“Though downtown Cumberland has the appearance of an industrial city, there are unusual numbers of country people on the streets, since this is the metropolis of a very large rural area, and many of the cars parked along the streets are filmed with the dust and mud of country roads.
“Hill farmers, railroad and factory workers, western Maryland politicians, and businessmen drink Cumberland beer in the same popular barroom, a place with modern tubular furniture.”
from “Maryland, A Guide to the Old Line State,” by the Writer’s Program of the Works Project Administration in the State of Maryland, 1940.
By the time the WPA produced its guide, ‘Cumberland beer’ had been around at least 88 years. Bartholomew Himmler established Cumberland’s first beer brewery about 1852, on Knox and Hays Streets. The brewery was often called “Bartle’s Brewery,” short for Bartholomew.
The Cumberland Brewing Company, one of two breweries to dominate the local industry during the 20th century, was established in 1890. It operated on North Centre Street until the late 1950s, producing such brands as Old Export beer and Gamecock Ale.
Former mayor and businessman Warren C. White opened its arch competitor, the German Brewing Company, in 1901 on Market Street.
The ad copy for a 1910 German Brewing ad strikes the modern ear as amusingly ludicrous in its suggestion: “Dr F.E Harrington, City Health Officer, who is fighting disease, says after making several analyses, that much of the city water is not fit to drink! Why not avoid all risk and USE GERMAN BEER! It is pleasing to the taste and good for your system. Phone us and have a case sent home. You’ll like it.”
Using German beer didn’t sound like such a patriotic idea by 1917. With the U.S. entering the First World War and the resultant anti-Teutonic sentiment, German Brewing’s directors thought it prudent to change the name to The Liberty Brewing Company.
This brewing company’s frequent name changes chart the political moods of the 20th century quite handily. With the advent of Prohibition the name was changed to the Queeno Company, which produced ‘Queeno’ near-beer (“a non-intoxicating cereal beverage”), ice and soft drinks.
Beer brewing operations resumed under the once-more-named German Brewing Company in 1933, but at the start of World War II, so as to once more avoid offending the American people, the brewery changed its name and brand.
This time the company became The Queen City Brewing Co, brewers of The Original Queen City Beer. At the end of that war, the brand name was changed back to Old German, but the company name remained the same. At its peak, the Queen City brewery produced over 250,000 barrels of beer and ale a year in Cumberland, including its well-known Old German Beer Premium Lager.
Ultimately the two competitors became one: Queen City purchased Cumberland Brewing in 1958, and was itself purchased in the 1970s by Pittsburgh Brewing Company. The new subsidiary was the last surviving brewery in Cumberland before it closed its doors in 1976.
“The Big Book o’ Beer: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Greatest Beverage on Earth,” by Duane Swierczynski, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2004