George Bernier

Age 81: Navy veteran was the last brewmaster of the old F. & M. Schaefer Brewery in Highlandtown.

May 24, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun Reporter

George J. Bernier Jr., a third-generation brewer who was the last brewmaster of the old F. & M. Schaefer Brewery in Highlandtown, died Sunday of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at his Parkville home. He was 81.

Mr. Bernier was born in Richmond, Va., and attended Benedictine High School until moving to Baltimore in 1941 to board at Mount St. Joseph High School in Irvington.

He left high school in 1944, and joined the Navy. He served with the Seabees on Guam, where he was a member of a dredge equipment division until being discharged in 1946.

"Upon his return, he kept a promise to his father that he'd complete his education and graduated from Mount St. Joseph's in 1947," said a daughter, Edie M. Bernier of Parkville.

After graduating from the United States Brewers' Academy in Brooklyn, N.Y., he went to work at the Lykens Brewery in Lykens, Pa.

In the early 1950s, he took a job at the Home Brewing Co. in Richmond, Va., brewers of Richbrau Premium Beer, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who had been brewmasters there.

Mr. Bernier was eventually promoted to brewmaster at Home Brewing Co., a position he held until its closing in 1969.

"Richbrau was called a Catholic beer because the brewery was owned by the Sitterding family, who were an old German Catholic family in Richmond," said Bill Amrhein, a brother-in-law, who lives in Richmond. "Plus, they always supplied the beer for events sponsored by the Catholic Church."

After Home Brewing Co. went out of business, Mr. Bernier moved to Baltimore to take over as brewmaster at the F. & M. Schaefer brewery on South Conklin Street.

After F. & M. Schaefer closed the plant and transferred production to the company's Lehigh, Pa., plant, Mr. Bernier joined Bond Distributing Co., distributors of Miller's Beer, as warehouse supervisor. He retired in 1991.

Not only did he enjoy brewing beer, Mr. Bernier enjoyed drinking it. In fact, it was the only alcoholic beverage he liked to imbibe.

"He had two wonderful sayings. He used to say, 'After two beers, they all taste the same,' and 'When you have access to a free beer tap, you have unlimited friends,' " his daughter said, with a laugh.

He also exuded plenty of Gemutlichkeit, German for good-naturedness and cheerfulness, according to a 1953 article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

"He loved going to Austria, where he enjoyed eating Wiener schnitzel, bratwurst and sauerkraut," said another daughter, Barbara Bernier Dax of Vienna, Austria.

After Mr. Bernier's face broke out in a red rash in the 1980s, his dermatologist diagnosed an allergy to hops.

"He came home and said, 'God did this to me,' and he had to give up beer drinking," Edie M. Bernier said. "His doctor said if he didn't, he was to go home, get dressed, and then go out and look for six pallbearers."

Mr. Bernier never lost his quick wit and love of people.

"He was always a 'hail fellow, well-met,' " said Mr. Amrhein. "He was gregarious, positive and had a certain joie de vivre about him."

Mr. Bernier had a special fondness for children.

"His magic with kids was the star in his crown," Mr. Amrhein said. "He made generations of young children sit enraptured with his funny stories and tricks. I always admired that he could make kids laugh even when they didn't want to."

Mr. Bernier was an avid hiker who enjoyed hiking around Loch Raven Reservoir and gathering wooden branches that he fashioned into walking sticks.

His wife of 54 years, the former Ann Caravati, died this year.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. today at St. Bridget Roman Catholic Church in Richmond.

In addition to his daughters, survivors include another daughter, Barri Ann Bernier of Winthrop, Wash.; a brother, Louis Bernier of Ashland, Va.; a sister, Elizabeth Bernier of Richmond; and seven grandchildren. His son, George J. Bernier III, died in 2005.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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