LITTLE SWITZERLAND BREWING COMPANY
The Fesenmeier Brewing Company was sold to a group of Huntington businessmen and operated as Little Switzerland Brewing Company from 1968-1971. It was sold in October 1970 to August Wagner of Columbus, Ohio, who apparently ran it for a short time before shutting it down for good in 1971.
Brewery Designed To Become Tourist Attraction
Story and photos from Tri-State Shopper's Guide - July 24, 1968
(Author unknown. Paper did not print by-lines. Do you know? Let us know!)
Jack Berno (right) executive vice president and general manager, and brewmaster and production manager Alan L. Hann (left) are shown in the new hospitality room, The Swiss Chalet, which will be open for use by groups. The room is part of the remodeling job at the brewery.
"We must use initiative and imagination to the utmost rather than find reasons why something cannot be done." That's the statement on a plaque on the newly paneled office of Jack Berno and he believes and practices what the inscription says.
Mr. Berno is the new executive V.P. of the Little Switzerland Brewing Company, which as of April 1st 1968, purchased all assets of West Virginia's only beer maker from the Fesenmeier Brewing Company. The Brewery is between 14th and 15th streets west, and Madison and Monroe avenues. Mr. Berno and the new owners have great plans and expectations for the brewery and are already putting them into effect. "We want to make the brewery a showplace like the glass companies around here," he said. "We hope to make our brewery a tourist attraction and something the people of Huntington and West Virginia can take pride in. We can also make products as good as anyone can make."
Directors of Little Switzerland Brewing Company are Robert P. Holley of Huntington, president; Raymond Cole of Huntington, vice president; Violet Midkiff of Huntington, secretary and treasurer; Mason G. Adkins of Huntington, Fred J. Ellison of Athens, WV, Lucian Fry of East Lynn, Walter E. Grasley of Marietta, OH, C.J. Huber of Parkersburg, Charles E. Oxley of Chesapeake, OH, and Charles E. Pullen of Barboursville.
Mr. Berno, an internationally known brewing industry executive, was brought in by the company as executive vice president and general manager. Mr. Berno resigned as vice president and general manager of Meister Brau Importers of Chicago to accept the new post. Another important part of the new team is Alan L. Hann, master brewer and international consultant to the brewing industry, who has been named master brewer and production manager here.
Mr. Hann returned to the United States from Europe where, since 1964, he has served as technical consultant on brewing and bottling and oxidation controls to several English and Western Europe breweries. Mr. Berno is optimistic about the future here. "We feel the opportunity is excellent for the development of Little Switzerland Brewery products. We find Huntington an ideal location for the development of the products. We found a nucleus of experienced people to whom we shall add some of the best talents to be found in our brewing industry," Mr. Berno added.
"Our expansion and improvement program for 1968 involves more than a quarter-million dollars and construction is already under way." Work nearing completion includes renovation of the office area of the brewery which has been given a Swiss motif complete with window flower boxes and slate roof. New equipment is also being added to the production area.
As for production, Mr. Hann has earned a world wide reputation as a master brewer, engineer and manger with brewing companies in the United States, Canada, South America, England and Western Europe. Considered a pioneer in new approaches to the bottling and canning of beer, Mr. Hann is author of several technical papers on oxidation control. He is co-author of other papers. "We shall maintain a high and consistent quality in our traditional brand of "West Virginia' beer," he said. "But the exciting assignment is to develop a fine new beer for introduction in the near future."
The brand name "West Virginia" will be retained by Little Switzerland Brewing Co., Mr. Berno said, and an expanded sales, distribution and advertising program already has been launched to support the well known beer, a standard in the state since the turn of the century.
The advertising firm of Lauck and Hobbs has been retained to direct advertising and public relations. "In making a careful analysis of retailers and distributors we found the "West Virginia" label meant a great deal and we plan to bring the West Virginia brand name back very strong," Mr. Berno said. "We say this is the only beer good enough to be named after a state." As for the name of Little Switzerland Brewing Co., that comes from the MountainState which has come to be known as "The Switzerland of America."
"Also important is that we are making beer in the true European tradition of malt, hops, yeast and water. There's no artificial blending or chemicals used in production. It is similar to the purity code of Germany and Switzerland." One of the first things the new owners did was to establish a new quality control laboratory under the direction of Mr. Hann, which includes a large flow chart on which a careful record is kept of the brewing process. (seen in picture below)
While the distribution of West Virginia Beer is being expanded within the MountainState, Charge is intended to be distributed as far as possible and the company hopes to build it into a nationally recognized product.
The brewery dates back to 1891 when it was first started. In the early days it was known as West Virginia Brewing Co. The brewery closed for a period in those early days and in 1899 it was bought by J. Fesenmeier, Michael L. Fesenmeier and John Kearney. It was under the Fesenmeier family and Kearney leadership until last April.
Those large towers at the top of the brewery date back to the days when beer was made by the gravity-flow process instead of using pumps, and it was necessary to start the process at the top and let it flow down. Most of the buildings date back to 1909, but all new equipment was added in 1933 following prohibition because equipment had been sold when the production of beer was outlawed. The brewery is the only one in West Virginia and is one of about 165 in the continental United States. It has a capacity of producing 100,000 barrels per year. There are about 70 employees. One of the unusual sights you'll see in mid morning and mid afternoon is the brewery workers sitting around drinking beer. They don't have coffee breaks, but "beer breaks" twice a day as part of their working agreement. This is common to breweries, according to Mr. Berno.
Not only are the new owners of the state's only brewery interested in producing superior beers, but they also hope to make Little Switzerland a major tourist attraction in the area. And the corporation itself is a West Virginia corporation which offers stock for sale in West Virginia to residents of West Virginia only. "We want the people of the state to take pride in our company and feel it is something that belongs to them and they want it to grow and prosper," said Mr. Berno with enthusiasm. (end)
What's that on the desk?
A close-up of the above photo of the quality control laboratory reveals a West Virginia Special Export cone top sitting on the desk. Notice the object in the spout.
Perhaps it had been been turned into a cigarette lighter. And what's in that big book in front of it? Recipes? Now that would be something cool to have. Because with it would come the opportunity to brew batches of Fesenmeier and Little Switzerland beers at home and abroad! Somebody, somewhere has this stuff.