It probably seems unusual that the head of a group dedicated to the history of breweries doesn’t drink beer.
As unusual, perhaps, as a national beer museum in Potosi instead of Milwaukee or St. Louis.
But in the opinion of Len Chylack, past president of the American Breweriana Association and the National Brewery Museum, the museum is exactly where it should be.
Chylack believes breweries like Potosi represent the history of American brewing better than the largest brewers do.
“Our organization is interested in the small-town brewery — the brewery every small town had prior to Prohibition,” said Chylack, who lives in Pennsylvania but was in Potosi last week. “Every town had a bar, a church and a brewery — as we call them, the hometown breweries.”
The ABA consists of three interest groups.
“There’s a group that collects really rare breweriana,” said Chylack. “You have a group who are just interested in the brewing industry. And you have a group that collects breweriana and is involved with the brewing industry.”
Chylack said Pennsylvania had more breweries than any other state. “I’m a big history guy, and that’s why this is my passion,” he said. Beer as a beverage is “just something that I never picked up.”
Chylack argues that the brewing industry helped create the American middle class.
“With unions [breweries] started [limited] hours of work; they contributed to the community,” he said. “They provided a lot of things for the middle class.”
The Potosi Brewery is one of the stops on the annual ABA convention in Dubuque June 10–14. A tour of the brewery is scheduled for June 12.
Potosi was one of three bidders for the museum in June 2003; the others were the Pabst Brewing Co. complex in Milwaukee and the facilities of the former Lemp Brewery in St. Louis, a competitor of Anheuser–Busch before Prohibition.
“Over the years, we’ve had a number of other organizations looking for us to put a museum there that really didn’t fit what we wanted,” said Chylack, who said St. Louis and Milwaukee were “just too big. … Potosi fit into that whole project of the hometown breweries.” He said Busch and Pabst were “the antithesis of what we were interested in — they drove all these small-town breweries out of business.”
Two events hastened the death of the small-town brewery. The first was the creation of refrigerated trucks; the second was television.
“Between the 1950s and 1970s you had all these small-town breweries closing; the nationals were just overpowering them,” said Chylack. “And now it’s coming back — all these micros are just the small-town brewery.”
The ABA’s website, www.americanbreweriana.org, has a database of known breweries throughout the U.S. The earliest listed Southwest Wisconsin brewery, appropriately enough, is Joseph Udlehoven, in business in Potosi in 1850. The list also includes the two Grant County breweries now in operation, Potosi Brewery and Woodman Brewing.
“It’s an ongoing project; it’s almost like Wikipedia,” said Chylack. “Hundreds and hundreds of micros are going on all the time.”
The return of Potosi beer came with the original Potosi labels. Huber Beer of Monroe, which purchased the label, lost the trademark because Huber didn’t produce Potosi beer.
Microbrewing has progressed to the point that microbreweries are able to can their own beer, thanks to the creation of a portable canning machine.
Not surprisingly, bigger brewers are trying to get into the microbrew market.
“They’re not really craft breweries,” said Chylack. “The only ones that will succeed is when you buy them out and let them operate.”
Chylack thinks the growth of microbreweries will continue for the short term.
“I think it’s going to continue where you have these start-ups and microbrew pubs,” said Chylack. “The market will thin them out if they don’t make a good product. But I think it’s going to last at least another five years. I don’t know how long it’ll last after that. If you can get a foothold and produce a good product, you can do well, and there are lot of them growing.
“If you have a good product, that’s what matters.”
SOUTHWEST WISCONSIN’S BREWERIES
Boscobel: Boscobel Brewing (1866–1888, 1895–1942), Frank Wunderly (1880).
British Hollow: Joseph Vogelsberg (1870–1888).
Cassville: Cassville Brewery (1870, 1878–1920, 1933–38).
Cazenovia: Alois Fix (1874–75).
Darlington: Collins & Christ (1870).
De Soto: George Eckhardt (1870–1886).
Dodgeville: John G. Treutzech (1870, 1878–1880).
Highland: J. Schaffra (1860, 1870–1880), Semrad–Pusch (1867–1920, 1933–1942).
Hillsboro: Hillsboro Brewing (1870–1920, 1933–1943).
Mineral Point: John Philips Brewery (1835), Mineral Spring Brewing (1850–1897, 1898–1961), Garden City Brewery (1854–1898), Brewery Creek Brewing (1998).
Muscoda: Muscoda Brewing (1851–1907), Meyer & Pesse (1870).
Platteville: Platteville Brewery (1868–1920, 1934, 1937–1941), Pioneer Haus (2001–09).
Potosi: Joseph Udlehoven (1850), Potosi Brewing (1852–1884, 1886–1920, 1933–1972, 2008–present), Henry Meeke (1878–1882).
Prairie du Chien: Georgi & Company (1850), Schibb (1850), Schwarz Brothers Brewery (1870–1920, 1933).
Richland City (Gotham): M.E. Lewis (1850).
Shullsburg: Shullsburg Brewery (1850–1860, 1870–1916).
Spring Green: Fredk. Fenzel (1884).
Union: S. Marchant (1874–75).
Wiota: Peter Ede (1870, 1878–1884).
Woodman: Woodman Brewing (2010–present).
OTHER TRI-STATE BREWERIES
Dubuque: The Dubuque Brewing (1845–1896), Kurtz & Weider (1850–1880), Western Brewery (1854–1896), Iowa Brewery (1855–1896, 1904–1912), Miners Brewery and Saloon (1857–1860), Excelsior Brewery (1858), Dubuque Ale Brewery (1865–1871), Kempf’s Brewery (1865–1874), Northern Brewery (1865–1896), Peaslee Ale (1866–1907), Dubuque Brewing & Malting (1896–1916, 1934), Dubuque Star Brewing (1898–1915, 1933–1998), Standard Brewing and Malting of Dubuque (1908–1910), Key City Brewing (1934), The Bricktown Brewery (2001–09).
Dunleith (East Dubuque): L.A. Rhomberg (1863–1870, 1871–75).
Dyersville: Germania Brewery (1860–1880), Herman Schemmel (1862–1880), Esch (1874–1896).
Galena: English Brewery (1838–1872), Illinois Brewery (1842–49), St. Louis Brewery (1844–1884), Fincke Brewery (1849–1852), Volz & Glueck (1850–1877), City Brewery (1850–1880), Franklin Brewery (1853–1908, 1909–1920), Fulton Brewery (1853–1920, 1934–36), Christopher Hay (1863–65), George Adler (1863–66), Galena Main Street Brewpub (1992–95), Galena Brewing (2010–present).
Guttenberg: August Schuitzo & Alfred Arivermann (1865), Frederick Lemme (1865), Peter Klein (1865), William Hosfeld (1865–1883), John Roth (1874–1888), Rudolph Wolter (1874–1885, 1899–1911), August Junk (1878–1885),