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It Happened Here 12/29/11

Spearman Brewing Company: The Pure Water Did It
by Jessica Forbes

Pensacola’s water, which in recent years has been listed among the poorest quality in the country, was once something touted in more positive terms. For thirty years, Pensacola’s Spearmen Brewery Company used the motto, “The PURE water does it,” to sell its signature libation.

Guy M. Spearman moved to Pensacola in 1929 and established the Crystal Ice Company. Born in Georgia, he graduated from Auburn University in 1914 with a degree in mechanical engineering, and eventually established ice and cold storage plants in southern Alabama before relocating to Pensacola.

After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Spearman worked briefly as a distributor for Budweiser and Schlitz, keeping kegs refrigerated at the ice company facilities. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Spearman had made several trips to Monterrey, Mexico and visited the Carta Blanca Brewery where he became inspired to operate his own brewery in Pensacola.

Spearman found an investor and partner in San Antonio businessman Charles A. Zilker, operator of the Southwest Ice Corporation. With funding secured, construction began in 1934 at the brewery’s site at Barrancas Avenue and Government Street. Chicago-based brewery architect Richard Greisser & Son designed the building, and Atlas Copper and Brass Manufacturing Company of Chicago served as general contractor.

The brewery formally opened on Saturday, May 18, 1935. Initially, Spearman produced only keg beer, but within two years added bottling to its operations. The company’s first bottle labels featured a Five Flags insignia, which later became an emblem for the city itself.

Spearman’s signature brew was its “Straight Eight Beer,” the number in the title indicating the beverage was eight percent alcohol by volume (ABV). After the State of Florida repealed a law in 1934 that capped the state’s beer at 4% ABV, many brewers incorporated a beer’s ABV number into their brand names. Among Spearman’s best-selling beers were its Ace High Ale and English Type Ale.

The company enjoyed quick success. Within three years, increasing demand led to the brewery’s expansion, and its production capacity went from 40,000 barrels to 110,000 barrels annually. Water for the beer was drawn from on-site wells, approximately 300 feet deep. A pump capable of drawing 1,000 gallons per minute was prominently located outside the brewery for passersby to see.

World War II brought even further prosperity for the brewery. During the war, the majority of Spearman’s production was allocated to the military, and whatever excess was produced was sold to the public. Located near numerous military installations, the production demands required the plant’s workforce to expand to 150 people, tripling the original staff.

The brewery’s prosperity continued throughout the 1940s. Spearman sponsored “Take It Easy Time,” a nightly radio show on WCOA that featured songs of The Spearman Circle 8 Cowboys. By 1949, Spearman beer was distributed as far as St. Augustine, Fla., Birmingham Ala., and Biloxi, Miss.

In the early 1950s, competition from national labels combined with mounting expenses began troubling the company. The Hertzberg Foundation, a national beer conglomerate, purchased Spearman Brewing Company in 1955, and continued producing Spearman products until the 1960s. After selling the brewery, Mr. Spearman and his son, Guy M. Spearman, Jr. continued operating the Crystal Ice Company.

Hertzberg subsidiary Metropolis Brewing Company closed the Pensacola plant in 1964, and beer production officially ended at the brewery in 1965. The building’s next owners sold the brewery equipment, and the roof was demolished to remove several large brew tanks. The city condemned the vacant building in 1974, but the steel frame remained standing until 1987, when it was finally demolished.

In the mid-1980s, cleanup at a nearby creosote plant indicated the wells under the old brewery were in danger of contamination, as with several former industrial sites in this area. In light of such environmental woes, the Spearman Beer story now serves as a happy reminder that natural resources once helped draw business and opportunity to Pensacola.

Jessica is a Pensacola resident with a Master’s degree in Public History. When she’s not digging up history facts, you can find her at Music Box Pensacola.