Category Archives: Beer Brewing

Historic Milwaukee South Side Tied House Tour

Exploring the Archaeology and Architecture of Milwaukee’s Historic South Side Saloons

By Kevin Cullen (Archaeologist: Discovery World, Milwaukee)

Discovery World’s seventh Legacies of Milwaukee Brewing Tour took place on Saturday April 20th as we explored the former brewery owned saloons known as “tied houses” on Milwaukee’s south side. Once again a full motor coach of enthusiastic adults rolled out at 10am, eager to learn about Milwaukee’s historic brewing industry that supported the many saloons built throughout the city.


From the beginning of Milwaukee’s history, the business of serving beer, spirits and wine to thirsty immigrants was a lucrative enterprise. As the city’s population increased, so too did the number of saloons.  In 1860 the city of Milwaukee’s population was 45,246 and the number of saloons in operation was 205.  By 1918, there were 1,980 saloons in Milwaukee, one per 230 residents. Consequently, the Volstead Act of 1919 that brought about Prohibition was detrimental to the cultural character of the city when nearly all of Milwaukee’s saloons were officially closed.

The Tied House Phenomenon

Pabst Saloon Milwaukee 1900

Pabst Saloon Milwaukee 1900 © Milwaukee Public Library

The phenomenon of the “tied house” began as early as the 1850s, when Milwaukee breweries built saloons where their beer could be sold.  Breweries offered special prices or discounts on their beer, and in many cases, they would help the tavern owner maintain the property by offering new equipment. Eventually, the breweries discovered that the most practical way to hold a drinking customer and grow sales was to own the saloon outright, thus eliminating competition altogether. By the 1890s most Milwaukee breweries, especially the larger ones, began an aggressive program to purchase existing saloons, purchase prime vacant locations, and build newer saloons. These saloons became known as “tied houses” because they were “tied” to the brewery. The ownership and control of the tied houses ended when Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Prior to Prohibition, the Schlitz Brewing Co. had more than 2,000 saloons across the United States, the Pabst Brewing Co. had more than a 1,000. The Blatz Brewing Co., Miller Brewing Co. and other smaller breweries maintained much less numbers of tide houses in Milwaukee and across Wisconsin.

Today, most of these former tide houses are still standing throughout Milwaukee and are generally identifiably brick with corner doors and located on street corners. Many of the buildings still have evidence of what brewery operated the tavern, due to the original painted or inlaid brewery insignias. As an enduring legacy of this tradition, often these former brewery saloons continue to operate as bars or restaurants.  Fortunately, customers today have many options to choose from when ordering a drink.

Milwaukee South Side Tied House Tour Highlights

South Side Milwaukee Tied House Tour Route

South Side Milwaukee Tied House Tour Route

Our first stop on the tour was a former Schlitz Brewing Co. saloon at 2501 S Superior St. in the Bay View neighborhood. Known today as Club Garibaldi, this cream colored brick tavern was designed by architect Charles Lesser and completed in 1907. This former Schlitz “tied house” operated until Prohibition took effect in 1920.  Seven years later a Mediterranean style interior dance hall was added by owner Joseph Paolo.  Since 1943 the building has served as a public tavern and clubhouse for the Italian-American mutual aid society “Giuseppe Garibaldi”. Today Club Garibaldi is a vibrant part of Milwaukee’s music scene with an award winning pub food menu to boot, and yes you can still order a Schlitz at the bar.

1897 Schlitz Tied House 2414 S. St. Clair St. Milwaukee

1897 Schlitz Tied House 2414 S. St. Clair St. Milwaukee

Our second stop was at another Schlitz Brewing Co. tied house located a few blocks north at 2414 S. St. Clair St.  This two story Queen Anne style cream brick tavern features a rare original Schlitz belted globe atop an octagonal roof turret.  The building was designed by architect Charles Kirchoff and constructed in 1897 by Duke and Turner.  Prior to Prohibition, the saloon was run by Galo & Wilhelm. Since 1958, the former saloon was converted into a Serbian restaurant operated by the Radicevic family.  When we were there Milunka Radicevic was kind enough to allow our group inside to admire the interior and ask questions about the building.

Puddler's Hall Milwaukee 1919 & 2013

1873 Puddler’s Hall Milwaukee 1919 & 2013

Stop number three was a short stroll down St. Clair St. to Puddler’s Hall where we met with the new owner Casey Foltz.  Casey is installing a one barrel brewery in the building where he will brew small batches for in-house consumption. Puddler’s Hall is considered Milwaukee’s second oldest tavern, built by the Milwaukee Iron Company and opened in 1873 as a union hall for the Puddler’s and Boilers of the nearby foundry.  In September of 1892 it was sold by the Puddler’s and Boilers’ Union to the Falk Jung and Borchert Brewing Co.  However, that brewing company was forced to sell their assets to the Pabst Brewing Company that same year due to a devastating brewery fire that bankrupted the business.  By November of 1892 the hall became a Pabst Brewing Company tied house and would remain so until 1921.  It was sold to Frank and Mary Barbieri, which served as Barbieri’s Dance Hall until 1979.  Between 1979 and today, the tavern has had a number of names, but its identity as a local meeting place over a beer remains constant 140 years later.

1890s Munzinger Weiss Beer Brewery

1890s Munzinger Weiss Beer Brewery

The next stop took us past the site of the Munzinger Weiss Beer Brewery, which was built in 1890 on the eastside of Burrell Street, two blocks south of Lincoln Avenue at 2428-2432 Burrell St. They first produced soda water, ginger ale and Weiss beer.  However the brewery was foreclosed in 1901 and sold at a “Sheriff’s Auction” to Bernhard Tess.  Within a couple of years the wood-framed brewery buildings were demolished and eventually replaced with the residential homes on the site to this day.

1906 Miller Tied House at 182 E. Lincoln Ave. Milwaukee

1906 Miller Tied House at 182 E. Lincoln Ave. Milwaukee

Just down the hill from the Munzinger site is one of the least known and least identifiable former tied houses on Milwaukee’s Southside located at the intersection of E. Ward St. and E. Lincoln Ave. Built in 1906 by the Miller Brewing Co. as a saloon, the wood-framed 1 ½ story building was designed in the German Renaissance Revival style.  Over the past century it housed several taverns under different names, namely Ralph’s in the 1990s and is known as Baby Boomers today.

1901 Schlitz Tied House at 565 W. Lincoln Ave. Milwaukee

1901 Schlitz Tied House at 565 W. Lincoln Ave. Milwaukee

The bus was now heading west on Lincoln Ave. where we passed a couple more former historic saloons and Schlitz tied houses that have been converted into restaurants or other businesses.  Eventually we made our way north along Windlake Ave. while passing more former saloons and another Schlitz tied house at 854 Windlake Ave.  Soon we were in the Walkers Point Neighborhood where we disembarked and were given an exclusive inside look at a former Miller tied house at 1101 S. 2nd St.

1907 Miller Tied House at 1101 S. 2nd St. Milwaukee

1907 Miller Tied House at 1101 S. 2nd St. Milwaukee

This two-story cream brick tavern was built in 1907 and designed by architects Wolf & Ewens in a commercial vernacular style. Since the 1930s it has housed several bar businesses, including Marble Arcade in the late 1980s and M Martini lounge in the early 2000s.  Inside, a great deal of restoration has taken place with the original ornate tin ceiling as a highlight and tables made from old bowling lanes. Currently the building is owned by Braise Local Food LLC, which features an excellent locally sourced menu and they even host culinary classes.

