falls and Rapid City. In the Black Hills region it was almost unenforceable. Once a drinking establishment was closed it was immediately reopened in a new location. However, for a large operation like a brewery this wasn't as easily accomplished. Yet the smaller brewing plants, being more more portable, continued supplying the thirsty miners - in spite of the law.
 

Black Hills Brewing and Malting Company

Black Hills Export Lager Beer label - imageWith the advent of Prohibition, Rosenkranz ceased his brewing operation and started an ice & coal business. Within a few years this cold and uncomfortable business was abandoned in favor of the warmth and gaiety of saloon keeping in his own Central Saloon. The brewery was then leased to the team of Faulkner & Connor who resumed operations under the name of  the Black Hills Brewing and Malting Company. The firm was soon owned by the Connor Brothers. They apparently operated "legally" by producing near-beer, but more likely ignored the low alcohol provision of prohibition since the law was not uniformly enforced.

By the mid-1890s it was apparent that the unpopular law was going to be repealed, and so it was - in 1896. But anticipating repeal, a group of principals of a first-tier brewery in Minnesota approached the Connors in late 1894. The following year a deal was struck and the Black Hills Brewery was under new ownership.
 

The Minneapolis Brewing Company

Minneapolis Brg. Co. letterhead - image

While not owned by the Minneapolis Brewing Co. (MBC), the stockholders with controlling interest in that company now also owned the Black Hills Brewery, just as they too owned controlling interest in the North Star Malting Company of Minneapolis.

As such, both the Black Hills Brewery and the North Star Malting Company became de-facto subsidiaries of the Minneapolis Brewing Company. The MBCo officers were: W.W. Eastman, president;  F. D. Noerenberg, vice president; T. Mareck, secretary;  and G. J. Heinrich, treasurer.
 

The Black Hills Brewing Company 

With the 1895 purchase of the brewery, the new owners made modest improvements, and then resumed production. Their first beer was Black Hills Export Lager Beer (above right).

In 1900 the company was restructured and "Malting" was removed from the company's name, as they were no longer malting barley at this plant. Instead it was more cost effective to ship the needed malt from their own North Star Malting Company. The new officers were: Sigmund F. Wiedenbeck, president (and a MBCo supt.);  Armin Neubert, vice president (and MBCo's production supt.);  Gustav J. Heinrich, secretary (and MBCo's treasurer);  and Hubert B. Schlichting, treasurer & manager (and a former MBCo general agent).

Gold Nugget Beer label - imageIn 1900 the group also accomplished a major addition to the brewery utilizing the patented plant design of Armin Neubert. A new bottling works was also added at this time. The "Gold Nugget" brand was re-introduced (left), and another version of the Gold Nugget label depicting gold miners, was adopted - later to be used for their Ginger Ale (below).

Neubert controlled production at the Central City plant as well as the Minneapolis plant, and by 1905 he had the SD plant's production up to 1000 barrels per month. He endured the 650 mile train ride between the two plants dozens of times in the following years. Often he would have extended stays to oversee a particular production issue. However, in 1914 he retired from the MBC and left Minneapolis for permanent residence in the Black Hills. He was now able to more closely monitor the breweries output.


Gold Nugget Beer tray Black Hills Brg. Co.
13" serving tray - Schillinger collection

Black Hills Brg. Co. Gold Nugget Beer charger - image
17½" charger (blank space for calendar pad) - Schillinger collection

Gold Nugget Beer glassAfter 14 years as the company's manager & treasurer, H. B. Schilchting had become  a popular figure in the community - no doubt aided by the free beer donated to social events. The following is an example of his ads of the period - from Deadwood's Pioneer Times of January 3, 1914:
"Gold Nugget beer has answered the call for a strictly high grade, high class old fashioned beer, and this beer has the distinction of being brewed in one of the most sanitary breweries from the choicest hops and barley grown. It is properly aged before being placed on sale, and is not charged with carbonated gas. Our sole aim has been to see how good and appetizing we could make our beer, and today our books show hundreds of satisfied customers. Order a case today through any of our distributors. - The Black Hills Brewing Company."


Winter at the Balck Hills Brewery - image
Winter at the Black Hills Brewery, ca.1915

Gold Nugget cap lifter in brass
brass cap lifter

Gold Nugget cap lifter

Cap lifter or "church key" ca.1912. It was meant to be placed on a key chain and had the additional feature of a Prest-O-Lite key. This square hole served as a wrench to open the valve on carbide tanks located on the running boards of early autos. When the valve was opened, it supplied gas for the headlights. 

