More than a century of movies made about the wild west have led people to believe that whiskey was THE drink offered in dusty frontier era saloons. But in the years following the Civil War, especially in towns serviced by the railroad, customers could avail themselves of brandy, schnapps and beer.
In more remote community’s whiskey was the primary drink of choice. It generally handled transport over rough roads and intense extremes of weather than other liquors.
But beer was also quite popular. It was home brewed locally and used an array of ingredients from wild hops found in the mountains of Arizona and New Mexico to grains not used for the making of bread. Ensuring that beer was never the same in two places were unscrupulous saloon owners and bartenders that enhanced profits by adding water or “enhancers” such as whiskey left by customers and apple cider.
Beer was not bottled widely until 1873 and so when commercially or professionally brewed beer was available, it was shipped in kegs. And it was served at room temperature, which in the more extreme climates such as the desert southwest, resulted in customers drinking hot, sour tasting beer.
In Arizona commercial beer brewing that provided consistent quality and taste dates to 1864. That was the year that Alex Levin established the first recorded commercial brewery in the territory.
His endeavor proved to be popular and profitable and so in the early 1880s he made plans for expansion with a brewery, saloon, and dance hall in Quijotoa. This endeavor as well as his original brewery, and those that were established by competitors in Phoenix, Tucson, and Prescott, entered decline as this was the period when transcontinental railroads were reaching the territory.
In 1877, the Southern Pacific Railroad reached Yuma. The Atlantic & Pacific Railroad reached the Colorado River in 1883. The territory had a direct link to eastern markets and this meant that local brewers were now competing with large established corporate breweries.
Still, in remote mining camps such as Cedar, Signal, or Lee’s Ferry, home brewed beer could be sold profitably. And in the territory’s larger cities such as Prescott, brand loyalty and quality kept companies such as Arizona Brewing Company that was established in 1904 in business.
Ironically it was a ban on alcohol sales and consumption in Arizona that went into effect on January 1, 1915, five years before the national enactment of prohibition, that again made the home brewing of beer both popular and profitable. As an historic footnote, the state voted to repeal federal Prohibition on September 5, 1933.
After repeal Colonel Jacob Ruppert, President of the United States Brewer’s Association, said, “Let people have good beer, and let them have it in the right way, in the home and in nice surroundings, and you’ll hear a lot less about depression and despair.”
Today the beer drinker in northwestern Arizona doesn’t have to be concerned about the quality or consistency. Family owned and operated since 1982, Kingman, Arizona based Romer Beverage Company serves more than 1,000 local retailers. We are the Anheuser Busch distributor in Mohave, La Paz, and Yuma counties.