Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Happy 25th Sprecher Brewery

Fritz Maytag bought Anchor Brewing in 1965 and thus began the history of modern American craft beer. It was another 15 years before craft grandpappy Sierra Nevada opened its doors.

While Capital was begun in 1984, Sprecher actually managed to get its beer to market first in 1985. Started by Randy Sprecher, a supervisor at Pabst Brewing in Milwaukee, much of Wisconsin's craft brewing heritage is owed to this oft-forgotten craft brewery on Milwaukee's North Side.

Going back to 1988, Sprecher has consistently been winning awards not just for its quality beer, but its trailblazing business. You see, the 1980s and early 1990s were not a good time to be a craft brewery. The masses (that's you and me) were not particularly interested in drinking full-bodied flavorful beer. We were too busy debating the relative merits of "taste great" versus "less filling" and oggling Spuds Mackenzie betwixt two buxom beauties. It was during this time that American audiences were bombarded with Born on Dates and the Bud Bowl.

And Sprecher Brewery made Black Bavarian, and it was good. It was everything that Budweiser, Miller Genuine Draft, Bud Light, Miller Lite, Pabst, Blatz, Milwaukee's Best, Coors, and Grainbelt were not. It was full bodied, roasty, complex, and dark. It tasted great out of the workman's sized bottles, but it also begged to be put into a glass. It got better as it got warmer.

I have no idea if Black Bavarian is Sprecher's true "flagship" but for all intents and purposes it is. It is its best known, most well-loved beer. It has held up well over the ages, and heck, it's probably Wisconsin's flagship. We make great dark lagers is a universal stereotype because of Black Bavarian. Today beer geeks from all over the country come to Wisconsin and seek it out. New Glarus Wisconsin Cherry and Sprecher Black Bavarian; those were the first two requests from beer geeks back home when I moved to Wisconsin.

It would be delusional to say that Wisconsin craft brewing wouldn't be here with out Randy Sprecher. But it would be entirely accurate to say that Wisconsin craft brewing would not be what it is today without Sprecher Brewing Company. And, for that we should all thank Randy Sprecher and the folks at Sprecher Brewing Company.

Thank you and Prost!


  1. I had a Black Bavarian last night during the football game. It's hard to get too upset about things when enjoying such a tasty brew.

  2. Black Bavarian is WI flagship beer? yea right. Spotted Cow is.

  3. Sprecher is still a highly regarded brewery around the country, but seems to have fallen a bit off the radar here. The restaurant on the west-side is doing good business and is probably the best way to see what the brewery is up to.

    I do think of BBavarian as one of the top beers in Wisconsin, not really a flagship anymore, but it certainly was in the late 80's. Spotted cow wasn't even conceived until...10 years after that? Another great, and overlooked, Sprecher product is the hefe-weiss - It's a great breakfast beer to have with eggs, sausages and hashbrowns on a sunday morning before the football games start.

    Interestingly, the G Heileman brewery in LaCrosse had a couple of dark and black lagers in the late 80's. Export Dark and Ex Black specifically were readily available in their home market around LaCrosse (where I happened to be going to school) I got a lot of weird looks and questions when I would pick up a sixpack of Black Beer???? It wasn't as good as teh Black Bavarian so it didn't do last long. The Capital Dark reminds me abit of the Export Dark, but isn't quite as dark or as crisp nor does it have the tangy quality the old Heilemans products had from their 'kreusening' method of carbonation.


  4. Sometimes the flagship isn't the best selling; it often is, but it doesn't have to be. Consider, for example, Founders: as it's brewery moved more and more towards experiment and away from tradition, it's flagship became the Centennial IPA, although it was only recently (last year) that Centennial was actually its best-seller.

    A "flagship" is a beer that defines a brewery, or in this case a region. And, I think it's not too difficult to argue that while Spotted Cow is certainly the best selling beer in the state, Black Bavarian is one of the most well-known and specifically Wisconsin-identified beers in the country. When I talk to people out of state, they don't say, "Man, I want some of that Spotted Cow." They say "Bring me a bottle of Black Bavarian." (or, also "New Glarus Cherry or Raspberry Tart.")Believe it or not.

    And, while Spotted Cow's reign is certainly supreme, I would argue that for most of its existence, Black Bavarian outsold Spotted Cow. Keep in mind that New Glarus Brewing didn't even come around until 1994, almost a full decade after Sprecher. It wasn't until the early 00's, fifteen years into Black Bavarian's existence, that Spotted Cow became the juggernaut that it is.

  5. Black Bavarian is an incredible beer. It is one of my all time favorites. And having worked at Heileman's (late 70's) it is interesting to note that when they "krausened" they did not use wort from a normal brew, they would make a hopped sugar brew of sorts to krausen with. I believe they called it a Wiener brew or krausen if memory serves me correct.

  6. Cheers to Randy Sprecher for being one of the leaders in the microbrew revolution, especially in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the great Sprecher beers are often neglected when referring to the beer culture in Wisconsin, but I, too, believe Black Bavarian is a national classic. In addition, Sprecher has been concerned with its customers' concerns. Years ago, I purchased a "bad" 4-pack of BB, wrote to Sprecher, and received a more-than-generous replacement. Congrats, Randy, on a fantastic first 25 years, and cheers to you and your future endeavors.

  7. Did you sample Sprecher's kriek?

  8. I did. I didn't write about it because I wanted the post to be about all the great things that Sprecher has done. Because at the end of the day, I applaud the effort and think they overall did a good job with it, but like some of their other recent efforts, I thought it fell a little flat.

    But two comments: 1) does the world really need a Sprecher Kriek Lambic? Yes, I understand that lambics/sours are popular and cherries are the hot fruit right now. Overall, it's a fine beer and even in the grand scheme of things, it's fairly decent; it's not the greatest of all time, but I've certainly had many that are much, much worse.

    2) on a more critical note, I didn't think the fruit was forward enough and that the sour character was too hidden and muted, the softness just didn't seem to be there and it just kind of fizzled rather than provide the big presence that I expected. The malt character was there, but it didn't really all marry together like I would have hoped.

    But, having said all that, I think it's great that Sprecher keeps trying and crafting good beer, but at the end of the day it was good, not great. In my opinion, of course; I could see how others might really like it, so please, someone else who's had it should comment, too.

  9. I haven't had the kriek yet, but I do love some of the beers they make! Pipers scotch ale, Abbey Tripple, Dopplebock, RIS, Winter Bock, Oktoberfest.... Happy annie Sprecher......Cheers

  10. Jeff - thanks for elaborating.


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