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June 29 brings the Bell Tower Brewfest to Downtown Placerville, a fitting tribute to a town that boasted the first brewery in El Dorado County and one of the first in the state.
Jacob Zeisz was born in Germany in 1825 and worked as a brewer before immigrating to California around 1852, where he owned mining interests along Cedar Ravine. As gold played out, Zeisz turned to brewing Bavarian beer, establishing the California Brewery in 1856. After marrying Dorothea Hartman in Europe in 1859, he and his bride returned to Placerville where he began construction of the structure on upper Main Street, across from the Wilkinson-Hupcey Building. The brewery was completed in 1862 and included cold storage caves dug into the shale hillside, a spring in the basement, and a public room off the street.
Zeisz operated the brewery until 1881 when he “returned to Bavaria because of business interests in Europe.” He left his wife and 10 children, four of whom were under 10 years old, in Placerville. He remained in Europe, never returning to his family. In 1887, Zeisz deeded the brewery, land, property, building and equipment to Dorothea who lived there until her death in 1919 (the family operated the brewery until 1890); she provided a livelihood for her family by renting rooms and running a dining room. In 1966, a car dealer purchased the building, later razing the structure and building a parking lot. Today, all that remains are crumbling walls and a stone sporting a keg and the words: “1862 J. Zeisz.”
Zeisz befriended another local brewer from Germany, Fred Giebenhain, who ventured to California around 1852 and mined in Gold Hill and Mud Springs (El Dorado) then opened a bakery in Gold Hill. In 1857, Giebenhain purchased the Mountain Brewery in Placerville—located at the west end of town on Pacific Street at the current location of Anova Architects. In 1861, Giebenhain built the brick house, later purchased by the Fausels, which stands in front of Anova.
Giebenhain later built a steam brewery at the site; his Mountain Steam Beer won first prize at the St. Louis Exposition and was popular in El Dorado County, the Tahoe Basin, Comstock Lode, Carson City and Virginia City. On June 4, 1902, in the United States Health Bulletin of New York, Amos Gray, M.D., praised the health benefits of this beer. “The proper beer to drink and the purest and best is the beer from the Giebenhain Brewery of Placerville, Cal… Our staff of physicians have found that this beer yields the greatest tonic strength so much desired to assist digestion, and that it keeps down the temperature, thus preventing sunstroke, and establishes proper perspiration which promotes mental and physical activity, thus counterbalancing the effect of summer heat.” The Giebenhain family operated the brewery until prohibition in 1918.