"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee is back for another round, brought to you by Great Northern Distilling: grain to glass spirits, handmade in Wisconsin. The whole month of March, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun articles on bars and clubs – including guides, the latest trends, bar reviews, the results of our Best of Bars readers poll and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!
While Schlitz claimed to make the beer that made Milwaukee famous, it's pretty safe to bust that wide open and just say that it was just beer itself that brought Brew City to the world. Here are a dozen beautiful beer labels from Milwaukee's brewing past, selected from the hundreds in the Milwaukee County Historical Society collection by curator Ben Barbera.
While we have your attention, remember to check out the Historical Society's "Brew City MKE: Craft, Culture, Community" exhibit.
1. Amber Glo
I love this one. Great colors, great litho image. And Amber Glo sounds like the name of a beautiful Rickenbacker guitar finish. Barbera says, "This was immediately after Prohibition as the Banner Brewing Company was only open from 1933 to 1935."
2. Blatz Private Stock
According to Barbera, this Blatz brew dates back to at least 1900 and perhaps earlier. The label is undated, but it has an alluringly primitive label.
Braumeister. It just sounds like Milwaukee, doesn't it? "This was the Independent Brewing Company’s signature beer," says Barbera. The label carried a 1944-45 copyright.
4. Milwaukee's "Best"
These days, the Milwaukee's Best brand is synonymous with anything but the best. Gettelman seemed to admit that by putting the "Best" in quotes – though maybe that was a concession to Pabst, which had been founded by Jacob Best. Miller bought Gettlman in 1961 and still brews this one.
5. Miller's Budweiser
Your eyes do not deceive you. This label dates to sometime in the 1890s, says Barbera, but "certainly no later than 1898 as that was the year that a Federal judge signed an injunction against Miller using the Budweiser name."
6. Miller Milwaukee Beer – Chicago branch
As you'll learn if you take the Miller Brewery tour, much of the Miller brewed in Milwaukee is destined for the Chicagoland area. This label made that fact quite plain.
7. Miller Elk's Carnival
This label, says Barbera, likely dates to around 1901 when the Elks held their national convention and carnival in Milwaukee. I can't help picturing a bunch of elks trying to toss rings onto beer bottles and shooting at moving targets shaped like people.
8. & 9. Pabst Kaiser Beer & Red, White and Blue
When we first came across the labels, Barbera and I thought they might be a symbol of the anti-German backlash that spread rapidly through Milwaukee during World War I. Instead, it turns out Kaiser beer was renamed Stag in 1908 and Pabst was making Red, White and Blue around 1906-07.
10. Old Milwaukee
This eye-catching Schlitz Old Milwaukee label is copyrighted 1934. It's called Old Milwaukee yet shows a building that doesn't appear to be in Brew City.
11. Schloss Brau
"This is almost certainly Prohibition era," says Barbera. "It notes that it is non-intoxicating – at less than 2.5 percent – and the Brewing in Cream City Brewing Co. is crossed out and replaced with Products, which is something they did during Prohibition." The original Schloss Brau was registered in 1916.
12. Blatz gum
Speaking of Prohibition, brewers had to find a variety of ways to survive when Americans were forced to become (or pretend to become) tea-totalers. Blatz turned to chewing gum ... presumably non-alcoholic.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.