John A. Huck Brewing
By Gregg Smith
Too often we get lost in the boisterous claims of biggest and best. In
history, as in other areas, these are important; but, of equal significance
are the pioneers. In the rich legends of Chicago brewing the distinction of
first lager producer belongs to the nearly forgotten John A. Huck.
The story begins in 1847, shortly after lagers arrived in America, when John
Huck entered a partnership with John Schneider to construct a brewery.
Located just two blocks east of Chicago's first ale brewery (Lill's Cream
Ale) it had an interesting connection to that facility. Chicago's first
mayor, William Ogden, who had a financial interest in Lill's, owned the land
at Chicago Avenue and Division Street which Huck and Schneider purchased for
This location provided another innovation in Chicago beer drinking. The
property included a tree filled square, and in the center Huck put his house.
This he surrounded with a beer garden, another first in the city. More than
just a retail outlet for their product, brewers in Europe had long built beer
gardens for a more practical reason. An essential part of lager brewing is
cool temperatures. These are needed for lager yeast to work its magic. For
this reason brewers aged the beer in subterranean "lagering cellars". The
trees of the beer garden, usually elm, provided a shady canopy on the ground
above and helped ensure cellars would remain lager friendly cool.
Huck's beer was a success and rather than sacrifice his home and beer garden
to expansion he moved brewing operations in 1855 to a new facility on Wolcott
(now N.State Street) near Division. With the move came a new name - Eagle
Brewing. The new brewery was, in its day, one of the city's largest. It
boasted both brew and malt houses along with more than 2 miles of underground
vaults. The name changed again in 1860, to Huck's Chicago Brewing Co. and
from 1869 to 1871 was known as John A. Huck Brewing Company.
Unfortunately, this early landmark of Chicago wasn't destined to last: like
many others, it was destroyed in the great fire of 1871. A setback such as
this would have broken a lesser man, but by 1877 Huck was busy formulating
plans for a new brewery. His passing in January 1878 ended that effort, but
not his family's involvement in the beer business. His son Louis founded a
malting company the same year his father died. Like his father he was a beer
pioneer, for he is credited as the first in the US to install the famous
Saladin malting process one machine that both turned over the grain and later
dried it. His malt house operations set him down the road to wealth and he
became one of Chicago's leading capitalists.
© Gregg Smith