Florida's Forgotten Original Regional Breweries
A 'regional brewery' is one that distributes to particular regions on a smaller basis than the nationwide breweries many of us are familiar with today. Though the Florida Beer Company and Cigar City Brewing are the only regional breweries in Florida today, many formerly operated across the Sunshine State.
Jax Brewing Company (1914 - 1956)
City: Jacksonville, Florida Capacity: 100,000 annual barrels
William Ostner broke ground on the Jacksonville Brewing Company in 1913. Ostner was married to the daughter of Jacob Schorr of Schorr-Kolkschneider Brewing Company of St. Louis, and the Schorr family helped Ostner open his brewery. The first brew from Ostner’s 30,000 barrel-a-year brewery hit the market on May 16, 1914. By the time Jacksonville went dry in 1918, the brewery’s employment was up to 243 and its debts had been retired. During Prohibition, the brewery’s name was changed to the Jax Ice and Cold Storage Company and the production of beer was replaced with Velvet Brand ice cream, Florida Export and Old Fashioned Dark “near beer” and the bottling of root beer and ginger ale. Anticipating the end of prohibition, brewing capacity was expanded four months before the passage of the 21st Amendment, enabling Ostner to hit the ground running in 1933.
In 1935, Jacksonville Brewing Company entered into a legal dispute with New Orleans-based Jackson Brewing Company over the “Jax Beer” trademark used by both companies. In a compromise, the breweries divided their regions: the Jacksonville company sold in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas, while Jackson Brewing sold in states to the west. In 1940, the company changed its name to the Jax Brewing Company and by 1943, production had increased to 100,348 barrels annually. By the 1950s, its Jax Beer label and trademark cockatoo dominated the Florida, Georgia and South Carolina drinking scenes. Other brands included Ostner’s Lager Beer, Ostner’s Sparkling Ale, Ostner’s Stout, Hi Jax Beer, Jax Export Beer, Mecca Pale Beer, Jax Ale, Jax Brock, Royal Palm Beer, Fine’s Sparkling Ale, Peninsula Ale and Rhein King Beer.
Jax Brewing faced competition from incoming national brewers in the 1950s, as well as the high cost of shifting to aluminum cans. Meanwhile, the company’s cold storage operation experienced rising revenues. Ostner’s son sold the Jax Beer copyright to Jackson Brewing Company in 1956 and reposition the Jacksonville brewery as the Jax Ice and Cold Storage Company. In 1986, the business was sold to Industrial Cold Storage (now ICS Logistics). Today, the abandoned 130,000-square-foot brewery is one of a handful early Florida regional brewery buildings still standing.