Milwaukee Brewing Company S. 2nd St. Brewery April 20th 2013

Milwaukee Brewing Company S. 2nd St. Brewery April 20th 2013

By noon we were all feeling hungry so it was time to have a delicious Lasagna catered lunch at Milwaukee Brewing Company’s production brewery 613 S. 2nd St.  Following lunch everyone was treated to a fantastic tour with brewery, while enjoying as many pints of their signature and seasonal beers as desired.  This brewery combines modern technology with vintage equipment, while emphasizing green energy by using biodiesel and recently installed solar panels. Their signature beers include: Louie’s Demise, Pull Chain Pale Ale and Polish Moon and a variety of seasonal beers released throughout the year.

1916 Pabst Tied House at 338 S. 1st St. Milwaukee

1916 Pabst Tied House at 338 S. 1st St. Milwaukee

Following lunch, we boarded the bus for a short drive to the next former tied house built by the Pabst Brewing Co. in 1916.  Located at 338 S. 1st St. in Walkers Point this beige colored two story brick tavern is designed in the typical commercial vernacular style, with its main entrance on the corner of building. It only operated as a Pabst bar for four years, before Prohibition forced its closure. Over the succeeding decades the building housed several taverns, whose names included, End of the Line tavern, Smugglers tavern, Slim’s tavern and currently O’Lydia’s Bar and Grill. At nearly 100 years old, the original tin ceiling remains intact, as well as the original bar with oak columns.  Exposed cream brick on the interior lends to its historic charm, as does the sloping hard wood floors.  Today, O’Lydia’s serves a variety of tap and bottle beers, as well as a fully stocked bar and excellent pub food menu.

1901 Schlitz Tivoli Palm Garden at 504 W. National Ave. Milwaukee

1901 Schlitz Tivoli Palm Garden at 504 W. National Ave. Milwaukee

As the bus rolled on, we passed several historic brewery related industrial buildings, including former malt houses and a cooperage on S. Water St.  However, the next stop that we disembarked from the bus was at the former Schlitz Tivoli Palm Garden.  Located at 504 W National Ave.  this Neoclassical-style two story tan brick building was completed in 1901 and served as the Southside’s version of the downtown Schlitz Palm Garden on 3rd and Wisconsin Ave.  When it opened the Tivoli Palm Garden featured a thirty foot dome, hand carved woodwork, tiled floors and cathedral glass. In in December of 1978 the building was listed on National Register of Historic Places, however a year later a devastating fire gutted the interior and destroyed the original dome.  Fortunately, its historical significance led to a massive restoration project. Today the building’s exterior has been fully restored and is home to the Milwaukee Ballet.  The former palm garden is now a large open dance studio with smaller dance studios on second floor.

1888 John Graf Advertisement and 1890s Weiss Beer Bottle

1888 John Graf Advertisement and 1890s Weiss Beer Bottle

Moving on, we passed by three locations of the former Graf soda and weiss breweries.  The brewery’s first home was on southeast corner of S. 5th & W. National Ave. in 1873. Three years later they relocated the business to S. 10th St. & National Ave and renamed the business as the South Side White Beer Brewery. In 1884 John Graf relocated to the southeast corner of s. 22nd (formerly 17th Ave.) & W. Greenfield Ave. where he built a new brewery. By 1892 the brewery produced 100 cases of bottled wiess beer daily, including ginger ale, champagne, mineral water, seltzer water and other sodas. Today the site of that brewery is now a parking lot and one story commercial building.

1904 Schlitz Tied House at 2501 W. Greenfield Ave. Milwaukee

1904 Schlitz Tied House at 2501 W. Greenfield Ave. Milwaukee

The fifteenth highlighted building on this tour was the former Schlitz Brewing Co. Saloon located at 2501 W. Greenfield Ave. This two-story red brick building dates to 1904 and was designed in an Elizabethan Revival style by architect Charles Lesser, to mimic an English country inn.  On the east wall of the building is an original Schlitz logo mosaic.  The day we arrived the wooden building on the west side of this former tied house was recently torn down, revealing an original Schlitz advertisement known as a “ghost sign”.  Inside, the original bar and ornate iron radiators are still extant.  Today, the building remains virtually original and is home to the Mexican restaurant El Cañaveral (cane field). En lieu of English muffins, you’re more likely to eat bisteak a la Mexicana, though Schlitz beer is still served.

1870 Falk Brewery site at S. 29th St and W. Pierce St. Milwaukee

1870 Falk Brewery site at S. 29th St and W. Pierce St. Milwaukee

A few more blocks to the west is the site of the former Falk Jung and Borchert Brewery near S. 29th St. & W. Pierce St.  We were treated to an exclusive inside tour of the property by owner Pastor George.  The remaining large cream brick stock houses and malt houses are the oldest brewery related buildings in Milwaukee and possibly the state of Wisconsin.  In 1870 Franz Falk constructed the New Bavaria Brewery with a production of about 8,000 barrels per year. In 1888 the brewery merged with the Jung & Borchert Brewery and became known as Falk, Jung & Borchert Brewing Co.  Unfortunately, a devastating fire on July 4th 1889 destroyed the brew house and other structures, however the brewery was soon rebuilt and back in business within a year. Tragically, another fire broke out at the brewery on August 30, 1892 and was equally devastating. The brewery was not rebuilt and within two months of the fire, the Falk, Jung & Borchert Brewing Company was sold to the Pabst Brewing Company. Over the years, the remaining 1870s buildings were used for grain malting and grain storage. Today, despite being in a state of disrepair, the buildings were threatened with demolition, but as of early April 2013 the raze order was lifted due to the intervention of several concerned citizens.

1889 Schlitz Tied House at 1900 W. St. Paul Ave. Milwaukee

1889 Schlitz Tied House at 1900 W. St. Paul Ave. Milwaukee

The next stop on the tour took us across the Menomonee River valley to yet another former Schlitz Brewing Co. tied house at 1900 W. St. Paul Ave. This elegant Queen Anne style three story cream brick building was built for the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company as a saloon and boarding house known as the Marine Hotel. The main building was designed by Charles Kirchoff and completed in 1889, with a rear addition being added in 1890 that served as cellar.  A notable feature of the building’s exterior is the presence of an inlaid brick Schlitz globe on the parapet of the buildings upper exterior.  When we arrived, the place was packed, so owner Dave Sobelman took our group upstairs where everyone was appropriately treated to a bottle of Schlitz. Dave had some great stories about the building and his business, Sobelman’s Bar and Grill, and was kind enough to lead us throughout the building from the attic to the basement.

1904 Pabst Tied House at 124 N. Water St. Milwaukee

1904 Pabst Tied House at 124 N. Water St. Milwaukee

The final stop on this epic tour took us to a former Pabst Brewing Co. Saloon & Boarding House at 124 N. Water St. in Milwaukee’s historic Third Ward. This former tied house was designed in a neoclassical style by the architect Charles F. Peters and completed by master mason Edward Steigerwald in 1904. Its notable architectural feature includes an inlaid Pabst plaque on the south façade of the building’s exterior. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on March 8th 1984. As of 2012 the bar became known as the Irish Pub and it maintains a great deal of original interior and exterior architectural details.

By 5:15pm the bus arrived back at Discovery World where we began the day’s adventure.  All expressed their great satisfaction with the tour and are eager to return for the next tour in September 2013 as we explore the former tied houses and breweries in downtown Milwaukee and on the north side of the city. Stay tuned for more information on that tour on Discovery Worlds website and a subsequent post-tour article here on the Distant Mirror blog.


Goddess Brewing Series: Ninkasi IPA

Goddess Brewing Series Banner
Discovery World are pleased to announce a brand new women-led and female-only brewing series, set for Tuesday April 9th. Our first brewstress will be Christine “Boo” Wisniewski (recently of Milwaukee Brewing Company), who will lead a brewing session of an India Pale Ale that is inspired by the ancient goddess of fermentation, Ninkasi.

