While researching Monroe’s brewing history, one of the breweries that popped up was Marx Brewing Co even though it was located in Wyandotte, MI. It’s reach was at least as far as Monroe. How do I know this? That’s the cool part of the story.
I’m not sure on how many years ago, but my work(the Monroe Water Plant) was building a new structure on its property. Before the plant was built in early 1920s it used to be the city’s dump. When the ground was dug up so were some bottles. A co-worker saved one of the bottles and forgot about it. I spotted it one night and asked him if I could borrow it for a post. He told me to keep it. Now, I have a Marx Brewing Co bottle from circa 1914, give or take 5 years. Thank you Paul Merman.
Marx Brewing was founded by George Marx in 1863. It was located on the corner of Front( later named Van Alstyne Blvd.) and Oak Street. In 1884, George brought his brothers and his son Frank in on the business. Frank took over control of the brewery when his father George died in 1886. The business continued to boom and soon a beautiful dance hall was added with a view of the river and the Canadian shoreline. The brewery sold Export, Pilsner, and White Label brands. These were later replaced by Banner and Gold Star which became their staples. They also diversified their business by selling coal and ice.
Competition popped up right down the street when Eureka Brewing & Ice Co. opened up in 1890. They were located at Poplar and Front. Eureka lasted for twenty years and was beginning to fail when a merger was proposed by the Marx family. Charles Riopelle and Ferdinand Fickel joined Marx Brewery. Soon Riopelle became vice president which allowed Frank Marx to retire.
The brewery expanded operation in the 1910s. A 100-bottle-per-minute bottling plant and 200 barrel capacity kettle were all added during this time. The capacity of the plant was 50 thousand barrels but 25 thousand was more than likely the best pre-prohibition year they had. Brewing operation ceased once prohibition was the law of the state. They tried brewing a non-alcohol beer named Marxie but it couldn’t compete with the beer bootlegged from Canada. They survived by selling ice.
By 1933 the nation’s feeling toward alcohol had turned around and Marx Brewing re-opened in November of 1933. Frank A. Marx, grandson of George Marx, was the only family member left at the brewery and served as vice president. In 1934, the brewery sold 43 thousand barrels of beer. A second shift and twenty trucks were added in 1935. A new ale (possibly in the hybrid category) was added to compete with lagers. However, all of this expansion did not lead to greater sales and by the end of 1935 sales had only increased by 500 barrels over the previous year.
Many of the breweries at this time dealt with a myriad of problems. The one that ultimately caused Marx to fail was that the owners were more interested in making money than brewing beer. Board room disagreements, finicial troubles and a violation of the Liquor Control Act were the source of a lot of their troubles. An attempt to raise capital by a stock issue failed. The brewery was sold. The new owners assumed the debt and changed the name to Wyandotte Brewing Co. They launched new brands named Nine Castle Ale and Bavarian Lager, but rumors abound that it was nothing but repackaged old beer. Only 8,900 barrels were sold in 1936 and the brewery was closed by the end of 1937. However, brewing did eventually return to Wyandotte. Today, you can get microbrewed beer at Sport’s Brewpub located on Maple and 2nd. 2008 marks their tenth year brewing beer.
The leasons learned form post prohibition breweries are still relavent today. Corporations that are in it for a money grab don’t earn respect of the craft beer drinker or their money. That is what the big breweries are for. If a microbrewery wants to thrive the beer must come first. For example, Shorts and The Livery are off the beaten path but they brew fantastic beer so people are willing to make the trip to go to their breweries. Soon, I will be able to go to my local store (hopefully) and Shorts will be on a shelf for me to buy for home use.
For more information on Marx Brewing Co. look for the book “Brewed In Detroit” by Peter H. Blum, the source for this post as well as a great source in general for a comprehensive history of brewing in the Detroit area.