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Society studies state's brewery history


April 29, 2014 | 01:27 PM
DELAVAN — Jerry Apps said he doesn’t have a favorite beer. He likes ales. He likes New Glarus Spotted Cow.

“I don’t drink that much beer, so when I do, I’m choosy about it,” he said.

A Wisconsin historian and professor emeritus from the University of Wisconsin, Apps was invited to share some of his knowledge about breweries for the Walworth and Big Foot Prairie Historical Society April 24.

Along with his refined beer tastes, Apps has a collection of bottles and cans from Wisconsin Breweries.

He showed off his collection and pointed to a Point Brewery can.

“That’s the oldest (brewery) that’s still brewing,” he said. “They stayed small.”

Apps said the Point Brewery was approached by an airliner to contract for beer supply.

“They turned them down,” he said. “They wanted to stay small, stay local.”

Apps said there’s more history on the logos of the beer cans than anywhere else he searched for brewery histories.

“Here, this Schlitz can,” he said. “It says, ‘the beer that made Milwaukee famous.’ What it doesn’t say is that breweries were one of the first businesses to have workers unionize. Well, when the workers (went on) strike, they informally changed that slogan to ‘the beer that made Milwaukee furious.’ The working conditions were horrible in breweries back then.”

Apps said that while learning about breweries, he learned about society as well.

Ruth, Apps wife, called his collection of cans and bottles a visual history of brewing in the state.

“Each can shows a brewing history,” Apps said. “Each city had its own brewery. It’s really interesting.”

His prior knowledge of Wisconsin helped him while researching breweries.

Apps, who grew up on a farm, has written more than 30 books on farming, farm-related industries and rural Wisconsin.

“Beer makers depended on barrel makers,” Apps said. “I spoke with the owners of a cooperage. They said during prohibition they were busier.”

He said the barrel makers said the company had a contract with Al Capone, who requested the barrels be shipped to Wausau where he arranged a pickup.

“The barrels would make their way to Chicago,” Apps said. “Originally, before prohibition started, the brewing industry thought they would be exempt from the new regulations because of the lower alcohol content in beer.”

Prohibition closed many of the larger breweries, he said, but brewing is still “alive and well.”

“For a while, many of the breweries were producing beer with a generic taste,” Apps said. “You could have a beer here, and then go to another area and have the same beer with a different name. It all tasted the same.”

Now, microbreweries and craft beers are more prevalent.

“Sprecher’s has done well,” Apps said, pointing to another can in his collection. “They’ve had success in their soft drinks and with their beer, too.”

Homebrewing is popular again, as well.

“Thomas Jefferson had his own brewery,” Apps said. “Beer was known as a beverage of health, a food and a tonic. Now many people are experimenting making it at home again. It’s not that difficult.”

Apps said he remembers his family making root beer at home.

“I remember going downstairs and seeing all the bottles, just bottles and bottles,” he said. “Thinking back, I’m sure we could have been making beer, too.”


Tags: Geneva Lake West

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