Each session in the series will also highlight and pay homage to an ancient goddess as you reclaim your brewing heritage by exploring the techniques of fermentation from experienced female brewers.

Light refreshments and hors d’oeuvres will be served during the evening. Participants must return to the bottling session in order to take home their one-of-a-kind product.
Sign up here:

Brewing a Himalayan Tongba and Sorghum Chai Ale

By: Kevin Cullen: Archaeologist at DISCOVERY WORLD  Milwaukee, WI, USA

Ale Through The Ages Logo

The 29th Ale Through The Ages brewing session held in February 2013 at Discovery World, focused on the fermented beverages of the Himalayan Mountains.  Despite a poignantly timed snow storm that caused a postponement, we still had a nice turn out when we brewed two varieties of rare ales; a traditional Himalayan Tongba and a regionally-inspired Sorghum Chai Ale.

Himalayan Tongba Label

Tongba (also known as Chaang) is a millet-based fermented beverage indigenous the cultures of Eastern Nepal, Sikkim and Tibet.  Specifically, the Limbu people (roughly translates as “the bearer of bows and arrows”), brew and consume the fermented millet Tongba on a regular basis. There are several varieties of millet grains cultivated globally, due to its drought resistant properties. Finger millet (called Marwa in Nepali) is an annual plant of the grass family widely grown as a cereal crop in the Himalayan mountains of Nepal and India. Millet originated in East Asia and made its way from China to the Black Sea region of Europe around 7,000 years ago. Interestingly, it was once more commonly consumed than rice.

Women Drinking Tongba

Traditionally, the millet for Tongba is  fermented with a local yeast called murcha, which is a mixture of wild yeast and bacteria.  Murcha was impossible to find here in the United States, so Koji yeast was used instead to convert the millet starch into fermentable sugars.  Koji is used in sake production, which is a mycelium mold that converts sugars via an amylolysis enzymatic reaction.

Himalayan Tongba Ale Recipe_AttA_Feb2013

After two weeks sitting in sealed buckets, this fermented millet (jaand) was then put into 12 oz. bottles and capped.  It is ready to drink in a couple of weeks, at which time hot water is added to the Tongba and consumed with a straw while hot.   The result is a mildly alcoholic fermented beverage that has a pleasant aroma and a sour bread flavor profile. Much like tea, the Tongba can take several steeps of hot water before loosing its flavor and alcohol content.   This recipe is derived from first-hand experience, from when I first enjoyed Tongba while trekking in the Himalayas of eastern Nepal in December of 2000.

Himalayan Tongba imbibing in the Thirst Lab

The second batch of ale we brewed for this session was a Sorghum Chai Ale. The recipe was inspired by the ingredients native to the Himalayan mountain landscape of India, Nepal and into the Tibetan Plateau.  Brewed with Sorghum, Millet, Honey, Darjeeling Tea and Cardamom, this unique gluten-free ale is sure to conjure images of sherpa’s on mountain peaks, as you quaff this one-of-a-kind ale. 

Sorghum Chai Ale Label

Two yeast strains were used to ferment two 5 gallon carboys. One was a Sake yeast and the other was wild yeast obtained from first flush Darjeeling tea leaves.  The Sake yeast worked very efficiently to ferment the ale, however the wild yeast took several weeks longer to come to terminal gravity.  At 5.5 % ABV, the resulting ales were deliciously cider-like with hints of black tea and cardamom. Each yeast exhibited unique flavor profiles as a result of their provenance. Try your hand at brewing these unique ales at home and let us know how they turn out. As they say in Nepalese शुभ कामना Subhakamana , Cheers!

Sorghum Chai Ale Recipe



Ale Through The Ages – Season V

Ale Through The Ages LogoBy:  Kevin Cullen: Archaeology Associate:  Discovery World, Milwaukee WI

Ale Through The Ages season five is currently underway at Milwaukee’s premiere Center for Public Innovation: Discovery World. We began the season in October by pressing an Old Wisconsin Apple Cider, using heirloom apples from Weston’s Antique Orchard in Waukesha County. Clocking in at 8.6% it was a delicious taste of  Wisconsin’s autumnal bounty.

Ale Through The Ages series

Ale Through The Ages series : Old Wisconsin Cider Label

In November 2012 we brewed two versions of a Presidential Ale.  The first recipe was quilled by George Washington in 1757 when he was on the front lines of the French & Indian War.  With molasses and boiled “bran” as the principle ingredients, needless-t0-say the end result was both smoky and barely passable for a beer we think of today.

Ale Through The Ages Season V - Session XXVI

Ale Through The Ages Season V – Session XXVI

Six more gallons of the wort was fermented in a large pumpkin, resulting in a unique flavor of the squash used in brewing during the colonial period.  The other 6 gallons of the George Washington Ale was fermented in a glass carboy, with the addition of cherry wood chips added to secondary fermentation.

Ale Through The Ages - Season V - Session XXVI

Ale Through The Ages – Season V – Session XXVI

In contrast to our first president, we also brewed a six gallon batch of White House Honey Porter, currently being brewed at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington DC. In 2012, the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, purchased home brewing equipment for the White House.  With the help of local professional brewers and staff chefs, they began brewing a Honey Porter and a Honey Ale in the kitchen of the White House.  While we were not able to source the actual White House honey, we used Wauwatosa WI wildflower honey, as well as American, English and German ingredients to create a delicious honey porter. Ale to all the Commander and Chiefs; past, present and future!

Ale Through The Ages - Season V - Session XXVI

Ale Through The Ages – Season V – Session XXVI

December 2012 brought cold weather 0nce again to Milwaukee, so we hunkered down and brewed up a Medieval German smokey rye ale called a Roggenbier. Resurrected from the depths of brewing history, this northern European ale recipe predates the Bavarian Purity Law, Reinheitsgebot, of 1516, due to the use of rye as the predominant grain.   Much like a Dunkelweizen, this Roggenbier was dark in color with deep smoky caramel notes and a crisp rye finish.  An addition of German Spalt noble hops and meadowsweet herbs, evoke the floral pallet of Northern European brewing traditions over 1,000 years ago.


Ale Through The Ages - Season V - Session XXVII

Ale Through The Ages – Season V – Session XXVII

2013 began a new despite the erroneous hype about the end of time, based on a Mayan inscription at the site of Totuguero (Tabasco Mexico) that states the end of Mayan’s 13th BakTun (December 21st 2012).  Clearly we all survived Armageddon, so it seemed fitting to pay respect the ancient cultures of MesoAmerica that fermented  cacao pods into chocolate beverages. These cultures also added maize (corn), dried peppers (ancho and chipotle), native vanilla beans and honey to their fermented beverages. Therefore, this recipe is based on archaeological and ethnographic research from sites in Honduras and southern Mexico.  The resulting Mayan Chocolate Ale had a marvelous  cacao flavor, spiced with a southern Mexican chipotle peppers and vanilla beans.

Ale Through The Ages - Season V - Session XXVIII

Ale Through The Ages – Season V – Session XXVIII

Our next brewing challenge takes place February 7th 2013 at Discovery World, when we tackle a Himalayan Tongba Ale, which is a millet beer still being brewed by the Limbu Culture in the Himalayan mountains of eastern Nepal, Sikkim and Tibet.  A wild yeast obtained from Darjeeling tea leaves will be used in a portion of the traditional Tongba brew to ferment the millet and create this uniquely warming fermented beverage that is perfect for a cold Wisconsin February. This brewing session will include an in depth presentation with photographs that I personally took while trekking in this region of Nepal in 2000.  REGISTER HERE before the seats are full and you miss out on taking home a sample of this very rare ale.



