The Lion Brewery traces its roots to 1905, when the Luzerne County Brewing Company built a brew house in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on land purchased for one dollar from the Delaware and Hudson railroad. The new firm, which had a capacity of 100,000 31-gallon barrels per year, changed its name to The Lion Brewery in 1912 and made beer until “Prohibition was enacted in 1920. It then turned to making “near beer;’ a grain-based beverage that contained one-half of 1 percent alcohol, about one-tenth that of beer.
Like most brewers, the company struggled to survive during Prohibition, but when the law was repealed in 1933 it was purchased by Ted Smulowitz and Leo Swartz, who renamed it The Lion, Inc., and began making beer under the Gibbons brand name. Swartz later sold his stake to the Smulowitz family, who took full control of the operation. By the 1940s the brewery had grown to produce an average of 200,000 barrels of beer per year, and in 1954 the company installed a new 390-barrel copper brewing kettle to further boost capacity.
In 1967 the company bought the Bartels brand from a brewery in Edwardsville, Pennsylvania, and in 1974 it acquired the beers of larger local rival Stegmaier, which had recently gone under. The firm was now the only brewery left in Northeastern Pennsylvania, which had once been home to 28. Stegmaier had been founded in 1857 in Wilkes-Barre by German-born Charles Stegmaier, and had grown to become one of the largest brewers in the state. Stegmaier’s Gold Medal and Liebotschaner Cream Ale joined the Gibbons and Bartels brands, which were supplemented in 1977 by the acquisition of Esslinger beer of Philadelphia. The Smulowitz family privately owned and operated the brewery until 1993. Changes in ownership occurred over the next fourteen years and today the Brewery is owned by a management led investment group.
Currently the Lion Brewery produces approximately 50,000 bbls/annually of their own beers for regional distribution in the Northeast. In addition to its own line of beers, Lion produces contract beverages for other companies including beers, soft drinks, maltas, and energy drinks.
Other brands that have been produced in the past include the above named Gibbons, Bartels, and Esslinger brands, as well Stegmaier 1857 first produced in 1989, a Gold Medal Winner for American Premium Lager at the Great American Beer Festival in Colorado, while Liebotschaner Cream Ale won a Gold Medal for American Cream Ale. The Brewery Hill brand, named after the location of the former Stegmaier Brewery and Pocono Lager line named after the Pocono Mountains, were other beer lines that have been produced over the years.
Over 100 years old and going strong, The Lion Brewery has survived Prohibition and industry consolidation to find its niche making a range of alcoholic and non- alcoholic beverages. The Brewery’s own beers continue to be the local favorites in the hometown market.