When the Auburn Alehouse started producing craft beer in 2007, it renewed a long beer-making tradition in Auburn, though the last brewing company in the city went out of business more than a century ago.
Gold was first discovered in 1848 in the Auburn Ravine that runs through what is now Old Town, and the community’s first brewery was built several hundred yards from the location of the Auburn Alehouse. The town grew seemingly overnight, and within just eight years of Claude Chana panning the first gold fragments, demand was sufficient to encourage the founding of the Kaiser Brewery in 1856, according to a piece in “Gold & Schemes. . .and Unfulfilled Dreams,” a collection of newspaper columns published by Bill G. Wilson in book form in 2002. Wilson wrote a column during a span of 10 years for the now defunct Auburn-based Sentinel newspaper. Much of the content in this story is adapted from “Beer Flowed When Miners Mined,” page 331.
According to Wilson, the first brewery in Auburn was built “near what is now the railroad overpass on Interstate 80 in the area known as ‘Irish Alley,’” a small operation that lasted only a year or two. Because barrels of beer where expensive to ship from San Francisco, it only made economic sense for small breweries to go into business in Gold Country.
At the Kaiser plant, high-quality water was tapped from a nearby spring and finished products were virtually rolled to the saloons in Auburn. Ultimately, the street leading into what is now Old Town would be named “Brewery Lane.”
According to Wilson, the brewery exchanged hands a number of times during its 52 years. Most notably, it operated as the Auburn Brewery and Broadway Brewery. When the brewery finally closed in 1909, it was owned by Ferdinand Rechenmacher, who purchased it from Julius Weber at the end of 1895. While he was brewer, Rechenmacher’s “steam beer” was highly regarded and, according to Wilson, won a “world prize” at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.
Ultimately, the brewery failed because cheaper lager beer could be shipped inexpensively to Auburn from Sacramento and beyond. Artisanal breweries simply could not compete with large-scale breweries. In the end, it didn’t make much difference because Prohibition would begin in just 10 years.
The Auburn Brewery had a link to the most infamous crime ever committed in the city. On May 26, 1904, the Placer County Bank on Commercial Street in Auburn was robbed in a bold daylight crime that emptied cash drawers of more than $5,000. The lone gunman, brandishing a small, .22 caliber pistol, managed to escape and evade capture.
Some six months later, on November 10, 1904, Julius Weber—who in 1895 sold the Auburn Brewery to Ferdinand Rechenmacher—was in his barn at his home just above Brewery Lane, where he uncovered a trove of cash. He apparently confronted his son, who within a year was convicted of shooting to death his father, mother and sister. He was also convicted of bludgeoning his younger brother to death and then setting the house on fire to cover his heinous crimes.
At 22, Adolph Weber committed the first mass murder in California, and his lengthy trial attracted worldwide attention. He was ultimately convicted, received the death penalty and was hung at Folsom prison on September 27, 1906.
Even though he murdered his parents, Weber was the only survivor, so he inherited all of his father’s property, valued at about $70,000. Oddly enough, in a reported exchange of a letter pleading for leniency for Weber, the convicted murder sold his father’s land to Ferdinand Rechenmacher.
Weber’s profiting from the murder of his family prompted California legislators to enact a patricide law that made such inheritances illegal in the state.