Brewer Bill Moeller At 80

by Jack Curtin
(Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, December 2006/January 2007)

William M. Moeller will, first chance he gets, proudly proclaim himself "the last of the World War II brewers," a statement which will more often than not be prelude to some pointed commentary on how badly the Merchant Marine, in which he served during that conflict, has been badly treated by our government. He will extol capitalism with the tireless passion of a true believer and discuss his politics fiercely, all the while accepting contrary opinions politely and with good humor, a rather quaint courtesy well out of fashion these days.

More to the point, Bill Moeller will also regale any willing audience with stories of his brewing career, rolling out photographs, awards and even the day-to-day brewing records from entities long departed to enhance his tales and prove his points. His career and experience stretch from working in many famed regional breweries of post WW II America to helping give birth some of today's respected microbreweries. Trust me, anyone reading these words could happily sit down and chat with the man for as many hours and pints as you both could handle. Good luck with that. This is a man constantly on the move, and you got to catch him first.

"I celebrated my 80th birthday last April in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, the cradle of capitalism these days," Moeller told me in July when I sat down with him at his home in Boyertown, Penna., for the first of a series of interviews. "I was on a four-month trip around the world, 45,000 miles, 22 countries, 44 ports of call. Of course, I managed to visit some breweries along the way. At the Red Lion brewery in New Zealand, I spent the day with the production supervisor and was amazed at the quality of their hops. New Zealanders grow a wonderful varietal hop very similar to Hallertau and Saaz."

When I called him in late October, it was more of the same. "No time to get together, I'm off on a two and half week Danube and Rhine River cruise with my lady friend," he announced. "While I'm over there, I'm going to see if it's possible to set up a beer tour using one those riverboats. I'd like to get a group together and do that, arrange to have local beers on board and schedule tours wherever we docked."

The reason we had to talk by phone was that Bill Moeller is, shall we say, involved in things. He's on the boards of the Bucks County Community Foundation and the Reading Museum and involved in a spate of Boyertown activities. And he's the man behind the Margaret B. Moeller Foundation, which he created to help provide home care companions for people in need after his wife of 33 years died of Alzheimer's in 2004.

Moeller is a fourth-generation brewer who's been in the business for more than 50 years. His resume claims that he, his great grandfather and father, plus two uncles, have brewed around 110 million barrels of beer over the last 125 years or so. "I began learning about brewing by osmosis at an early age," he says. "Every time my father and my uncles got together, they talked about beer, about its production, about breweries that existed or had ceased to exist. I listened, I learned and I was fascinated."

Following his two-year stint in the Merchant Marine (1944-46), Moeller attended the University of Cincinnati, studying business. After his 1950 graduation, he spent a three year apprenticeship at Drewry's, the Midwest regional chain, under his uncle A. Robert Moeller. In 1953, he attended an invitation-only eight-week seminar at the U.S. Brewers Academy in New York and then was hired at Reading Brewery, where he worked under brewmaster Elmo Messer until 1956. "He was good friend to me who really got me started on my way," Moeller says.

"Then, on my 30th birthday, April 2, 1956, I was hired as an assistant brewmaster and head of Quality Control at the Orlacher Brewing Company in Allentown," He remembers. "It was a great little brewery and I stayed there 12 years. I moved on to Ortlieb's from 1968 until 1980 and that was where I really learned about the production side of things. When Ortlieb closed, I went to Schmidt's as brewmaster in charge of specialty products, which were the Ortlieb's products Schmidt's had acquired: Neuweiler Beer, McSorley's Ale, Coqui (our version of Old English 800) and Birell, a very good non-alcoholic beer." He remained there until he was downsized in 1985, choosing to retire at that point.

Retirement didn't last all that long. Within a year or so, his good friend and brewery engineer John Bergmann put him in contact with Steve Hindy and Tom Potter, the founders of Brooklyn Brewery, who hired him as a consultant after the trio met for a chat at the Yuengling Brewery in Pottsville. Moeller helped formulate Brooklyn Lager and other early brews, wisely taking his compensation in shares of ownership in the company. Not long afterwards, he helped Jeff Ware and Rosemarie Certo develop Dock Street Amber, a contract beer whose success eventually led to the creation of the beloved and dearly missed Dock Street brewpub in downtown Philadelphia. He's been involved in several other start-ups over the years since, including Hoboken, Tun Tavern and Poor Henry's.

Moeller still keeps his hand in, as they say. One of his significant contributions to both Brooklyn and Dock Street was opening the doors for each to contract brew at F. X. Matt in Utica, NY. When Dock Street decided to shift that relationship to Olde Saratoga Brewing (Mendocino) recently, he was asked to help out. "I went up there with them last week," he told me during that phone call prior to his river trip, "to meet brewmaster Paul McErlean when he was doing the first batch and discuss the recipes and some modifications we wanted."

Bill Moeller, septuagenarian-and-then-some, may be a walking record of local brewing history, but the emphasis in that description is definitely on "walking." In fact, make that "running." Like I said, catch him if you can.

Copyright (c) 2006 Jack Curtin

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