Moerlein reunion first for family

Relatives of the 19th-century Cincinnati beer baron Christian Moerlein began the day at Philippus United Church of Christ, which Moerlein helped found; the church procured a pipe organ which Moerlein’s money purchased.

After services, the reunion-goers headed for a picnic and libation, including three varieties of a foamy beverage bearing the name of the family patriarch.

This was the first reunion of a family that’s been in America for eight generations.

Moerlein and his fellow immigrants were proud of their heritage, but they were short on sharing specifics.

“We were told we were related because of our last name and we had some ceramic crockery-style Moerlein beer bottles at home,” one descendant said. “But that’s all we knew. We’d drive by Philippus church and my dad would point and say, ‘That was your grandfather’s church,’ and the car just kept on rolling.”

Welcome to Christian Moerlein 101. Born in Bavaria in 1818, Moerlein came to the US in 1841 and Cincinnati in 1842. In 1853, Moerlein joined forces with a brewer and in the first year produced 1,000 barrels of beer. By 1894, they were brewing 500,000 barrels a year. Their beers won gold medals at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair as well as expositions in Atlanta and Nashville.

The Christian Moerlein Brewing Co. became the largest brewer in Cincinnati and 13th largest in the nation.

Moerlein became a multimillionaire. He built mansions and gave money to numerous charities but he was a quiet giver–no publicity.

Then tragedy struck. A fire destroyed the main brewery in May 1891. In August, George Moerlein, the most business-savvy of Christian’s sons, died. Throughout the decade, the temperance movement grew. When the movement’s anti-drinking sentiments became law with Prohibition in 1919, that spelled the end for the brewery. But not for the family’s philanthropy.

Five branches, bearing 400-plus names, are on the Moerlein family tree. None of the branches knew of the existence of the others.

From a story by Cliff Radel in The Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati, Ohio.