Power Drinking and Power Dressing in Iron Age Germany

By Kevin M. Cullen (Archaeologist: Discovery World: Milwaukee WI)

During the final Ale through the Ages program of the 2011-2012 season at Discovery World on March 22nd, we were honored to have University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Professor of Anthropology Bettina Arnold and her German colleagues, Sabine Hagmann (State Monuments Office Baden-Württemberg Hemmenhofen) and Rosemarie Stadler (Federseemuseum), as guest presenters. This special brewing program, titled, “Power Drinking and Power Dressing in Iron Age Germany” celebrated the “beer and bling” of the continental Celts from southwest Germany.

The evening of the event, guests were treated to samples of “Keltenbräu”, a recreated Iron Age beer that was brewed by Dr. Arnold and I specifically for this program. The recipe was derived from archaeological evidence excavated at several Iron Age sites in SW Germany (Stika 2011). The Keltenbräu consisted of German malted barley (Weyermann, pale, roasted, smoked and acidulated malt) and flavored with mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) and carrot seeds (Daucus carota). 6 gallons was fermented with a standard American Ale Yeast, while another 6 gallons were fermented with a Roeselare Ale yeast (saccharomyces and brettanomyces blend). At 6% ABV, the resulting beverage was a mahogany-colored slightly smoky ale, with a distinct tart finish from the mugwort. 1 lb of wildflower honey was added to the standard ale yeast batch for balance and contrast to the sour Roeselare Ale yeast version.

Power Drinking & Power Dressing

The recipe that we chose to brew for this special program was an Iron Age honey mead, found in a bronze cauldron at the foot of a Celtic chieftain who was buried in a central burial chamber, beneath an earthen mound near the village of Hochdorf in southwestern Germany. Excavations led by Dr. Jörg Biel in 1978-79 revealed that this elite male was buried around 550 BCE. To discover an intact burial chamber from this period was a rarity, as most were looted over the centuries. Included in the burial was a wagon with nine bronze plates and three bronze serving platters. Nine large gold decorated drinking horns, likely aurochs horns. Eight of them could hold 1 liter of liquid, yet the largest horn which hung above the chieftain’s head could hold a 10 pint (5 liter) capacity (that’s a “power drinker”). Additionally, a very large Greek-imported bronze cauldron with a capacity of 70 gallons (ca. 265 liters) was placed at the chieftain’s feet. Upon analysis of the desiccated remains, it was determined to have once been mead (honey wine). Such a volume of mead was quite an extravagance and very expensive to obtain, particularly considering the Celts did not have formalized apiculture.

Therefore, it was an outward symbol of power to procure that much honey and then ferment it for ritual consumption during the mortuary feast. It isn’t entirely clear whether this mead was intended for the deceased upon his arrival to the afterlife, or if it was for the attendants at the burial of the Hochdorf chieftain. Nevertheless, it was this mead that we recreated during this special Ale through the Ages program and it was the textiles found in the grave itself that were recreated and modeled during this event.
Etymology of “Mead”
The earliest surviving written notation of mead comes from a hymn in the Rig-Veda, one of the sacred books of Hinduism dated around 1700–1100 BCE, in which it states “In the wide-striding Vishnu’s highest footstep, there is a spring of mead.” The etymology of the word mead can be traced to the Sanskrit word, madhu, which became the Old English word Medu and German Met, all of which are the precursor to “mead.” Indeed, the term “honeymoon” is considered to be derived from the tradition of newlyweds drinking mead for one month (one moon) following their wedding to ensure fertility. In pre-historic Europe, mead was considered the drink of Celtic royalty and has been found in many archaeological contexts, not only in Germany, but also into Ireland and beyond.

Power Dressing

Modeled by Rosemarie Stadler at Discovery World, Milwaukee WI, March 2012

What also made the Hochdorf burial so remarkable was the state of preservation of the textiles. Rarely do 2,000 + year-old textiles survive in the archaeological record, so when they do, it “literally brings the individuals who wore the costumes back to life” (Dr. Bettina Arnold). Textiles are commonly underappreciated as outward symbols of status, particularly considering the amount of time and labor required to produce them in antiquity. After tallying up all of the hours it took to reproduce a costume from this period, it came out to 1,762.5 hours for just the fabric alone. The rarity of natural red and blue dyes in continental Europe in the Iron Age would have also acted as visible symbols of status. This Celtic Period costume consisted of a red woven undergarment made of wool with a blue diamond boarder, a blue cloak with embroidered meander and swastika patterns (common symbols found throughout the ancient world), leather pointed-toe shoes with gold filigree, bronze cloak pins (fibulae), bronze hair pins and a large pattern-embossed bronze belt plate. Taken altogether, it is clear that they way someone dresses (even in this day and age), offers insight into a person’s socio-economic status, as well as the context in which the costumes were worn. It is much like today’s cultural rituals of dressing the part when attending award banquets, weddings, funerals, etc.

Hochdorf Mead

As previously mentioned, the mead we were recreating was based on evidence found in a bronze cauldron buried with a Celtic chieftain at the site of Hochdorf in southwestern Germany. Palynological (pollen) analysis performed by Udelgard Körber-Grohne, showed that the residue contained pollen from at least 60 different plants. The two most common pollen types were thyme and meadowsweet. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), is a small shrub bearing small pink flowers in midsummer which attract bees. The fact that thyme pollen was the most common type found in the Hochdorf mead sample indicates that the honey was collected in mid-late summer. Additional pollen found in the Hochdorf mead residue was that of meadowsweet (Filpendula ulmaria or Spiraea ulmaria). Also known as bridewort, queen of the meadow and meadwort, it is a perennial plant with creamy white flowers. Archaeological evidence points to it being a common brewing addition in Europe for millennia. It was also traditionally used for medicinal purposes as an anti-inflammatory, antacid and for fever relief. It is likely therefore that the pollen in the Hochdorf mead residue accounts for the pollen the bees collected on those flowering plants during the late summer.

Discovery WorldThe honey we used in this mead was donated by the Urban Apiculture Institute here in Milwaukee. This was wildflower honey also made during the late summer from the flowers of Goldenrod and Aster. So to account for the thyme and meadowsweet pollen in the original Hochdorf mead, both of these were added in small amounts to our mead during the brewing. In order to preserve the subtle honey aromatics the 12 gallons of sweet liquid was kept below boiling temperature for 30minutes. The resulting Original Gravity came in at 1.18 (25˚Plato)! Six gallons were fermented with lambic yeast to convey the wild yeast flavors, while the other six gallons were fermented with a sweet mead yeast. Fermentation began in earnest and continued steadily for two weeks. Typically mead should be allowed to ferment for months, but this class was on a schedule and could not wait that long.

Therefore, after two weeks the gravity dropped to 1.040 (10˚Plato) on both carboys, i.e. 10.5% ABV. In order to mitigate the potential for continued fermentation in the bottles, a small amount of potassium sorbate was added, whereby making the yeast dormant. The resulting flavors were delicious, sweet indeed with a hint of thyme and a warming wine-like finish. Ninety-five 12 fl. oz. bottles were filled, capped, labeled and taken home by the program participants, thus ending the 2011-2012 Ale through the Ages season. Certainly this special Hochdorf Mead will age splendidly and hopefully evoke the fermented flavors of the European Celts whose cultural power continues to influence Western Civilization.

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Legacies of Milwaukee Brewing: Northside Brewing History Tour

By Kevin Cullen (Discovery World staff Archaeologist)

Through Discovery World’s Distant Mirror Archaeology program, the most recent Legacies of Milwaukee Brewing tour took place on September 24th 2011. This one-of-a-kind bus tour explored the contemporary brewing hotspots and historic hidden gems on the near Northside of Milwaukee.  Previous tours have explored dozens of historic brewery sites in downtown Milwaukee, on the Southside, as well as the Westside of the city.  Led by Milwaukee brewing historian Leonard Jurgensen and Discovery World archaeologist Kevin Cullen, this time we visited several contemporary and historically significant brewery sites, saloons, malt houses, parks, etc., north of downtown Milwaukee.

