The Brewery 1933-1946

But when the boys reopened the brewery in Santa Rosa, they had an excellent local market to supply, but they saw the need to expand so they could grow and continue to modernize. They did this for another 33 years (with a brief recess from 1953-1958). And thankfully they did. By the time they were again producing beer in the thirties, they supplied it from Eureka to the San Joaquin Valley. They even shipped 1,000 cases to Honolulu in May of 1933. The brewery employed 30 men. Jacob Blum was the brew master until his death shortly after Prohibition ended. Henry Fischer, who stayed until 1938, replaced him as brew master. Frank P (Moses) was president, as befitting the oldest of the five boys. Tom was vice-president and Jack secretary/treasurer.

Grace Brothers landed a contract to bottle the new product called Pepsi Cola. They also bottled other soft drinks, including Whistle, Howdy and NuGrape, under our own label. They used the bottling line in the brewery to produce the soft drinks. I don’t have the particulars on the Pepsi contract, but obviously we stayed with beer and Pepsi seemed to survive without us. The old expression “if, coulda, shoulda “ comes to mind. Oh, well, soda rots your teeth.

( Burton GB Soda.doc, GB-S-12)…pic of pepsi bottle)

The brothers continued to add to the brewery and to modernize the capacity to brew more GB. Lying fallow for fifteen years did not do much for the brewing equipment. Because they needed to get up to top speed quickly in order to compete for business, a new cellar was finished in 1934 and a new brew house in summer of 1935. The brewery was set to compete with other regional breweries such as Olympia, Lucky Lager, Burgermeister and Hamms. One way was to create so-called “designer labels.” The brewery designed different labels for the same beer–kind of a 1930’s version of contract brewing. These beers could be sold side-by-side in stores at different prices. Labels were created for grocery stores and liquor stores who ordered a minimum case requirement. As all of us grew up, we faced many questions about the various labels and how many beers we actually brewed. It made for some great stories.
( GB Photos sr plant 1938)
Just about this time a revolution was brewing (Couldn’t resist that pun.) that would change, literally, the face of the beer industry. The beer can was marketed to the public. Many attempts had been made in the past to use cans but the taste was always spoiled by the metal of the can. This problem was solved by lining the can with vinylite, a malleable plastic, invented by Union Carbide. Krueger Brewing Company of Newark, New Jersey volunteered to use their company to test this new product. No brewer was eager to market it in their local market so they sent it to outlying areas. It succeeded in Richmond, Virginia and the beer can became part of brewing history. Both Continental Can and American Can Company supplied Grace Brothers with cans as the brewery initially followed the others and marketed outside its core market–even to Sacramento and Eureka.

The first labels were Excel, GB, Nu-Deal, Cremo and Monogram. The cans came in flattop and cone cans. The flat top won out and the cone top became yesterday’s news and the beer can collector’s delight. The early cans had instructions on the side of the can, showing how to open the can and, of course, the can opener became a must-have kitchen utensil. At some point, “church key” became slang for a can opener. Certainly by the 1950’s the term was used, particularly by the younger crowd.

( Burton NBLA Cans, Cremo, GB SR Cans Dutch Lunch front and side shows how to open, Excel Bee, GB orange CAN right after golden hops )
Aside from joining the other brewers in canning beer, Grace Bros busily purchased other California breweries from 1937-1942. For a period of time it appeared that Joe Grace and his nephews were set for a long and successful career in brewing and selling beer. They bought Rio Brewing Company of Los Angeles, in April 1937, renaming it Grace Brothers Ltd. of Los Angeles. Joe was president and owned the majority of stock and Frank P. Grace Company (the five boys) owned a minority interest. This was the beginning of Grace Brothers in LA, and Joe owned the operation into the 1950’s. Joe Grace was a very good and experienced businessman (He was 55 when his brother Frank P died in 1930). As we shall see this was not an arrangement that was destined to last, and by 1946 the boys and their Uncle would be totally separated.

