Being a bustling harbor city and under five flags at various times, Pensacola has “wet the whistle” of many throughout its history.
Today, the City of Five Flags has an ever-growing appetite for craft beer and libations, but that wasn’t always the case.
Pensacola first got its taste for brews at the turn of the century in 1902, when plans to build the first brewery in the city were conceived. Unfortunately for the booze-partaking citizens, the idea failed and soon Pensacola fell into an economic depression following a brash of devastating hurricanes.
With the rise of World War I, Pensacola started its climb to propriety with the establishment in 1914 of the Naval Air Station. Massive military expenditures during the build up of the Great War sparked an economic boom that continued for many years. Shortly after the war however, the impact of prohibition set in, effectively forcing the alcohol industry underground.
Eventually, with a solid financial base tied to the Navy and the end of Prohibition imminent, a local entrepreneur named Guy Spearman, proprietor of the Crystal Ice Company, envisioned creating his own brewery.
Born in 1896 in Tallapoosa, Georgia, Spearman settled in Pensacola in 1929 and established the Crystal Ice Company. In the early 1930s, Spearman made several trips to Monterrey, Mexico where — after seeing the Carta Blanca Brewery — he got the idea for creating his own beer.
Just after the legalization of beer in Florida on May 15, 1933, Spearman became a distributor for Budweiser and Schlitz. His ice plant at Barrancas Avenue and Government Street was one of the few facilities available that could handle draft beer, which required constant refrigeration.
Spearman’s dream of building a brewery next to his ice plant soon materialized and the groundbreaking for a new brewery at 1600 Barrancas Avenue was held in 1934. On May 18, 1935, the plant opened with ceremonies, speeches, tours and free beer, which was pronounced “excellent” by local dignitaries.
The first-of-its-kind plant in Pensacola was referred to as “one of the most modern breweries of its size in the South.”
The three-story brewhouse was equipped with a 75-barrel brew kettle and the two-story stockhouse contained a 50-barrel wood fermenting tanks. A bottling house was able to package more than 6,000 bottles a day. Because of its proximity to Pensacola Bay, a steel skeleton surrounded by tile and stucco was used to withstand the hurricanes.
From its inception the brewery used the slogan, “The Pure Water Does It.” Water pumped from beneath the brewery at 1,000 gallons per minute supplied the brewhouse, which gave the beer a “unique, foamy, but tasty carbonated flavor.”
The outbreak of World War II brought many changes to the naval port of Pensacola and to the brewery. The population grew rapidly as civilians flowed in to fill jobs in war-related industries. Between 1941 and 1945, over 28,000 naval aviators earned their wings at the Naval Air Station. With this growth came the need for rest and relaxation and, of course, beer.
According to company records, during a blind taste test in Biloxi, Miss., Keesler Air Force Base airmen chose Spearman and Budweiser over all other brands.
Although items like gas, sugar, and tires were being rationed during the war, the brewery secretly purchased needed supplies through Spearman’s ice plant. During the peak years of the war, 150 men were employed at Spearman and production increased to more than 80,000 barrels in 1943.
The brewery used a variety of tactics to advertise, including bartering with locals bars and retailers, and some more creative methods. In the 1940s, Spearman sponsored “Take It Easy Time,” a popular nightly show on local radio station WCOA that featured songs of The Spearman Circle 8 Cowboys.
In the mid 20th century, massive beer corporations like Busch, Pabst, and Budweiser began to overshadow brands like Spearman, which distributed regionally across the Gulf Coast.
In 1955, the Hertzberg Foundation purchased Spearman. Less than a decade later, Hertzberg sold the brewery, closing the Spearman Brewing Company doors forever in 1964, with beer production officially ending in 1965. The equipment and tanks were sold, eventually leaving only the rusted steel skeleton.
In 1974, the city condemned the existing vacant building. In 1987, the remaining structure was finally demolished.
After selling the brewery, Spearman continued to operate his original company, the Crystal Ice Company. The ice company now survives as the Reddy Ice plant at its original location near the former brewery.
For decades, the former Spearman property sat vacant. Last year, with growing investment in downtown Pensacola, Pensacola-based KESCO built its new multi-million dollar flagship store and distribution warehouse on the south side of the property. The remaining land where the brewery once stood is currently under contract for development.
This article was published with research and photos from the West Florida Genealogical Society and the University of West Florida Historic Trust.