Phoenix Bourbon Naber, Alfs & Brune S.F.
Naber, Alfs & Brune S.F.
Naber, Alfs & Brune, San Francisco, California
Provenance: Richard J. Burgarella Collection
Naber, Alfs & Brune were well-known importers and wholesale wine and liquor dealers in San Francisco, California. They sold wines and liquors by the bottle or in bulk, in barrels and half barrels. Their most famous brands were Phoenix Bourbon and Damiana Bitters. Their history dates back to 1875 though they were established as Naber, Alfs & Brune in either late 1879 or early 1880.
Naber, Alfs & Brune were particularly noted for their elaborate designs on their glass flasks, which came in half-pints and pints in amber and clear glass. Some flasks emphasized that the partners were “Sole Agents” for Phoenix Bourbon. The company also sold the liquor in tall fifth and quart bottles. All are prominently embossed with a pictorial Phoenix, a creature of mythology, a long-lived bird characterized by being cyclically regenerated or reborn. Associated with the sun, a Phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.
See the museum example 5-5/8 inches tall miniature Phoenix Bourbon, Naber, Alfs & Braun S.F. Agents bottle (pictured below)
Our clear with amethyst tone tooled top example of a “Phoenix Bourbon” cylinder fifth, with the embossed Phoenix, is extremely rare and dates to 1890 to 1900. It is one of two known fully intact specimens and is ex: R. C. Lucchesi. The second known example was in the Ken Schwartz collection.
This two-piece mold example has a slightly crooked neck and smooth base. According to Whiskey Bottles of the Old West, a damaged example first surfaced in the 1970s at the San Mateo Bottle Show and was bought by John Alexander for his collection. There is a rumor of another example that broke into many pieces during the 1989 San Francisco Loma Preada Earthquake.
The embossed copy on the clear Phoenix Bourbon fifth is in a sans serif typestyle and occurs within a large, debossed circle on the face of the bottle. A large, embossed Phoenix dominates the graphics, rising from the ashes and looking right. The word ‘PHOENIX’ is over-arched over the pictorial Phoenix. The word ‘BOURBON’ is under-arched beneath the Phoenix. Along the base of the circle is ‘NABER ALFS & BRUNE, S.F.’ in concave lettering, which is connected with little or no word spacing. At least seven other embossing variations are known, with the earlier ones having applied tops.
Naber, Alfs & Brune began life as Ehlers & Brand in 1871. They were wholesale liquor dealers at 322 Clay Street. Ehlers left the company in 1875, selling his interests to Henry D. Naber. Brand and Naber then moved to 413 Front St. in 1877. In 1880, the senior partner Ernest Brand sold out to William Alfs and Henry Brune, and the familiar Naber, Alfs & Brune, was born. During their primary years, they were addressed at 323-325 Market Street from 1889 to 1906.
There were six different moves throughout the company’s life, most of which can be attributed to expansion. The one in 1906 was most likely due to the destruction of their operation on Market Street during the Great San Francisco Earthquake, which ranks as one of the most significant earthquakes ever. In 1907 the firm rebuilt at 825 Mission and remained there until 1910 when they relocated for the last time to 631-635 Howard Street.
While Naber, Alfs & Brune were the agents for their flagship Phoenix Bourbon and Damiana Bitters, other Bourbon and Whiskey items in their stock included Beargrass Whiskey, Carlisle Clubhouse Bourbon, Gold Medal Bourbon, Union Club Bourbon, Rock and Rye Whiskey, Sun Flower Bourbon, Superior Whiskey and other Scotch and Irish Whiskies. They also featured Carlisle, Mellwood and Pony Rye, Black Bird, Old Tom, Holland and American Gins, Cognac, Brandy, and Port, among many other items.
By 1909, the company’s ownership was in the hands of William Alfs and Henry Braun. By 1913, William Alfs was the sole owner. Henry Brune went into business with his brother Ernest L. Brune, an attorney about this time. The brothers first had their office at the Chronicle Building and later moved to the Hearst Building. Naber, Alfs & Brune closed for good on January 16, 1920.
See the museum example of a labeled Phoenix Whiskey Dandy pint (pictured below).
Primary Spinning Image: Colorless “Phoenix Bourbon Naber, Alfs & Brune S.F.” fifth imaged by Alan DeMaison at the FOHBC Reno 2022 National Antique Bottle Convention mobile imaging station. Richard J. Burgarella collection.
Secondary Spinning Image: Amber “Phoenix Bourbon Naber, Alfs & Brune S.F. Agents” miniature imaged by Alan DeMaison at the FOHBC Reno 2022 National Antique Bottle Convention mobile imaging station. Ron Barnes collection.
Secondary Spinning Image: Amber labeled Phoenix Whiskey, Naber, Alfs & Brune S.F. Sole Proprietors Dandy pint imaged by Alan DeMaison at the FOHBC Reno 2022 National Antique Bottle Convention mobile imaging station. Richard J. Burgarella collection.
Support: Reference to Whiskey Bottles of the Old West by John L. Thomas, 2002
Support: Auction Lot 17: “Phoenix / (Eagle) / Whiskey / Naber, Alfs & Brune / San Francisco” Whiskey Bottle, America, 1870-1890. Cylindrical, medium amber, tooled sloping collared mouth with ring-smooth base embossed “294”, ht. 12 inches. B #579 Strong embossing. Fine condition. – Norman Heckler Jr. & Sr., Norman C. Heckler & Company, Auction #119
Support: Auction Lot: Phoenix Bourbon, Naber, Alfs & Brune, San Francisco with image of the “Phoenix Rising” in center. Medium to dark amber, bright luster, choice bold embossing. 284 on the bottom. A choice example. Thomas number 123. Tooled top, circa 1890s. A premium example of one of the most popular “picture” whiskies. San Francisco, California. – Holabird Western Americana Collections, LLC. – 49er Bottle Jamboree, FOHBC 2016 Sacramento National Antique Bottle Convention.
Support: Reference to The “Man in the Middle” of Phoenix Bourbon, Those Pre-Pro Whiskey Men!, Jack Sullivan, July 2013.
Support: Reference to Naber, Alfs & Brune Catalogue and Bar-tenders Guide, Cocktail Kingdom Library
Support: Reference to Barkeep…this whisky’s for the birds!, Western Whiskey Gazette, Bruce Silva, January 2010.
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