In 1941 they had added to their brewing empire. Joe purchased Monarch Brewing Company of Los Angeles and the rights to 47 brand labels (among them Balboa, Golden Bear and Old English Ale). These two acquisitions allowed them to supply beer from San Joaquin/Merced County to the Mexican border and north to Eureka. This enhanced distribution range increased market share in California. Remember, the giants of the industry had not totally dominated at this time. Even though, as we will see later, tastes were changing, there still was demand for regional beers. The combined Graces Brothers Ltd of Los Angeles and Grace Brothers Brewing Company of Santa Rosa acquired an interest in Buffalo Brewing Company of Sacramento in order to brew beer for the Sacramento Valley. Joseph T. Grace became president of Buffalo Brewing Company. In addition, he purchased Fresno Brewing Company in 1942 and became president of that brewery and the nephews became shareholders. Joe was a busy man with great determination and insight.
( NB LA Balboa can , LA brewery, BB Special, Dodger Beer_)
At this time, Grace Bros Brewery was the fourth largest brewery in California, trailing only Maier, Burgermeister and Lucky Lager. Grace Bros was a large player in the brewing community with the acquisition of Rio, Buffalo and Fresno. It seemed destined to continue to continue to expand–at least in early 1942 it did. However, as mentioned above, the relationship between the boys and their uncle was not destined to be long-term. On New Years Eve of 1942, Joseph Grace sold his interest in Grace Brothers, Santa Rosa to his four nephews, and he took total control of Grace Brothers Ltd. of Los Angeles, Fresno and Buffalo. Joseph Grace died in 1957 in San Francisco after losing his brewery to bankruptcy a few years earlier. I have little information on how and why Joe last the brewery but can only guess that the market conditions and competition forced the sale.

(Burton GBD SA M Bohemian ,Grace bros, Buffalo Brewing Co)

Bill, though the youngest, became president of the Santa Rosa brewery with Tom as his vice president and Jack as secretary (Jim was in the military service at this time). As part of the separation agreement, California was divided at the San Joaquin/Merced line, and the Santa Rosa Brewery could ship to Eureka from the line and Joe’s Los Angeles enterprise could ship south from that line to the border. All the breweries continued to brew under the GB labels. They created the names Southern and North Bay to distinguish the two for distribution and legal purposes.
( Scanned 1930-60, Unk Jack tom Bill,)

That New Years Eve of 1942 at the Grace house on McDonald Avenue must have been quite an evening. I have never been privy to the details or the whys of this breakup, but it seemed to suit both sides. Joe continued with his many financial activities, as did the Santa Rosa Graces with their land purchases and various other business enterprises. I suppose the wartime shortages of malt and other restrictions caused problems and perhaps operating of breweries up and down the state probably taxed resources. Perhaps the age difference and business experience gap was too much to successfully close. Joe was thirty years their senior and had accumulated a tremendous amount of business experience. Sometimes a gap in age and experience can be insurmountable. Whatever the reasons, separated they were and each continued for a number of years to be successful in the beer industry.

So by 1943, the four brothers were in charge of the Santa Rosa operations and supplied beer as far south as the Merced County line. In 1946, Joe sold the SR Ice Delivery and Railroad Company to the brothers for $16,000, and both Buffalo and Fresno agreed not to use Grace Bros on labels or crowns. The relationship was totally severed at that time. Joseph Grace actually purchased the Buffalo Brewing Company in 1944 and became the sole owner of Buffalo Brewery, Inc. Grace Brothers in Santa Rosa no longer brewed Buffalo Beer for the Sacramento Brewery. Also in1944, Grace Bros. registered the “Happy Hops” name and logo that became a distinctive trademark for the Santa Rosa Brewery. The logo was in cement in the sidewalk entrance to the brew house. I remember a local man telling me in 1978 while he sat at the bar at Fiori-Grace that he had cut this Happy Hops logo out of the cement and tile in front of the brewery and had put it in his patio. It must have been important to him.

( Scanned 1030-60 Brewery ad boiler, happy hops logos, happy hops in cement, label from Burton GBNB&S)