Breweries

Milwaukee is the beer capital for a reason.

The sweet smell of disaster

In 1919, with Prohibition about to end beer production, the Uhlien family, owners of the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co., expanded into candy production, building a vast factory complex on North Port Washington Road in Glendale. It proved a rare, and expensive, failure for the powerful Milwaukee family. Carl A. Swanson collection

In 1919, with Prohibition about to end beer production, the owners of the Jos. Schlitz Brewing Co., turned their attention to candy, building a vast complex on Port Washington Road in Glendale. Carl A. Swanson collection

From its massive purpose-built factory to the staggering amount of money lost in its eight-year history, everything about Milwaukee′s Eline’s Chocolate and Cocoa Co. was outsized.

The venture was launched by the Uihlein family, owners of Jos. Schlitz Brewing Co. It’s not easy to go from Beer Baron to Count Chocolate but they certainly gave it a good try. The family hired experts, built a sprawling state-of-the-art factory on Port Washington Road in Glendale, hired an army of workers, and launched an ambitious marketing campaign. 

Eight years later it was gone. Today only a few buildings remain of the Eline complex – monuments to a mistake. (more…)

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Five favorites for Doors Open Milwaukee

Doors Open Milwaukee was held Saturday and Sunday, September 19th and 20th. About 200 locations, many normally closed to the public, were open for visitors. Here are five of my favorite places to visit during this annual event.

1. Former Pabst Brewery

Although the area is undergoing rapid development, some of the original Pabst buildings remain. Photo illustration by Carl Swanson

Although the area is undergoing rapid redevelopment, some of the original Pabst buildings remain. Photo by Carl Swanson

Tour a speakeasy (actually, the former plant infirmary and ancient storage tunnels) at the Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery, 901 W. Juneau Ave. The speakeasy is open if the red jelly jar light is illuminated at the doorway marked “J.C. Haertel Real Estate & Financial Consulting.” The Pabst Brewing Co. was the subject of this Milwaukee Notebook post. (more…)

The day Schlitz closed

Schlitz city distribution center

In the 1970s, this 66,300-square-foot warehouse at 6800 N. Teutonia Ave. housed the Schlitz Brewing Co.’s city distribution center. Plans to eliminate 200 unionized delivery drivers here ultimately put an end to the brewing of Schlitz beer in its hometown. Carl Swanson photo

Few companies soared as high – or fell as fast – as the Jos. Schlitz Brewing Co, “The beer that made Milwaukee famous.”

From the early 1900s to the 1950s, the title of largest beer producer in the U.S. alternated between Schlitz and rival Anheuser-Busch. Then Schlitz fell apart. The reasons are many and complex but, in a sense, the final act played out in a warehouse on North Teutonia Avenue.

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Century-old dam is a reminder of Milwaukee’s up-river icehouses

This partially collapsed timber dam across the Milwaukee River north of Locust Street is all that remains of the Schlitz Brewing Company's ice-harvesting operation. Carl Swanson photo

This century-old partially collapsed timber dam across the Milwaukee River north of Locust Street is all that remains of the Schlitz Brewing Company’s ice-harvesting operation in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. Carl Swanson photo

There is a fascinating reminder of Riverwest’s past hidden in plain sight in the Milwaukee River just north of the Locust Street bridge. Here logs across the river trace the remains of the Schlitz icehouse dam. The dam is over a century old, but the reason for Schlitz building its icehouses here dates back even further – all the way to late 1878 when this area was largely open country.

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Blue Ribbon memories

Although the area is undergoing rapid development, some of the original Pabst buildings remain. Photo illustration by Carl Swanson

Although the former Pabst brewery complex in Milwaukee is being converted into a mixed-use development, some of the original buildings remain. Photo illustration by Carl Swanson

When I moved to Milwaukee 25 years ago I did what everyone does. I toured the Pabst Brewery. Because, free beer.

Of course, Pabst Blue Ribbon is not in the same class as Riverwest Stein, but what is?

I arrived five minutes after the day’s last tour had departed, which is pretty much the story of my life. However, the people at the visitor’s center were very nice. A group from Germany had arranged for a private tour but they probably wouldn’t mind me tagging along.

