The Sonoma Valley Brewing Corporation was organized in 1933 within just a few months of the passage of the 21st Amendment and repeal of Prohibition. Original officers and directors included: Michael J. Hanrahan, promoter and president; Dr. Maximilian A. Buchner, vice president; Edith A. Humphreys, secretary; Clarence Tauzer of the Santa Rosa law firm Geary, Geary and Tauzer; and Walter G. Chanslor of the Chanslor and Lyon Stores. Frank P. Doyle, President of Exchange Bank, was Treasurer.
On August 18, 1934, Mr. Doyle hosted a barbecue at his home on Third and Pierce streets in Santa Rosa. A recently discovered flyer, hand-drawn by Doyle himself, invites guests to enjoy “snacks” along with Steam beer from the Sonoma Valley Brewing Corporation. On that same day, the Sonoma Valley Brewing Corporation hosted an open house at the brewery site across town in Santa Rosa (not in the Sonoma Valley). Attendees sampled the brewery’s first batch of Steam beer, and more than 100 people were present at each event.
The brewery site occupied 3.25 acres of the former California Pickling Company plant at 7 College Avenue, next to the Northwestern Pacific Railroad line. Director Max Buchner, a San Francisco pharmacist, was the brewmaster. Buchner had been in the brewing business all his life. His father, Johann “John” Buchner, was brewmaster for Wieland Brewing when it was a prizewinner at the 1900 Paris Exposition. Later, John Buchner operated the Albany Brewery in San Francisco and his sons Maximilian and Albert until Prohibition shut it down.
Several newspaper articles in August of 1933 featured the grand plans for the Sonoma Valley Brewing Company that included an architectural sketch of what the brewery would look like.
Construction began in March 1934. In addition to new buildings, work included adapting some existing pickle plant structures and demolition of others. The plant would feature a new four-story brewhouse, two-story fermentation and storage cellars, a powerhouse and engine room, keg washing and pitching departments, a bottling department, and an office building. The main brewery building would occupy approximately 190 feet along the frontage and would have been 200 feet deep. An inside truck loading rack, extending the entire building length, would open from the College Avenue side, with room for 20 trucks at a time. Projected costs for alterations to the existing plant and new construction were reported to be $40,000, while equipment and installation were estimated at $110,000. Once completed, the brewery would produce 300 barrels of lager and 100 barrels of steam beer daily. However, realization of the brewery, as envisioned by its stockholders, never happened. It appears that several of the new buildings were not built, and the Sonoma Valley Brewing Corporation produced very little beer.
In January 1935, the Brewing Corporation’s stockholders filed suit in Sonoma County Superior Court asking that Hanrahan, Humphreys, and relatively new director Harold Bolla be removed from the board. They were charged with “irregularities and abuse of their authority and discretion of the corporation and its stockholders.” In February, Hanrahan and Humphreys were ousted. Bolla was retained after it was determined he was not a member of the board during the time in which the irregularities occurred. Judge Comstock found Hanrahan and Humphreys guilty of “gross abuse of authority and discretion in the expenditure of corporate funds.”
On December 10, 1938, unable to pay their debts, the corporation was put up for public auction. In October of 1939, U.S. Army engineers working on an intensive flood control survey of the Russian River, Sonoma Valley, and Napa Valley set up their headquarters on the property. In 1948, the Bessone Plumbing Co. moved from Fifth and Davis streets to the brewery site. Today, Atech Logistics & Distribution occupies the property.
In 1994 another Sonoma Valley Brewery was established. This time in Glen Ellen. It’s unknown whether this was associated with the earlier Sonoma Valley Brewery.
Though the Sonoma Valley Brewing Corporation may not have endured, Sonoma County’s legacy as a significant contributor to the beer industry is vast. From the era when hops were the “King of Crops” to the invention of mechanized hop harvesting to the craft-brewing renaissance that continues today. Stay tuned for more.
A version of this article appeared in the November 2021 Sonoma-Marin Farm News, a publication of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau.
A special note of thanks to John C. Burton for his research assistance.