As we boarded the Badger Bus outside Discovery World on the late September morning, a unique phenomenon was taking place a mile east over Lake Michigan.  Several water spouts were spotted churning over the waves; fortunately that is where they remained as we moved inland off the lakefront.

Rolling north to Ogden Avenue, we soon arrived at our first historic brewery site, that of the former Ogden Avenue Union Brewery located on the northeast corner of Ogden Ave. and Broadway Ave.  The former brewery was built in 1850 by Henry Stolz and Leonard Schneider.  Over the following decades, brick additions were made to the building and brewing continued under various partnerships until 1892, when it was purchased by the Pabst Brewing Co. who then closed the plant.  In 2005 the historic building was leveled with the intention of constructing a high-rise condominium on the property.  Those plans have yet to materialize and today all that remains is a vacant lot, however, there are still intact cellars that extend beneath the sidewalk of Ogden Ave.

Our next destination was a short distance away at the Schlitz Brewery complex.  The bus disembarked outside the 1890 Brewhouse to pay homage to what is soon-to-be the next casualty in Milwaukee’s brewing heritage, as it is slated for demolition in Spring of 2012.

The keg of specially brewed Omnibus Bock was tapped (brewed in Discovery Worlds MillerCoors THIRST Lab), while we toasted to this magnificent structure and the legacy of the Schlitz Brewing Co. which owes its roots to August Krug who opened his brewery on Juneau Ave in 1849.  The current location was first established as a brewery site by Joseph Schlitz in 1871 to keep up with demand for beer following the Great Chicago Fire that same year.

Boarding the bus with a bock in hand, we made our way a short distance southwest of the Schlitz Brewery, to the former E.L. Husting Brewery at the northeast corner of N. 5th and W. Vliet St.  We were greeted by Kathy Shillinglaw of Great Lakes Archaeological Research Center, who are the current tenants on the second floor of the former brewery building.  The original section of this cream city brick two story building dates to 1877, when Eugene Louis Husting built his weiss beer brewery and soda factory. Grain milling and storage took place on the second floor, while brewing and soda production took place on the first floor. The Husting ale brewery and soda factory remained in operation until prohibition in 1920, after which time the company moved into distribution.  Today the entire building structure is oldest compete former brewing facility in Milwaukee and possibly the state.

Moving north the bus rolled into the site of the former Schlitz Park which was once located at N. 8th St. and Vine St.  The park was acquired in 1879 by the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co. as a public beer garden with a lookout tower and concert hall. The park remained as such until it was turned over the City of Milwaukee in 1910 and renamed Lapham Park.  Today the original site of beer garden is located beside Carver Park and beneath the parking lot of Roosevelt Middle School.

By 11:30am we had arrived at the former Northwestern Brewery and Malthouse, located on the northwest corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Dr. and W. Vine St.  Begun in 1856 by Phillip Altpeter as the Northwestern Brewery, they brewed lager and “white beer” until 1884 when the brewery was converted into a malthouse (for malting grain). In 1902 the malthouse was demolished and a new two-story commercial brick building was built by the Phillip Jung Brewing Co. Today this building along with the 1883 cream city brick saloon are still standing.

Nearby, we rolled by the site of the former Phoenix Brewery/Malthouse/Schlitz Cooperage on the southeast corner of N.2nd St. and W. Vine St.  The Phoenix Brewery was established in 1858 by Felix Calgeer who then sold it to Louis Liebscher in 1870 and converted the brewery into a malting facility.  In 1907 those structures were demolished and the current brick building still standing, was erected by the Schlitz Brewing Co. as a cooperage (wooden barrel factory).

Continuing east along W. Vliet St. we arrived at a former Miller Brewing Co. saloon (aka “tide house) on the northwest corner of N. Hubbard St. and Vine St.  Built in 1902, this cream city brick building is currently undergoing rehabilitation by Bob Crawford, who has been painstakingly restoring the tavern to its original glory.  We were treated to a sneak peak inside the bar, which is soon to open to the public in 2012.  As the bus moved north, we passed by several other Miller and Schlitz brewery owned saloons in the Brewers Hill and Riverwest Neighborhoods.  These iconic brick buildings are identifiable by their corner doors and located on street corners.

Our next stop was at Stonefly Brewing Company at 735 E. Center St. for a tour and lunch.  That day there happened to also be a street festival (Center Street Daze) taking place, which made for a vibrant scene. Head brewer, Jacob Sutrick, gave us the tour of their small 7 barrel brewing set-up and provided a unique insight into their operation.  A delicious lunch followed in the pub washed down with a variety of Stonefly ales.

Following a delicious lunch, our next destination was the original location of Lakefront Brewery located at 818 Chambers St. The 1911 redbrick building was built as a bakery, but eventually was where brothers Russ and Jim Klisch started their brewery in 1987 until relocating to its current location on N. Commerce St. ten years later.

It was nearing 2pm when the bus stopped at the former site of the Capitol Brewing Co., located at the southeast corner of N. Fratney St. and E. Vienna St.  Named after Capitol Dr. (one block north), the now defunct brewery was founded in 1933, following Prohibition.  The brewery operated for 15 years, brewing up to 40,000 barrels annually by the early 1940s.  Today only one abandoned out-building from the original Capitol Brewery still stands.

Crossing the Milwaukee River into Shorewood, our next destination was the tasting room of Big Bay Brewing Co., Milwaukee’s newest micro-brewing company which was launched in 2010.  Located at 4517 N. Oakland Ave. the tasting room offers a nice selection of their beer and sodas that are brewed at the Milwaukee Brewing Company’s 2nd Street Brewery.

After an enjoyable sampling of their ales and sodas, we boarded the Badger Bus and headed west along Hampton Ave. to N. Port Washington Rd in Glendale, where the former site of the Eline Candy Plant is located. This enormous complex of buildings were built by the Schlitz Brewing Co. beginning in 1919 as alternative product revenue during Prohibition.  After only ten years of making chocolate candy and cocoa, the multi-million dollar venture failed in 1930 and many of the buildings were retrofitted.  Today several of these buildings still stand and are currently home to medical offices.

Our next destination was a tour and sampling at Sprecher Brewing Co. in Glendale.  This nationally recognized craft brewery was established in 1985 by Randal Sprecher on Milwaukee’s near Southside.  The current facility was opened in 1995 and continues to produce a wide range of traditional and specialty beers and sodas.  We were treated to a tour of the brew house, as well as the bottling and packaging facility.  We concluded the tour in the rathskeller tasting room where everyone was treated to several samples of their choice.

As the clock struck 4:30pm it was time to head back to Discovery World.  Driving south along Martin Luther King Dr. the bus briefly stopped on the corner of W. Burleigh St. where the former site of Pabst Park was once located. Originally, Valentine Blatz purchased the property in 1857 for development as a shooting park, however in 1888 the Phillip Best Brewing Company bought the land and renamed it Pabst Park. Prior to Prohibition it was the location of a large beer garden, amusements and music stages.  Today the property is known as Rose Park and includes a senior center.

By 5pm we had returned to Discovery World after a full day of Milwaukee brewing heritage on the city’s Northside.  Many of the historic sites visited on this tour have never before been the subject of exploration, so it was a unique treat to celebrate those brewing legacies for the first time.  With four distinct Legacies of Milwaukee Brewing tours completed, we have now traversed the entire city and seen first-hand the dozens of historic brewery sites, from the 1840s to today.  Stay tuned for future tours throughout Milwaukee and beyond!

