Although the Wiedemann Brewery was known for its fine Bohemian Special beer, its founder George Wiedemann was born in Eisenach in central Germany. It was near the border of northern Bohemia – close to the famous hops-growing region of Zatec (Saaz) in what’s now the Czech Republic. Bohemia was the birthplace of golden lager beer in 1842.
Wiedemann was born in 1833 and studied brewing before immigrating to the United States in 1853. He worked briefly at breweries in New York and Louisville before he arrived in Cincinnati in the mid-1850s and began working for Jacob Eichenlaub’s brewery in Walnut Hills.
In 1870, Wiedemann made his move across the Ohio River to Newport, where he would quickly establish a reputation as a highly respected businessman and an innovative brewer of popular, Old World beers made from the finest ingredients. He initially partnered with John Butcher at the Jefferson Street Brewery, later buying out Butcher’s stake in the business.
In the 1880s, Wiedemann bought the nearby Constans Brewery on Monmouth Street, paving the way for a combined operation that would be incorporated as the George Wiedemann Brewing Co. in 1890. By that time, it was the largest brewery in the state, with a capacity of more than 100,000 barrels a year. Wiedemann died soon after, in May 1890, at age 57.
The business was taken over by his two sons, Charles and George Jr., who continued to expand. By the turn of the century, the Wiedemann Brewery was the largest in the Southeast. The brewery included a stable of 150 horses to pull its delivery wagons. One of those wagons delivered an ornate wooden bar to a restaurant down the street from the brewery that’s now the popular Pompilio’s. The bar is still in use today.
Wiedemann’s continued to grow and prosper until Prohibition when in 1927, it was shut down by the federal government.
The brewery reopened with the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. It resumed its industry-leading ways following the end of World War II, becoming one of the first American breweries to install stainless-steel fermentation tanks. By 1967, its brewing capacity had reached almost a million barrels per year and Wiedemann signs could be seen hanging at some of the most popular drinking and eating establishments in the area.
Soon thereafter, it was sold to G. Heileman Brewing Co. of LaCrosse, Wis. Heileman eventually acquired dozens of regional and local brands and also dozens of breweries. As part of a consolidation drive, it closed the Wiedemann Brewery in Newport in 1983 and shifted production of Wiedemann beer to its plant in Evansville, Ind.
Heileman later sold the Evansville brewery to a management-led investor group, which acquired the rights to make Wiedemann and other Heileman labels as part of the deal. When the Evansville brewery closed in the 1990s, production of Wiedemann Bohemian Special Beer was shifted to Pittsburgh Brewing Co. But it also ran into financial problems. The company filed for bankruptcy reorganization in late 2006, and it ceased production and distribution of Wiedemann beer.
The brand’s sudden disappearance from store shelves was noticed by Jon Newberry, a local beer enthusiast and former home brewer who managed to save a few remaining Wiedemann bottles and cans for posterity.
Newberry had acquired a fondness for golden Bohemian lagers while serving as a reporter and East European editor for Beer: The Magazine in the early 1990s in Prague, the Bohemian capital of the Czech Republic. Brewing was one industry that managed to survive communism in good shape, and Czech breweries were flourishing as Western tourists poured into the country following the end of the Cold War. Czechs drank – and still do – more beer per capita than any other nationality, and for good reason.
By 2007 when Wiedemann Bohemian Special Beer disappeared from the market, other local beers in the Cincinnati area were making a comeback. In 2011, the Newberrys decided it was time for Newport’s famous Wiedemann’s fine beer to make a comeback of its own.
The Newberrys enlisted brew master Kevin Moreland at Cincinnati-based Listermann Brewing to develop a new Wiedemann’s recipe that would bridge the gap between George Wiedemann’s fine Bohemian-style beers of old and the new craft beers that were again making a name for Cincinnati beer.
The result was Wiedemann’s Special Lager, a crisp and flavorful lager in the Bohemian tradition. The beer, which is relatively low alcohol compared to heavier craft beers, is brewed with several kinds of barley malt, including specialty pilsner and Munich malts that are used in many craft beers. Aromatic sterling hops provide a zesty punch. It’s a thirst-quenching, light-bodied beer designed to drink when you’re having more than one, maybe more than a few.
In Bohemia, when a Czech wants another beer, he signals to the bartender and says “Jeste jednou, prosim! (Once more, please!).” We trust you’ll be thinking the same when you try a glass of cold and refreshing Wiedemann’s Special Lager with its newly crafted flavor.