Hamm's Brewery

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This article is about the former Theo. Hamm's Brewing Co. All Hamm's Brands are now brewed by the Miller Brewing Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Theo. Hamm Brewing Co.
Industry Alcoholic beverage
Predecessor Andrew F. Keller, Excelsior Brewery
Successor Olympia Brewing Co.
Stroh Brewing Company
Founded 1865
Founder Theodore Hamm
Headquarters St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Area served
Key people
  • Andrew F. Keller
  • Theodore Hamm
  • Louise Hamm
  • William Hamm
  • William Hamm Jr.


  • Hamm's Premium
  • Hamm's Special Light
  • Hamm's Golden Draft
Brewery overlooks Swede Hollow in St. Paul

The Theodore Hamm's Brewing Company was the name of an American brewing company in St. Paul, Minnesota. As Hamm's expanded, breweries were also acquired in other cities: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, and Baltimore.


The Theodore Hamm Brewing Company was established in 1865 when , a German immigrant Theodore Hamm (1825-1903)[1] inherited the Excelsior Brewery from his friend and business associate A. F. Keller, who had perished in California seeking his fortune in the gold fields. Unable to finance the venture himself, Keller had entered into a partnership with Hamm to secure funding. Upon Keller's death, Hamm inherited the small brewery and flour mill in the east side wilderness of St. Paul, Minnesota. Keller had constructed his brewery in 1860 over artesian wells in a section of the Phalen Creek valley in St. Paul known as Swede Hollow. Hamm, a butcher by trade and local salon owner, first hired Jacob Schmidt as a brew master. Jacob Schmidt remained with the company until the early 1880s, becoming a close family friend of the Hamms. Jacob Schmidt left the company after an argument ensued over Louise Hamm's disciplinary actions to Schmidt's daughter, Marie. By 1884, Schmidt was a partner at the North Star Brewery not far from Hamm's brewery. By 1899 he had established his own brewery on the site of the former Stalhmann Brewery site. In need of a new brewmaster, Hamm hired Christopher Figge who would start a tradition of three generations of Hamm's Brewmasters, with his son William and grandson William II taking the position. By the 1880s, the Theodore Hamm Brewing Company was reportedly the second largest in Minnesota.

During Prohibition, the company survived by producing soft drinks and other food products, enabling it to expand rapidly through acquisitions after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. From 1933 until 1965 Hamm's saw much success; much of this can be attributed to William C. Figge Jr. taking over as President in 1951. Figge expanded the Hamm's brand into a national entity with breweries in St. Paul, Minnesota; Los Angeles, California; San Francisco, California; Baltimore, Maryland; and Houston, Texas. The latter two were short-lived and closed soon after they opened. As the company celebrated its 100th anniversary, the family decided to sell the brewery and leave the ever more competitive brewing industry to focus on its other ventures like its successful real estate company.

History Of Ownership[edit]

In 1965 the company was acquired by Heublein, In 1971 Hamm's was sold to a group of Hamm's distributors which in turn sold it to Olympia Brewing Company in 1975. In 1983 Pabst purchased Olympia along with Hamm's. It was at this time that the St. Paul flagship brewery was traded to the Stroh Brewing Company, Stroh's continued to operate the brewery until 1997. When it closed, the operation ended a 137-year brewing tradition on the site. Its buildings were shuttered, vandalized, dismantled, demolished or left to decay. Miller Brewing acquired the brand from Pabst in 2006. Miller was later purchased by South African Breweries and the name was changed to SABMiller. Subsequently, SABMiller formed a joint venture combining their US and Puerto Rican assets with those of MolsonCoors to form MillerCoors, the current owner and brewer of the Hamm's Brand.[2] MillerCoors now produces three Hamm's beers: Premium, Golden Draft, and Special Light.[3]


St. Paul Brewery[edit]

The flagship brewery of the former Hamm's empire was in St. Paul. Brewing began on the site in 1860, when Andrew F. Keller established the Pittsburgh Excelsior Brewery. Keller, a friend of Theodore Hamm, planned for the two of them to travel to California for the "second gold rush." Louise forbade her husband from leaving her alone with three children in the wild frontier town of St. Paul. Unbeknownst to his wife, Hamm staked all of his savings and mortgaged his beer garden in Keller for his trip and homestead in California. As collateral, Keller gave the deed to his small brewery and flour mill located on the east side of St. Paul to Hamm.

Upon Keller's death in 1865, all of Hamm's savings, homestead and stake were lost. Losing his beer garden, Hamm moved his family to the brewery. Through constant expansion and improvements, the brewery soon became the largest in the state. The most notable expansion was the state of the art Brew House, which was built in 1893. In 1897 the wash house and part of the bottling plant were built, both of which still stand. The brewery was in an almost constant state of expansion from 1933 until 1948. It added a new power house, bottling facilities, malt house, grain storage, stock houses, shipping docks, office space, garages, and more. The brewery shut its doors in 1997 under the ownership of the Stroh Brewing Company. The property was sold to a real estate investor who in turn sold the southern half (the more historic portion of the brewery) to the City of St. Paul, including the original Brew House. The city, however, left these buildings to decay and crumble. The northern portion of the brewery today is mostly inhabited by various businesses including a trapeze school. As of 2013 businesses have started to return to the historical southern portion of the brewery. The keg and wash house are currently home to the Flat Earth Brewing Company. Stock house number three is home to Urban Organics, and the carpenter shop houses the 11 Wells Distillery.