Chronicling Milwaukee’s Historic Breweries

Legacies of Milwaukee Brewing Westside Tour

Saturday, April 30th 2011 marked the third Legacies of Milwaukee Brewing tour, developed through Discovery World’s Distant Mirror archaeology program.  While the two previous tours have explored Milwaukee’s storied brewing sites in the heart of the city and on the near Southside, this urban archaeology expedition focused on the historic brewery sites located throughout Milwaukee’s near Westside.  This included several forgotten historic brewery sites, the behemoth Frederick Miller Brewery, the graves of two notable beer barons, as well as the former mansions of the Miller, Schlitz, Gettelman and Pabst families.

Each of the nearly fifty participants received a screen printed tote bag (printed in Discovery World’s print lab), which was filled with a custom bottle of “Westseitenbier Hefe Weizen”, brewed exclusively by yours truly for this tour in our new Thirst Lab, along with a detailed booklet outlining the chronologies for each of the sixteen sites on the tour. With Julie at the helm of a full coach bus, Leonard Jurgensen as Milwaukee Brewery Historian and I, as archaeological tour guide, the loaded Badger Bus rolled out from Discovery World just after 10am.

Weaving our way through a throng of pedestrians, walking in support of the March of Dimes, we quickly reached the former site of the Lake Brewery, which was established in 1841 by three pioneers from Wales.  This ale brewery built at the end of Clybourn Ave. (formerly Huron St.) lasted until 1880, at which point it was razed for an expanding railroad depot.  Today it is home to a Milwaukee County Transit bus garage.  Rolling west along Clybourn St. and then to St. Paul Ave., the second stop was a former Schlitz “tide house” on 19th St.  This three story cream city brick building was built in the late 1880s and still has a handsome Schlitz globe sign on the buildings upper cornice.  Today it is home to Sobelman’s pub and grill.

Stop three was the site of the former Banner Brewing Company (2302 W. Clybourn St.).  This short-lived post-prohibition brewery opened in 1933, where they brewed primarily weiss beer at an annual capacity of 8,000 barrels.  However, in 1936 the brewery ceased brewing operations for financial reasons and the brewery closed.  Today the building which was built in 1919 still stands, yet most of the façade is covered with metal siding.  Inside there is evidence of the original brew kettle ventilation pipe, as well as an original freight elevator.

Moving on, stop four brought us to the very intriguing brewery site of Franz Falk’s New Bavaria Brewery.  Located near 29th St. and Pierce St. along the south bluff of the Menomonee River valley, the property was first purchased by Franz Falk and Fredrick Goes in 1855.  While brewing may have taken place there prior to 1860, there is definitive evidence that major brewing operations began there in 1870.  In its heyday this brewery was one of the largest in Milwaukee, until two devastating fires destroyed the brew house and malt house in 1889 and 1892.  Today the brew house is no longer standing, however the original 1870 stables and three story stock house (ice house) still stand, making them perhaps the oldest surviving original brewing related buildings in Wisconsin.  They are both vacant buildings and in disrepair, however new property owners are looking to rehabilitate the structures.  Prior to the tour, this archaeologist employed ground penetrating radar over the location of the former brew house (now a gravel lot).  The preliminary results indicate the presence of a large foundation wall, among other evidence of structural remains.

By 11:15am we were in route to the Miller Valley for a tour of the sprawling Frederick Miller brewery.    The origin of this iconic North American brewery began in 1849, when Charles Best and Gustav Fine opened the Plank Road Brewery along what was then called the Madison, Watertown & Milwaukee Plank Road.  By 1855 Charles Best & Co. foreclosed on the brewery after the Germania Bank which held the loan to the brewery went bankrupt. Meanwhile, Frederick Miller purchased the Plank Road Brewery on June 11th 1856 for $2,370.  Over the following 150+ years, this brewery would grow to the immense size that it is today, covering several acres and brewing over a million barrels of beer per year.  Following a guided tour through several buildings on the property, including the original lagering caves, we made our way to the Miller Inn for a delicious catered lunch and beer sampling.

After lunch, the bus once again rolled on, this time to the little-known family home of Frederick Miller (3711 W. Miller Ln.), which was built in 1884 on a hill overlooking the brewery.  An octagonal turret on the southeast corner of this wood framed Queen Anne style home stands out as a noteworthy feature.  Today it is a private residence.

The next stop was a visit to Calvary Cemetery (2203 W. Bluemound Rd.) to pay our respects to the final resting place of Frederick Miller (1824-1888) and his family, as well as the grave of Phillip Jung (1845-1911), a notable beer baron who operated the Phillip Jung Brewing Company at 5th and Cherry St., between 1895-1920.  A toast to these 19th century brewers was a fitting way to salute their contribution to Milwaukee’s brewing heritage.

Moving farther west, we came to the former locations of the Castalia Brewery (1893-1898) and the Wisconsin Brewing Company (1996-1998).  Despite being separated by a century, both of these short-lived breweries were built in close proximity along the Menomonee River in the village of Wauwatosa (then called Center City).  Only the foundations of these former breweries remain in the floodplain of the Menomonee River.

 The next five stops took us to the mansions built for several notable Milwaukee brewing families, four of which are located on West Highland Blvd.  The Fredrick Pabst Jr. mansion, built in the Greek revival-style in 1896, still stands at 3112 W. Highland Blvd. Directly to the east (3030 Highland Blvd) is the original mansion of his brother Gustav Pabst, which was also built in 1896.  Across Highland Blvd is the former mansion of the Adam Gettelman family (2929 Highland Blvd), built in 1895.  Nine blocks to the east at 2004 W. Highland Blvd. stands the former home of Victor Schlitz (son of beer baron Joseph Schlitz), which was built in the Tudor-style in 1890. Finally, located at 2000 W. Wisconsin Ave. is the stately mansion of Captain Frederick Pabst, which was completed in 1892 and inspired by 17th Century English and Flemish Renaissance architecture.  We were all treated to a very entertaining guided tour of the mansion, which set the stage for our final stop at Captain Pabst’s office complex and guild hall (southwest corner of 9th and Juneau Ave).

As the bus pulled up to the 1880 castle-like complex at 4:15pm, the group enjoyed a refreshing pint in the elegant Blue Ribbon Hall (completed in 1940) as owner Jim Haertel gave an amusing historical overview of the property.  This led to a behind-the-scenes tour though the dilapidated corridors of the once mighty Pabst Brewery including the former office of Captain Pabst.   This led us to the original entrance to the complex and onto the awaiting bus, bringing to an end an enlightening and entertaining day of experiencing first hand several of Milwaukee’s historic brewery-related sites.

Stay tuned for a future tour of Milwaukee’s historic and contemporary brewery sites located on the Northside.  This tour is being planned for September 24th 2011.  Call (414) 765-8625 or email to reserve your seat. Finally, you can listen to an interview about this tour recorded on 89.7FM, Milwaukee Public Radio, which aired April 25th 2011.

Brewing a 5,000 Year Old Scottish Ale

A Toast to the Neolithic Brewers!

“Wormus speaks of the drinking of heather-beer, as one of the pleasures which the souls of departed heroes enjoyed in the society of the gods.”

(W.T. Marchant: 1888)

The final Ale through the Ages brewing seminar of the 2010/2011 season wrapped up March 24th here at DISCOVERY WORLD in Milwaukee Wisconsin.  The challenge this time (sixteenth session) was to recreate a fermented beverage that was brewed throughout Europe’s western islands, during the Neolithic Period (ca. 6,000-4,500 years ago). This  recipe is based on molecular archaeological data and pollen analysis from pottery jar fragments found specifically at several archaeological sites in  Scotland.

