Milwaukee’s Historic Southside Breweries Rediscovered

Legacies of Milwaukee Brewing: South Side Brewing History Tour

Saturday September 25th brought together an enthusiastic group of Milwaukee brewing aficionados to pay homage to the extensive brewing legacies located throughout southern Milwaukee. More than thirty participants boarded the coach bus at 10:00am for this second Legacies of Milwaukee Brewing Heritage Tour, developed through the Distant Mirror Archaeology Program at Discovery World. During this epic tour, we visited a dozen historic sites in a dozen Milwaukee south side neighborhoods, the highlights from which are discussed here.

Our first disembarking off the bus was at Milwaukee’s very first verifiable commercial brewery site, the German Brewery, begun possibly as early as 1839 by Simon Reutelshofer on the southeast corner of S. 3rd St. & Virginia St.  It was here that we cracked open the special batch of Himbeere Hefe-Weizen that I brewed exclusively for this tour.  Sampling this Bavarian raspberry wheat beer at the former German Brewery site was a fitting honor, as we toasted to the origins of  Milwaukee’s heralded brewing tradition.  It was also a perfect way to begin our day with a cordial toast of 6% ale at 10:30am!

The group then strolled a block north to view the architecturally interesting cream city brick buildings built by the Pabst Brewing Company in 1892 and 1898. The original purpose of these buildings is unclear, yet it is likely they were used by the Pabst Brewing Co. as a cooperage (barrel manufacturing facility) or for manufacturing custom Pabst brewania.  While we were unable to obtain access due to open elevator shafts, etc. we were able to peer in the windows and examine the interesting exterior of the buildings.

Moving four blocks west, we pulled into the site the former Menominee Brewery, built in 1850 by Francis Neukrich.    In 1853 this large brewery was owned and operated by Charles T. Melms, who would go on to become Milwaukee’s first true “beer baron”. In 1864, C.T. Melms built an enormous Italianate-style mansion beside the brewery, however his premature death in 1869 caused by a tetanus infection would leave the family business in substantial debt.  This would lead to the transfer of the brewery site to the Philip Best Brewing Company, which was being operated out of the Empire Brewery in downtown Milwaukee. Subsequent ownership went to the Pabst Brewing Co. and it was in 1892 that the abandoned Melms mansion was torn down. Today, all that remains of the original brewery is the bottling house, built by Philip Best 1881.

Following a nice walk around the property with two Melms family historians, Margaret Berres and Tom Ludka, we made our way to the Milwaukee Brewing Company’s 2nd St. Brewery for a catered lunch and a custom tour lead by brewery president and founder, Jim McCabe. Jim gave us some great inside history on the names they chose for several of their celebrated ales.  For instance, the “Flaming Damsel” is named for a theatrical performance that took place in Milwaukee during the early 1900s in which a performing artist made her living by lighting herself on fire and diving from a 40-foot platform to the water below.

After lunch and a great tour of the Milwaukee Brewing Company’s south side brewery, we once again boarded the bus and made our way along National Avenue, to drive by several noteworthy Milwaukee brewing historic sites, including the sites of the former Graf and Madlener Weiss Beer Breweries, and the little known Excelsior Weiss Beer Brewery.  Now a residential structure, this former brewery was established by J.F. Cruscynski in 1884 on the southwest corner of S. 15th and W. Becher St.

By 1:30pm the coach bus arrived at Forest Home Cemetery as we sought out the final resting place of several Milwaukee beer barons, including those involved in the establishment of former brewery’s we had just visited.  Blatz, Schlitz and Pabst are household names, but Bills, Melms, Munzinger, Neukrich and Owens should be added to the list of famous Milwaukee brewery owners.

Our next stop took us to the former site of the Milwaukee Brewery Company (1892-1919) on S. 13th and W. Arthur St.  The plans for this elegant 19th century brewery were drawn by August Martizen of Chicago, sadly it was demolished during prohibition.  Nearby on S. 14th and Cleveland St. we passed the  site of the former Milwaukee Independent Brewing Company (1901-1962).  Today it is a petrol service station, but in its heyday, the brewery was noted for its famous “Braumeister” lager.