A sizable portion of the brewery is still abandoned, including the brew house. Today, the Hamm's brewery is a popular location for urban explorers, graffiti artists, vandals, and thieves.[citation needed]

San Francisco brewery[edit]

In 1953, Hamm's purchased its second brewery from the Rainier Brewing Company. Hamm's opened its San Francisco brewery in 1954 at 1550 Bryant Street. Its 20-by-80 foot sign, with a three-dimensional 13-foot beer chalice on top, appeared in the first Dirty Harry film and was a local landmark. The brewery closed in 1972. In the early 1980s, the beer vats were first squatted and then rented out to punk rock bands. Known as "The Vats", the brewery was a center of San Francisco punk rock culture with about 200 bands using individual vats as music studios. The building was renovated in the mid 1980s and converted into offices and showroom space.[4]

Los Angeles brewery[edit]

In 1958 Hamm's purchased the former Acme Brewery on 49th street in Los Angeles, California. The brewery had been owned by the New York-based Liebmann Breweries since 1954. The brewery was operated by Hamm's until 1972.

Baltimore brewery[edit]

In 1959 the Gunther Brewery of Baltimore, Maryland, was purchased. The mistake was made to discontinue the Gunther brand turning much of the Baltimore population against Hamm's. The breweries reputation was further tarnished by a frozen batch of beer that made its way to market. After a failed attempt to re-introduce the Gunther brand the brewery was sold to the Schaefer Brewing Company of New York after only four years of operation in 1963.

Houston brewery[edit]

A final attempt at expansion was made in 1963 with the purchase of the Gulf Brewing Company of Houston, Texas. The brewery had been started in 1933 by the famous Howard Hughes. This venture was more successful but by 1965 with Heublein's purchase of Hamm's its breweries started to close one by one, with Houston being the first in 1967.


While Hamm's is no longer an independent brewing company, it is still sold in select markets under the Hamm's brand and label. The beer is brewed and sold by MillerCoors of Chicago, Illinois.

Several beers are produced: the original Hamm's Premium, a pale lager; Hamm's Golden Draft; and Hamm's Special Light. Hamm's has been having a resurgence of sorts in the Minnesota and Wisconsin markets due to the craft beer scene expanding.


The name is most famous not for the company's beverages, but for its advertising jingle and its mascot, the Hamm's Beer bear.


The original jingle, with lyrics by Nelle Richmond Eberhart and music by Charles Wakefield Cadman was derived from a 1909 art song entitled "From The Land of Sky-Blue Water". It was first used on radio and later on television. It started with tom-tom drums, then a chorus intoned (partial lyrics):

From the Land of Sky Blue Waters [(Echo) Waters]
Comes the water best for brewing,
Hamm's the Beer Refreshing,
Hamm's the Beer Refreshing,

Hamm's Bear[edit]

Main article: Hamm's Bear

Even more famous than the jingle was the Hamm's Bear. The bear was incorporated into the first campaign produced by the Campbell Mithun advertising agency, which sought to emphasize the supposedly superior cleanliness and naturality of Hamm's beer owing to its clear water and production in pristine Minnesota, the "enchanted Northland". The first television commercial depicted animated beavers beating their tails to the tom-tom beat of the jingle, as well as live action shots of the forests and lakes of the "enchanted Northland". The second, produced in 1952, introduced the clumsy dancing black-and-white cartoon "Beer Bear", which proved so popular it was used for the next three decades. From 1973 to 1978, in an effort to increase sales, a live bear named "Sasha" handled by Earl Hammond, was used in the commercials. Earl and Sasha paddled a canoe, hiked through the woods to a cabin and packed on horses through "the land of sky blue waters". The book "Elephant in the Kitchen and Bear in a Canoe" recounts their story. The cartoon bear came back in 1978. The "Beer Bear" and other woodland creatures were seen many afternoons as Hamm's was the beer sponsor of the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, and Minnesota Twins in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

In popular culture[edit]

In Minnesota after World War II and into the mid-century, "Hamm's" was a common synonym for beer, as in "It's been a long day – let's get a Hamm's", or packing for a summer picnic, "Don't forget to put in the Hamm's!"[citation needed]

William Hamm, Jr. was kidnapped in Saint Paul by the Barker-Karpis Gang in the 1930s. The subsequent investigation by the FBI employed the first attempt at raising latent fingerprints from paper ransom notes.[5]

In the David Frizzell song "I'm Gonna Hire a Wino to Decorate Our Home", the wife mentions the Hamm's Bear in the lyrics, referring to a Hamm's Bear clock, used in many bars, i.e.: "When the Hamm's Bear says it's closing time, you won't have far to crawl".[citation needed]

John Cusack's character, Robert Gordon, drinks Hamm's almost exclusively in the 2000 comedy High Fidelity.[citation needed]


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 44°57′45″N 93°4′17″W / 44.96250°N 93.07139°W / 44.96250; -93.07139