In keeping with provenance, we used a generous amount of Scotland-grown 2-row barley malt, along with a dose of peat smoked barley, a dash of acidulated malt and finishing with several pounds of sage honey.  En lieu of hops (as it was not used in the Neolithic), heather tips, meadowsweet flowers and sweet gale were infused during the boil.  The final gravity for our 12 gallon batch was 1.082 / 21 Plato, making this a rare Ale.  We let it ferment  for three weeks with Old Ale yeast (W1318) in one six gallon carboy and Scottish Ale yeast (W1728) in the other 6 gallon carboy.  The resulting concoction is a tantalizingly delicious “Wee Heavy” scotch ale with hints of peat, heather and floral esters.

Cultural Geography of Europe’s Western Islands

More than one thousand islands comprise the European nations of the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. Today the predominant ethnic groups include: Britons, Channel Islanders, Cornish English, English Gypsies, Irish, Irish Travelers, Kale, Manx, Scottish, Ulster-Scots and Welsh. Most of these islands have been inhabited for at least 14,000 years, since the end of the last Ice Age in a period know as the late Paleolithic. By around 8,500 years ago, most of the outer islands were occupied by the Mesolthic hunters and gathers.

Yet, it was around 6,000 years ago during the Neolithic Period that new waves of people moved onto the islands and brought with them grain agriculture and animal husbandry among other things.  Known as  the “Neolithic Revolution”, it spread new agricultural and technological traditions across the continent from East to West. Beginning in the 3rd millennium BCE pottery vessels found throughout Europe, usually in sets, indicate widespread fermented-beverage drinking traditions known by their pottery ware types: Baden ware, Globular ware, Corded ware, Bell Beaker ware, etc.

Neolithic Scottish Brew

The Orkney Island group contains some of the oldest and best-preserved Neolithic sites in Europe. The Neolithic site of Skara Brae located on the main island is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Archaeological evidence indicates that brewing activities likely took place in one of the round stone structures, dating to ca. 3100-2500 BCE.

Moreover, at the site of Balfarg, Fife, in southeast Scotland, an intact Neolithic circular earth embankment (henge) now situated in the center of a housing estate, yielded some remarkable evidence of an ancient fermented brew. Residues of cereal grain and meadowsweet pollen found on pottery fragments dated to the third millennium BCE, clearly point to the adoption of a widespread tradition of the consumption of fermented beverages seen throughout Europe during this period.

Other brewing evidence comes from the site of Kinloch, on the Isle of Rum, located in the Inner Hebrides of NW Scotland. Near the village of Kinloch, a Neolithic habitation site, was discovered containing circa 4,000 year old pottery sherds. Residue of mashed cereal straw, cereal-type pollen, meadowsweet, heather and royal fern were  also discovered. (Nelson 2005:12). This is interpreted to be the remains of a Neolithic fermented floral grog ale (McGovern 2009:138).

The Decline of Heather Ale

Folklore tales attribute the original recipe for Heather Ale to have gone to the grave of a Pictish elder, at the hand of the Scots around the 4th century AD. The Scot Kenneth MacAlpine resolved to exterminate the Pict people of Caledonia (Scotland) sparing the lives of all but two…an aged father and son. Both possessed the recipe of brewing the valued heather beer. Their lives were promised to be spared if they divulged the secret recipe. The father asked for his life to be spared in exchange for his sons life…the father then said…“now I’m satisfied…my son might have taught you the art,  I never will…!”

The Rebirth of Brewing with Heather

Of the more than 55 breweries currently operating in Scotland, only a few have begun to brew traditional heather ales.  For example, the Williams Bros Brewing Company, run by Scott and Bruce Williams, is a micro brewery based in Alloa central Scotland. Among their line of traditional ales, the “Fraoch” from a Gaelic word for “leann fraoich” “heather ale” is worth checking out. “It is a 5% light amber ale with floral peaty aroma, full malt character, a spicy herbal flavor and dry wine like finish.”

A Toast to this Highland Heather Ale

Now that we’ve come full circle with how this recipe was concocted, the resulting rare Neolithic Period-inspired Highland Heather brew is one to age for awhile.  At 9% ABV, the resurrection of this robust ale will be well enjoyed when the right time presents itself for toasting the intrepid ancient brewers of  Europe’s western fringe! Slàinte Mhath!


Ale Through The Ages: Wisconsin Weizen Ale

Brewing Up Wisconsin History

The most recent Ale Through the Ages brewing series at Discovery World focused on Wisconsin and Milwaukee’s proud brewing heritage, as we recreated a traditional wheat ale.  During the late 1800s, Wisconsin was a major wheat trading state, with Milwaukee as the primary hub of commerce on the Great Lakes.  As a result of this lucrative grain trade, Wisconsin breweries had a steady and high quality supply of fermentable wheat and barley.  Wheat became a staple ingredient in the production of a popular German beer, Weiss /Weizen and “weiss breweries” sprung up all over the state and in particular in Milwaukee.  While the original recipes from the 19th century have yet to be publicly revealed, this recipe is an approximation of what these historic wheat beers may have tasted like. Therefore, we selected local wheat and barley malts, in addition to locally grown hops, as well as Wisconsin wildflower honey.  A total of 12 gallons were brewed, 5.5 of which was fermented with Bavarian Wheat yeast, 5.5 gallons was fermented with Weihenstephan Weizen yeast, and 1 gallon was fermented with a local wild strain of yeast collected by a Milwaukee home brewer and class participant, Matt Spaanam.

Wheat and Milwaukee

Wheat (Triticum spp) is a grass species from Western Asia that was originally domesticated least 10,000 years ago, yet is now cultivated worldwide. Since the beginning of the European influx into America’s heartland, wheat has been a major crop and commodity of export to the global market. Milwaukee was one city in particular that was once at the forefront of the American and indeed global grain market.  This is evidenced by the iconic Chamber of Commerce building, which still stands on the SE corner of Michigan St. and Water St.  Completed in 1879 by the esteemed architect Edward Townsend Mix, it was inside this Italian Renaissance style building that the main trading rooms of the Milwaukee Grain Exchange were housed.  It was here between1879-1935 that the price of wheat was set for the global market in the first “trading pit” in the country.  Sadly the octagonal pit no longer survives. However, restoration of the trading room in the early 1980s resulted in preservation of one of best examples of mural-ornamented Victorian commercial interiors in North America.

Wisconsin Pioneering Breweries

The earliest evidence of a commercial brewery in Wisconsin opened in 1835 in Mineral Point (Iowa Co.) by John Phillips (Apps, J 1992). This region of southwestern Wisconsin saw the earliest influx of Europeans, who principally arrived from Cornwall, England and were employed in mining lead.  These intrepid miners were given the nickname “badgers”, due to their burrowing tunnels, a moniker that eventually became Wisconsin’s mascot.  It is likely that this pioneer brewery, as well as Rablin & Bray’s brewery in Elk Grove (Lafayette Co.) that opened in 1836, were likely brewing ales rather than lagers.  Lagers would soon become the norm, once large numbers of German immigrants arrived in subsequent decades and opened their own breweries.  By the end of the 1840s there were at least 22 breweries in Wisconsin. That number rose to at least 190 breweries in Wisconsin by the end of the 1850s.  Towns and cities across Wisconsin would grow many industries, and breweries were no exception.

Milwaukee: “Brew City USA”

Without exception, Milwaukee’s brewing industry once stood head and shoulders above most American cities.   In total, at least 120 different brewing companies have been established in Milwaukee over the past 175 years, giving justification for calling Milwaukee America’s “Brew City”. The most brewing companies in operation at any one time was during the 1860s when at least 40 breweries were in the production of beer, ales, lagers and often distilled spirits.

Milwaukee’s first commercial brewery was established by Simon Reutelshofer in 1839/40, and was located at the southeast corner S. 3rd & Virginia Streets.  This kicked off a tidal wave of other brewing operations that ostensibly became family businesses and wherein certain families became extremely wealthy. Without going into the entire chronology of Milwaukee’s brewing history, instead I’ll discuss just two historic Milwaukee weiss beer breweries that highlight the evolution of the industry as a whole.

