John Leonard Barnitz & Elias Daniel Barnitz

Baltimore Beer Legends, John Leonard Barnitz & Elias Daniel Barnitz

The odds were against John Leonard Barnitz when he got Baltimore into the beer business in 1748. He was 71 years old when he opened the city’s first commercial brewery near the corner of what is now Baltimore and Hanover streets. Moreover the economic outlook was not rosy.  Instead of a shining city perched on a bustling harbor, Baltimore was a muddy burg of about 60 ramshackle structures with roofs so likely to catch fire that residents were required to own a ladder so they could quickly climb up and battle flames from sparking chimneys.

But where others saw muck and fire hazards Barnitz saw opportunity. A native of Falkenstein, Germany and an apprentice to a brewer there, Barnitz arrived in America around 1733 carrying the belief that good beer could be good business. He started breweries in York, Pennsylvania and near his family home in Heidelberg Township. Then he ventured into Baltimore to open Barnitz Brewery probably one of the town’s first industrial sites.  It was a small, two- to -three  man operation with his son Elias Daniel Barnitz assisting. It was a success and was joined on Hanover Street some 13 years later by one of the town’s early drinking spots, the Indian Queen Tavern.

John Barnitz died a year after opening the Baltimore brewery and was buried in York.  His son operated the brewery until 1780 and after a string of owners it eventually became Globe Brewery.

The Barnitz family also helped found the city’s Zion Lutheran Church and were the first of over two dozen pre-Prohibition beer makers who called the church their spiritual home. From the small, 500 barrel Weiss beer brewery of August Fenker to the dynastic beer baron families of Bauernschmidts and Wiessners, beer makers donated gifts to the church. Today, there are several reminders of this generosity throughout the church at Gay and Lexington streets.  Among them:

  • A baptismal font, a gift from Frank Steil, owner of the Independent Brewery on Franklintown Road in West Baltimore.
  • A large stained glass window adjacent to the altar dedicated to the memory of the Gay Street brewer John Wiessner and his wife Sarah. This was a gift from their children.
  • A lectern carved in Germany’s Black Forest and bequeathed by the Bauernschmidt brewing families that is still used during every service.
  • A large, stylish wooden plaque near the entrance to the sanctuary memorializing George Bauernschmidt’s generosity toward those Baltimoreans suffering from tuberculosis.
  • Several stained glass windows throughout the property dedicated to the memory of George Rossmarck and his family. Rossmarck, whose brewery was located on Cross Street at the foot of Federal Hill, is credited as Baltimore’s first lager brewer.

Starting with John Barnitz the links between Baltimore’s brewers and the city’s social fabric have been strong. Their influence has extended beyond their breweries  to the institutions and organizations that make up Baltimore.

The ales that John Barnitz and his son brewed brought together the residents of the muddy burg that was early Baltimore. They also fueled interest in forming a strong community life. A long line of Baltimore brewers has followed their rich example.