By 3pm we were once again getting thirsty, so we paid a visit to the newly established Horny Goat Brewing Company, to meet with Dave the brewmaster and sample a variety of their brews.  While they are yet to brew on the premises (by mid October) they currently contract their production with Point Brewery in Stevens Point, WI.  All were in great spirits as we sampled some nice versions of a Milk Stout, Pale Ale, Belgian Saison, Red Ale, etc.

Continuing down KinnickinnicAve. on the south side Milwaukee historic brewery trail, we passed near the former site of the Munzinger Weiss Beer Brewery (1890-1906) {2428 S. Burrell St.) as well as the contemporary Bay View Brew Haus.  However, due to a wedding in the Brew Haus, we rolled by on our way to our last stop on the tour, the St. Francis Brewery.  Coincidence would have it that this new brewery was celebrating Oktoberfest with live music, lederhosen laden lads and fair frauleins in froks (how about that for alliteration).  This was a great way to finish this second Legacies of Milwaukee Brewing tour amidst the sights, sounds and great tastes of this cities enduring tradition.

After traveling through a dozen Milwaukee south side neighborhoods to visit a dozen  historic brewery sites and three contemporary breweries, we were all feeling a wee bit weary but a whole lot more appreciative of the Milwaukee’s lasting legacy as our nations true brewing capital.  We are only beginning to put these historic breweries back on the map and we hope to launch two additional Legacies of Milwaukee Brewing tours next year, as we explore this cities west side and north side historic and contemporary brewing sites.  Watch for that in Spring 2011!

Listen to an interview about Milwaukee’s brewing history, recorded on 89.7FM Milwaukee Public Radio’s  Lake Effect program.


8 responses to “Milwaukee’s Historic Southside Breweries Rediscovered

  1. Pingback: Four Stone Hearth #104 « Sorting Out Science

  2. Pingback: Four Stone Hearth #104

  3. Hello;

    I recently purchased a wooden beer case that is printed on the from and back with what appears to be “Cream City ‘undecipherable word’ Brewing Co., Milwaukee, WI.” On the ends of the box are a “Union Made” Stamp and what appears to be a date “1919”, the box is approximately 13″x21.5″x 11.5″ deep. It was divided probably into 24 sections but the dividers are missing. the top is hinged with a strap style hinge and a spring type lock. Looking for any information on this brewery and case

    • Great to hear that a Cream City Brewing Co. beer crate still exists! How far did it travel from Milwaukee?
      Here is a running chronology of the Cream City Brewing Co. from origins to closure.
      My guess would be you likely have a crate that is early 20th century
      However, depending on certain details it may be late 19th century…notice Cream City was first incorporated in 1879.

      • 1853: George and Conrad Wehr establish their brewery on 13th & Cherry St.
      • Ca.1856: Christopher Foster and George Wehr are in partnership under the name Wehr & Foster Brewing Co.
      • 1859: George Wehr goes into partnership with Stephen Weber and John Beck.
      • 1860: Wehr sells his share to John Beck and the brewery becomes known as Weber & Beck Brewing Co.
      • 1861: John Beck buys out his partner and renames the brewery the John Beck West Hill Brewery.
      • 1879: The Brewery is sold to a successful malster, William Gerlach, who renames the brewery the Cream City Brewing Company.
      • 1880s: The brewery quickly expands to brew over 25,000 barrels per year and becomes known for their state-of-the-art brewing technology and facilities.
      • 1883: William Gerlach dies and the brewery is operated by John Meiners and Louis P. Best.
      • 1887: William Klann, becomes a stockholder and would later become the president of the brewing company.
      • 1920-1933: Prohibition strikes and the company operates as the Cream City Products Company.
      • 1937: The Brewery is foreclosed by its creditors with Herman Wolf as brewery president.
      • Late 1950s: Most of the complex is demolished to make way for a Schuster Department Store parking lot
      • Today: The sole remaining structure is a 25,000-square-foot horse stables constructed in 1910 that was once housed more than 40 horses

      Hope this helps!

      FYI: I’ve organized a new historic Milwaukee brewery tour for April 30th!

  4. allways interested in Melms history

  5. I have a poster of a young gal in a red cape holding a brown bottle of Standard Beer made by Milwaukee Brewery Co. and have been looking for verification that it really existed. Do you have/know of any other info on this brewery ? or a website/ or book that would help?

  6. I have a full size beer barrel in beautiful condition from Independent Brewery Milwaukee, Wi. I would like to know more about the brewery and possible value of my barrel as well as it’s age.

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