Schmidt’s, Scheidt’s & Prior Double Dark – another voice heard from.

I asked Rich Wagner of Pennsylvania Beer Historians to join in the discussion going on about the history of Prior Double Dark and Schmidt’s Brewery. He tried twice to post in the thread but could not for some reason, so he sent me his comment directly. Here it is, with lots of fascinating new information (albeit not much about Prior Double Dark at Schmidt’s):

According to my file on the Scheidt brewery they began producing Prior Light and Dark Beer in 1939.

“…It was a gourmet beer brewed with a special formula using Bohemian variety of barley grown on the west coast of the U.S.A. and Czechoslovakian hops, comparable to pre-war imported Pilsner.

The owners of the formula for Prior had a year previous visited the United States in hopes of selling it to one of the large breweries. In each case, after the formula was used for making a test batch, several of these breweries failed to meet the required standard of the brand. The batch brewed at Scheidt was hailed as being equal in quality to that brewed in Europe. The tasters chalked it up to the artesian well water used to make it.

Arthur Kallman, owner of Atlantis Importing Distributors in NYC had in the interim purchased the formula and he made an agreement giving Scheidt exclusive rights for brewing and selling the brand in the U.S.A. Mr. William H. Price of Audobon, a salesman of the Adam Scheidt Brewing Co. drove to meet Mr. Kallman in NYC in order to pick up two sealed metal containers of cultured yeast with instructions to get it back to the brewery as quickly as possible.

Prior was brewed as Light and Dark and sold as a gourmet premium beer in bottles, cans and draught. New York City and Chicago were two big markets. In 1940 1,040 barrels were sold; 1943 16,163 barrels and over 100,000 barrels in 1946.”
(McLaughlin, Joseph M. – Bulletin of the Montgomery County Historical Society Fall 1986)

Schmidt’s contract brewed Newman’s Albany Amber which was an all malt beer. They also made Birell NA for a Swiss company. When I toured in 1985 the “new ale cellar” that was added after repeal was in use, wooden open fermenters being used to make McSorley’s Cream Ale. It was a high gravity brew made with ale yeast and can only imagine what it tasted like before the gravity was adjusted prior to packaging; I’m sure it would have rivaled many of today’s craft brewed products.

In 2001 I cracked open my last bottle of Prior Double Dark which I had kept refrigerated since the brewery closed. Remarkably, it was still carbonated, and while it was somewhat oxidized, it tasted the way I remembered it tasting. Schmidt’s was an industry leader and innovator and many of the technologies they pioneered others adopted, none the least of which was being the first brewery in the nation to use the computer for scheduling and inventory.

Here’s an article describing my tour and a Schmidt’s “alumni” luncheon at Victory Brewing a couple years ago.

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