Theodore Haffenreffer, 91; ran brewery

By Bryan Marquard
Globe Staff / January 15, 2009
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Raised next door to the family brewery in Jamaica Plain and trained in Copenhagen as a brewer, Theodore C. Haffenreffer Jr. had far more discerning tastes than most who raise a mug to their lips.

"When my father tasted any new beer, the first thing he would comment on was how it was hopped," Hatsy Shields of Hamilton said, referring to how well the hop plants had flavored a brew. "He would taste it, he would swirl it around his mouth, and he would say, 'Well hopped' or it needed work."

Mr. Haffenreffer, who took over his family business, Haffenreffer & Co., and ran it until it was shuttered in 1964, died Dec. 27 in his home in the Chestnut Hill section of Newton after a period of failing health. He was 91.

"The brewery meant a lot to him," his daughter said. "It was a vibrant place, and I think it was a great part of the life of that neighborhood."

Haffenreffer & Co. also was, for many decades, part of Boston's storied history. In the late 1880s, after the Civil War, Mr. Haffenreffer's grandfather launched the family business, using water from Stony Brook.

The brewery became a sprawling complex with more than a dozen buildings, including some that housed workers. Legend has it that an outside spigot at one building offered free beer day and night and that Red Sox players - including Babe Ruth - stopped after home games to quench their thirst.

For Mr. Haffenreffer, becoming part of that tradition was all but preordained. When he was a child, the family home and the brewery were inseparable - pipes ran back and forth between the house and the buildings.

"It was fantastic," said Mr. Haffenreffer's younger sister Katharine Selle of Brookline. "As my father said, 'Who else can get his house heated directly from a brewery?' "

Each year when school ended, the Haffenreffer children left home and the brewery behind and spent the next few months at the family's dairy farm in southern New Hampshire, a few miles in from the seacoast.

"In the early years, the moving was done by a brewery truck, and we could load on suitcases and five bicycles," his sister said.

At the farm, she said, the children took part in the day-to-day operations, "the haying, the milking, the tractor driving. To give an example, I was perfectly capable of driving a tractor at 10."

But while Mr. Haffenreffer was adept at farm operations, his sister said, "the only direction he took in his life was toward being a brewer."

Mr. Haffenreffer graduated from the Rivers School, which then was in Brookline, and studied chemistry at the University of Birmingham in England. From there, he went to Copenhagen to train at the Tuborg Brewery.

A few years later, he was an usher for a friend's wedding and met Marion Morgan, whom he married in 1942.

"When my mother saw the lineup of ushers, she decided where she would sit at the dinner before the wedding," their daughter said. "I think she probably fell for him immediately. They looked a smashingly romantic couple."

Tall and athletic, Mr. Haffenreffer played squash at Union Boat Club on Beacon Hill and was an accomplished sailor, a talent he passed on to some of his children, one of whom competed internationally. With his family, he spent decades of summers on Prouts Neck in Scarborough, Maine.

When Mr. Haffenreffer closed the family's brewery, he sold its brands of beer, including Haffenreffer Private Stock, to his cousins, who at the time ran Narragansett Brewing Co. in Rhode Island.

Mr. Haffenreffer turned his attention to the stock market and serving on boards.

"When he sold it to Narragansett, it really allowed him a much fuller participation in the Boston business world, and I think he very much enjoyed that," his daughter said.

He also enjoyed spending more time with his wife, and in the garden they spent years tending around their home.

"They were a completely, totally devoted couple," their daughter said. "One of the manifestations of that great partnership is the garden they created."

In the gardens, she said, "Dad was really the designer. He organized the shape of the pond while it was being dredged, and he was also the arborist. He loved to prune and he had an eclectic taste for very unusual trees. He loved to shape them; his design sense was strong and right."

So, too, was his approach to welcoming in visitors to view the beauty he and his wife had coaxed from the earth.

"What gave them the greatest pleasure was that they opened their gardens on Sundays, always, to the neighborhood in the summer," their daughter said. "He was a great gentleman, and that is something all his friends recognize. He was courteous and attentive to people in the way a gentleman is. It wasn't just his manners, it was his heart that made him a gentleman."

In addition to his wife, daughter, and sister, Mr. Haffenreffer leaves three other daughters, Marion Esmiol of Anaheim, Calif., Katharine Storey of Brighton, and Elizabeth Scholle of Brookline; a son, Theodore C. III of Cape Elizabeth, Maine; another sister, Marie Fox of Duxbury; 13 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday in Church of the Redeemer in Chestnut Hill.

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