The Gipfel Weiss Beer Brewery

One of Milwaukee’s early breweries that produced primarily wheat based beers was established by David Gipfel in 1843 when he purchased a small wooden framed building on Chestnut St (modern Juneau Ave.) for $400 from Wolfgang Weiss, and constructed a brewing operation.  In 1851, David Gipfel’s eldest son Charles (Chas.) assumed ownership of the family brewery and renamed it the Union Brewery. In 1853 a four story Federal-Style cream city brick saloon and boarding house was built fronting Chestnut St. with the original brewery in the back.  By the 1880s, the brewery was known principally for brewing weiss beer and was called the Charles Gipfel Whitebeer Brewery.  However in 1890 the brewery closed due to increased competition among local breweries.  The building housed various businesses over the next century, until 2007, when the building was jacked up and relocated from 423 Juneau Ave. to a vacant lot along Old World 3rd St.  Sadly, in 2009 due to insufficient funding for redevelopment, the building which at the time represented Milwaukee’s oldest surviving brewery was demolished.  Today it is a pile of bricks in an architectural salvage yard along the Milwaukee River.

E.L. Husting Weiss Beer Brewery

One other historic Milwaukee brewery that focused primarily on brewing wheat-based beer was Eugene Louis Husting.  Like many brewers before and after him, Eugene began as a brewer at the Northwestern Brewery, which was owned by Phillip Altpeter.  After marrying Phillip’s daughter Bertha in 1872, E.L. Husting opened his own weiss beer brewery and soda factory on the east side of 5th St. between Cherry St. and Vliet St. in 1877.  By 1884 Husting was brewing weiss beer in an 8 barrel brew kettle and selling the product in stoneware bottles.  In 1897 the Husting Brewery expanded inventory to include ginger ale, soda water, cream and orange soda, raspberry wine, and cider. As a result of prohibition (1920-1933), brewing beer discontinued and instead soda was exclusively produced.  Following prohibition the company evolved into a beer and soda distributor until 1970 when the plant shut down.  Today, the main building is still intact and is now considered the oldest standing complete brewery in Milwaukee.  Its current tenants are a ribbon factory on the first level and Great Lakes Archaeological Research Center on the second floor, ironically the same  company this archaeologist used to work for!

Wisconsin Weizen Ale

The resulting Wisconsin Weizen ale that we brewed fermented quickly and will be bottled on Thursday, February 17th.  Currently, it has a delightful wheat aroma, slightly hazy with a nice hop finish.  In keeping with historic tradition, this wheat ale will be bottle conditioned, whereby adding a small amount of sweet wheat malt to each bottle in order to promote final carbonation.  It should be ready to drink in two weeks, but will only get better with age.  It is our hope that Milwaukee’s forgotten weiss beer brewers would be proud of this fermented concoction! Prost!

Ale Through the Ages: Belgian Gruit Ale

Recreating a Medieval Belgian Gruit Ale

When people speak of Belgium’s brewing tradition, most would reference the unique wild-yeast fermented lambics, the sour saison’s and the high gravity trappist ales.  Mention the word “gruit” and you might be greeted with a confused expression.  Interestingly, gruit (gruut) was the primary ale brewed in the lower Rhine Valley and the Low Countries of northern Europe (Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark) during the Medieval Period and earlier.  Today it is all but forgotten, except for a recent resurgence in certain small craft breweries in Belgium.  It was this historic brew that was the focus for the most recent (and most well attended) Ale through the Ages brewing seminar at Discovery World.  This high gravity (O.G. 1.068) malty Belgian ale turned out to be a splendid alternative to the traditional hopped ales of today.


What’s in Gruit?

En lieu of hops, gruit was a combination of a variety of herbs, which each brewery guarded with secret. The three most common herbs were Bog Myrtle (Miricia gale), Yarrow (Achillea milleflolium) and Wild Rosemary (Ledum palustr).  Other later gruit additions often included: Cardamom, Caraway, Ginger, etc. Therefore, this all-grain recipe is true to the pre-14th Century Belgian Gruit style, which combined bog myrtle, yarrow, wild rosemary and juniper berries.   Six gallons were fermented with a Trappist Ale yeast, while another six gallons were  fermented with an Belgian Abbey Ale yeast.

Gruit Origins

Like many ancient beer recipes, the exact origin of gruit and its first use remains lost to antiquity; however, the earliest references to it come from several written sources in Flanders (Belgium) and the Neatherlands more than 1,000 years ago. By the ninth century, governments in northern Europe asserted the right to dispense of gruit in a gruuthuse (gruit house) under the imperial law known as gruitrecht. This was the exclusive authority to control the benefits from unused land, from which the bog myrtle came. This governmental right was often transferred to monasteries and nobles of Belgium, France and the Netherlands.  For instance, in 974, emperor Otto II granted rights of toll, market, minting and gruitrecht to a certain Notker of Liege (Belgium) in the district of Namur.  A grant to the bishop of Utrecht (Holland) in 999 also placed gruitrecht among those benefits granted by the emperor. (Hornsey 2003, Unger 2007)

Holy Gruit Arnold!

The St. Peter’s Abbey was founded in 1084 by St. Arnold of Tiegem. Legend tells that Arnold, the abbeys abbot, brewed gruit ale to heal ailing builders of the abbey. Soon his reputation grew and his gruit was widely sought after, leading to his eventual status as the patron saint of Belgian Brewers. Today Steenbrugge of the PALM Brewery Group pays homage to St. Arnold with their Tripel ale that is brewed with “Gruut”, the recipe of which continues to be a closely guarded secret.  Another small artisan brewery that focuses exclusively on producing gruit is the brewpub Gruut Gentse Stadsbrouwerij.  Located in Ghent Belgium, they brew four varieties of Gruit ale.

Archaeological and Historic Medieval Belgian Brewing

In 1050 the Count of Flanders, (vassal of the French king) conquered Ename (50km west of Brussels) and built a Benedictine abbey on the ruins. The abbey became a central socio-religious enterprise in Ename for more than 750 years, until it was shuttered by the French revolutionary authorities and fell into disrepair. Excavations at the medieval abbey during the 1980s and 1990s uncovered a bakery, brewery, slaughterhouse, and other workshop. This definitively proves the written documentation that at least 1,000 years ago, formalized brewing was taking place at a large scale in Belgium.  This scale reached industrial proportions by the 14th century, as evidenced by the medieval city of Bruges (Brugge), located in northern Belgium. By the late 1300s the city was brewing around 1.85 million US Gallons of beer annually (572,000 barrels). With a population of ca. 30,000, they were consuming on average 300 liters per person per year, far more than the average person today (Unger:128).

The Enduring Belgian Brewing Tradition

Today Belgium has around 150 breweries and brewpubs (3rd most in the EU) that produce about 800 standard beer varieties. Over 8,000 types if one-off’s are included. The total beer output for 2009 was 18 million hL (15.1 million barrels).  By comparison MillerCoors produced ca. 69 million barrels the same year.  The monastic Trappist brewing industry is minuscule by comparison. The combined output from the seven Trappist monastery breweries in Belgium and the Netherlands is about 0.5 million hL or 13.2 million gl. (420,000 Barrels) per year.  What it comes down to, is that Belgian produced beer focuses on quality not quantity and fortunately the preservation of centuries-old styles are still being preserved for future generations.  So, for those of you who are not keen on hop flavored beer, perhaps you should put gruit (gruut) on your next shopping list.


Hornsey, Ian S. “A History of Beer and Brewing” 2003. The Royal Society of Chemistry

Unger, Richard W. “Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance” 2007. University of Pennsylvania Press