The influx of craft beer brewers in Charlotte, North Carolina, in recent years has become a true delight for the area’s beer drinkers. Numerous local breweries offer up their own take on common beer styles such as ales, lagers, pilsners and stouts. Many Charlotteans might be surprised, however, to learn that beer brewing in the Queen City is not a new phenomenon. In fact, a brewery actually existed here prior to the American Civil War.
The founder of what was probably the first beer brewery in Charlotte, and possibly even in North Carolina, was a man named Martin Munzler. Born in 1828 in Bavaria, Germany, he immigrated to the United States in November 1852 and initially lived in Baltimore, Maryland1. He worked as a laborer there to support his wife, Margaret, and their three young children, John, George, and Frederick.
Munzler moved his family to Charlotte in the fall of 1859, although his reasons for doing so are unknown. In July 1860, he bought a parcel of land from Major Benjamin Morrow2 that was located on the southwest corner of East Trade Street and the “Boundary Road,” which ran along the eastern limits of the township and eventually became known as McDowell Street.
This area would have been considered to be on the outskirts of the town at the time, but he likely chose that particular spot because Sugar Creek meandered through the property’s location. Munzler would utilize this resource to start his beer brewery at that site.
It is widely thought that Bavarian monks in the 15thcentury discovered that the beer they stored in the cold caves near their monasteries continued to ferment for some time after placing it there. This beer was called ‘lager,’ which is a German word for ‘storeroom’ or ‘warehouse.’ Being a Bavarian native himself, Munzler was almost certainly familiar with this brewing process, and he began making that type of beer in Charlotte shortly after purchasing his land.
Munzler placed advertisements in local newspapers announcing his brewery business, and he also ran ads requesting to purchase barley and hops to be used in making his lager beer. The ads ran fairly often until February 1870, and it was stated in later news articles that Munzler had closed his brewery for various reasons, although no specific date was given.3 It could be construed that the brewery ceased operations at the same time the advertisements stopped.
Although the Munzler brewery was no longer producing beer, the beverage continued to be served in Charlotte through various distributors who brought it in from other states like Virginia and Pennsylvania. The Badger Brothers, William R. Cochrane, and Pierce Ludwig were among some of the vendors who provided beer to the city’s residents through the 1880s from their stores or saloons near the town square.
Munzler’s youngest son, Frederick, was also involved in the beer business, and he opened a beer garden on his father’s property in July 1878, presumably where the old brewery used to be. He formed a partnership with William Cochrane in the beer bottling business and bought out his interest in February 18824. Shortly after that, he became an agent for the Berger & Engel Brewery Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania5, which produced lager beer similar to what his father used to make.
It seems as though Frederick eventually had a change of heart about his chosen vocation, and in 1886 he decided to get out of the beer bottling business. In 1890 he became a member of the newly formed Charlotte Police force6. He was a well-liked law enforcement officer and served the city until the fall of 1898, when he became ill and passed away just before Christmas 1898.
Martin Munzler died in January 1893, and his wife continued to live on their homestead until her death in January 1900. The house which Munzler had built after settling in Charlotte was torn down in November 19097, and the property itself was sold to Dr. Harvey C. Henderson, a local dentist, in April 19128. Martin, Margaret, Frederick, and other Munzler family members are buried in a plot in Section T of Elmwood Cemetery in Charlotte.
The courage of Charlotte’s current brewery owners should be admired, as they took on the large-scale breweries that have dominated the area’s coolers and brought the art of crafting specialized beers into a city that had virtually no local producers. However, the next time you raise a pint of lager beer in Charlotte, perhaps you should give a toast to Martin Munzler, the city’s first beer brewer more than 150 years ago.
1 Baltimore, Passenger and Immigration Lists, 1820-1872. Accessed May 23, 2016.
2 Mecklenburg County, NC, Deed Book 4, p. 384, 23 Jul 1860.
3 “King Gambrinus,” The Charlotte Observer, 11 Apr 1882.
4 “Dissolution,” The Charlotte Observer, 15 Feb 1882.
5 “New Advertisements,” The Charlotte Observer, 28 Mar 1882.
6 “Officer Munzler Dead.” The Charlotte Observer, 25 Dec 1898.
7 “A Historic Homestead,” The Charlotte Observer, 24 Nov 1909.
8 Mecklenburg County, NC, Deed Book 291, p. 264, 12 Apr 1912.