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New exhibit looks at Bethlehem beer history, including bribes and Moravian drinking

June 6th, 2015 |

June 6, 2015 | In The News

Written by Lynn Olanoff for Lehigh Valley Live

When the former South Bethlehem Brewing Company was demolished in 1966, a safe with $200,000 – all of it printed in the 1920s – was found.

It’s suspected to have been used as bribes during Prohibition.

The interesting tale is one of dozens included in Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites’ new exhibit “Bethlehem Brewed & Distilled.” It opened last week at the 1810 Goundie House, a fitting site in that namesake owner Johann Sebastian Goundie was himself a notable Bethlehem brewer.

Historic Bethlehem put on a previous Bethlehem brewing exhibit in 2009, but “Bethlehem Brewed” is far more extensive, said Chris Bowen, the new exhibit’s curator who also co-curated the previous exhibit “Roll Out the Barrel: Bethlehem Brews History.”

Despite also being hosted in the 1810 Goundie House, the prior exhibit didn’t include any information on Goundie, who greatly expanded brewing operations at the original Moravian settlement, said Bowen, a local beer historian who often portrays Goundie at events.

“We want to take advantage that this was Johann Sebastian Goundie’s home and he was the town brewer for many years,” Historic Bethlehem President Charlene Donchez Mowers said. “Under his tutelage, the brewery did very well.”

The Moravian’s first brewery was 12 miles north of Bethlehem in a settlement called Christiansbrunn, or Christian’s Spring. But because the brewery was so far out of town, it wasn’t well managed, and many of the brewers were drinking too much of their product to do a good job, Bowen said.

In 1783, the Moravians opened a second brewery at the original Moravian settlement on Church Street and in 1796, the Christiansbrunn brewery shut down.

Beer was a highly valued beverage at the time, both because it was considered less likely to be contaminated than water and because it was commonplace during the pre-Temperance Movement, Bowen said. Moravian men, women and even children all drank beer – and a lot of it, Bowen said.

Well into the 1800s, the average man drank two gallons of beer a day, the average woman drank one gallon of beer and the average child drank half a gallon, according to the exhibit. Most of this was what was called “small beer,” which had between one-and-a-half and 2 percent alcohol.

“Women, children – everyone drank beer,” Bowen said.

South Side Bethlehem’s first brewery opened near Lehigh University in 1869. Die Alte Brauerie, literally translated as the old brewery and also known as the Lehigh Mountain Brewery, was popular with both students and residents. The former brewery is now home to Lehigh’s anthropology department and its lagering tunnels used to keep the beer cool pre-refrigeration still remain on campus, though they’re gated-off, Bowen said.

A former J. Widman & Co. Brewery lagering tunnel also still exists, in the hillside under the parking deck behind Bethlehem Brew Works, though it too is gated off, Bowen said.

When Bethlehem Brew Works opened in 1998 – the city’s first brewery in 44 years following the closure of South Bethlehem Brewing Company in 1954 – it picked a very apt location. It’s just up the hillside from where Widman stood and the former Uhl’s Brewery and Old Monocacy Brewery also were nearby.

“Brewing stopped in Bethlehem for 44 years until the Brew Works came along and we thank them for that,” said Bowen, who in addition to brewing his own British-inspired historic beers as HammerSmith Ales has brewed a beer called Arctic Alchemy with Brew Works.

Historic Bethlehem is working to set up regular beer tastings and pub crawls in connection with the exhibit. The organization put on a historic pub crawl on Main Street for Lehigh’s reunion last year which was very popular, Mowers said.

“There’s such an interest in craft brewing we thought it would be the perfect time to bring (a beer exhibit) back,” she said.


Tours of “Bethlehem Brewed & Distilled” are offered at noon and 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays starting at the Historic Bethlehem Visitor Center at 505 Main St. in Bethlehem. The tour is offered as part of Historic Bethlehem’s Pass Into History, which starts at $12 for access to two Historic Bethlehem museums for a full year.

Historic Bethlehem also is offering an outdoor walking tour in connection with “Bethlehem Brewed & Distilled” at 1 and 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, also starting at the visitor center. Tickets start at $15 for the tour and exhibit access.

Beer tastings and pub crawls will be announced in the near future.

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