Tales From the Morgue 11/14/2009
By Trish Long
El Paso Times
Dear Trish: Upon having a conversation one afternoon about how a lot of beers that were once pretty popular and which were advertised on television that you don't really see anymore, my dad said that back in the '40s, there was a local beer that was brewed here in El Paso. He said it was named Harry Mitchell or something like that. He also said that the brewery was close to Copia Street, near the railroad tracks. Was there, in fact, a brewery that sold this beer and if so, could you provide some history on it? Also, were there other breweries? Thanks, Tony Soto
Your dad was absolutely right. The brewery, which eventually was named after Harry Mitchell before it was sold to a larger, regional distributor, dates to well before Mitchell even arrived in El Paso.
The original brewery went into receivership in 1904 -- despite multiple pleas from brewery president and majority shareholder Wilhelm Griesser to the citizens of El Paso to "save" the El Paso brewer.
The brewery was auctioned off on March 15, 1904, and John Paul Dieter landed the brewery for $66,000 -- $15,000 down, with the rest due in six months. The plant was estimated to be worth $110,000 and the vats at the brewery contained 2,793 barrels of beer -- worth an estimated $30,000. The company also owned nine sets of bar fixtures and nine saloon leases.
It wasn't long before Dieter had the plant up and running again. A mention in the El Paso Times July 15, 1904, read, "In just five more days El Pasoans who partake of the hop beverage will be given a chance to quench their thirst with some of their own home brew. The El Paso Brewing company, if nothing happens, next week Tuesday will start selling its own beer. Report has it that the company has purchased the Oxford, Idea and the Roof garden saloons, and that they have bought the lease on Dunn's roadhouse, where they will dispense their own brand of beer."
Dieter, a German immigrant, partnered with A.L. Houck after Dieter's arrival in El Paso in February 1881. Together, they operated a successful beer, mineral water, soda water and ice depot.
Dieter didn't have a chance to run the El Paso brewery long. He died of a brain tumor on Sept. 23, 1907. His obituary read, "He served the city several terms as an alderman and made an honest, progressive, public-spirited public servant." As to his ownership of the brewery, the obituary said, "Under the capable and active management of Mr. Dieter, the brewery became a big business success and was rapidly accumulating a fortune for him."
After Dieter's death, R.W. Long was listed in the city directory as president and general manager of the brewery, George G. Sauer as vice president and W.H. Long as secretary-treasurer.
Mitchell wouldn't take over the brewery until after Prohibition.
Mitchell was a native of Blechington, England. He arrived in El Paso in 1912, and after serving in World War I, he worked in the Hotel Paso del Norte as a bartender. In 1926, he founded the famous Mint Café in Juárez.
In 1933, after the repeal of Prohibition, Mitchell returned to El Paso and with partner Will E. Keller organized the Harry Mitchell Brewing Co. They bought the site of Dieter's old brewery and built a new $250,000 facility. They sold their first beer in 1934. In 1945, Mitchell acquired complete control of the company by purchasing Keller's interest in the brewery.
In 1949, Mitchell spent $400,000 to add a canning plant. The new operation produced 250 cans of beer per minute, while the bottling plant produced 220 bottles.
In 1951, Mitchell sold the brewery to a pair of investment banking firms, Harold S. Stewart & Co. of El Paso and Ruff & Co. of San Antonio. They changed the name to Mitchell Brewing Co.
On April 16, 1956, Falstaff Brewing Corp. of St. Louis announced that it was buying Mitchell Brewing Co. By then, the brewery had an annual capacity of 150,000 barrels. It covered an area nearly two blocks long and a block wide and included a five-story brew house, a two-story stock house, two warehouse buildings, two office buildings, a bottle shop, a garage and an advertising warehouse. Falstaff quickly discontinued all Mitchell- brand beer and began brewing its own brand. The brewery closed in 1967.
In 1977, C.L Hill Inc., spent $100,000 remodeling the building, which then housed three print shops, a plastic bottle manufacturer, a furniture repairer and a warehousing firm.
A Dec. 27, 1984, article in the El Paso Times noted that Dick Price and business partner Charlie Newman had bought the brewery, then called the Brewhouse. They renovated the property, and it was inhabited by artists and several small businesses. At the time of the article, there was a waiting list to get into the building.