Friday, December 5, 2008

Prohibition and Eulberg Brothers Brewery

December 5, 1933. Seventy-five years ago. The day that Utah (Utah!) became the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment repealing prohibition. Before prohibition, at the end of the 1800s and into the early 1900s, Wisconsin was home to well over 200 breweries; Milwaukee alone was home to more than 40.

But one brewery in particular, founded in 1851 and finally locked and closed 107 years later in 1958, has an ignominious history, inextricably linked to Prohibition. For while the brewery existed for 107 years, including the period of Prohibition, it only brewed for 105 of those. In 1931, Eulberg Brothers Brewery based in Portage, WI was raided by federal "revenuers" and shut down for illegally brewing during Prohibition. It would re-open in 1933 when Prohibition ends.

Prohibition began in 1919. How could a brewery, a relatively large building, go unnoticed operating for so long? Brewers in Wisconsin were allowed to make "near beer." When prohibition began the law criminalized the production of any beverage exceeding .5% ABV; later this limit was raised to 3.2%. Through the use of de-alcoholizers, breweries could remove the alcohol, and unfortunately most of the flavor, from beer. Many breweries, including Potosi and Hausmann tried to continue operations selling "near beer." While Potosi managed to limp along, Hausmann closed in 1923. In 1933, when Prohibition ended, only 79 breweries resumed operations; over 130 breweries had closed and ceased operations. Of course, the small breweries that had re-opened were unable to compete with the largest breweries that had re-opened: Miller, Schlitz, Pabst, etc. By 1972, 39 years later, only 8 breweries would remain in the State of Wisconsin.

Other breweries just illegally sold the real deal.

The production of "near beer" only tells part of Eulberg's story, though; Eulberg was only licensed for "near beer" until 1924 when its license was revoked and it was fined $1000 for also selling "real beer." But the revocation of the license didn't stop Eulberg. The reality was Eulberg Brothers was also a maltings, a facility for malting barley, and it used this cover as a front for its now-illegal "real" beer production.

In 1844 a man from Hesse-Darnstadt, Germany by the name of Jacob Best founded a brewery in Milwaukee that he called initially Empire Brewery, but because of all of the breweries named Empire Brewery renamed his brewery "Best and Company." In 1848, Bavarian Frederick Adam Sprecher founded Sprecher Brewing Company at the corner of Willy St and Blount in Madison. In the next few years, Mr. Sprecher's brother-in-law, also from Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany, would come to Wisconsin and open his own brewery in Portage, WI. This man was Karl Haertel and he found Haertel Brewery in Portage, WI in 1851; Haertel would later be branded under the name "City Beer." This same year, his emigrant-city-mate Jacob Best would brew 225 barrels of beer in Milwaukee.

In 1859, Frederick Adam Sprecher would die and send his brewing operations into disarray for a few years. In 1862, Jacob Best dies and his sons, Jacob, Jr, Phillip, Charles and Lorenz take over ownership (control had passed in 1853 when Jacob, Sr. had resigned to become involved in politics). However, it quickly becomes obvious that Phillip is running the show, and Charles leaves to found Plank Road Brewery, also in Milwaukee. Plank Road Brewery would eventually become Miller Brewing Company. By 1864, "Best and Company" was now "Phillip Best and Company" and was brewing 4900 barrels of beer a year. But in 1866 Phillip Best abruptly dies. While Junior sticks around and helps to run it, Phillip's son-in-law, Captain Frederick Pabst takes control of Phillip Best and Company. In 1889, Capt. Pabst would rename Phillip Best and Company, nee Empire Brewing, Pabst Brewing Company.

In the meantime, in 1868, Karl Haertel's other brother-in-law, a Bavarian named Peter Fauerbach purchases Karl Haertel's recently deceased brother-in-law's brewery, Sprecher Brewing Company and renames it Fauerbach Brewing Company. A few years later, with Karl approaching old-age, his daughter marries a brewer from Milwaukee named Jacob Best, Jr. Junior takes over operations of Haertel Brewery in 1876. By 1880, Jacob, Jr. had Haertel Brewery pumping out about 3,000 barrels a year.

But, Jacob was growing tired of the brewing and he, and his wife Elizabeth Haertel sold the brewery in 1884; while Junior leased the facility out to the new brewers, control completely left the Haertel clan in 1894. The purchaser was a brewer who had gotten his start in Dubuque, Iowa and Mineral Point, Wisconsin named Peter Eulberg. Peter purchased Haertel with his brother, Adam and together they ran Eulberg brewery until 1895 when Peter died. In 1901, Peter's brother Adam died and the Estate of Adam Eulberg ran the brewery for a number of years until 1907 when Adam's sons (Jacob, Julius, William, and Joseph) purchased the brewery from the estate.

As mentioned above, the Eulberg Brothers ran the brewery, with its best brand "Crown Select" until 1919 when Prohibition required that the Eulbergs install de-alcoholizers. Eulberg remained licensed to sell "near beer" until 1924 when its license was revoked and the brewery was fined $1000 for selling "real beer." Most breweries would have stopped brewing. But not Eulberg. The brewery was also a malting facility and Eulberg would malt grains grown in the area for use by other breweries. This malting acted as a cover operation for bootlegging until 1931.