The tour was led by a young woman who was good at her job but rather hampered by the German group’s overbearing leader. The Pabst guide would say one or two sentences then we all stood around for 10 minutes or so to let Mr. Bossy-Britches harangue his merry band of Krauts.

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One nation, united by beer

In 1888, Milwaukee’s Jos. Schlitz Brewing Company distributed this 15 x 26-inch chromolithograph poster. Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-pga-04220 (digital file from original print).

In 1888, Milwaukee’s Jos. Schlitz Brewing Company distributed this 15 x 26-inch chromolithograph poster. Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-pga-04220 (digital file from original print).

According to the caption supplied by the Library of Congress, “the man on the left looks like what Joseph Schlitz might have looked like had he been alive at the time of this advertisement. The other man may be a representative of ‘P.M. Ohmeis & Co.’”

Benjamin Harrison

Benjamin Harrison

Far be it from me to argue with the Library of Congress, but its caption is obviously wrong and kind of weird. “What Joseph Schlitz might have looked like had he been alive at the time.” Really? I guess nothing says, “Drink up!” like an artificially aged dead beer baron.

This broadsheet was printed in 1888, a presidential election year. The man at the left in the poster is the Republican candidate, Benjamin Harrison. The man in the center of the poster is his opponent, the Democrat incumbent president Grover Cleveland.

The Schlitz Brewing Co. was making the humorous point that good beer is one thing everyone can agree on.

Grover Cleveland

Grover Cleveland

Cleveland narrowly won the popular vote that year but Harrison won the electoral college by a substantial majority (233 to 168 votes) and consequently became the 23rd president of the United States.

But don′t shed any tears for Cleveland. He served as president twice. He defeated Harrison four years later, making Cleveland both the 22nd and 24th president – the only one to serve non-consecutive terms in office. You can win a lot of barroom bets knowing that bit of trivia.

The idea of these two hanging out and having a few beverages together is not so far fetched. It rained at Harrison′s inauguration. Outgoing President Cleveland not only attended the ceremony, he held an umbrella over Harrison’s head while he took the oath of office.Carl_sig

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The forgotten Milwaukee River park

Pleasant Valley Park on the west bank of the Milwaukee River was once one of the city's most popular beer gardens. Owned by the Blatz brewery and visited by thousands, it featured elaborate landscaping, a restuarant, bandshell, pavilion, steamboat dock, and even a few cottages. In 2014, little remains to remind visitors of its glory days a century ago. Photo by Carl Swanson

Pleasant Valley Park on the west bank of the Milwaukee River was once one of the city’s most popular beer gardens. Owned by the Blatz brewery and visited by thousands, it featured elaborate landscaping, a restuarant, bandshell, pavilion, steamboat dock, and even a few cottages. Little remains to remind visitors of its glory days a century ago. Photo by Carl Swanson

Pleasant Valley Park, at the foot of East Concordia Avenue on the Milwaukee River, is a peaceful place. The band packed up and left a century ago, about the time the steamboats stopped calling at the park’s dock. A little later, the pavilion, pier, cottages, and bandshell were torn down and the rubble removed. Officially this is a Milwaukee County Park but you wouldn’t know it by looking at it. There are no signs, no parking area, no picnic benches or ball fields, nothing at all to suggest it had ever been anything other than a ravine filled with downed trees and garlic mustard.

But once this was one of Milwaukee’s best-known beer gardens:

“Blatz Park (“Pleasant Valley” before 1892) swarmed with picnickers in those days. Troops of large families from St. Casimir’s Parish, a mile south, regularly followed a makeshift marching band up Humboldt Avenue to the park, each family pulling a coaster wagon containing a picnic lunch. Steam-powered boats, sailing from a dock just above the North Avenue dam, pulled up periodically at the pier and discharged crowds of passengers. The park had a bandshell and later a restaurant. There were also cottages, often rented in the summer, by one account, to actors from a theatre downtown.” – From Riverwest: A Community History, by Tom Tolan, copyright 2003, Past Press, Milwaukee, WI.

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