The slogan used for their Gold Nugget Beer was, "Monarch of Them All" as can be seen on the bottle opener (above). Yet the monarch was about to be ousted again.

South Dakota legislators, again bowing to the temperance movement, approved statewide prohibition effective in 1917 - three years before it would be enacted nationally.

Gold Nugget watch fob

The "Gold Nugget" watch fob (left) was given to Ray Gravelle in 1913 in Lead City. These were probably  promotional items given out at the Brewery's own saloons in that city.

click for larger image


Gold Nugget Beer TOC sign - image
view larger image

Gold Nugget Beer ROG sign - image

signs from the Schillinger collection

Gold Nugget Beer TOC sign - image
view larger image


Black Hills Products Co.

(1917-1927)

With the advent of Prohibition the brewery was forced to convert to bottling soda water and soft drinks. Initially a drink called "Cherry Blossom" was introduced, but strangely it didn't appeal to the rough and ready patrons of the area's many saloons. Assuming that the state authorities would "turn a blind eye" as they had done two decades earlier, it was decided to "improve" the product. The recipe was altered to more closely approximate beer, and when the alcohol level crept higher the drink, re-named "Byro," gained a following. However, times had changed and the and authorities were taking this law seriously. Upon learning of this improved version they stepped in and halted production, and ordered all existing stock to be dumped. The manager, Schlichting, quickly alerted the area that drinks were "on the house."  After giving away case after case of bottled beer, and allowing patrons to drink all they could, numerous kegs of beer still remained. So, they dumped the beer into Deadwood Creek. To this day, folks tell of the time the creek flowed with a foamy head.Gold Nugget Ginger Ale label

This setback was more than H. B. Schlichting could tolerate. He resigned his position of 17 years and moved to California. Armin Neubert, vice-president and production supervisor, now added plant manager & treasurer to his list of duties. Neubert continued with the line of bottled waters, and added ginger ale to the soft drink production (label at right).
He also introduced a straight forward near-beer called Byro, to replace the camouflaged Cherry Blossom version.

The business maintained profitability and in both 1921 and 1925, Neubert purchased additional stock in the company. Then in May of 1926, Sigmund Wiedenbeck, Armin's old friend and president of the brewery, died. With the subsequent restructuring, Neubert, as major stockholder, became president of the company, and his daughter Elsie Trucano, was appointed secretary.

The final days of the Black Hills Brewery have yet to be verified. However, one source stated that the alcohol level in the "Byro" crept up to an illegal level and again the authorities stepped in - this time closing the brewery. Whatever the reason, the brewery was closed, and on 14 October, 1928 the Black Hills Products Company was dissolved¹.

There was a plan to restart the Brewery after Prohibition. A group from Rapid City filed Articles of Incorporation in August of 1933 to form the Black Hills Brewing Co., but nothing came of it. Then in 1934, a newspaper article from The Huronite Evening News, reported:

"Pierre, Apr. 2--(AP)--South Dakota brewery files incorporation papers at Pierre. April 2, articles of incorporation has been filed with the Secretary of State for the Black Hills Brewing Co. of Central City, capitalization for $150,000.  The incorporators are; Joe E. Brown and Merrill Kempfert of Deadwood; Ed A. Johnson of Central City and E. H McCaugherty and Lloyd McCaugherty of Lead.  The Company has not yet secured a license to operate."

However, in spite of their best laid plans it appears that this project also failed and the brewery remained derelict. Years later a highway project forced the demolition of the structure, and only a partial stone wall is left to mark the spot were the old Black Hills Brewery once stood.
 

Footnote:

¹   Armin Neubert left the Black Hills and removed to his property near Great Falls, Montana, where he pursued ranching and wheat farming. After few years he turned the ranch over to his son, Armin, Jr., and retired to Santa Cruz, CA. But he didn't stay retired. With the end of Prohibition eminent, he was enticed to lend his engineering skills in the rebuilding of the old Salinas Brewery, not far from his home. With the opening of the Salinas Brewing and Ice Company in 1934, Armin was again working in the industry that he loved - (see his biography).



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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  • Thanks to the Neubert family for the 1900 image of the brewery, and for sharing their family history.

  • And thanks to lalelologist Bob Kay for the Gold Nugget Special Brew label - as seen in his publication, US Beer Labels, Vol. 1 - The Western States. For this, or other volumes, go to - BobKayBeerLabels.com

  • Thanks to Dustin Schillinger for providing images of items from his extensive Black Hills collection.

  • Thanks to Ed Morse for the 1913 Gold Nugget watch fob.

  • Thanks to Jerry McQuay for the 1934 news article.

  • And thanks to Don Wallace for images of the two cap lifters.
     

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