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PROFILE: A Taste of Ale

PORTSMOUTH — Step inside the doors of the current Portsmouth Brewing Co. at 224 S. St., and you’ll get a taste of what it was like back in 1843 when the first Portsmouth Brewing served up English-style beers to a booming river town.

There’s the brick alley chipped and worn from the hooves of horses pulling wagon after wagon of the magical brew out into the town. It once was a path of commerce for the beer being produced down in the cellar off Second Street in the west end of the city.

Today, the brewery, or rather the micro-brewery, is above ground on one side of the building with Mault’s Brew Pub, an upscale sandwich and pizza restaurant, on the other. And that alley is just a walkway between the two, however, still resonating with the history of the commercial establishment.

“Dad is big on leaving things the way they are, the history of it all,” says Will Mault, son of the owner of the company, Steven Mault, who can trace his personal history back to the Revolutionary War.

The elder Mault was the founder of one of Portsmouth’s popular restaurant, the Scioto Ribber, that is now owned by his son.

On the micro-brewery side are giant kettles whereby the grain and water mix at boiling temperatures to produce a potent extract. That extract is again boiled

“Everything is at an exact temperature and timing,” Mault said. “It is pretty scientific.”

Then the extract makes its journey to other kettles to ferment becoming a variety of beverages from ales to lagers.

“Ale ferments in a different time period than lager,” Mault said. “Lager ferments from the bottom up and ale ferments from the top down.”

As more German immigrants settled along the Ohio River, especially in Portsmouth, the taste of food and drink took on a different style. That was just as apparent in the beer produced here. The lighter English beers gave way to the heavier, darker German lager.

It was a business that had the typical highs and lows of any commercial endeavor during the post-Civil War era. In 1889 the brewery was bought for $12,500 by Julius Esselborn, who knew little about the actual brewing process, but had the determination to become a successful entrepreneur. He took an additional $10,000 to upgrade the equipment turning the brewery into a long-running success.

Three years later the brewery merged with an ice company to change its name and mission to the Portsmouth Brewing and Ice Co. Most of the lagers that came out of the brewery stayed at home, but a few were exported up and down river over a 50-mile radius. Among the brand names coming out of the establishment were Portsmouth Bock, Excelsior Export and Elk Beer.

However, these decades of prosperity were soon derailed when the prohibition movement took hold of the country. Nationally that culminated with the ratification of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920. However, prohibitionist had already gotten their grip on Ohio and 12 years earlier the state legislature had passed the Rose Law. That closed down all saloons. It signaled the end of the Portsmouth Brewery.

Yet that end seemed short-lived when the state law was repealed in 1911. But when national prohibition went into effect, that brewery closed its doors.

It was not until Steven Mault bought the old brewery in the mid 1990s that it returned to its original mission. Now it is part of the thriving renaissance of the Boneyfiddle section of Portsmouth that features upscale shops, bakeries and tea rooms. u