Then, at noon on July 1, 1931, the federal "revenuers" busted into Eulberg Brewery and arrested 3 workers. It was a day meant for drama. The weather was so hot that day, a searing 98 degrees, that 14 people died from the heat; 93 people had died that week alone from temperatures that hit over 102 degrees. It was a brutally hot summer. Farmers were haying in the moonlight to stay out of the sun. It was also, pun aside, a very dry summer. But, prohibition was very much in swing; from the Capital Times of July 1, 1931:
A certain man, in a certain local hotel, has not suffered greatly from the heat. Refusing to leave the hotel during the heat wave, this man has lounged about his room in scanties since the torrid spell began with an electric fan in operation and with a bathtub - full of beer on ice at his side. Whenever his stock becomes depleted, he sends out for more beer to refill his bathtub. This man's room has become a mecca for heat relief seekers, it is said. Wednesday, July 1, 1931, Afternoon Edition, pg. 10.
I love that not only did "a certain man in a certain hotel" do this, but that it was newsworthy. It was a day that my Cleveland Indians lost to the Philadelphia Athletics 11-7; future hall-of-famer Earl Averill hit a two-run homerun, and two others had two RBI each - in fact, only the Phillies' shortstop did not have an RBI against the luckless Indians that day.

But in Portage, it was a different story. The Sheboygan Press picked up a UP (United Press) report about the raid at Eulberg Brewery at high-noon:
Federal prohibition officers raided the plant of the Eulberg Brewing corporation here today, arrested three workmen and seized a quantity of beer. Warrents charging the officers of the corporation with conspiracy to violate the federal prohibition laws will be sought, the agents said. They reported seizure of 315 barrels of beer in vats, six barrels of the finished product, thirty-one half-barrels, twenty-four quarters, and 4,000 pint bottles of brew.
The Capital Times noted on July 1 that "It is reported that many Madison speakeasies have been selling alleged beer from the Eulberg brewery for the past two years. The action of the federal officials is expected to cause a temporary 'drought' here."

The three corporate officers charged were Eulberg brothers Julius and Joseph and brewmaster William Broeske. That Friday, July 3, all three posted a bond of $2,000 (about $27,000 in today's money) each. A hearing was set for July 29; that hearing was subsequently postponed. On February 20, 1933 Julius and Joseph were both convicted and sentenced to six months in prison by a Chicago federal court. Julius' sentence was immediately suspended for three years - he would never have to serve time, as prohibition ended the following year. Joseph was granted a ten-day stay, during which time he would apply to President Hoover for a pardon. Joseph's pardon was not granted, and on March 1, 1932, a year and a half before the end of federal prohibition, Joseph Eulberg was sent to a Milwaukee prison to serve his six-month sentence. After a mere eight days, with prison life not sitting so well for Mr. Eulberg, he again asked President Hoover for clemency. Joseph Eulberg was released from prison in September of 1932.

During this year, 1932, tremors started in the industry that prohibition would be repealed. Breweries started to removed their de-alcoholizers and started taking orders, automobile factories started producing heavier duty trucks, glass companies started churning out more beer bottles, even crate makers started ramping up production of beer cases. In fact, the posh Drake Hotel in Chicago, built during prohibition, was getting together funds to purchase a bar, since one had never been installed.

On Sunday, December 2, 1932 the Wisconsin State Journal ran a column by Henry Noll:
Anticipating the return of beer, oldtimers who enjoy the beverage are looking forward to the day of the schooners. They still have recollections of the "good old days" when they were able to buy a glass of beer for five cents and eat all the free lunch they could consume. ... There is a possibility that if beer is legalized by Congress that it will be sold in restaurants. That means no free lunches will be provided. ... Madison once had about 90 saloons every one of which served lunches with beer. ... Before Congress deprived the beer drinkers of their favorite beverage, Madison supported three breweries. Fauerbach's is the only brewery now in operation. The other two were Hausmann's on State St. and Breckheimer's on King. Haumann's also operated the malthouse on Sherman Ave. This was known in early Madison days as the Rodermund Brewery. ... Many people delighted in taking Sunday walks out Sherman avenue and dropping into the malthouse where they drank several beers, chatted about old times, and then resumed their journeys. ... We also remember the days of the Oster Brau which was manufactured each spring by the Breckheimer Brewery. Some of the patrons of the Breckheimer Saloon still have the taste of this brew in their mouths. ... Hausmann's barroom was a popular place for university professors and students who loved their beer. ... It is expected that as soon as Congress puts its OK on the manufacture and sale of beer , Fauerbach's will begin to turn out the old style brew again. ... On the east and south ends of the city were maintained both "First and Last Chance" saloons. By coming into the city, people were confronted with signs reading "First Chance." Upon leaving they were informed by signs dangling in front of the same places that it was their "last chance."

With the ushering in of FDR and The New Deal in 1933, the repeal of prohibition picked up steam. As of June 18, 1933 with repeal looking certain, The Wisconsin State Journal reported that our heroes, Eulberg Brewery in Portage were granted a license to begin brewing "real beer" again; 52 breweries had thus been granted new brewing licenses - another 25 would be granted licenses by December 5. Finally, on December 5, 1933, Utah ratified the 21st Amendment repealing prohibition.

While the beer industry is again exploding with new breweries. By the early 1980s, only 7 breweries remained in the state of Wisconsin. Eulberg resumed brewing in 1933, its most famous beer being branded "Crown Select." The brewery was sold only 11 years later, in 1944, to two gentlemen from Waukesha named Lawrence and Alvin Bardin. In 1958, Alvin and Lawrence closed down the brewery in Portage and moved the brand to a contract brewery in Waukesha. In 1960 they ceased selling beer under the Eulberg name. The old Haertel/City/Eulberg brewery no longer exists; in its place is the Portage Chamber of Commerce building.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for both showing an interest in this subject and posting it for all to read.

    Leah Starr Eulberg


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