“In the year 1919, encouraged and assisted by close friend Joseph Raspillar, who owned the Raspiller brewing company, “Papa” Albert R. Markstein Sr. bought a horse, a wagon and six cases of beer in order to start his own business. He began making deliveries of lager, steam and porter beers from Golden West Brewing Company in Oakland. Into this business he poured love, hope, dedication, hard work and his dreams for a bright future for his three sons. During these early years, beer distributed by the Markstein Beverage Company was warehoused in a small building adjoining the family home in Albany.
Soon after the business began, prohibition was imposed. Prohibition not only reshaped the lives of thousands of families who relied on some aspect of the beer and wine industry to put food on the table, but it actually changed the physical landscape of California. Thousands of acres of hop fields and vineyards were eliminated. Many beer distributors during this 13-year struggle had to become creative and innovative to survive. Al, or “Papa,” as his three sons still affectionately refer to him, survived by selling apple cider, soft drinks and “near beer” (history’s answer to our modern day O’Doul’s).
Survival in those hard times demanded innovation and creative sales techniques. Albert C. Markstein recalls that one of his father’s ideas involved taking bottles of near beer from their bulky wooden cases, carefully wrapping them in tissue and repackaging them for delivery to select customers. Frequently, this was the job of the three Markstein boys – Albert, Adolph and Walter – when they came home from school.
In 1933, after the end of prohibition, Albert C. Markstein answered his father’s appeal for help with the “beer rush” and returned from college to help with sales and private delivery of Golden Glow beer. Brother Adolph joined the company in 1934 and Walter in 1937. Their mother Elsie worked as the general office manager and bookkeeper.
After the death of her husband in 1944, Elsie Markstein gave her three sons confidence, backing and guidance in carrying on the family business in Oakland and San Francisco. “We’ve had our ups and downs in the business,” she said in an interview in 1968. “And so when we’re up, we appreciate everything more.”
With the next generation’s skillful assistance, the Markstein Beverage Company quickly expanded and was on its way to eventually becoming one of the largest independent family-owned groups of wholesale beer distributorships in the United States.
Today the families of two of the three brothers, Albert and Adolph, each independently own distributorships in California; Walter is retired from the beer business. Albert C. Markstein’s son, CFO Robert C. Markstein, and Robert’s children, Laura L. Markstein-Gallagher, and his young son, Ian Markstein, privately own Markstein Sales Company of Pittsburg.
Of course, much has transpired over the years. The family has managed to survive prohibition, economic depression and the demise of countless suppliers, customers and wholesalers. Throughout all these years, Markstein Sales Company has managed to change, adapt and stay on the leading edge of our industry.